Yeardley Smith was concerned that her high-pitched voice would become a liability, but oftentimes our challenges can ultimately become our biggest gifts.
Amid the many aspects of her rich career, is her longtime role as the voice of Lisa Simpson on the popular animated series, The Simpsons, now airing Season 32, and currently working on Season 33. In 1992, she received a primetime Emmy Award for outstanding voice-over performance for her iconic role.
As most of us know, The Simpsons is an animated comedy about a quirky and close-knit family in the town of Springfield in an unnamed U.S. state. The universally loved show recently celebrated its 700th episode.
The head of the Simpson family, Homer (Dan Castellaneta), is not a typical family man. A nuclear-plant employee, Homer does his best to lead his family but often finds that they are leading him. The family includes loving, blue-haired matriarch Marge (Julie Kavner), troublemaking son Bart (Nancy Cartwright), baby Maggie, and overachieving daughter Lisa (Yeardley Smith.).
In addition to The Simpsons as well as film and stage work over the years, Smith started co-hosting a true-crime podcast in 2017. The show Small Town Dicks, explores real-life crime in small towns around the United States. Her co-hosts are Detective Dan, who she met when he was providing her with personal security for a Simpson’s event, and his twin brother, Detective Dave.
Her other recent project that sprung up during the COVID-19 lockdown, was Oil & Water, a quirky cooking show on IGTV and YouTube. Smith says her aim was to create a fun, how-to cooking show with a game show and adventure element. The idea is to use ingredients that don’t really go together and to make them work.
While wanting to be an actress at a young age, she said she never would have believed the path that led her there. “If someone had told me at the start of my career that my greatest success was going to come through voice-over work, I’m not sure I would have believed them,” Smith exclusively explained to Monsters & Critics.
“So, I think whatever we pursue in life, you have to set your sights on a goal, but don’t attach yourself to that final vision. It is important to be nimble and stay open-minded, so if an opportunity comes along that you never thought you wanted to pursue, like voiceover acting for me, give it a chance,” she continued. “I say that because Lisa Simpson is one of the greatest gifts of my life!”
Monsters & Critics: Yeardley, why is The Simpsons so universally popular? Is it the family, the characters, the writing – or all of the above?
Yeardley Smith: I do think it’s all of it. I do think it’s kind of like lightning in a bottle. The old animation when I was growing up, such as Tom & Jerry, Pepe le Pew, Mighty Mouse, and others were very visual and had a lot of physical comedy, but not a lot of heart or tackling issues per se.
The Simpsons is written like they’re flesh and blood, real-life people. That was always James L. Brooks’ mandate, that The Simpsons wouldn’t do anything that real people couldn’t do. Then we got to about Season 10 and we’re like, “Oh, what are we going to do? Okay, we might as well take advantage of being a cartoon, and drive the RV off the cliff and have everyone survive.” But they never stopped writing from the heart.
M&C: How often do people ask you to do the voice of Lisa Simpson?
Yeardley Smith: Quite a lot, actually. One thing that I absolutely won’t do is the outgoing message for your voicemail. We get a lot of that. I’m like, ‘listen to me, if I did do it, you would get so many hang-up calls. People don’t want to leave you a message, they just want to hear the outgoing message, you’ll be so annoyed.’
But, also, I always compare it to if you are a doctor who meets somebody at a party and they say they have a sore on the back of their leg and ask you to look at it. I know it’s a super fun job, but it’s still my job. It’s also weird and I always feel sort of funny just bursting into Lisa Simpson.
M&C: Are there any exceptions there?
Yeardley Smith: I will do it for kids, and the outcome varies depending on how young the child is. I would say if the kid is like less than eight years old and I do the voice of Lisa Simpson they just look at me like I’m a complete idiot, like ‘you’re not Lisa Simpson, I don’t know what that is you’re doing but that is not Lisa Simpson.’
Because, of course, they’re so used to marrying the voice with the visual. Meanwhile, their parents are over the moon. I’ll still do it, but it might not work out the way the parents had planned.
M&C: What are your fans from The Simpsons like?
Yeardley Smith: It’s extraordinary. The Simpsons fans are unique in that I would say they often know more details about the show than I know. They pay attention to everything in a way that I can’t. I don’t have a memory that’s that granular. I would say, Dan Castellaneta, who voices Homer, has a memory for everything that we do.
