For seven seasons and eight specials, Adult Swim’s “Robot Chicken” has been gleefully mocking all corners of pop culture with a scathing wit and a penchant for silliness. With Season 8 and an all-new special on the way (“Robot Chicken DC Comics Special III: Friendship is Magic”), writer/actor Breckin Meyer, executive producer/co-head writer Tom Root, and director Tom Sheppard visited New York Comic Con to tease what this outlandish stop-motion sketch show will target next.
First, SPINOFF ONLINE participated in a roundtable interview with Meyer, as the actor praised the show’s press release writers, expressed his continued disbelief at DC Entertainment allowing the “Robot Chicken” crew to lampoon its characters, and admitted to having never seen a single “Star Trek” episode.
Then, Sheppard and Root tagged in for a separate session, discussing the what happens to scrapped sketches, the joy they take in mocking preschool-aimed pop culture — and that Joker gag that will never make it to air.
So what’s coming up on “Robot Chicken?”
Breckin Meyer: No idea. [Laughs.] We have RCDC3 (“Robot Chicken DC Comics Special III: Friendship is Magic”.) The special airs October 18, and then the new season starts October 25. So those two things are coming up.
What are you guys sinking your teeth into this season?
This season, I’m really bad at this because I’ve been all RCDC3 in my head. We were just talking about a sketch that comes on this season, a Michael Bay skit that’s really really funny about where he gets his inspiration, and how powerfully well endowed he is mentally and physically.
Like we all assume.
Right! I’m trying to think what cool guest stars we have coming on, which [Tom] Root will be much better telling you about. J.K. Simmons comes on, who is one of my heroes. Alfred Molina is back. Does the press notes say better people? [Takes proffered press notes from one reporter.] Oh, look! It says my name. Breckin Meyers is also in it. He comes on. This is the best interview ever [flipping through the notes] you guys get to listen to me read… [Pointing to a list of names on the notes] Those are the DC guest stars [Alfred Molina, Nathan Fillion, Weird Al Yankovic, Alex Bortstein, Giovanni Ribisi, Jonathan Banks, Mae Whitman, Hugh Davidson, Dee Bradley Baker, Zeb Wells, Kevin Shinick, Adam West and Burt Ward], I could have told you those.
The second page says, “‘Robot Chicken’ Season 8 has begun production with plans to get eight times the normal number of superstar actors to provide voices for the show. Correction: The previous sentence is financially irresponsible. “Robot Chicken” will feature our normal number of famous actors, which is a lot.”
Wow. So we’re witty in our press releases too, which is good.
Is someone a My Little Pony fan, is that why the title “Friendship is Magic?”
We’ve got some Bronies up in the house. Friendship is Magic.
Are you a Brony?
No, I am not. I’m willing to learn. Both my daughters really really enjoy My Little Pony a lot. They’re both all around pony fans.
But you haven’t picked up the lingo?
I haven’t, other than Bronies. Which I’m trying to keep from them as long as I can.
You guys have been doing “Robot Chicken” for ten years now.
Something like that, yeah.
How do you keep the process fresh? Do you guys just not give a shit anymore, or —
No, honestly because we kind of praise and mock pop culture, which continues to grow and change and adapt, it keeps growing so we just have more and more subject matter to play with. And the good thing is, we become fans of newer things. As things come about, we become fans of that and we think, “You know what’d be fun? What if this and that?” So it started out as “What if Strawberry Shortcake and G.I. Joe went out on a date?” and now it jumps ahead to what if Norman Reedus on “Walking Dead” — Daryl! What if Daryl went out with “fill in the blank?” Things like that. It keeps growing, so we keep having fun with it. We still marvel that every day we get to do this shit for a living. It’s ridiculous. But it’s really fun.
Is there anything you’ve done that you thought there was no way you’d get away with?
First of all, I never thought we would get into the DC world. I know it’s the third DC special coming up, but DC and George Lucas/Lucasfilm, those two were things we were delicately touching on because they’re litigious and they protect their properties as they should. But once we broke into the DC world and once George okayed our stuff, we were like, “Oh, wow. Okay. So we can play in anybody’s playground.” So, those have been really fun to mess with. We haven’t touched on the new movies yet. Partially because we’re fans, and I don’t want to know anything about it until I see it.
So if you offend anybody, it’s George Lucas’ fault for giving you free reign?
Yeah, without a doubt. I feel like a lot of things are George’s fault if they don’t go well. If they go right, I’ll blame myself. If it goes wrong, I blame George.
Are there any specials you’d like to do — apart from “Star Wars” and DC — that you haven’t yet?
We talked a bit about “Star Trek,” which I’m a fan of, but I don’t know very well. I’ve never seen an episode of “Star Trek.” I’ve seen the movies, but I’ve never seen an episode. We talked about — I talked about, not we — I’ll use the royal we. We talked about doing an all J.J. Abrams special because J.J. has so many fun avenues you can play with. There’s a new one coming up that we have just started talking about doing that I can’t talk about. Legally I’m not allowed to talk about it yet. But it will probably be our next special, which is all about a particular property.
And, as Meyer promised, Root and Sheppard dished more specifics on the new season.
What can you guys tell us about what’s coming up for “Robot Chicken?”
Tom Root: Well, we have our eighth season and our third DC Comics special (coming up), which means more of the same. And everything’s different. So get ready, and set your DVRs.
Are there any sacred cows you’re especially excited to lampoon this season?
