If any of your friends ever respond to a party invitation by pumping their fist and howling "Yay-uhhhhhhhh!" then odds are they watch Regular Show.
The 11-minute animated series has become one of the cornerstones of Cartoon Network's lineup, earning acclaim and a wide-ranging fan base, including many adults alongside the cable channel's bread-and-butter young viewers. Telling the stories of perpetual slackers Mordecai (a blue jay) and Rigby (a raccoon), the show frequently veers from classic video-game hijinks to action-movie homage and back again, rocketing off to outrageous dimensions along the way.
Spinoff spoke with series creator, and voice of Mordecai, JG Quintel about the show and today's release of the 16-episode Regular Show: Party Pack DVD. He shares why the oddball characters helped make the show, his thoughts on the series' surreal sensibilities, his love for antiquated '80s technology and why partying in a central concern of Regular Show now and forever.
SPINOFF: Regular Show has certainly grown a lot over its time on Cartoon Network and from its origins in one of your student films. Initially, you were animating real people with animals and ghosts and talking gumball machines more as fantasy players. Did embracing the more surreal cartoon characters help build the show's sensibilities?
JG Quintel: It was a little bit of a natural progression. The student films were just serving that purpose where the stories were really simple, and I never thought they were going to repeat. It was just, "This one is about a guy with a lollypop head" or "This one is about two guys working at a gas station." When I finally got Regular Show and decided to use all those guys in it, I ended up making them the main characters, and they all just happened to be the weirder guys. Mordecai was a blue jay, and Pops was a lollypop man, and Benson was a gumball machine. Then I added a couple of characters like Skips the yeti and Rigby the raccoon.
It was weird because I didn't want to make a cartoon that would play too young, and I didn't want to comment on the fact that they are these things. I mean, that's what they are, but you don't want to turn the show into them going, "Hey, you're a blue jay!" It became a combination of the idea that they're real people, but they're also these other things. It really played for the humor that they're these weird things. Especially with the surreal nature of the show where it always goes to this surreal place at the end, if they had all been humans it just wouldn't have been as fun. It just happened naturally.
It's weird because Rigby, as an example, feels like a real person that I've met in my life, but I think if you had a cartoon of a man walking around and doing what he does, people would say it's over the top or unrealistic. Do the characters enable you to take more chances with their personalities and vices?
Rigby for sure is like a pushed version of people you know that act without thinking. He does crazy things, and you just go, "Why are you doing this?" I think people have it in them to do that, but they also have the common sense to stop and think about the consequences of their actions. So having them be animals makes it a lot easier to get away with what they're doing. Otherwise, we might get more notes or who knows.
How do you interact with your audience? A lot of people will compare Regular Show to Adventure Time just because it has a large adult audience along with the kids. Do you try to tailor any of the show towards one group or another, or is making yourself laugh the highest priority?
We definitely keep track. We check the internet and see what people are thinking about the episodes. Ultimately, we're making it for ourselves. That's where we come from. We work on making each other laugh, and a lot of us went to school together so we're all friends. We spent a lot of time working together before Regular Show even started. So to get the opportunity to do a show where things are a bit more aged up but is still what we want to do, it's just a bonus that kids really seem to enjoy it too. But we find online that their parents enjoy it and college kids are enjoying it and high school kids are enjoying it.
From the beginning, there was a bit more about Mordecai and Rigby. The show was about how these two guys work at the park and avoid work at all costs and get into trouble. But then when we got a few more pickups, we were able to expand the world and explore more of the characters around them like Skips and Pops and Benson and Margret and Eileen. The world around it got so much bigger, and it was great to see how people felt about all those characters and how those episodes go. It's almost funny to see what people really like and what they don't like. For us, sometimes we just like a really good romp where it's insane action and craziness happening. Like "I can't believe this is in a cartoon!" But then sometimes the really emotional, heartfelt ones are really awesome. They're a completely different type of episode, but we try to keep a good mix so that everybody will have something they like and so we're not getting bored with it ourselves.
