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The one gag Stephen Hawking asked The Simpsons writers not to do

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Mar 15, 2018

Stephen Hawking may be gone, but his brilliance will live on — not to mention his wicked sense of humor.

Since his passing on March 14, tributes have been pouring in for the world renowned scientist. And while all of them have praised Hawking’s feats in the realm of theoretical physics — specifically his work on black holes — when it comes to reflecting on his place in pop culture, undoubtedly at the top of the list are his legendary appearances on The Simpsons and Star Trek: The Next Generation.

In an interview reflecting back on Hawking’s beloved cameo, longtime Simpsons showrunner Al Jean revealed the one gag the A Brief History of Time author asked the animated sitcom’s writing staff to steer clear of.

As fans of Fox's animated comedy will recall, the first of Hawking's three classic appearances came in the ‘toon’s 1999 season ten episode "They Saved Lisa’s Brain."

When Springfield is taken over by Mensa members whose wildly unpopular intellectual governing style wreaks havoc in the town, Hawking shows up as his himself to put them in their place. He also rescues Lisa from angry townsfolk via wheelchair chopper and ponders Homer’s theory of a donut-shaped universe among other funny moments.

“One thing about him that is maybe not as well known, he had a tremendous sense of humor," Jean told The Hollywood Reporter on Wednesday. "He would tell jokes when he came to our table reads, which he did several times.”

But according to the producer, the one joke Hawking specifically requested the writers avoid was showing him drunk at the end of the episode when he and Homer are at Moe’s drinking beers.

"He did say at one point that he did not want to be drunk onscreen," Jean noted. "That was the only note we got from him. He didn't mind having a beer with Homer at Moe's [in the end of "Lisa's Brain"], but not more."

Of course, after Hawking declares Homer’s donut theory of the universe "intriguing" — enough to consider stealing it — the Simpson's patriarch mimics the cosmologist's iconic computer voice to get him to pay for the tab only to wind up on the receiving end of a punch from Hawking’s wheelchair-activated boxing glove.

Jean also revealed that Hawking also gave a thumbs up to the now classic one-liner near the end of the episode in which Homer yells, "Larry Flynt is right! You guys stink!"

"Mr. Hawking read it and allowed it," Jean added. "The joke is Homer is an idiot. In no way was it critical of Mr. Hawking." 

But for Jean, meeting Hawking when he came to the studio was “an honor” he and The Simpsons creative team will never forget.

“Everyone wanted to get their picture taken with him," he said. "It was an honor to be able to briefly interact with the Albert Einstein of our time. I still can't get over it."