The Simpsons, Season Nine, Episode Sixteen, “The Last Temptation Of Krust”

I talk all the time about how The Simpsons has travelled so far and lasted so long in the public consciousness because it shoots for universal emotions and themes, and this is a rare counterexample – though not an unprecedented one. In fact, there are a few connections between this episode and “Homerpalooza”, not just in how an old and out-of-touch guy realises the culture left him behind without him noticing, but in how that ‘present day’ culture is one of ironic distance, taboo subjects, and sophisticated observations on human behaviour (I realise I’m talking about something with Jay Leno in it, but work with me here). It’s interesting how The Simpsons was very much a part of that wave of culture, but also has a clear respect for and interest in building on the older vaudevillian humour that Krusty represents (and does poorly); time has left the edgy comic era of Janeane Garofalo and Bobcat Goldthwaite behind, but it’s only served to make Krusty’s offensive hackery even more absurd. Coolness ages like milk but outdated crap can only become more outdated; it reminds me of how Always Sunny has only gotten funnier as it ages, as behaviour that’s merely dumb and gross when done by a twenty-eight-year-old in 2004 becomes completely unhinged when done by a forty-year-old in 2020. More importantly, I like how this speaks to the durability of The Simpsons – it became incredibly popular because it broke new ground, made its audience think, and explored timely issues, and it stayed popular because it worked with fundamental principles of comedy that have functioned for a very long time.

Anyway, zooming back into the episode, Krusty’s overall arc is something I think really holds the episode together. I think what I like about it is that he thinks he’s changing as a person when he actually isn’t; his whole character has always been about the collision between his obsessive professional ethos and his impulsive hedonism, and it does make a kind of sense that, properly motivated, he could deliver more relevant and cutting comedy that appeals to a modern day audience. It especially feels right that he’d kid himself into thinking he really believed in what he was saying, partly because he was at the start – good comedy generally starts with a truth, and as he points out, at first he’s just spouting his feelings on the present day and accidentally stumbling into comedy. It’s not the principles he stands for, it’s the actions – the process of getting up in front of an audience and performing – and the meaning behind it is incidental at best. It’s an interesting comparison to the show, which takes genuine, thoughtful beliefs and articulates them through the processes of comedy and animation; Krusty is one half of the soul of The Simpsons.

Chalkboard Gag: Pain is not the cleanser.
Couch Gag: The couch is full of water. The family run in with their asses on fire and sit in the water, sighing with relief.

This episode was written by Donick Cary and directed by Mike B Anderson. The episode was inspired by comedy festivals playing at the time. The writers had difficulty getting Krusty’s racist jokes through until it was made clear that they were intentionally racist and the joke was on Krusty. Three different acts of material were written and animated for Krusty’s comeback material; it was still being animated three weeks before air. The Canyonero sequence was originally to be played over the closing credits, but the staff loved it so much they gave it its own section. Jay Leno, Steven Wright, Janeane Garofalo, Bobcat Goldthwait, and Bruce Baum all guest star as themselves. 

That whole opening scene of Marge buying shoes for the kids is another classic moment of the show capturing the absurdities of being a kid, including Bart being a needless asshole to ol’ Gil. I sometimes make fun shows that try to appeal to ‘both sides’ of an argument – which effectively means refusing to take a position at all – so I will point out this episode has two great gags that manage to pull of making fun of opposite ends of a spectrum, with Marge’s response to “Do you like to laugh?” being a great joke at the expense of people who can’t enjoy comedy that could even be suspected of hurting someone’s feelings and Homer’s “You didn’t have to tell it like it is!” being a great gag at people who try and cover being an abrasive asshole with ‘it’s just a joke!’ but can’t take being the butt of the gag themselves.

I do love the unspoken gag that only Bart finds Krusty funny because he’s too young to realise how hacky the material is. The gag of Skinner failing to burn his money at Krusty’s standup is wonderful, and such a great moment of the worldbuilding of the show enhancing the plot. There’s an oddly sweet moment where Marge sees Lisa burying the money and gives her a proud thumbs up, and I like the random-yet-logical feel of it.

The episode’s name is a reference to The Last Temptation Of Christ. Krustylu Studios is a parody of Desilu Studios. On Krusty’s bender, he drinks out of and then vomits into the Stanley Cup, which inspired a semi-cease-and-desist letter. Krusty’s poem lifts a few lines from “To An Athlete Dying Young” by AE Housman. Krusty visits Java The Hut, a reference ot Jabba The Hutt of Star Wars. Krusty’s new look and comedy is a reference to George Carlin. The Canyonero is a reference to Ford commercials, and the song is a riff on the theme to Rawhide.

Iconic Moments: 1. “Whoops, sorry son! I didn’t know you, Jay Leno, and a monkey were bathing a clown.”
Biggest Laugh: This one does have a lot of laugh-out-loud lines. “It’s a quality form!” got a big laugh but ultimately this won.