We work really closely with it every day. It's kind of hard – especially now that we're at this point of 160 episodes – to find something where you can go, "That's original. We haven't done that yet." We had a couple of episodes we had to completely kill because we realized "Oh, we've already done that. Let's move on." [Laughs]
The show has a very specific style where it feels like this could be taking place 15 or 20 years ago. There is a lot of '80s technology and old video games that work their way in, and it reminds of when I was a kid and would see old "rubber hose" black and white cartoons where a character would turn a crank on the front of their car to start it up. Do you feel like you've got fourth graders across America going, "What the heck is a cassette tape?"
I have one even better than that! One of the guys that works on our show, his kid is really young, and he saw an episode where a character had a telephone – like a land line telephone – and he didn't know what it was! [Laughter] That was CRAZY. And it's really fun to see these things that these little kids are not going to know. Cassette tapes, VHS tapes...none of them probably know what this stuff is. I'd be surprised if most of them even knew what a boombox was.
Is there a specific reason you keep to that aesthetic? Is it just what you like to draw?
I think it's because I grew up in the '80s, and I remember all that stuff – old 8-bit video games and cassette tapes and all the different formats. I don't know why, but I wanted to have that feel on the show. I didn't want to keep it too contemporary where the characters were all, "We have smart phones!" and all this new stuff. I wanted it to be things that everybody would remember even if they were outdated. We did an episode about those huge '80s brick cell phones, and we just made it because I thought those were hilarious. [Laughs] "They're so huge! We've got to get this into an episode."
On Tuesday, the Regular Show: Party Pack DVD is hitting stores. The series is very modular in that there's no real need to watch the episodes in any kind of order. Did you go into the video releases just saying, "Let's put all our partying episodes in one spot"?
I did. And when they came to us to say, "It's time to make the next DVD. What do you want to call it?" we realized we had a lot of episodes we hadn't used yet that had partying as a theme. Some of them had less than others, but we just said, "We can put together a whole pack that's about parties." We put this together so far back that there are even some episodes we've made since then where I'm going, "Ah, that would have been a sweet party episode to put on, but it's too late." But we definitely try to curate the DVDs so it's a good balance. This one especially was all about partying and has a lot of our favorite party episodes. There's "Party Pete" which is an early season episode, or "Free Cake" where the guys are just trying to get some cake. There's "Karaoke Video" where Pops sings "Footloose" at karaoke over a barroom brawl. It's all partying-esque types of things.
We're still seeing Season 4 episodes roll out, and you've got a pickup for more seasons to come. I know you've added some characters as the show has expanded. What are you doing moving forward to keep things fresh?
We've definitely had the problem of finding ways to keep things fresh, but I think we've got a lot of new episodes we're really excited about. Especially in Season 4. Season 5 is getting even crazier, but that's still a little too early to talk about. But in Season 4, we've got some Mordecai/Margaret episodes I'm really excited for people to see, and we have a couple of episodes that push the limits of what we were able to pull off as an animated show. There's an episode called "The Last Laser Disc Player" that's going to be crazy. [Laughs] It was pretty taxing for the entire crew to put together, but it's going to be awesome. There's an episode that just came out this week called "That's My Television" that has some of the coolest action things where I'm really excited to see what people think of them. Some of these episodes start to feel like an action movie more so than a simple workplace comedy.
You've been doing the occasional half-hour episode too. Is that something you think you'll do more of if you find the right story?
Oh yeah! I mean, right now we're going to stick with eleven-minute episodes, but every season we like to do, say, a Halloween episode. And for things like that, we like to do half-hour episodes. The half-hours are really hard to put together. I thought it'd only be twice as hard, but it's actually more like five times as hard to thread all the story pieces through and put it all together. But we did two half-hours this season with "Exit 9B" and then the Christmas special, and I really liked how those turned out. And coming up in the next season, we're going to do a Thanksgiving special that I think turned out to be really cool. So more of those are possible, but we try not to do too many because they're pretty hard.
Regular Show: Party Pack is out on DVD today, and new episodes air Mondays on Cartoon Network.