Moe's Voice Actor Initially Didn't Want To Record A Certain Simpsons Prank Call Joke

The cantankerous barkeep Moe Szyslak (Hank Azaria), the overseer of Springfield's most depressing dive bar, first appeared in the pilot for "The Simpsons" serving multiple beers to Homer (Dan Castellaneta), a functional alcoholic. Moe was the worst kind of barkeeper, unwilling or unable to make his bar much better than a local watering hole, and eager to crack out a shotgun when the going got rough. Moe, however, is not above celebrating the successes of his clientele. When Homer and his wife Marge (Julie Kavner) reconcile in the bar, Moe announces that, for the next 15 minutes, everyone gets a third off every pitcher. 

The writers of "The Simpsons" began dropping hints as to Moe's inner life. In one episode, he is seen taking a naturalization test, implying that he immigrated. In another, Moe is seen hiding an orca in the back of his bar for reasons that are never adequately explained. In a bleak episode, Moe is seen getting in line to register as a sex offender (!). From there, Moe grew into one of the show's most frequent recurring characters and eventually began receiving stories of his own. Many love "Flaming Moe's" (November 21, 1991), for instance. 

One of the running gags with Moe is that Bart (Nancy Cartwright) would call the bar, asking for a fake client with a funny name. Moe, clueless, would turn to the bar patrons and yell out names like "Jacques Strap," "I.P. Freely," "Ivanna Tinkle," "Al Caholic," "Hugh Jass," and "Seymour Butts." The gag was jejune, but then, they were conceived by a 10-year-old. 

In the "Simpsons" history book "Springfield Confidential" by Mike Reiss and Mathew Klickstein, it was revealed that Azaria objected to one such phone prank. Specifically, the gag in "Treehouse of Horror II" (October 31, 1991).

The prank call to Moe from Treehouse of Horror II

The second segment in "Treehouse of Horror II" is a parody of the "Twilight Zone" episode "It's a Good Life" (November 3, 1961) wherein a young boy named Anthony (Bill Mumy) possesses godlike powers. The adults in his life have become tortured and panicked catering to his every whim, and have to stay positive in the face of Anthony's childlike cruelty; he creates three-headed gophers and then kills them when he's bored. If anyone misbehaves, Anthony wishes them "into the cornfield," an unseen realm of terror and/or oblivion. In "The Simpsons" version of the tale, it's Bart who possesses the godlike powers. 

Because Bart is such an irascible prankster, however, his powers grant him the ability to be infinitely cheeky and his phone pranks to Moe's Tavern become more elaborate. Instead of tricking Moe into yelling out comedic names, he forces Moe to yell out "I'm a stupid moron with an ugly face and a big butt and my butt smells and ... I like to kiss my own butt." 

Such animated dialogue, Reiss wrote, no one takes personally. On live-action shows like "The Joan Rivers Show" or "ALF" (two of Reiss' previous gigs), a cruel joke can come across as mean-spirited. It takes a lot more to be mean in animation. He explained: 

"It is very liberating to write for cartoon characters because they don't take the jokes personally. Marge's sister can say, 'Am I wrong, or did it just get fatter in here?' and Dan Castellaneta's feelings are not hurt. Cruel lines fly freely on The Simpsons and our actors never take it to heart." 

Hank Azaria, though, hated the "butt" line.

Hank Azaria did not like this prank call on The Simpsons

Ordinarily, Moe realizes that he's been duped, and cusses into the phone, threatening Bart with violence, should Moe even find out who he is. Indeed, part of the gag is that Moe is being unknowingly pranked by the son of his most loyal customer. Bart, perhaps knowing that anonymity is key to his prank, allows Moe to be embarrassed, even as he is being psychically manipulated. Perhaps that was why Azaria, angry at the "I'm a stupid moron" line, finally agreed to do it, even under protest. Of the line, Reiss wrote. 

"Only once did a Simpsons actor resist a line. Hank Azaria didn't want to record Moe's response to a prank phone caller: I'm a stupid moron with an ugly face and a big butt and my butt smells and ... I like to kiss my own butt.' But eventually he did it!" 

Like all of the actors on "The Simpsons," Azaria is reliably hilarious, and his skeevy line-readings as Moe have created a well-rounded, palpable sleaze. Azaria also voiced Homer's co-workers Lenny and Carl, the con-man Dr. Nick Riviera, Disco Stu, the perpetually outraged Comic Book Guy, the convenience store owner Apu, and dozens of supporting roles besides. In 2017, after the release of the documentary "The Problem with Apu," the makers of "The Simpsons" faced criticism over the stereotypical nature of Apu, and the character was written out of the show to avoid further controversy. Likewise, Azaria, a white actor, stopped voicing the Black character Carl in 2020. Alex Désert now plays the part. 

The most recent Bart phone prank, meanwhile, came in the season 34 episode "Top Goon" (December 11, 2022). Bart's fake name was "Estee Dionne Malip."