Root: There’s so few sacred cows left after eight seasons. I think we’re taking joy out of picking on targets that really don’t deserve it.
Root: Like things that children love, that are near and dear to their hearts.
Like “Friendship is Magic?”
Root: Even younger than Superman fans. So, preschool and up, nobody’s safe this year.
So you’re mocking the things that preschoolers like?
Sheppard: That current preschoolers enjoy.
Is there anything in the previous DC specials that you never got to that you wanted to bring into this one specifically?
Root: Well, we’re not allowed to. There’s this weird dumb rule that if something doesn’t make it into a special, or doesn’t make it into a season, we have to throw it out and start all over again. So we really did start from scratch. I’m always trying to get the Teen Titans into the specials, because I grew up reading Teen Titans comics. I really want to see them animated as much as possible. But I get shot down, over and over.
Sheppard: We do have a few straggler sketches from the DC special that do make it into the season of “Robot Chicken” later on. We’ll still be mining the DC gold for the entire season.
Root: So if you see a sketch that has DC characters in it in the regular season, that’s one that wasn’t good enough for the DC special.
Sheppard: But was good enough, in a desperate moment, to fill out the show.
What was the litmus test for what makes it into the special versus the season?
Sheppard: Well, with the special, we wrote a lot of sketches to start with. We hadn’t really fleshed out the story beyond it being about Batman and Superman’s friendship, so we had just a wealth of sketches, that by the time we actually wrote the story, that took up most of the episode. We had to get rid of a lot great, great things.
So are there any guest hosts this season you’re especially excited about?
Root: Jane Krakowski is one that we’re especially excited about.
Sheppard: John Krasinski. Bryan Cranston, Tom Kenny, Rob Paulsen, Billy West.
Root: Jennie Garth, Jennette McCurdy.
Sheppard: Henry Winkler.
Root: Burt Ward
Sheppard: Adam West, Alfred Molina, who’s always exciting.
Root: Seth MacFarlane.
Are these actors more at ease reprising characters they’ve played, or do they prefer to play other characters?
Root: It’s rare that we’ll run into somebody that has a problem on the day we’re recording. Generally, if they are hesitant about something, it gets ironed out by their manager or agent or our casting director long before they get anywhere near a microphone. It tends not to be an issue. Every once in a while, we’ll rewrite a line on the fly.
Sheppard: Sometimes actors or voice actors won’t want to reprise a role that made them famous. But other times — like, we got almost the entire cast of “Wild Thornberrys” to come do our “Wild Thornberrys: Wild As Fuck” sketch, written by Tom Root.
Do actors reach to you to be on the show?
Root: Every once in a while we’ll hear that somebody is into it. Sometimes it turns out not to be true. I think we heard Anne Hathaway really wanted to the show, and then she would never agree to do the show. We asked quite a few times.
Sheppard: Other times, actors come in and we’re completely shocked at how much they love the show. Like, we had Jared Harris in. We were really excited to have him, we didn’t think we’d get him. He came in, and couldn’t stop telling us how much he loves the show. We gave him a tour.
When did he come on?
Sheppard: This season. He’s in a James Bond sketch, and — is he in the Michael Bay sketch?
Root: He might be. He’s such a talented actor.
Sheppard: No, that was Martin Freeman. We had Martin Freeman in as well.
Root: Right. Just as a throwaway, let’s mention Martin Freeman is on our show. Another awesome actor, he’s just built for voice acting. He can do anything.
Have you ever put something on the show you worried was too obscure?
Root: The most famous example is — I think before BBC rebooted “Doctor Who” — we had a sketch where our Doctor is standing on first base, in a baseball stadium. And he just shouts at the camera, “Do you get it?” And we thought, this is going to go by so fast, no one’s going to be able to recognize him. This is so stupid. Let’s not do this. But then we did it, and people still remember it to this day. So the answer is no, there’s nothing too obscure.
Sheppard: We’re going to a lot of wells this season. We’re going from preschool properties to strange documentaries. We’re doing a “Grizzly Man” sketch. It’s not very tasteful.
Is there anything you’re watching now that has you excited for making the next season?
Root: I’m waiting to see what the fall TV season is going to be like. I’m really excited about the new Supergirl show. Hopefully it’s going to be great and does not lend itself to being made fun of. Or maybe the opposite will be true.
So when you watch TV, are you hoping to watch something you’ll like or something you can rip into?
Root: I’m hoping to watch something I like.
Root: ‘Cause, I don’t want to do any work when I’m at home.
Sheppard: I’m the same, yeah.
Can that be one and the same? Really embracing something, does it make it a little easier to go after?
Root: Sometimes. Like “Game of Thrones” is something I just love. I’ve seen all the episodes, I’ve read all the books. And yet, I want to tell jokes about it all the time. And we wouldn’t be doing things like the DC special if we didn’t love these characters. And having grown up with them and having a fondness for them, it’s all grist for the mill. It’s all about how you attack the sketch.
In terms of DC, was there anything off limits?
Root: We had a Joker sketch —
Root: And I actually don’t know if it was cut for content or because it wasn’t funny enough, or it wasn’t what we wanted the show to be.
Sheppard: It might have been all of those things.
Root: Yeah, a nexus of things. But the Joker, instead of the Joker venom, he creates the “jerker” venoms, and…
Sheppard: And he can’t stop.
Root: On that note… [The pair exit to another interview]
“Robot Chicken DC Comics Special III: Friendship is Magic” airs October 18. “Robot Chicken” Season 8 kicks off October 25.
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