Yo Gabba Gabba creators Christian Jacobs and Scott Schultz on the secret of great children's television.Gwynne Watkins
“I really don’t think that Yo Gabba Gabba could have survived or made it out into the mainstream any other time but now,” says Christian Jacobs, co-creator of the offbeat preschool television show. Although Yo Gabba Gabba clearly owes a debt to the classic kids’ shows of the 70s, Jacobs has a point: the show started out as a low-budget internet project, infused with the creativity of post-punk musicians, and sustained by a sprawling community of online fans.
Now entering its second season on Nickelodeon, the DJ-hosted half-hour boasts some of the best music anywhere on television (now anthologized in an iTunes album) and a guest-star roster that ranges from Amy Sedaris to Elijah Wood. It also features Biz Markie and Mark Mothersbaugh as regular cast members, alongside the giant monsters, the magic robot and the cat-dragon. Babble spoke to creators Christian Jacobs and Scott Schultz about the secret mythology of the Yo Gabba Gabba creatures, their unexpected teenage fan base, and the real reason Brobee’s mouth doesn’t move. – Gwynne Watkins
Your guest stars for this season are so exciting: The Roots, Jack McBrayer from 30 Rock, the Mates of State. Do you have people requesting to be on the show at this point? Are people knocking down your door or are you still kind of going after people and tugging on their sleeves?
Christian: I think the first season was more, “Hey, can you be on the show?”, but this season it’s been mainly people really into the show. Like Jack Black. His wife actually emailed DJ Lance and said, “Hey, you know, my name’s Tonya and I’m Jack Black’s wife and our son loves the show. We watch it every day. How do we get Jack on the show?”
Tell me a little about where the concept of the show came from.
Scott: Me and Christian, we’ve always been developing different projects for kids’ entertainment, mostly with The Aquabats, the band that Christian’s in. And right around the time we both had our first kids we started to just really watch a lot of preschool entertainment. They were one year old, and we started coming up with ideas, like, “What could be a really good music-based show – not just for our kids, but for us to enjoy with our kids and sit down and watch?”
Christian: You know, when you have children, you want to connect them with things that you like – in an appropriate way, of course. So that was really the crux of the creation of Yo Gabba Gabba, to create something we can watch with our own kids and to inject all these influences and styles and things that we are really enthusiastic about and then make it appropriate it for them.
So then when did the characters come in? And is there an elaborate mythology surrounding them that we don’t know about?
Christian: I lived in Japan for a couple of years and was really influenced by their worship of toys. And so with The Aquabats we had some characters and some monsters, and we sort of re-versioned and cuted them up and turned them into their characters on their show. And a couple of the characters like Brobee and Moono were actually existing characters, but they were mean bad guys, and we redesigned them to be a little more friendly. You can look on the internet and see early versions of the characters on the Warped Tour.
You mention the internet – Yo Gabba Gabba is probably the first children’s show to fully embrace the internet. You have a fan community and a blog and you have cast members with their own blogs. That said, the aesthetic of the show is very low-tech: you’ve got eight-bit video game graphics and people in costumes. Why that choice?
Christian: Well, part of it is definitely budget. They gave us an option: “Do you want the costumes with the mouths that move or the costumes with the mouths that don’t move?” We asked, “How much for the costumes with the mouths that moved?” And we opted for the costumes with the mouths that don’t move. [Laughs] And Scott and I were also always way into more lo-fi, low-tech type of things, a little more gritty. That was really important to both of us – to keep things simple so that kids can fill in the gaps.
It seems like a lot of the good children’s shows now are almost a reaction to having kids and seeing what’s out there and saying, “Oh, I don’t want them watching that!”
Scott: Without naming names, we agree.
What do you think this generation’s takeaway is going to be from Yo Gabba Gabba? Is there a phrase today’s kids will still be saying in their twenties?
Christian: If go on YouTube, you see teenagers and college kids who are enthusiastically into the show, saying, like, “My name is Sally and I like to dance!” Or “party in my tummy” or “don’t bite your friends.”
Has “Party in My Tummy” been released as a DJ single? If I was in college I would totally play that at a party.
“I’d love to have The Pixies on the show.” Christian: [Laughs] I think we need to put the pressure on Nickelodeon to get that out there. We have a remix record we’re working on too, with a lot of the guest stars and guest DJ’s.
Who are your dream guests for season three?
Christian: The first season we made a list of what-ifs, like a wish list. And so many of those names have been crossed off already that we’re just blown away. I mean, personally I’d love to have The Pixies on the show and Devo, these are two of my favorite bands of all time. I’d like to somehow have The Gorillaz on the show too. There are so many other people – The Funky Homosapien, Run DMC.
Scott: Billy Murray.
What would Bill Murray’s dancey-dance be?
I would hope he would reprise his role as the middle-aged Hercules from SNL. “That rock over there is much too large” would be a good dancey-dance. [Laughs]
“Party In My Tummy,” posted to YouTube by a fan. For more videos, go here.
New episodes of Yo Gabba Gabba air all next week on Nickelodeon at 11:30am.
Yo Gabba Gabba: The Dancey-Dance Bunch is now available on DVD. Get it for $12.99 on Amazon.