TV URBAN LEGEND: Was Krusty the Clown Originally Going to be Homer Simpson in Disguise?
One of the more interesting challenges in the world of television is how to develop a spinoff. A character or a concept being strong enough for a secondary role on a popular TV series is one thing, but taking that character/idea and developing it into something that can stand on its own is a whole other thing. Compare the way the creators of Frasier were able to build a great cast and a strong concept around Frasier Crane from Cheers to what the creators of Joey were able to construct around Joey Tribbiani from Friends (I still think Drea de Matteo was a great bit of casting on Joey, at the very least). It's certainly quite a challenge. That’s what faced Matt Groening, James L. Brooks and Sam Simon as they took Groening's Simpsons characters and adapted them from simple shorts on The Tracey Ullman Show into their own full-length sitcom. All sorts of off-the-wall ideas were tossed around as they tried to develop the new series. One of those, amazingly enough, was that Homer Simpson and Krusty the Clown would be the same person!
A recurring theme throughout the history of The Simpsons (but especially in the early seasons) is the strange relationship that Bart Simpson has with Krusty the Clown, star of a popular children’s television program. Bart is almost a pure anarchist, except for his idolization of Krusty the Clown. Bart questions all authority ... except for Krusty the Clown. It's a fascinating examination of the concept of hero worship, especially in the way Bart is able to look past the shoddy products Krusty endorses and Krusty's half-assed approach to children's entertainment. The boy who could always spot that the king isn’t wearing any clothes can't see past his idolization of Krusty to realize all the problematic aspects of the clown.
Originally, however, Groening wanted to take this concept even further. In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Groening explained his original plan for Krusty:
The original idea behind Krusty the Clown was that he was Homer in disguise, but Homer still couldn't get any respect from his son, who worshipped Krusty. If you look at Krusty, it's just Homer with extended hair and a tuft on his head. We were in such a rush in the beginning of the series that I thought, 'Oh, it's too complicated,' so we just dropped it. But when I look at Krusty, I think, 'Yeah — that's Homer.
And sure enough, the two are pretty much identical. This idea was somewhat followed up in the sixth season episode "Homie the Clown," where Krusty opens up a clown college to franchise out the Krusty brand to other clowns, including, of course, Homer Simpson.
Even after the writers dropped the secret identity bit (presumably because they were just too busy developing the other aspects of the series), Groening felt that that satirical idea still worked, as even if Krusty was no longer literally Bart's father, he was still, in essence, a stand-in for Homer that Bart respected, noting "The satirical conceit that I was going for at the time was that The Simpsons was about a kid who had no respect for his father, but worshiped a clown who looked exactly like his father."
The legend is...
Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Be sure to check out my Entertainment Urban Legends Revealed for more urban legends about the worlds of TV, Movies and Music!