‘The Simpsons’ showrunner Al Jean shares passions for math, comedy


Photo credit: Cat Oriel

Al Jean speaks to the upper school on Jan. 10. He shared his presentation in the Dining Hall.

While studying complex prime numbers and creating cartoon characters may seem disparate at first, “The Simpsons” showrunner, writer and producer Al Jean has combined these interests into a career.

On Jan. 10, Jean, who is also an Archer parent (Violet Jean ’23), spoke to the middle and upper school about how “The Simpsons'” creative team incorporates math equations and jokes into many of their episodes. Currently in its 29th season, “The Simpsons” remains the longest-running American sitcom, as well as the longest-running American animated program.

Jean graduated from Harvard University with a bachelor’s degree in mathematics. During his time at the school, he also discovered his knack for making people laugh.

“My roommate [wrote for] ‘The Harvard Lampoon,'” Jean said. “The people there were just so funny, and I thought it would be a terrific place to meet other students and learn. Many of these people turned out to be people I’ve worked with my whole career.”

Although Jean notes that most people tend to see math and writing as two completely unrelated mediums and career paths, he has sees similarities between the fields.

A still shown during Jean’s presentation. The numbers used on the jumbo-vision are not random, but reflect complex numerical theory. Image source: The Simpsons.

“They’re both very meticulous,” he said. “In comedy, you’re searching for the perfect joke, and in math, you’re looking for a proof where there’s only one outcome that makes sense.”

Ultimately, Jean strives to inspire students to reevaluate their current understanding of math outside of the classroom.

“I hope the students will appreciate how much math can be interwoven into daily life,” Jean said. “If you study your math, maybe one day you can write for ‘The Simpsons.'”