Thirty years ago this month, America’s favorite animated family made their debut as part of The Tracey Ullman Show. To celebrate, CoS will be broadcasting live from Springfield all week with a slew of Simpsons features. Today, Andrew Bloom looks back at the recurring characters who didn’t need a name to make us laugh.
Names are one of The Simpsons’ many strengths. There will never be another “Homer” this side of The Odyssey who isn’t compared to Springfield’s resident oaf. Only The Simpsons could mine the middle name of former President Richard M. Nixon and give it to poor Milhouse. And who could forget that Sideshow Bob’s real name is Robert Underdunk Terwilliger, an appellation as elaborate and ungainly as his hairstyle.
But there are many within the show’s expansive cast of characters who haven’t needed a name to make a big impact on The Simpsons’ universe. Whether it be surly comic book store proprietors, voice-cracking Krusty Burger employees, or feline-tossing loonies, Springfield is filled with plenty of people that stand out, even if we’re not sure what’s on their driver’s licenses.
Instead, these folks are referred to by whatever we know them best for: their place of employment, their most popular accessory, or just their overall demeanor. And yet, they are as vital and hilarious as any other denizens of Springfield, even as they soldier on in relative, nameless obscurity. In that spirit, here is our salute to the 12 best characters from The Simpsons who are known by a title, a pseudonym, or as Marge once put it, a vague description, rather than an actual name.
Voiced By: Dan Castellaneta
First Appearance: “Brush with Greatness”
Also Known As: Jeremy Freedman, Pimple-faced teen, Puberty Boy, Geeky Teenager, Steve, Pop, Mr. Peterson
Squeaky-Voiced Teen is seemingly fated to work every menial job Springfield has to offer. He could be slinging milkshakes at one of the town’s many fast-food huts, bagging groceries at the local market, taking tickets at the Aztec Theater, or even selling knick-knacks in Australia. But wherever he goes, you can bet he’ll be performing some low-level task in a less-than-flattering uniform, while thanking the customers in his unsteady, perpetually-cracking voice.
Perhaps that multitude of jobs helps explain his multitude of names. Principal Skinner once referred to him as “Jeremy,” the bullies called him “Mr. Freedman,” and Abe Simpson said his name was “Old Man Peterson.” Sadly for him, none of these have stuck. Instead, the character has long been better known by his puberty-bound description. It’s possible that each job comes with a new name tag, a moniker as transient and disposable as his employment prospects.
Nevertheless, Squeaky-Voiced Teen has left his mark on Springfield, remaining one of the show’s more recognizable characters despite never having a story, a fleshed-out personality, or even a name to call his own. There is a quiet determination to him, one that ensures he’ll never give up, no matter how silly, pointless, or painful the task before him may be. In short, Squeaky-Voiced Teen doesn’t let his ever-unstable vocal cords or his acne-ridden face get him down, just the cancellation of Futurama.
Voiced By: Hank Azaria
First Appearance: “The Way We Was”
Also Known As: Sarcastic Man, Raphael
You cannot escape Wiseguy. He may be your limo driver, your exterminator, your handyman, or your security guard, but no matter where you go or what you do in Springfield, there is no evading either his various odd jobs or his trademark bon mots. Most often, he’s sitting behind a counter, selling pets, guns, or Sharper Image-style novelties, and dispensing his insults and casual asides with relish.
Voice actor Hank Azaria has admitted that his take on the character is an impersonation of Charles Bronson, a detail the show has playfully acknowledged. But Wiseguy doesn’t carry his inspiration’s appellation, with the only hint of a real name coming from Sideshow Bob having once referred to him as “Raphael.”
He is, however, one of the few Simpsons characters whose lack of a name has been acknowledged by folks behind the scenes. When asked what to call the character by the fans, one of the show’s sound editors, Bob Beecher, replied: “He doesn’t have one name. His character’s name always fits the scene, so he’s gone by many names: ‘Clerk’, ‘Shopkeeper’, etc. But in the script, the direction given to the voice is ‘Wiseguy Voice’. So call him ‘Wiseguy’ if you want.”
And we do! Whether he’s adding “boyo” or “pally” to the end of a sentence or just cutting Springfield’s residents down a notch, it’s always fun to see Wiseguy turn up at each shop, eatery, or Bloodbath and Beyond outlet with yet another sarcastic remark.
The Sea Captain
Voiced By: Hank Azaria
First Appearance: “New Kid on the Block”
Also Known As: Horatio McCallister
When you need to go on a nautical voyage, try an all-you-can-eat seafood restaurant, or locate a training academy for wimpy lobsters, you’ll find The Sea Captain, there to steer you, feed you, or ask you for spare change. Like other characters on this list, The Sea Captain wears many hats in Springfield, though in this case, he’s always wearing the same hat. Sea Captain is quick with a “yarr” and eternally committed to making his living near the water, whatever form that may take this week.
But unlike the many ships he’s piloted, The Sea Captain is rarely, if ever, known by his actual name. Though Homer refers to him as “Captain McCallister” in his first-ever appearance, since then the denizens of Springfield have simply referred to him by his familiar ocean-faring title. His seldom-used first name, Horatio, is appropriate for the aquatic aficionado, as he shares it with Horatio Hornblower, a naval officer in a series of novels by C. S. Forester.
But whether he’s fighting with a giant squid or ferrying hot pants to their final destination, The Sea Captain is utterly unsinkable, with our without a name.
