Five questions with Mike Reiss

Four-time Emmy Award winner Mike Reiss is a writer/producer for Fox's long-running animated series "The Simpsons." A former editor of The Harvard Lampoon and The National Lampoon, Reiss wrote for "The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson" before he was hired in 1989 to write for "The Simpsons." Reiss comes to Charlotte on March 11-12 to host the Charlotte Jewish Film Festival's closing program.

Q. Why is "The Simpsons" such a quintessential family show?

The real trick behind the success of the show is that there is not one core audience, like there is for a show like "American Idol." Children like "The Simpsons" because it's a cartoon. High school and college kids like the show because it's relevant and parents enjoy the show because they can relate to the issues faced by the characters.

Q. What makes the characters easy to relate to?

Every member of the Simpsons family and every character on the show is kind of dumb and quite bad at their job. People all over relate to that. I have cops come up to me all the time and ask me if we have cops that write for the show because our chief of police, Wiggum, is so inept. There's something universal in all of us that think we know more and can do better than our bosses.

Q. How is writing for animated characters different than writing jokes for live television characters?

One of the best lessons I learned from my colleagues is how important it is to bring emotions into the characters. It is not enough to have solid storylines and good jokes. The characters need to be believable and generate empathy from the viewers. It is ironic that it took me writing for cartoons to bring human emotions into my work.

Q. What can people expect from your program?

I'm bringing an episode from our third season that is one of our most popular shows. It is called, "Like Father, Like Clown" and has many Jewish themes, guests and references. It is actually a parody of "The Jazz Singer." I'll also have clips from other shows I've been involved with including, "Queer Duck" and "The Critic."

Q. What's in store for "The Simpsons" in the future?

You know it's exciting that we recently aired our 500th episode, but for many of us it's like just another day at work. The production time is so far out that we are working a year in advance on the show. It's still fresh; it's still fun.