The Simpsons premiered its first ever episode that featured American Sign Language (ASL) and a deaf voice actor on Sunday.
Entitled “The Sound of Bleeding Gums,” the episode saw Lisa Simpson befriend Monk, the deaf son of her saxophonist mentor Bleeding Gums Murphy, as he wanted to get a cochlear implant. Deaf actor John Autry II guest starred as Monk, who episode writer Loni Steele Sosthand pitched to executive producers James L. Brooks and Al Jean. “Jim and Al very much got on board and saw what a gem he was,” she told Variety. “The character has little personal moments from my childhood with my brother but is also very much influenced by John.”
“It’s so incredible,” Autry said of his guest role. “It’s life-changing equality and participation. This can impact change for all of us. It’s about hard of hearing and hearing characters coming together. It’s a part of history.”
Sosthand added that the episode was inspired by her family, “I’m mixed race; my father’s Black and jazz was big in our house.” She continued, “We grew up in the suburbs, and it was a way for my dad to bring in that aspect of our culture. But when I think about music, I also think about my brother, who was born deaf. When we were talking about this Bleeding Gums character in our initial brainstorms, we thought, wouldn’t it be cool if Lisa discovers this whole other side of his life. That led to him having a son, and then we based that character at least somewhat on my brother. And the story grew from there.”
She further revealed that she got her brother Eli’s approval for the script, as she also took inspiration from the real life events of their parents finding out that he was hearing impaired, then translated that to Bleeding Gums discovering that Monk was deaf. Eli and other deaf actors, such as Kathy Buckley and Kaylee Arellano, Ian Mayorga and Hazel Lopez of the nonprofit No Limits, also contributed to the episode.
As for the characters having only four fingers, Sosthand was confident that featuring ASL could still be feasible. “That was a little tricky, especially because the one thing we’re translating is Shakespeare,” she said. “But I think we pulled it off.”
Elsewhere in entertainment, Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul will both appear in the final season of Better Call Saul.