Fans everywhere can rejoice, because it’s time to bring out your action figures and play with them again! Robot Chicken is back for another season and the extremely affable series co-creator/writer/actor Matthew Senreich took some time to chat with me about the upcoming diabolical adventures of all of our favorite nerdy childhood toys come to raunchy, hilarious life. Bok!
Season 7 starts this Sunday! Are you guys excited?
Yeah, you know it’s always weird when it starts because we’ve been working on it for so long that you’re like “Oh yeah, it has to air!” But yeah, the stuff that’s airing this week, we worked on and wrote probably like eight months ago.
I was wondering about that. When you look back while talking to the press and you are asked about a specific episode, can you remember them individually or is it all just a blur?
It’s getting to the place where it’s a blur. I remember everything and I can probably point to “yes, it was in this season,” but if you asked me what episode, in what season, that’s where it starts to get a little bit crazy. But yeah, each episode is 11 minutes long, we have anywhere from 10-15 sketches per episode and then 20 episodes per season. You can do that math on how much that adds up to. It’s a lot to be like “hey, that was Season 3, Episode 11.”
Yeah there is, and hopefully it will play out again on the DVD. It’s one of those things where once we realized that a DVD structures it a certain way that we could have fun with it, we did that secret message “trapped in a DVD factory.” This time around we wanted to do a mall landscape. So every title is going to be a store in our fictional mall, if you will.
How have things changed for you with the writing and the production and the voice acting since this thing started all the way back in Season 1?
I think it’s always evolved. I think that’s the best part about this. The thing that I love that has stayed the same is that I’m playing with friends and just making each other laugh. The fact that I can still say this after seven seasons is amazing, the core group is the same and on top of that core group we have these additional friends that have been added to it in that writer’s room, especially.
I think as time has gone on our production has gotten better and we’ve learned to do it more efficiently. We know what to do, how to build the puppets better so they animate better. Our animators know how to actually move these things better. I think all that stuff, it looks prettier, which is nice.
How much of the puppet characters are actually created in-house and how much are real memorabilia used in the sketches?
We try to use the action figures whenever we can, but even if we do use the real action figures, we have to modify them because one thing we learned in our first season was puppets don’t hold the poses you want them to if you keep moving them around as much. So if you have an old school G.I. Joe figure and you’re putting it into a pose, the armatures just get wonky and they’ll start just wobbling. We have to disassemble an entire action figure and rebuild it as a puppet with wire armature underneath. Even the toys you see, we turn into puppets.
You make a reference in one of the early episodes of this season to a show called Out of this World, which I thought nobody remembered except me. It was a hilariously obscure reference. Do you worry some of the jokes will go over the audience’s heads or is that part of the fun?
It’s kind of the fun of it. We always laugh, in our first season we made a bunch of references to this old movie I loved called Midnight Madness which was on HBO growing up all the time. It was like Michael J. Fox’s first role. Nobody got that [reference], but for the four people in the audience that do, it was a big smile. The key is to not take properties like that and make them too long. You’ll never see a 3 or 4 minute sketch in an eleven minute episode for Out of this World. We keep it short and sweet and you’re on to the next thing before you even know what’s going on and hopefully even make some go “You know what? What is this Out of this World thing? Maybe I should go check it out.”
Do you actively go back and watch old shows like G.I. Joe and Transformers to get sketch ideas, or do you just pull from your memory?
I’d say it’s mostly from memory stuff and that nostalgic feel for what you enjoyed growing up. But there is a lot of research that goes into these things to remember what exactly happened and how certain things played out. Even if you have the vague memory, people are going back and re-watching all of the stuff that we’re making fun of.
You had one of the funniest celebrity guest performances ever on the show with Alfred Molina as Lex “Sexx Luthor” Luthor in the Robot Chicken: DC Comics Special II. Any other celebrity guests for Season 7 to rival it?
Oh my god, that’s the best part about our show is that it’s turned into this hodge-podge of people wanting to do the show. This season we kind of went on a Game of Thrones kick, we just love that show, so we were like “I wonder who we could get from that?” So we have everyone from Sean Bean to Maisie Williams to even George R.R. Martin is coming on this season. We got Chris Pine to come on and do a Star Trek thing for us. You never know what to expect from people that are coming in.
I’m trying to think of other names… we got The Iron Sheik to come in and just goof around with us. Stephen Merchant came in this season which was like a fanboy thing. Ran into and met, I don’t know if you watch The Blacklist but Megan Boone, I met her at Comic-Con and she was like “I like your show!” and I’m like “Come in!” and it was that simple and she did it. But it’s always a “who’s who” you don’t expect.
You mentioned Comic-Con, and we’re big fans of the event here at The Nerd Repository. What do you nerd out about at the event? What’s your top nerd vice?
I started in comic books. I’m always into that and action figures. That’s my path. So I love trying to get all the toy exclusives, especially with Hasbro and Mattel, if that’s even feasible. But Comic-Con has changed so much, it’s pure chaos and anarchy in there and it’s hard to do and see everything you want to see. It’s really become less about enjoying it than it just being overwhelming now. I actually like going to some of the smaller conventions and finding some of the bootleg stuff and things you can’t find at Comic-Con at all.
It’s almost become like four days of Black Friday.
