CCI: It's a MAD, MAD World

Watching television all day, surfing the Internet all night, catching movies and video games in between -- for some, it’s a dream lifestyle. For others, it’s what got them kicked out of their mom and dad’s house at age 38.

But for Marly Halpern-Graser, a writer for Cartoon Network’s MAD, it’s a full-time job.

“We pretty much spend all day, every day, looking at the Internet, looking at pop culture and lists of movies that are coming out, watching trailers, watching movies and TV shows,” he said. “We have a couple different kinds of parodies – movie, TV, commercial, trailers and promos. … (We ask ourselves) how can this be a movie parody, a TV parody? What if we took this movie and this TV show and smushed them together?”

And to think, people say too much TV is bad for you. That’s not Alfred E. Neuman’s policy.

Based on the legendary humor magazine, MAD debuted in 2010 on Cartoon Network with a kid-friendly animated sketch-comedy format. Now in its third season, the series features such recurring segments as “Celebrities Without Their Make-Up,” “Bad Idea #,” and “Where’s Lady Gaga?”

The MAD writing team is constantly making lists of ideas for potential sketches. Initially, it’s only a title and a short description, but if the sketch sounds like it might click, it gets the yellow light.

“We generate huge lists of pitches,” Halpern-Graser said. “We give that list to Kevin (Shinick), the head writer, and he says, ‘OK, well those two are all right.’ So we write those two. And then we give them to him and he says, ‘OK, only one of those was OK!’”

One idea for a pitch may have happened at this very moment, as producer Mark Marek asked Halpern-Graser if he had seen USA Today.

“They had a whole thing about how hot these (movie) superhero suits are,” Marek said. “We should check that out -- Christian Bale was complaining, everybody’s complaining.”

“In the movies, they always make a big deal about making the superhero’s costumes more practical and realistic-looking,” Halpern-Graser replied. “But all that stuff they put on them makes it less practical. Spandex, as silly as it looks, is practical – gymnasts wear it. Putting all that armor on them is not practical.”

And just like that, a MAD sketch may have been born.

Marek agreed that almost anything occurring in popular culture is game for parody.

“We tap anything that’s going on, culturally, that we think 6- to 12-year-olds would get, as an anchor,” he said. “But being adults, we hope enough gets in there that the audience will skew older, and they’ll get it.”

Another advantage for Marek, who’s an animator, and his team: They work very, very quickly.

“That’s both a blessing and a curse, (that) we can produce the work really fast,” he said. “We can hit on an Alec Baldwin joke two days after it happened, and put it in what we call the ‘topical’ section. It’s amazing how we can do things almost simultaneously as it’s happening. When Charlie Sheen was imploding? We were right on top of that. That’s great because it makes our show fresh, and of the time.”

Speaking of fresh content, the duo was permitted to talk about a few of the skits that will be air on MAD this summer. Prepare for “Dark Knight at the Museum,” “Out-of-Gas-Car,” “The Amazing Spider-Madea” and “Men In Black to the Future.”

“’Out-of-Gas-Car’ is about how the Madagascar franchise is clearly out of gas at this point,” Halper-Graser said. “’Men in Black to the Future’ is an opportunity to do a current thing that kids love, and an old thing that maybe not everybody will get. Agent J goes back in time in the newest MIB, he runs into Marty McFly in this new adventure. … The best thing is when you put two things together mostly because they rhyme. Then after you do that, it actually makes sense.”

The hardest movies to parody, the duo agreed, are the ones with short titles – like Pixar’s Brave.

“Long titles are the best, like How I Met Your Mother,” Halper-Graser said. “One-word titles … Brave? (Do you make it) ‘Cave’? It’s not Brave any more. We’ll crack it – I’ll put it on the record, we’ll have a Brave parody.”

Both Halper-Graser and Marek enjoy the challenge of creating that segment that totally clicks. They both have their own personal favorites thus far – for Marek, it’s a mash-up of Spy Vs. Spy and Mad Men. For Halper-Graser, it was “Thunder LOLCats.”

“Personally, that’s the one I’m most proud of,” he said. “We were able to take all the extra Internet stuff that I absorb when I’m doing research, and usually can’t find a place for it, all into one giant crazy sketch. It came out well, and the Internet responded well.”

See? Those hours spent online can totally pay off.

MAD airs Mondays at 8:45 p.m. ET/PT on Cartoon Network.

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