Matt Groening Biography

Television Producer, Comedian, Screenwriter (1954–)
Matt Groening is a cartoonist and the creator of The Simpsons, which became the longest-running entertainment series in primetime television in 2009.


Matt Groening was born on February 15, 1954, in Portland, Oregon. He attended Evergreen State College and was the editor of the campus newspaper. He moved to LA in 1973 and sold his comic strip "Life in Hell" to the LA Weekly. Producer James L. Brooks, asked Groening to create animated shorts for The Tracey Ullman Show and The Simpsons was born. The show went on to earn multiple Emmy Awards, and in 2009, it surpassed Gunsmoke to become the longest-running entertainment series in primetime television.

Early Career

Cartoonist Matt Groening was born on February 15, 1954, in Portland, Oregon. Groening (rhymes with "raining") grew up as the middle of five children, born between older sisters Patty and Lisa and younger siblings Mark and Maggie. Though he later borrowed some of their names for characters in The Simpsons, the real members of Groening's family bore little resemblance to their cartoon namesakes. His father, Homer Groening, was an English major and World War II vet who was a respected documentary filmmaker; mother Margaret Wiggum Groening never had blue hair.

After growing up an artistic kid in Portland, Groening attended Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington, a nontraditional public university that he has called a haven for "self-disciplined creative weirdoes." He was the editor of the campus newspaper and an avid cartoonist. Though he loved cartooning, he never considered it a viable career option. "I thought I was going to make crazy cartoons for the rest of my life," Groening said. "I didn't think I'd ever get paid for it, didn't think I drew well enough, but I knew it made me happy."

That changed when Groening met fellow Evergreen student and cartoonist Lynda Barry. Inspired by Barry's ability to make a living selling her comics to alternative papers, and influenced by other underground cartoonists like Robert Crumb, Groening graduated from college and moved to Los Angeles in 1973 to work as a writer. After spending a few years working miserable part-time jobs, Groening sold his comic strip "Life in Hell" to the alternative LA Weekly in 1980. "Life in Hell" soon gained nationwide syndication, earning Groening a huge following and spawning books and collections. Groening still writes the comic, which ran in LA Weekly until 2009, when the struggling paper could no longer afford to pay him. The strip still runs in many other alternative newspapers, however.

'The Simpsons'

The success of "Life in Hell" attracted the attention of a writer and producer named James L. Brooks, who contacted Groening to see if he'd be interested in creating a series of animated shorts to run on the sketch comedy series The Tracey Ullman Show. Groening invented a dysfunctional family whose names he mostly borrowed from his own parents and siblings. ("Bart," not a member of the real Groening family, is an anagram of "brat.") The Simpsons family premiered on The Tracey Ullman Show on April 19, 1987. Ullman's show was soon canceled, but the Simpsons were popular enough to earn their own spin-off series, which premiered in 1989.

If The Simpsons has any single theme, Groening has said, it is "that your moral authorities don't always have your best interests in mind." The satire took aim at teachers, parents, ministers, police officers and other authority figures, all of whom are often portrayed as small-minded buffoons. The show's iconoclastic approach garnered criticism from family-values advocates, but won it rabid devotion from its fans.

The show has now been on the air for several decades, earning multiple Emmy Awards as well as the title of the longest-running entertainment series in primetime television—succeeding Gunsmoke in 2009—along the way. Generations of comedy writers (among them a young Conan O'Brien) have cut their teeth on the show's distinctive jokes and pop-culture references. More than 20 million viewers tuned in for the 20th anniversary episode in January 2010.

Recent Projects

In 1997, hoping to build on the success of The Simpsons, Groening created Futurama, a second animated series for the Fox network. It was canceled after four years, but maintained a strong cult following among fans. In 2009, Comedy Central announced that it would relaunch the series on the cable network the following year. The revived Futurama picked up the 2011 Emmy Award for Outstanding Animated Program.

Groening married Deborah Caplan in 1986 and had two sons, Homer and Abe. The couple divorced in 1999. In 2011, Groening reportedly wed longtime girlfriend, Argentinian artist Agustina Picasso. Groening's extended family has good-naturedly accepted the fame that comes from sharing a name with some of the best-loved characters on television. The older Homer Groening, Matt's father, died in 1996, but Margaret (not Marge) Groening still often fields prank calls at her Portland home from people asking for "Bart."

Still an active cartoonist, Groening formed the comic book publisher Bongo Comics Group in 1994. He collects unofficial Simpsons merchandise, and has grown accustomed to his dedicated fans and their sometimes unorthodox ways of showing their devotion. "Oftentimes," he said, "what seems to be a street lunatic charging at me spouting gibberish turns out to be a devoted Simpsons fan quoting their favorite line."

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