TR Interview: The Robot Chicken Writers

By Luke Y. Thompson in Cartoons, Comics, TV, Toys
Thursday, April 3, 2014 at 1:00 pm

Tom Root, Zeb Wells and Douglas Goldstein

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Luke Y. Thompson: You mentioned Wizard Magazine. How much of Robot Chicken came out of Twisted Mego Theater?

Tom Root : Are you a lawyer? [everyone laughs]

Zeb Wells : Who's asking?

LYT: Inspirationally - I don't mean...

Douglas Goldstein: A lot of us on staff, Tom especially, wrote what you saw of Twisted Mego Theater, up until the point where we left. So certainly the same sensibilities and generation of ideas now on Robot Chicken, obviously with a lot more subject matter. But it hasn't been missed by the viewers that it's a very similar sense of humor.

TR: Well, I think it's just our sense of humor was Twisted ToyFare Theater, and now our sense of humor on a TV platform ends up being pretty close to what we were writing when we were in our twenties.

DG: It's kind of like a football player in college goes to the NFL - still plays the same way.

TR: Let's not oversell it. [all laugh]

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LYT: Did it make it easier, for example, to pitch to Cartoon Network, because you can say, "Hey, something very similar worked in this format"?

TR: We actually did a 12-episode series of stop-motion that was pretty close to Robot Chicken for a site called Sony Screenblast around the year 2000. So there was existing stop-motion that we could show to Adult Swim and say, "This is what our show would look like." Mike Lazzo, the president of the network, was like, "I hate the way that looks. I hate stop-motion animation, but your show seems pretty funny, so we'll give it a shot."

LYT: When something like this comes along, is it because you guys want to do a DC special, or is it like, "We've got this deal with DC - let's do a special"? How does the process work?

ZW: I think Geoff Johns has been a friend of the show for a while, and he rose through the ranks at DC, and he's really friendly with all of us. So him and Matt got together and just started bouncing that together. As soon as we heard the idea, I think we all think those DC characters - we have a ball making fun of them.

TR: Never once was it like, "Give us your take on what that show might be, and maybe we'll consider letting you do a DC special." It was like, "We're doing it!" And they were like, "Oh, I guess we're doing it."

DG: People at home, so to speak, don't realize how social this business really is. It literally is. Matthew Senreich, our executive producer, and Geoff Johns, the creative guy at DC, are friends, and as they're talking, some day it must have just come up. "Hey, it would be cool to do a DC special, right?" And then they look into it, and it happens. A lot of it is not just planned, saying "For business reasons, what is the best property we should do a special on?" No, we're all just really having fun, even on a business level.

LYT: Has there ever been the idea to do an Indie comics or Image special? Something like the comics that aren't Marvel or DC?

TR: You said Image and what else?

LYT: Indie, like The Tick or Scud, or any of the things that Shocker Toys would make toys of?

TR: I feel like we are at a level of nerddom that's already pretty dangerous, as far as a mainstream...

ZW: Esoteric.

TR: ..a mainstream television show goes. So if we went any deeper and said, "We're going to do half an hour on Spawn," I don't know if our viewers would go on that ride with us.

ZW: That's not to say that we can't do ten seconds on Spawn during the actual season.

DG: We all have our personal favorites. I'm shocked we've never even discussed doing a Star Trek special, but that's me, and I don't know if that's anybody else. Hopefully it is.

TR: Star Trek, to me, is endlessly ripe for making fun of, in ways that I know you don't always enjoy. [chuckles]

DG: I don't know what you're talking about.

TR: I was not a fan of that original series. To me, it's just ridiculous - the '60s Star Trek. Doug is like - look at his shirt [It has a picture of the Enterprise and says "Star Wars #1 Fan"].

ZW: Number one fan.

TR: I get it.

DG: You'd be surprised how many people don't. Well, we would take up all of your time if we started talking about which Star Trek series deserves to be respected.

TR: Only one.

LYT: But you also have Megos of the original, so they'd kind of fit in, stylistically.

TR: Yeah, yeah.

DG: I know!

LYT: It's a little different for Star Wars. They're not the same scale.

DG: That's what makes the series, Robot Chicken, so great. Everyone brings their own nerd baggage to the table that we can enjoy. Or not enjoy, as the case may be.

LYT: Is there ever an issue of scale in something like that, if you want Star Wars characters interacting with Superman?

TR: In the beginning, I would say yes, because if we were going to do a sketch about, say, Micronauts, we would use the actual Micronauts action figures from 1978, and just let the animators deal with them. We're sophisticated enough now, that occasionally we will use off-the-shelf action figures, just modified a little bit, but for the most part, we will build what we need in a way that is comfortable for the animators to animate.

Those puppets are actually really specific in the way that they have to move and hold their poses, so it's pretty rare that we would get into a scale issue, where it's like we can't have a 12 inch G.I. Joe talking to a 5 inch Masters of the Universe figure. We would just build what we need, I think.

ZW: And any time in the writer's room that someone brings up a production issue, like, "Oh, that's funny, but maybe when they animate it, it's a problem" - we try to kind of pooh-pooh that kind of talk in the writer's room. Just go for funny, and if it's a problem later, we'll work it out.

DG: Yeah.

LYT: Did you ever have an instance where, for example, you wrote a skit with a vinyl-caped Jawa and you couldn't get a hold of one?

DG: Just season one. We wrote a Batmobile into a Canonball Run parody we were doing, and we wanted the Mego Batmobile, and it was really hard to find and really expensive. And then as soon as we bought it, we destroyed it. But it's rare that we - the real answer to your question is, if we want a vinyl-caped Jawa, we'll have our puppet department build one that looks exactly like what we need. We're not going to buy one for whatever they are - eight grand - just so we can wire them up for animation.

LYT: And then in reverse, did you guys have input in the Mo-Larr action figure?

TR: Well, they certainly asked us if we wanted to do it with them. But they just took our Mo-Larr design and made the toy out of it.

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Robot Chicken DC Comics Special 2 airs Sunday night at 11:30 p.m. on Cartoon Network.

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