Kevin Shinick is undoubtedly a busy man. In addition to writing “Superior Carnage” and an upcoming run on “Superior Spider-Man Team-Up” for Marvel Comics, Shinick has a large presence in animation writing — he’s both a writer on “Robot Chicken” and the head writer/creator of “MAD.” “MAD” reaches a huge milestone on November 11 when the series’ 100th episode airs — an impressive feat, considering the 15-minute long animated series has only been airing for four seasons.
“MAD,” based on the humor magazine of the same name, serves as an extension of its namesake, bringing the artistic style and comedic tone of the magazine to animation, with “MAD Magazine” mainstays like Sergio Aragones contributing to the show’s animated sketches. Much like the magazine, “MAD” lampoons popular culture with mash-ups of television and movie properties (like the recent “Coraline” and “Dora the Explorer” mash-up, “Doraline”) with other, classic segments like “Spy Vs. Spy.”
CBR News spoke with Shinick about his time with the show, and as he looked back on 99 episodes of “MAD” the comedian teased what to expect from the double-sized 100th Episode special — including appearances by Weird Al and Henry Winkler in a “Man of Steel” parody and more.
CBR News: Kevin, it’s episode 100 for “MAD” — a huge milestone for the show.
Kevin Shinick: Oh, my God. It feels huge. I look back on it, I remember walking across the parking lot at Warner Bros. after delivering our first episode — which was “Avaturd” — and I thought, “Well, we got one funny one! Hopefully we’ll get some more!” [Laughs] And here we are, 100 episodes later. I just look back and it’s been such a journey, with so many people doing their best work and cranking it out 24/7 because once the show was a hit, the network did not want us to stop. I’m also a writer on “Robot Chicken,” which hit 100 episodes after ten years. On “MAD,” we’re hitting 100 episodes in season four, so it’s like, “Wow, we’ve really been burning the midnight oil.”
Looking back, as the show developed over time, how were you able to keep the faithful adaptation of the magazine’s style while still defining a new identity for the show?
Well, the great thing is that it really is a real mesh of the magazine and our new take on it. When I first started out with this, I had a few objectives, but my main objective was for people to watch this and really feel like they were watching the magazine on television. As we’ve said, “MAD” existed, but it was really more a sister show to “SNL” than it was an extension of the magazine. My first exciting moment was to know that not only are we going to attempt to extend the magazine, but I’ve got people like Sergio Aragones drawing for me. It was kind of like a stamp of approval from the magazine themselves. John Ficarra, Sam Viviano over at the magazine have been so supportive of this. To have people like Sergio drawing it, to have the ability to recreate Don Martin’s, to create new “Spy Vs. Spy” — to do all the things that you love about “MAD Magazine” [is awesome].
I was a huge fan of “MAD,” as are most people. You speak to all great comedians from Monty Python to “The Simpsons” — anybody — they all reference “MAD Magazine” as an inspiration. MAD was the mother of all parody magazines and humor magazines. I think over a half century, there have become other people that have followed that have impersonated or been inspired by “MAD.” “Robot Chicken,” we’re doing the same thing, doing parodies. I think the light was kind of taken away from what started it all. I thought, “If I could bring this back to put on ‘MAD’ so that a whole new generation knows ‘MAD,’ then I will have done my job.”
Everything I mentioned about “Spy Vs. Spy,” all of that — that’s the staple of the magazine. Also, the fold-in. The fold-in, to me, is iconic, but looking at it as a producer, it’s not very funny. Television’s a different medium, so what I did was an homage to it. Every sketch, the end of the sketch folds in and opens up to a new sketch. I tried to go with a very paper look, we have a lot of stop-motion to make it seem like you’re ripping pages to get to the next sketch in order to keep it like the magazine. What we’ve brought to it is, I’ve kind of created this — now we just call it the mash-up — but that was huge in grabbing this new audience. If I were to do a parody of “Thor,” that’s great, but then it becomes dated. When I mash things up and do “Dark Knight at the Museum” or “ArThor,” you create a whole new entity that exists in its own timeline, so it doesn’t feel dated.
“MAD Magazine” has been fantastic, but it skews a little older. That’s one of the reasons my mom didn’t want me reading it, and that’s why you want to read it so much. What I tried to do on “MAD” is to give it that sense that it’s something kids really shouldn’t be watching, but technically, they can. I think that’s what we’ve done. Our target audience is 8-15. I’m making the references for them, I’m parodying shows that they know, but I’m also trying to make the humor for everybody. I want adults to sit and watch this with their kids or by themselves and get a kick out of it.
You’ve got the staples of the original magazine, you’ve got these mash-ups and you’ve got an overreaching comedy/variety from ages 8 to 80. I think those things coming together have really helped make this show the success that it is and have gotten us to 100.
The 100th episode is also the first half-hour show you’ve had. For the staff of “MAD,” who are so used to working in quick cut mini-sketeches, what was the challenge in working with that larger amount of time?
The funny thing was, it wasn’t so much a challenge as it was a luxury, because we pack so much in 15 minutes that when I watch it, I’m always like, “Wow, that episode’s over already!” So, it was a chance to do a double-sized episode. We’ve got so much — I’m sitting here in my office, I joke that it’s like a scene from “A Beautiful Mind.” It’s got lists of all the sketches from all our episodes, and that’s upwards of 2000 sketches over 100 episodes. We pack as much as we can in, we pack as many visual styles as we can in, but this is just an opportunity to see how much more we could put in. Usually I’ve got a movie parody and a TV parody. Now I’ve got a movie parody, a TV parody, a music parody — anything you could think of, I threw into this special because I knew it was a “special” achievement. I really wanted to throw as much as we could in there that was also real quality stuff. When you watch this episode, you want to talk about going back to the original inspiration, we’ve got everyone in this episode that adults would remember from “MAD Magazine.” We’ve got Sergio, we’ve got Don Martin, we’ve got Al Jaffe represented. Tom Richmond does the Mort Drucker look for “MAD Magazine” right now, he does our movie parodies. But we’ve also got a parody of a One Direction song for the younger audiences. Weird Al came in to play the role of Superman. I got Henry Winkler to come in to play the role of Jor-El.
