Where did Homer Simpson get his “D’oh!”? I have been reading Mixed Nuts by Lawrence J. Epstein. It’s about comedy teams in America. In a section on Laurel and Hardy, he has this little tidbit:
Most comedy teams had an authority figure to balance a rebellious spirit– a straight man to rein in the comic. But not Laurel and Hardy. Ollie thought he was in charge and acted as though he were a parent or older sibling, but, of course, he clearly wasn’t.
Innovating, Laurel and Hardy deployed someone outside the team to play the straightman. Jimmy Finlayson, popularly called fin, was the outsider they most often used. Finlayson inadvertently made a contribution to American culture. Because of censors, Finlayson was not allowed to swear in the movies. He wanted, however to express annoyance, and where he would ordinarily have used the word “damn,” he substituted a sound, ”D’ooooh” one famous scene in which he does this is in Way out West, when he is trying to pass off one woman for another to get a deed to a gold mine. He calls out the woman’s name, expecting the imposter to appear, but the real woman shows up. He is intensely frustrated and lets out his “D’oooohh.” Years later, Dan Castellaneta was hired to be the voice of the animated character Homer Simpson and was reading a script in which he was called upon to make an “annoyed grunt.” He asked Matt Groening, the series creator, what that meant and was told to make whatever sound he wished. Castellaneta imitated Finlayson. Groening told him to speed the sound up and “D’oh” was born.