We take a look at some of the best vocal performances that the late, great Hartman committed to pop culture for an entire generation.
It’s been over 20 years since Phil Hartman’s death on May 28, 1998. Known for making audiences laugh on Saturday Night Live, Hartman was a staple during the most lucrative and critically acclaimed years on The Simpsons playing a variety of recurring and one-off characters. An MVP both on the show and with the crew, Simpsons creator Matt Groening retired Hartman’s characters from the show to honor his friend’s legacy just days after this passing. Groening admitted that he “took [Hartman] for granted because he nailed the joke every time,” and that he could always produce “the maximum amount of humor.” so distinctive were Hartman’s characterizations, the decision was made that Troy McClure and Lionel Hutz could not be re-voiced.
That brings us to his celebration. We thought we would share our favorite characters voiced by the late Phil Hartman, and no, there aren’t really going to be any surprises here; you probably know who will several of them will be, but this is about remembering someone who had a large impact on an entire generation. Plus, we’ll be sharing some characters you might not have known off the bat were also voiced by the SNL and NewsRadio alum.
So let’s get started…
Tom is everything Homer isn’t. Cool, fit, rides a motorcycle, hang glides, respects the sanctity of the father-son relationship, and he’s even kind to fish. In “Brother from the Same Planet” from season four, Homer is late to pick up Bart from soccer practice, so Bart turns to The Bigger Brothers program, and is assigned the Hartman-voiced Tom. Homer and Tom fight at the end of the episode leading to a great pratfall from Homer that’s assuredly more painful than it looks. Hartman could often deliver on rugged and strong sounding characters, it was often why he would voice the Charlton Heston-inspired Troy McClure (as well as Moses, another Heston staple). Tom embodies that aspect of Hartman’s vocal acting to a ‘T’.
Horst is one of the German businessmen that have taken over Springfield Nuclear Power Plant. In the episode “Burns Verkaufen der Kraftwerk“ (German: Burns to Sell the Power Plant) from season 3. Mr. Burns sells the Nuclear Power Plant to a pair of German businessmen for $100 million. As a result of the takeover, Homer loses his job and falls into a state of depression. Burns goes on to regain his power as head of Springfield’s Nuclear Plant for a fraction of what the Germans paid, at which point the reluctant and jaded Horst quotes “Ve Germans aren’t all smiles und sunshine” leading into one of The Simpsons greatest moments as Mr. Burns fakes his fear over the now ex-Nuclear Plant owners shouting “Oooooooh, the Germans!” Hartman’s rotund delivery as Horst is a standout of the episode aided by the fact that Horst resembles John Banner from Hogan’s Heroes.
McClure’s pop-in moments in multiple episodes showcased Hartman’s ability to make something memorable out of only a few lines. Often times McClure’s appearance was almost filler, whether it be an outdated educational video, infomercial or some B-level movie like The Erotic Adventures Of Hercules. Voicing the sleazy, sad McLure was perhaps Hartman’s favorite role. “I do it for the pure love of it,” he once said. It may explain why there was just so damn much of him and we couldn’t be happier.
There may not be a better episode in The Simpsons now 30-years running than “Marge Vs. The Monorail” from season 4. The number of jokes per minute along with its wonderful pacing showed that writer Conan O’Brien was at his peak in the writers’ room. There’s just something about Lyle Lanley’s shyster con artist attitude and of course that song. You know the one (you might even be sick of hearing about it) and Hartman brings it home, often hitting two registers at once (confident and sleazy). His realization when he lands North Haverbrook or how he couldn’t care less who mans the monorail, picking Homer willy-nilly is still incredibly hilarious.
By far Phil Hartman’s greatest contribution to The Simpsons was the questionably competent and ethically loose ambulance chasing lawyer. First introduced in “Bart Gets Hit By A Car” from season 2, Hutz appeared numerous times throughout the series until Hartman’s death in ’98 (Hartman’s final speaking role as Hutz was in the season nine episode “Realty Bites” five months earlier). It was Hartman’s ability to appear at once the dumbest guy in the room who happened to think he was the smartest that really made Hutz shine and the character became a touchstone for the series and actor as Hartman was allowed longer speaking roles throughout episodes that featured Hutz, as well as some of the show’s all-time best lines. Fans were quick to see the similarities between Hutz and huckster lawyer Saul Goodman in both Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul just going to show how much impact the character had on others.
There isn’t one moment to pick above all so the YouTube channel “Best of Simpsons Characters” just assembled a ‘Best Of…’ and that suits us just fine.
It doesn’t end there. Sure, Hartman was more or less front-and-center or a recurring character with each of the above-listed choices but he also lent his talent to a variety of one-off characters.
Not only is Hartman’s vocal performance as Troy McClure put on full display in the nineteenth episode of season 7, but it also has the only time Hartman voiced Fat Tony. It’s a quick aside, with no more than the click and a point from Springfield’s tenured mob boss.
In the sixth episode of season 9 titled “Bart Star” in which Springfield’s youth join a pee-wee football team with Flanders at the helm and Nelson at quarterback, the team is undefeated until Homer strong arms himself into Ned’s job, destroying the team’s undefeated season, and puts all his faith in unqualified Bart as his quarterback. Hartman voices Nelson’s dad Eddie towards the end of the episode.
Again, Hartman voices two characters in this episode (we already discussed Horst as one of the most memorable) but in season 3’s eleventh episode he also lends his vocal chops to Homer’s stockbroker. Homer learns he owns stock in the company and sells his 100 shares for 25 cents apiece to a shady stockbroker, netting $25, which he spends on beer. Big mistake.
Jimmy Apollo (a play on Jimmy the Greek) is the cigar smoking football commentator who uses a variety of ridiculous props to illustrate his “Lock of the Week” pick. Homer would often watch him for picks until he realized Lisa could predict better in “Lisa The Greek” from season 3.
That’s not all, even donning the voice of Moses, or a quick aside as the Cable Guy, Hartman could be found in either the spotlight of a whole episode or simply lending his talents to the tapestry of Springfield’s large cast of characters. He truly is still missed and often caps the show during its greatest and strongest run.
Sources: Gracie Films, 20th Century Fox