If you don’t know his name, chances are at some point in your life Sam Simon has made you laugh. At the beginning of his career, he wrote for shows like Barney Miller, Taxi and Cheers. While those shows certainly hold strong footing in the canon of American television, it was cartoon short The Simpsons, adapted in the late 1980s, that would bring him fame and fortune.
From 1989-1993, Simon was an executive producer on the legendary FOX comedy. Though he has not worked on the show for more than 20 years, he still retains a lucrative production credit due to his integral role in crafting the nature of one of the most successful shows ever. Since he left the show in 1993, Simon has gone on to consult on a litany of other programs. During this time, writing and producing has taken a back seat to his own activism, and the organizations that help feed the homeless and protect animals.
In late 2012, Simon was diagnosed with an advanced form of colorectal cancer and given three to six months to live. Over the last year, Simon has vowed to use the rest of his time on earth to help the causes he is so passionate about, all while telling the world about his health struggles online. Rare recently spoke with Mr. Simon about his career and how he stays positive despite his health problems.
Animals and Activism
Rare: You recently headed to Canada in an effort to end seal poaching. Your $1 million offer to the Canadian Sealers Association was rejected. Were you surprised by that?
Simon: I wasn’t necessarily surprised that the offer was declined; I was surprised at how they didn’t understand what we were trying to do. They were so angry and they are all a bunch of bullies about it. They would rather pick on poor little Pam Anderson than talk to us about ending this hunt that is a disgrace to their country. We were just trying to start a discussion … as far as a PETA demonstration, it was a pretty standard thing. My health is very frail and I’m not supposed to be out in that weather; I could die of hypothermia in five minutes. So, my friend had to lead me away. All these maniacs thought that I was afraid to debate. Pam was fearless, as always. Pam was fearless.
Where did this passion for animals come from?
I was an animal lover and I had my foundation. We rescue dogs and that’s what we do. I met this woman named Ingrid Newkirk about 12 years ago. This thing is a slippery slope and I’m at the bottom of the slope. I have been brainwashed by PETA and I am extremely grateful for it.
You are also really involved with feeding the hungry out in Los Angeles, and you only supply Vegan food. What is the basis of that?
Well, I’ve been a vegan for a long time and a vegetarian even longer than that, almost 40 years. I just saw what was going on in the country, I have more than I need and I started a food bank. We feed 400 unemployed families a day. The only reason it’s vegan food is because I can’t in good conscience pay for any meat. A plant-based diet is fantastic. The only thing that veganism has to do with it, is we hand out some of the horror videos once in a while. People think I only do stuff for animals, which is crazy. I have the food bank, and just because it’s vegan doesn’t mean that people aren’t getting fed.
Martin Sheen once said that he was an “actor to make a living and an activist to stay alive.” Given your diagnosis, do you subscribe to that notion?
I think I have one of the most expensive hobbies in the world, which is buying roadside zoos and setting the animals free. That is kind of the new activity around here. It is really gratifying to see these animals that have been so abused, animals that have never been outside of a concrete pit, taking their first steps on grass.
Does that help keep you going?
Yeah definitely. Plus, everybody gives me awards now because I’m sick. I accept them on behalf of my tumors. I’m sure if I weren’t sick, I wouldn’t be getting them. So, it’s a win-win.
A lot of people seem to equate supporting animals with being liberal. Do you consider yourself a political person?
My politics have changed a little bit, especially since the second Bush. I’m not too happy with Barack Obama either, but I’ve never understood how some people, not all people, equate animal rights. I know the NRA is against it and there are some business issues as far as regulations. I guess, if you’re really strict about that stuff you would be for cruelty to animals. I don’t get why it is such a conservative vs. liberal issue. I don’t think it is. There are a lot of conservatives that just jump on this stuff.
So, you don’t think it’s a political issue? A lot of people that read our site support the NRA and may think othewise.
