Death by Snu Snu: An Oral History of ‘Futurama’s ‘Amazon Women in the Mood’
A company of soldiers is in the jungle. Suddenly, they’re attacked by a tribe of natives. Only two of them survive. They’re brought back to the tribe’s village, where its chief gives them an ultimatum: “You must choose — death or chi chi!” Neither knows what “chi chi” is, but they reason that it’s got to be better than death, so the first soldier says, “I choose chi chi!”
From there, the soldier is forced to have sex for hours, but at the end, he is set free. The chief then turns to the second soldier and asks “Death or chi chi?” He chooses death. “Very well,” the chief replies. “Death — by chi chi!”
That’s just one telling of a very old joke with hundreds of different variations — the best of which is an episode of Futurama called “Amazon Women in the Mood.” In it, Fry, Leela, Bender and Amy, along with Zapp Brannigan and Kif, become stranded on a planet filled with giant, beautiful Amazon women where men are forbidden. Since he’s a robot, Bender manages to be spared punishment, but Fry, Zapp and Kif find themselves in much the same position as the aforementioned soldiers. With “snu snu” as the stand-in for “chi chi,” the ruler of Amazonia — a giant computer named “Femputer” — sentences them to “death by snu snu” where the Amazonian women will make snu snu with them until their pelvises are crushed and they die. While Zapp and Fry welcome death in this manner, they, along with Kif, are eventually spared thanks to Bender, who seduces the Femputer (voiced by the great Bea Arthur).
With dozens of funny moments in both the script and the animation, a focus on fan-favorite Zapp Brannigan and the evolution of the Kif and Amy love story, “Amazon Women in the Mood” is considered one of the greatest episodes of Futurama ever. Below its writer, director and Billy West, the man who supplies the voice for dozens of characters on the show (including Fry and Zapp), recall how snu snu almost became the death of all of them.
Lewis Morton, writer of “Amazon Women in the Mood”: I don’t know whose original idea it was for “Amazon Women in the Mood.” It’s possible I pitched it, but I don’t remember. I know we wanted to do a story with the Kif and Amy romance — Kif calling her and being too afraid to talk and hanging up was an early idea for it.
We’d first paired up Kif and Amy in the Titanic episode, and I think part of the motivation behind that relationship is that Kif is so funny getting his hopes and dreams crushed by Zapp Brannigan, that you have to give him some hopes and dreams in the first place. Him being in love with Amy, but afraid to say it, is something funny for Zapp to stomp all over.
Peter Avanzino, Futurama supervising director: Maybe it was the writers’ plans to pair up Kif and Amy from the start, but I doubt it. The way these things usually work is they just pair people up in one episode. Maybe nothing will come of it or maybe something will. It develops kind of naturally.
Claudia Katz, Futurama producer: The Kif and Amy relationship is really sweet. It’s evolved and stood the test of time over the years.
Morton: And, of course, if the episode is about Kif and Amy, it has to be very Zapp heavy. Having Kif as his foil always made him fun to write, as he travels with a straight man. I really love writing Zapp. Any character with totally unearned self-confidence is fun to write, and Zapp is definitely that.
Brian Sheesley, director of “Amazon Women in the Mood”: Zapp was one of my guys. I always like helping to design and develop characters, and since I had the first Zapp episode, “Love Labour’s Lost in Space,” I got to develop and hone in on Zapp, Kif and Nibbler acting-wise and animation-wise.
Originally, Phil Hartman signed on to do the voice of Zapp, but he, of course, tragically died, so Billy West stepped in. He was told, “Don’t play it like Shatner playing Kirk, play it like Kirk playing Shatner,” which took the character so over-the-top, given how full of himself Shatner is.
Billy West, voice of Fry and Zapp Brannigan: At one point they told me, “Imagine if William Shatner ran the Enterprise instead of James T. Kirk,” but there are other influences on Zapp too. I came from a radio background, and early in my career, there were still some of the big dumb announcers leftover from the 1950s. These were the guys who, more than anything else, loved the sound of their own voice. They’d marinate in it, and that’s what Zapp does. I knew Phil Hartman, and he and I would talk about our love of those big dumb announcers from the old days. He liked that style of delivery, and I thought it was a natural thing to do this character like that, with Phil Hartman in mind.
Morton: One thing we wanted to put into “Amazon Women in the Mood” was when Zapp Brannigan did karaoke as William Shatner. Behind the scenes, Billy West and Maurice LaMarche used to do dead-on impressions of these famous William Shatner voiceover outtakes, so we put a bunch of lines from those outtakes into the script. There’s a famous one where Shatner’s berating a voiceover director and says, “You sicken me.” The whole big chunk of him being William Shatner was just an excuse to put that into a script. All of this is just a part of our ongoing love of and obsession with Star Trek.
Another shout-out to Star Trek from this episode is that the planet is run by a giant computer. There was at least one episode where they land on a planet with primitive people whose society is run by a giant computer — or like, the 1960s idea of what a computer was, with it being as big as a room and there’s a bunch of flashing lights on it.
Then we got Bea Arthur to play Femputer. She had a voice with a lower register and she had authority, so it was a great choice. I thought the line “Have you any idea how it feels to be a fembot living in a manbot’s manputer’s world?” was unperformable, but she killed it on the first take.
Katz: I was very excited that we got Bea Arthur. She really threw herself into that role in a pleasantly shocking way, and she crushed it.
Morton: Generally, this episode has a lot of the basic building blocks of any Futurama story: They go to another planet, they take a tour of that planet, and then, at the end of Act Two, they run away — we had a cork board where we put cards up and we had a card that said “run away” that we’d always trot out and put in the outline. The snu snu part was a loving tribute to the old dirty joke about the guy sentenced to death by chi chi. We just changed it to snu snu. I don’t know why.
The character design of the Amazon woman came from a previous episode that I wrote called “Brannigan Begin Again.” In it, there was like a United Nations of planets with all these different aliens and Fry is asking these big Amazon women, “So, you ever go out for coffee?” That was all we saw of them, and then we gave them a whole episode.
Sheesely: We were all big fans of R. Crumb and his women, so we used that and put it in Matt Groening’s style. We had fun designing tons and tons of these women.
West: My favorite line in this episode is, after Zapp’s had snu snu with a bunch of the Amazon women, he says, “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is spongy and bruised.”
Katz: “Amazon Women in the Mood” is one of the best Zapp episodes because he sort of gets a taste of his own medicine, yet still learns nothing in the process, which is perfect for his character. Over the years of Futurama, a lot of our characters have evolved, but Zapp hasn’t evolved at all. He’s still so shameless and hopeless.
Peter Avanzino, Futurama supervising director: I will say, in this new episode, he does learn a lesson, but I’m sure by the next time we see him, there will not be any evidence of that. There’s also a direct callback to “Amazon Women in the Mood” in a new episode. I can’t tell you more than that though.
West: It’s been a lot of fun getting to play Zapp again. Lovable lunkheads who act officious are always a lot of fun to play. We’re back doing the show now, and it’s like we never left. You won’t be disappointed.