M&C: How did your podcast, Small Town Dicks begin?
Yeardley Smith: I went to a Simpson’s event in 2014 as a last-minute replacement for another actor and asked what kind of security they had for the event. I was unveiling a mural on the side of a building. They came back and assigned me a plainclothes detective, who turned out to be Detective Dan.
Dan and I had been together about three years and after hearing these stories from him and his twin brother — Detective Dave – it became this extraordinary deep dive into the granular details of what it means to be in law enforcement.
Dan always had stories about somebody he had arrested or somebody he had helped out. So, when the podcast idea came about it was obvious that Dan and Dave and/or the detective who investigated each of the cases we discussed should be the one to tell the story.
M&C: What makes your podcast unique?
Yeardley Smith: All of the cases are told by the detectives who investigated them, and the team files Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests to get suspect interviews. We also include 911 calls and other audio assets that allow them to explore the case from all angles. I am proud to say that the podcast is currently in its 8th season with more than 25 million downloads.
M&C: Are you a true crime aficionado?
Yeardley Smith: Yes, I’ve always been fascinated by true crime. I always want to know that the good guys are out there and are willing to right the wrongs. If there are people in the world who don’t care about the rules that you and I live by, I want to know there’s another group of people out there that are like, ‘No, no, that won’t work, that doesn’t fly; I am here to put the train back on the tracks.’
M&C: So, what are some highlights of the podcast?
Yeardley Smith: We always say to our guests, we want to hear about a case that’s the most memorable or meaningful to you. It doesn’t have to be the most salacious or the most famous case in their small-town police agency. It’s really about the thing that made you sit up and take notice. Was it a clue that everybody else had missed? Was it a bit of luck that was exactly what you needed to connect the dots?
M&C: Tell me about your YouTube show, Oil & Water.
Yeardley Smith: It’s really fun. Mostly, it’s less about I’m going to teach you how to cook and more about this is a game and cooking is the frame. So, I pull one suggestion from three bowls: a bowl of sweet ingredients, a bowl of savory ingredients, and a bowl of things. Then I devise a recipe on the fly combining all of this.
M&C: Are you a foodie?
Yeardley Smith: I am a foodie. I’m also a pretty good cook. Not super fancy, but I know how to read a recipe. I used to cook with my mother. I started Oil & Water by making a recipe from The Simpsons where it was way back when we were doing the Tracey Ullman shorts. Homer makes Bart’s dinner by smashing together groundfish and ground pork. He calls them “porkified fish nugglets.” I thought that it would be fun to try that.
Then I came up with this idea of a cooking show and game where you draw from a bowl of random ingredients that are sweet, random ingredients that are savory, and then a random bowl of things. So, it’s a pie, it’s a cake, it’s soup, ice cream, or whatever it is. Then you have to combine the sweet and savory into a thing. Each episode is about seven or eight minutes long.
M&C: How did it come about?
Yeardley Smith: I wanted to do something fun that felt creative during the pandemic because we were all home all the time. I thought this will be good, dumb entertainment for troubling times, so I started Oil & Water. We put it out every Wednesday.
Every other week I put out a thing called a nugglet, an ode to the porkified fish nugglet, where I give you an actual cooking tip or technique or do a tasting. Like I recently did a tasting of vegan ice cream. I did one where I teach you how to make your own butter from a carton of heavy cream. Just silly things. I do things that I’ve seen on the internet that I want to vet for myself or things that I’ve learned in my years of cooking.
M&C: After watching Oil & Water, I have to ask, how many aprons do you have?
Yeardley Smith: [She laughed} Yes, every episode has a new apron. Gosh, I have a lot of aprons now. I particularly like the ones that are funny and silly. Once in a while, I have a sweet, very traditional apron. But I try not to go down that road. I also wear tiaras to try to just sort of spruce it up a little.
The Simpsons airs on FOX-TV on Sundays at 8 p.m. pm ET.
Small Town Dicks: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/small-town-dicks/id1271261548
Oil & Water: https://www.youtube.com/c/OilWaterFood
For more family-friendly viewing check out The 10 coolest cartoon characters of all time