Well, I’m a gun owner. I’ve taken tactical training. I’ve got a lot of guns; I think they are the greatest thing in the world and I wouldn’t think to not have them in my home. At least, in California these things are kind of regulated. I think that the NRA does not speak for its members. Some of the stuff they support is just so radical. We were able to get a thing called “crush videos” declared illegal. And what that is, is it’s a fetish where a scantily clad woman with spiked heels stomps on a kitten until its dead. And the NRA is the one that took it to the Supreme Court to get it declared free speech. I can’t imagine that NRA members want that or that NRA members are for dog fighting, which is another thing that the NRA promotes.
You mentioned that your view has changed on the president a little bit?
I’ve been concerned about our leadership, and Barack Obama seemed like he had a fresh take on it. Both times he was running against really inadequate candidates. I mean … John McCain can’t be president … and that woman. You ask yourself ‘How does a black man get elected president?’ You run against those two. They said that history will judge whether George W. Bush was a good president. Who knows what’s going to happen with Obama? It seems that he is at least trying to talk about stuff that isn’t nonsense and I give him credit for that. Stuff like shaking Raul Castro’s hand. There is nothing wrong with it.
What are some things you wish people talked more about in this country?
I think the state of the oceans is really precarious, and I think that people are whistling passed that graveyard. These weather stories you see on TV are the worst storms since this or the worst storms since that. I have been a believer in climate change for a long time. There is a thing called predictive validity which means that a bunch of people predicted what was going to happen 20 years ago. And it’s all happening now, but I don’t think anything is going to be done for a little bit.
Do you ever find yourself getting wrapped up in some of the more sensationalist media stories? What did you think of the whole Phil Robertson thing?
This is a real liberal hypocrisy, don’t you think? To me, the guy in the middle of it has nothing to do with it. He’s really smart; I don’t know if you have seen the show, but he is very intelligent. These guys are smart. This stuff just didn’t come out. [A&E] knew it could happen. That’s why they hired him! How do you know the opinion of any actors on TV? They are loathsome, many of them. At least you had a sense of this guy before he said what he said. It’s a religious question; the Bible says you’re supposed to stone gays to death. So, if he isn’t doing that, than I guess that makes him pretty liberal! His beliefs are Bible-based beliefs. There is no other case to be made. The whole thing made me a little uncomfortable if he was getting suspended for his religious beliefs. I don’t support anything that he said, but I think people need to relax a little bit.
Life and Legacy
Are you still writing now?
I go in and consult. That’s what I have been doing for the last 20 years. I just kind of sit in with the writers and pitch ideas. It’s the only place I go all week where they don’t stick needles in me.
You have been very open about your cancer treatment online. What compels you to be so frank?
I’ve been on the Howard Stern show a lot. People say, ‘You’re funny on the show.’ It was a really important lesson because I don’t think I am funny on the show. I just answer Howard’s question. I learned that all you need to do is be honest. I’ve done that with Twitter. You get some feedback from it. Some of the stuff is funny, some of the stuff is really gruesome. I think some of it is very funny … I know that is very uncomfortable for some people. People think they can’t ask you about it or talk about it. There are people with cancer all over the place. I hope that people are interested and that maybe at the very least it helps some people. Some of the feedback I have gotten is very nice. There are people who have tweeted me every single day wishing me well. Then you have the people who tell me the only thing good about myself is that I will be dead soon.
You don’t let that stuff get to you?
The last time somebody did it, I posted it. I’ve got some followers who are very devoted to me for some reason. One guy found out this guy’s work address — the CEO of the company he worked for. I have nothing to do with stuff like that.
Do you think at all about your legacy?
The great thing about the trust fund I have set up is that I know that the stuff I was involved with is going to continue. It is going to continue and grow … that is more important than me. There have been two times I have been very close to the end. My colon perforated last December … when I woke up from that, I felt this need to do a meticulous examination of what is going to happen to all that money. The day we wrapped up the trust and got everything squared away … it was one of the happiest days of my life.
When I think about my legacy, I go … that’s a pretty good one. I’ve never worked a day of my life. It is hard and exhausting … my dad worked in a factory so I know the difference between what I do and what most people do.
What is the best advice you can give to the people reading this?
Quit signing petitions! It’s too late for petitions. Go out and do something!
Follow Sam Simon @simonsam