Joel Cohen delivering a hilarious keynote speech

Joel Cohen’s keynote provides insight (and tons of humor) into the success of The Simpsons

by Mike Humphrey

Over a wonderfully fresh shrimp, avocado and arugula salad at a trendy Philly restaurant, Joel Cohen describes the concept of the “puke draft”.  No, it had nothing to do with his lunch.  He shares how ideas are most often half-baked and incomplete at their genesis. So, members of his team at The Simpsons will often create a “puke draft”, which takes their rough idea and shares it for improvement and revision from the other talented writers on the show.  Through this process, many of these ideas develop into full episodes for the most successful prime time show in the history of television.

Now I have a name for my ideas…puke drafts!

The lunch followed up an insightful and funny keynote speech where Joel shared the behind-the-scenes inner-workings that keep the show fresh, innovative and funny.  Which is no easy task. It takes 9 months and over 1000 joke pitches to make one 30-minute episode, and there have been more than 680 episodes.

After delivering a wonderfully entertaining primer about the show and its history, Joel dives into several of the key factors that drive their success:

  • No Micromanagement by the NetworkThe Simpsons have a nearly unbounded creative space to work because they are free from the traditional (and often stifling) network practice of reviewing scripts and mandating changes. LESSON: Too much management oversight can slow down or out-right halt the creative genius and weaken the product.
  • Fail Big and Fail Often – As mentioned earlier, it takes hundreds of ideas to make one joke that makes the show. There is no measuring the number of failures…there is only the drive for the best end-product possible. LESSON: Judging people based on the holes in their idea, or by the number of times their ideas did not pan-out, will only result in stunting generating future ideas (one of which might become the future of your business).
  • When Stuck, Enlist a Devil’s Advocate – Imagine the frustration of a room full of over-educated, caffeine-fueled people hammering incessantly on a problem and getting nowhere. It often helps to get a fresh perspective, which can often unlock a barrage of ideas that can creatively solve the issue.  LESSON: Everyone hits a roadblock, so build permission into your culture to bring in a different point of view to challenge you with fresh ideas.
  • A Group Always Delivers Better Ideas Than A Single Person (unless, of course, you are Joel) – Bring together a team of motivated people, throw out as many ideas as possible without judgement, add improvements to these ideas, and keep hammering until you get something great (or at least something that does not make you puke…hence the name “puke draft”)

Several minutes of hilarious video clips and an energized Q&A session follows, ending with heart-felt applause. The audience filters out for their own lunch, abuzz about Joel and repeating his funniest moments amongst each other.  Joel has just a few minutes to decompress and roll into a 45-minute vlog recording session.

Leaving me time to write the puke draft of this article.

 

Joel Cohen is an Emmy Award-winning Writer and Producer of The Simpsons.  He is also a lead writer for the feature animated film, Extinct, due out at the end of 2019.