"Simpsons" creator Matt Groening loves to point out that his name rhymes with the word "complaining." That's a good match for the guy who has tapped a vein of human angst, and made it all seem funny for his TV series, which debuts as a movie this weekend.
"The best thing for comedy, I think, is the stuff that keeps you lying in bed awake in the middle of the night," Groening told ABC News. "Money and death and religion, and all of those big themes that bother people so much.I think those are great grist for hilarious comedy."
His long-running evening cartoon series is both slapstick and sophisticated, sometimes at the same time.
"You know, we try to do all sorts of crazy, wild, physical gags, but the fact is, that the heart of 'The Simpsons' is some real emotion," Groening explained.
He said that when he and Jim Brooks turned these characters into a TV series, Brooks told him the only way they could do it would be if they could "make the audience forget -- at points -- that they're watching a cartoon."
And they seem to have achieved that. After 400 episodes and 18 years, this suburban family of five is real -- in a way -- to Simpsons' fans, and they are certainly real to Groening, who named the characters after people in his own family.
He said his mother is named Marge and "did have a beehive hairdo" when he was a kid, although he said Marge Simpson has a bit more height in her blue do than his mother's did.
"I have to say, in her defense, the angle that I was looking at her was up, so the hair looked taller," he said.
Beer, Donuts and Family Love
Groening feels nothing but love for his characters, who first appeared on Fox television in 1989.
He described Homer Simpson as "the guy who's being kicked by life, and he does not get it."
"I also like it that he loves what he loves. He has these full desires -- the donuts, the beer, the laziness, he feels that with his entire heart, he never gives up, and he's completely ruled by his impulses," Groening said. "Homer Simpson does not feel guilt, and I think that's incredibly endearing."
The animation takes longer than you might imagine; six to nine months to create a single episode. Yet the series is known for being current.
"The topicality of 'The Simpsons' is in part an illusion and it's in part just our powers of prophecy," Groening said. "We seem to be really good at anticipating what's going to be happening … corrupt politicians, big mistakes, cover-ups, corruption, all that."
But in the end, it's really just an old-fashioned family show.
"We're talking about a family who love each other but drive each other crazy … and what I always like to think is that here it is you look at this family on TV, the Simpsons, and you go 'no matter how bad my life is, I'm better off than they are.'"