The great thing about the show is that no matter what side of it you’re on — whether you’re an animator or writer or actor — everybody wanted to be involved in it. It’s been a labor of love.
On the writing side, were there any sketches in the 100th episode that the writers had been saving for just such an occasion?
Yes. While the 100th episode will have all you love about “MAD,” we’ve also taken some time to, in a creative way, look back at the 100 episodes and pull out some of our favorite moments. Instead of it being a clip show, we found a cool way to work it into some parodies and some sketches to show all that we think has been fun over the past 100 episodes. So, as I said, you’ve got all the stuff you know and love, all the fresh stuff, and a look back at all the hilarious moments.
A great aspect of “MAD” is how it does a lot of pop culture. Superheroes are very in amidst pop culture right now, which gives the show a lot of opportunity to do superhero sketches. You appeared on DC’s All Access this week and you showed a clip of the 100th episode, “Superheroes: They’re Just Like Us” — how much other superhero stuff do you have planned in the 22-minutes?
There’s a lot, in fact. The show is interesting because it’s also a gauge of the culture, which it was meant to be. But if you look at season one of “MAD,” it was the “Twilight” season, because everybody was talking “Twilight.” Now, as you said, the past two seasons have been superheroes — between the “Dark Knight” movies and “The Avengers” and all that stuff. “Man of Steel” is our parody for this, we’ve got “Superheroes: They’re Just Like Us” — we can’t help but burst at the seems with superheroes because it’s what we love as well. I write comic books on the side, so any time I can get superheroes in the show makes me happy. Plus, they’re universal. Everyone loves superheroes! They’re just like us! [Laughs]
Every week, “MAD” stays pretty current on social trends and popular culture. For example, an upcoming episode after the 100th has a parody of both “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” and “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” Considering the timeline of production, how often are you writing about shows or movies that haven’t released?
When we first started, we kind of had the luxury of being just ahead of it where I could see the movie, write it — to answer your question, the longest sketch takes eight weeks. Feasibly, we could get something on the air in two months, which is insanely fast considering animation. But one of the things that’s so special about this show is that we do a lot of it in house and all of it is done in North America. I say North America, because there’s one company in Canada, but the majority of it is all in the United States. So, you can do things really fast. As the demand from the network came that they wanted less hiatus and more of keeping things running to the point where it’s like, “Wow, now we just watch the trailer and do the parody,” and then it was you’d hear something is coming out next year and you’d jump on it.
In this day and age, too, a lot of these movies are based on books, based on graphic novels, they’re reboots, so sometimes you have a sense of what the movie’s going to be about because of those things. I think for “Ender’s Game,” even, we make the joke on camera that the only thing available to us was a minute-and-nineteen trailer, but here we go anyway! [Laughs]
“Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.,” again, we love superheroes, we live in that world practically, so it wasn’t that difficult — and when you mash it up with something, you get a little bit of leeway because someone can’t say, “Hey, you’re inaccurate.” We’re doing “Agents of S.M.U.R.F.” There are no inaccuracies there, we’re just taking liberties with our own version.
What do you think the strength of the 15-minute, rapid-fire format is? “Mad” has used it to great effect, as has “Robot Chicken,” but it’s not really a format that you see all that often beyond those two shows.
No, it’s true. You do if you think about it — even “Spongebob” and all those shows are two 15-minute cartoons. So even if they call it a half hour show, a lot of the time they’ve got two fifteen-minute stories in it. Adult Swim was built on the idea of a fifteen minute show. I think we also take a lot of heat for contributing to the ADD society, and I don’t doubt that. I like it because you’re in and you’re out — you grab their attention and you don’t have to break for a commercial. It’s like a roller coaster ride. My feeling is, “Always leave them wanting more.” The great thing about this special was I did get to go a full half hour and in my opinion still leave them wanting more. It flies by, but we stacked it well enough that it’s, “I want to keep watching this show, I enjoyed it twice as much, is all.”
In terms of other, non-television projects, your “Superior Carnage” series concludes this month.
Yeah, I’ve had a great time with that miniseries and had a lot of good responses. I’m going to keep doing work for [Marvel] because I just love writing comics. In fact, they announced that I’m going to jump over to “Superior Spider-Man Team-Up,” so I’ve got at least four or five issues I’m going to be doing once I wrap up “Superior Carnage.”
Will you bring back the Hypno Hustler again?
[Laughs] I use him sparingly, you know? I like to take a character that hasn’t gotten a lot of attention, be it the Hypno Hustler, Wizard or anybody like that and give them the spotlight for a while. He had his moment there, but I might bring him back at some point.
Before we go, is there anything extra-special in the 100th episode of “MAD” that fans should keep an eye out for?
Well, there’s some fun stuff you’ll see in this episode. Barack Obama — our president makes a cameo. Is it really him? Listen close enough and you decide. [Laughs]
The great thing about creating this show is the pool of talent that I’ve come across. Finding the people that can do dead-on impersonations of the celebrities that are in most of the movies or that kids are looking up to. We’ve got One Direction in this, we’ve got Barack Obama — in real life, we’ve got Weird Al, Henry Winkler — it just has so much for everybody that I’m excited for it to air. I’ve been sitting on this for a while, I’ve already finished it, so I know how good it is and I’m excited for the rest of the world to know.
The “MAD” 100th Episode Special airs November 11.