It sometimes seems as if every star in the entertainment business has done a cameo voiceover on The Simpsons. Some have been memorable, while others less so. Considering the sheer number of guest stars the Simpsons have had, it’s a tough pick to narrow them down to the top ten. First off, I have eliminated those guest stars who play recurring characters such Kelsey Grammer and Joe Mantegna. I have also eliminated those who have played multiple characters in different episodes such as Jon Lovitz and Albert Brooks. I have also eliminated stars who were playing themselves.
10. Jay Mohr. Christopher Walken. Insane Clown Poppy.
You would swear it’s Christopher Walken himself giving a typically creepy Walken reading of a children’s book at a book fair.
9. Patrick Stewart. Number One. Homer the Great.
The voice of reason and authority in the Star Trek franchise, Patrick Stewart both parodies himself and creates a completely new character in this classic Simpsons episode in which Homer Simpson turns out to the Chosen One for members of a DaVinci Code-like Masons cult–I mean organization. Only Patrick Stewart could voice the lines “And now, the final ordeal: the Paddling of the Swollen Ass…With Paddles” and make it sound like Shakespeare.
8. Don Cheadle. Brother Faith. Faith Off.
Don Cheadle, as I have mentioned elsewhere, may be the best actor in America today. Here he plays a kinetic, rhythmically-toned traveling evangelist with a gift of gab. I especially love Cheadle’s timing during this classic moment when his evangelical show is in high gear: “Now correct me if I’m incorrect, but was I told it’s untrue that people in Springfield have no faith? Was I not misinformed? (The audience expresses confused incoherence) The answer I’m looking for is, yes.” Please, somebody write a good about a black preacher for Don Cheadle!
7. Johnny Cash. Space Coyote. El Viaje Misterioso de Nuestro Jomer (The Mysterious Voyage of Homer)
My favorite Simpsons episode features the legendary Johnny Cash as a coyote that plays a part in sending Homer Simpson on what is either a profound mystical journey or a drug-induced hallucination. It is hard to imagine any other celebrity pulling off the job Johnny Cash does, in which he manages to play the coyote as both a spiritual guide and an ankle-biting canine.
6. Liam Neeson. Father Sean. The Father, the Son and the Holy Guest Star.
In this exceptionally controversial episode, Liam Neeson plays a hip Catholic priest who seduces Homer and Bart Simpson over to dark side, by which I mean Catholicism. With an Irish brogue and the charm that made him so effective as Oskar Schindler, Liam Neeson created one of the most memorable roles in recent Simpsons history. Neeson’s reading of the line said in reply to Lisa Simpson’s admission that she’s a Buddhist couldn’t be better, avoiding both overplaying and underplaying: “Buddhism? Well, I guess lots of kids have imaginary friends.”
5. Cloris Leachman. Mrs. Glick. Three Men and a Comic Book.
All Bart Simpson wants in life is a rare first edition of the Radioactive Man comic book that explains how he became Radioactive Man. But he doesn’t have the money, so he agrees to take on a job doing chores for elderly neighbor Mrs. Glick. Turns out Mrs. Glick is ancient and her perspective on little boys is still stuck somewhere in the 1920s. Cloris Leachman-who is definitely in the running for the most versatile character actress of all time-once again displays her unique talent for playing a woman considerably older than herself. Her phrasings are absolutely on the mark for this woman who in the early 1990s still believed that little boys enjoyed ribbon candy and that a fair salary for several days work could be in coins you could hold in one hand.
4. Donald Sutherland. Hollis Hurlbut. Lisa the Iconoclast.
Donald Sutherland has one of the great screen voices of all time. He uses the soothing quality of it to fantastic effect as the man who runs the Springfield Historical Society. The highlight of this episode is the banter back and forth between Lisa Simpson and Sutherland when she first meets him. In the space of just a few minutes you can immediately picture this character’s entire history in your mind, all courtesy of Donald Sutherland’s excellent performance and unexpected concern when Lisa jokes she has just gotten over her Chester Arthuritis.
3. Steve Martin. Ray Patterson. Trash of the Titans.
There may be no better actor at playing outrage for comedic effect than Steve Martin. Somehow he manages to go over the top into parody while still maintaining an absolute sense of reality. This episode’s best moments come courtesy of Steve Martin’s indignation. First, during the office meeting between Homer and Ray when Ray’s outrage grows over Homer’s complete obliviousness, then during the political debate when the two are running for Sanitation Commissioner, and finally Ray Patterson’s pitch-perfect response when a city that voted him out of office in favor of Homer Simpson asks him to come back once they realize Homer Simpson has ruined the city: “Oh…oh, gosh…you know, I’m not much on speeches, but it’s so gratifying to leave you wallowing in the mess you’ve made. You’re screwed, thank you, bye.”
2. Harvey Fierstein. Karl. Simpson and Delilah.
Perhaps not the biggest star to ever do a cameo on The Simpson, the Mariana Trench-voiced Harvey Fierstein nonetheless managed to turn in an amazingly memorable one. This episode dates all the way back the beginning of season two and yet still seems as fresh today as ever. Fierstein plays Homer Simpson’s secretary in a rare episode that finds Homer succeeding in his job at the nuclear plant. His reading of the line of “Because my mother taught me to never to kiss a fool” just before kissing Homer on the lips is one of the greatest line readings in Simpsons history.
1. Dustin Hoffman. Mr. Bergstrom. Lisa’s Substitute.
Dustin Hoffman was perhaps the first superstar movie actor to guest star on The Simpsons. He used the screen name Sam Etic rather than his real name. (Pronounce it as one word and you’ll get the joke.) Unlike many big name stars to follow, his part is far more than a mere cameo, he is truly vital and integral to the plot. He plays a hip substitute teacher that Lisa Simpson develops a schoolgirl crush on. Dustin Hoffman utilizes the full complement of his inestimable talents here; he is by turns outrageously funny and deeply touching. In addition, he also plays along with a perfect satire of his star-making role in The Graduate.