Crazy Cat Lady
Voiced By: Tress MacNeille
First Appearance: “Girly Edition”
Also Known As: Eleanor Abernathy
Crazy Cat Lady is the platonic ideal of descriptive Simpsons character names. It says it all right there on the tin. She is a lady, around the same age as Homer and Marge. She loves cats, as evidenced by her massive collection of them. And she’s crazy, given her propensity to unleash her unintelligible ramblings and throw members of her furry brood at those who would dare cross her path.
But in “Springfield Up”, Crazy Cat Lady not only received a name — Eleanor Abernathy — but she earned a backstory as well. Young Eleanor was a Lisa-like overachiever as a young girl. Determined from the start, she graduated with an M.D. from Harvard Medical School and a J.D. from Yale Law School. But the strain of trying to be both a doctor and a lawyer eventually led her to take refuge in the comforts we all turn to in our weaker moments — cheap wine and pet-hoarding.
Still, Crazy Cat Lady is best known by her title, and she’s remained a memorable presence in Springfield. She ran for mayor after Joe Quimby was recalled. She revealed this season that she’s a talented opera singer. And she can bowl a strike with a fur ball in place of a bowling ball. These skills are impressive, and whatever you want to call her, she’s ready with a lightly deranged mumble and a fistful of feline whenever and wherever she’s needed.
Blue Haired Lawyer
Voiced By: Dan Castellaneta
First Appearance: “Bart Gets Hit by a Car”
Also Known As: Mr. Burns’ Lawyer
The competent, mercenary yin to Lionel Hutz’s yang, Blue Haired Lawyer has made his bones arguing on behalf of the likes of Mr. Burns, Freddy Quimby, and Fat Tony. He’s also represented such dastardly organizations as Itchy & Scratchy Studios, The Movementarians, and most fearsome of all, the Disney Corporation. If the Simpsons are in court, you can be sure he’ll be on the other side.
Sadly, despite his talents in the courtroom, we’ve never learned Blue Haired Lawyer’s legal name. Animator Jim Reardon designed the character to resemble character actor Charles Lane, and former showrunners Al Jean and Mike Reiss have said that his voice was inspired by McCarthy-era lawyer Roy Cohn. Still, that’s left the man himself with only his profession and his Milhouse-like locks to go by.
Nevertheless, he has the unique distinction of being one of the few people in Springfield who actually seems good at his job. While he’s often no match for Bart and Lisa’s grand schemes, Blue Haired Lawyer gives sound legal advice and can hold his own in the courtroom using his nasally voice and skeptical demeanor. That skill as a jurist hasn’t made him well-known enough to earn an actual name from the show’s writers, but he seems content to ply his trade in Springfield’s kangaroo courts, even with nothing to put on his business cards.
Voiced By: Hank Azaria
First Appearance: “The City of New York vs. Homer Simpson”
Also Known As: Larry, Sid, Joel Duffman, Barry Huffman
Lenny sums Duffman up well in the character’s first appearance when he declares, “Hey, it’s Duffman — the guy in a costume who creates awareness of Duff!” Duffman is uncomplicated. As the erstwhile spokesman for Duff Beer, all he needs is his trademark cape and sunglasses, the chance to throw in a few pelvic thrusts, and his traditional shout of “Oh yeah!” to be the booze-hawking life of the corporate-mandated party at a moment’s notice.
But behind that machismo is a man who will occasionally turn against his corporate masters, teach adult mathematics at a local homeless shelter, or date one of Springfield’s most prominent gay men. He’s not exactly a philosopher in spandex, but there’s occasional depth behind advertising showman’s flashy exterior, even if he’s willing to reflexively sell out in favor of the new Duff Extra Cold™.
That said, Duffman’s real name is something a mystery, given his status as a corporate icon. Many different people have played the role, including our own Homer Simpson. But the regular Duffman has gone by Larry, Sid, and any number of other designations when breaking away from his beer-belted persona. Whatever you’d like to call him, Duffman lives on. As the man himself puts it, “”Duffman can never die! Only the actors who play him!” Oh yeah!
The Yes Guy
Voiced By: Dan Castellaneta
First Appearance: “Mayored to the Mob”
Also Known As: Frank Nelson-Type, That Annoying Guy Who Always Says “Eeeh-Ye-e-e-es?”, That Jerk That Goes ‘”Eeeh-Ye-e-e-es?”
Sometimes, all you need in a life is a grand affirmation, a big snootful of positivity, or an exuberant offering of acceptance. For all those occasions, there is The Yes Guy, ready to offer you an energizing cheer using his favorite word.
There’s not much to The Yes Guy. Like Squeaky-Voiced Teen and Wiseguy, he shows up as an employee at any number of Springfield’s establishments, from The Gilded Truffle to Costington’s Department store to the local prison. He even has a Brazilian counterpart who, naturally, greets everyone with a hearty “Siiiiiiiiii!” When asked by Homer why he speaks in his distinctive manner, The Yes Guy responded that he’d “had a stroooooke” with the same cheery vigor.
Although the only hint we’ve gotten at The Yes Guy’s real name is in a deleted scene where he’s referred to as Mr. Pettigrew, his origins may point in a different direction. The character is an homage to character actor Frank Nelson, who made a splash on The Jack Benny Program and appeared on shows as varied as I Love Lucy, Sanford and Son, and The Simpsons’ prime-time animated forebear The Flintstones, using the same distinctive catch phrase and intonation at each stop. Though Homer characterizes him as a jerk, this irrepressible vessel of positivity cannot and will not be silenced.