Hartman was an actor and comedian most known for his work on Saturday Night Live in the 1990s, and the underrated sitcom NewsRadio. He was semi-regular on the show The Simpsons. When Matt Groening, the creator of The Simpsons, began working on characters for his new show Futurama, he wrote Zapp just for Hartman.

Phil Hartman was murdered by his wife in 1998 and was never able to play the part. In honor of him, Zapp’s voice was modeled in the same way Hartman was going to make the character and Philip J. Fry got his first name in honor of Hartman.