There has been no shortage of celebrity cameos on The Simpsons. In fact, the long-running Fox animated series has become synonymous with them. Everyone from Michael Jackson to Stephen Hawkins has guest-starred on The Simpsons. But Danny DeVito was really the one who got the ball rolling.
Back when The Batman Returns star first appeared on The Simpsons, celebrities hadn’t really lent their voice to the series. But his involvement opened the door to actors, musicians, athletes, and politicians coming on the show in droves. Not only did DeVito prove that big stars could find worthy parts on The Simpsons, but he also created a demand.
In an interview with Cracked, the writers and creators of The Simpsons explained how they got Danny DeVito’s attention and the origin of the character he played… AKA Homer Simpson’s brother…
Who Is Homer Simpson’s Brother Herb?
Homer Simpson’s half-brother, Herb, is voiced by Danny DeVito in two full episodes of The Simpsons, season 2’s “Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?” and season 3’s “Brother, Can You Spare Two Dimes?”. He also appears in a one-line part in season 24’s “The Changing of the Guardian”.
In Season 2’s “Oh Brother, Where Art Thou”, Grandpa Simpson tells Homer that he cheated with a carnival worker and fathered a baby boy who was later adopted. This sends Homer on a quest to track down his brother, Herb Powell. Shortly after, Homer and his family connect with “Unky Herb” and absolute chaos ensues… of course.
Herb, who is a CEO of a car manufacturer, ends up entrusting the designs of a new vehicle to his newly-found brother. Things go spectacularly wrong.
Why Danny DeVito Joined The Cast Of The Simpsons
Danny DeVito made the creators of The Simpsons very happy when he expressed interest in taking part in the series. According to Al Jean, one of the series’ most prominent showrunners and writers, the Simpsons team, therefore, had to concoct a worthy idea for the mega-star.
“We were just thrilled [about Danny’s interest in The Simpsons],” Al Jean explained in his interview with Cracked. “[series developer] Sam Simon called in me, [writers] Mike Reiss and Jeff Martin to pitch out the episode “Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?” which got its name from a Preston Sturges movie. I don’t recall who said it — it was probably Sam or [series developer] Jim Brooks — but one of them said, ‘It’d be funny if DeVito was the voice of Homer’s brother.’ From there, we had Jeff write the episode.”
According to Simpsons superfan, and the creator of the On This Day in Simpsons History Twitter Account, Neil Arsenty, DeVito was one of the very first A-listers to guest-star on the show.
“[It] helped to set the stage for a lot of big names to come. It was also advertised to be a big episode at the time — there are a lot of newspaper ads and things like that announcing that DeVito was going to be Homer’s brother,” Arsenty explained to Cracked.
According to writer Jeff Martin, Danny DeVito was absolutely down with the concept from the get-go.
“Danny threw himself into the part, and it certainly fit him well — that working-class simmering volcano,” Jeff Martin revealed to Cracked. “DeVito is always good at playing the angry guy, but looking back, I was struck by how much it leaned into him as a guy who never had a family. It’s touching.”
What Happened To Homer Simpson’s Brother?
Following the airing of the first Danny DeVito episode, Jim Brooks approached Al Jean and the Simpsons writers about doing a second one with the star.
“After the episode aired, Jim came in and said, ‘I watched the first one and I really liked it, but we made a mistake: We didn’t have Herb start to come back up at the end. He’s ruined by Homer, but there should be something he gets an idea for right at the end of the episode and you see him start to come back up.’ That was the genesis for “Brother, Can You Spare Two Dimes,” which John Swartzwelder wrote,” Al Jean in his interview with Cracked.
Despite doing a successful second episode with Danny DeVito, the writers of The Simpsons never brought the star, or the character of Herb, back. This is with the exception of a one-line cameo in 2013.
“I don’t know why we haven’t seen more of Herb,” Jeff Martin admitted to Cracked. “But I haven’t really thought about it either. Honestly, I was surprised he got a second episode.”
In his interview with Cracked, Al Jean revealed that he does have an idea to bring Danny DeVito back as Herb. But he’s not sure if it will ever see the light of day.
“I do have another idea for him, though: I think it’d be funny if the car Homer designed for Herb is suddenly this incredible classic, and DeVito tries to get Homer back to make more of them,” Jean said. “I don’t know if we’ll ever do it. But we’ll see.”