The Insane True Story Behind Moe From 'The Simpsons'
It's no secret that loads of characters on The Simpsons were inspired by real people. Homer, Marge, Lisa, and Maggie were named after Matt Groening's parents and sisters, Mr. Burns was based on one of his high school teachers, and Krusty the Clown originated with Rusty Nails -- the Portland children's entertainer who for some reason branded himself with a serial killer's porn name. But one character has a particularly odd origin story: Springfield's resident purveyor of Duff Beer (and combustible cocktails) Moe Szyslak.
Way back in the third episode of the show that would go on for roughly another 5,000 seasons, The Simpsons' writers established what was to become Moe's defining running joke: naively falling for Bart's prank calls. Bart rings the bar and asks to speak to "I.P. Freely," Moe asks around for Mr. Freely to the guffaws of customers, and then he realizes what's going on and barks, "I'm gonna slice your heart in half!" Hence did America fall in love with a precocious child and the rage-filled adult who explicitly threatened to murder him.
While Moe bears a striking resemblance to comedian Rich Hall, his schtick sure seems to have been derived from a real series of prank phone calls to the Tube Bar in New Jersey.
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Way back in the pre-call-display 1970s, Jim Davidson and John Elmo repeatedly phoned the owner of the local dive, Louis "Red" Deutsch, asking for pun names like "Ben Dover" and "Pepe Roni." After polling the bar for the nonexistent patrons, Red would growl elaborately obscene threats at the pranksters -- way too vulgar even for the moral cesspool that was '90s FOX programming.
The pair recorded all their calls on an old Panasonic cassette player, and somehow a copy leaked. What would became known as "The Tube Tapes" began to circulate, eventually turning into a cult phenomenon. After hearing them at a party, the head of TeenBeat Records released the tapes on his independent label, which sold 6,000 copies in the first year alone. The tapes were a favorite among Major League Baseball teams thanks to the New York Mets' equipment manager, and they circulated among touring rock bands like Alice in Chains and Nirvana.
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Insanely, all of this was unbeknownst to the original pranksters (dubbed the "Bum Bar Bastards"), who didn't clue in to their underground fame until 1992, when Davidson randomly heard Kurt Loder reference the tapes on MTV. The tapes became so legendary that in 1993, pop culture commentator Chris Gore directed a short film based on the calls, starring the appropriately grizzled Lawrence Tierney as Red. Though contrary to boring old real life, Red actually gets to follow through on his threats and guns down the pranksters, giving them the grim ending The Simpsons was too cowardly to attempt.
So ... is Moe based on Red? The evidence certainly points to yes. The parallels between the two are overwhelming. In the Season 1 episode "Some Enchanted Evening," Bart calls the bar asking to speak to "Al Coholic" -- the same name pops up in the Tube Bar calls. According to The LA Times, Groening confessed to being a fan of the tapes, but cagily hesitated from citing them as a direct inspiration, instead calling the similarities a "creative synchronicity." Presumably, the same way RC Cola is creatively in sync with Coke.
Much later in the series' run, we learn Moe's backstory, which is uncannily close to Red's. Red was reportedly a former heavyweight boxer; one of the few existing photos of him shows him comparing fists with Tube Bar patron and World Heavyweight Champion Rocky Marciano. In Season 8's "The Homer They Fall," we learn that Moe was also a former boxer who fought under the name Kid Gorgeous (later Kid Presentable, then Kid Gruesome, and finally, Kid Moe).
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Red and Moe's shared history of pugilism may have been a coincidence, but it's hard to shake the notion that these tapes inspired The Simpsons. And since Davidson and Elmo apparently received little to no money from creatively tormenting an elderly veteran and member of the service industry (which sounds super mean, now that we think about it), you'd think one of the most successful TV series in history could maybe throw a few bucks their way? Or at the very least send them some complimentary Butterfingers or something.
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