Yeah, for me it’s just a great place to see a lot people I haven’t seen in a long time. Again, starting from the comic book world, it’s where I get to see all the comic creators I haven’t seen in forever and hang out with them in a bar.
Are you a weekly reader of comic books? Do you have subscriptions at a local comic shop or are you just a long time fan?
I’m a long term fan. I was reading up until about 3 or 4 years ago then I had a kid and that kind of slowed me down. I read all of Geoff Johns stuff because he’s a dear friend… and he sends them to me. [laughs] And I’ll read occasional things that people tell me “Hey, you should check this out,” so I’ll make a point to do that. The free time has kind of slowly vanished. Hopefully I’ll get it back shortly as [the kids] get older and I’m able to find that time again.
Do you get to take home any of the cool stuff that gets used in the show?
The best part of our show is we make everything in house! So it’s all in the building. It’s all within arm’s reach. As far as like the stuff in my office, it’s a toy factory in here. I have all of my old school action figures from my original Star Wars figures, as I’m just looking around, to the Emperor from our Star Wars special sitting behind me, always looking over my shoulder. I have the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles staring across from me. I have a He-Man cake tray for some reason on my wall. I have a Venture Bros. “Choose Your Own Adventure” piece of art sitting next to me. It’s just weird stuff everywhere.
Last I’d heard Star Wars: Detours, the show you were working on with Seth Green, was on hold but would still eventually come out. Is that still the case, and has any headway been made on a release date?
Yeah, it’s not about headway or anything like that, this is a Lucasfilm decision. They have genuine movies coming out. Why do a comedic version of something and introduce a whole new generation to Star Wars through a funny interpretation as opposed to the genuine one? It doesn’t make sense. It would be like “Hey, go watch Robot Chicken: Star Wars before you actually watch Star Wars.”
It’s backwards, and when we were working on Detours, George wasn’t retiring yet. He was making it and having fun with us. It was all great and then he looked to retire and pass the torch and Disney was like “Hey, we want to make new movies.” Lucasfilm was like “We should probably do that first. We have 39 episodes done, we’ll just wait a beat.” It’s totally up to what they want to do, but we know they’re very happy with them. We know George likes them.
Hopefully they’ll get to see the light of day. I know I was skeptical of the show, but some of the clips I saw were surprisingly funny.
Star Wars fans are a very devoted bunch. It’s great. People were probably scared of Robot Chicken: Star Wars before it came out. It’s the same type of thing, there’s nothing really different. Saying “all audiences” versus “only older people” [as a target audience] make people scared, but isn’t that what The Muppets are? It’s that type of thing. It’s a certain sensibility of just saying “Hey, I don’t have to curse.”
You’ve done multiple Star Wars and DC Comics specials. So what’s the next subject for a special for Robot Chicken to tackle?
As of right now, we’re still working on Season 7, so I’m sure we’ll talk about it when the season ends. Everybody is always asking if we’re going to do other types of specials. The truth is Lucasfilm… [the Star Wars special] came from them. They invited us. They saw our Emperor phone call sketch and said “You guys should do a special with all this stuff.”
DC was the same situation. Geoff Johns was like “Hey, we should do this!” So if any of those companies want to do it, they’ll call us up and say “Hey, do you want to do this?” We’re not actively going and calling up and freaking out and saying “We have to do X, Y and Z. Why aren’t you doing this?” It’s really just a natural evolution of these people wanting to work with us.
What can the fans expect from Season 7? Is it going to be different in any way?
You know, it’s a little mix of everything in two ways. I think we go a little more obscure with the properties, for better or for worse, like we have a ManTech sketch which no one will remember but might be one of my favorite sketches of the entire season. Then at the same time we skew a little bit younger as well. We’re venturing into a lot of 90’s properties.
A lot of the writers we worked with this season are younger than we are, which is a good thing because like I said, this is an evolving process of the people that are watching the show. We don’t always have to be 80’s properties, because yeah, we all loved 80’s toys, but guess what? There were toys in the 90’s also and there’ll be toys in 2000’s and so on and so forth. It just gives us more variety to play with.
What’s a day in the life of the writer’s room for Robot Chicken like? Is there structure, or do you all just crack jokes and see what works?
Um, it’s awful place to be, and I say that with love. It’s one of those things where you come in in the morning and at 9am all the writers are sitting at their computers frantic, knowing that they have to write as much as humanly possible until about 3 o’clock. I’m talking about pages and pages of just ideas and sketches and outlines.
They’re just cranking stuff out and then at 3 o’clock everybody gets the big packet from everybody and everybody reads everything, and then from 4 o’clock until whenever we finish we’re going through that packet and it can be as simple “No, this is dumb” and jump onto the next thing, to completely re-writing a sketch that has a good premise that we like based on that packet.
I know a lot of people say when it comes to Robot Chicken “Well, I could have came up with that idea.” What do you think biggest common misconception is about the show?
Yeah, well that’s with any show. We’re a sketch comedy show, so everybody is going to love it and hate it at the same time. I always say there’s probably 25% of the show that I don’t particularly love because I voted against it in some way. But I know there’s an audience for it. One person’s favorite sketch is completely different than someone else’s favorite sketch, which is what I learned very quickly. Something I hate, someone else loves. I think that’s what’s great about the A.D.D. mentality of our show, it plays so quickly.
So as far as a misconception, as far as people saying they can do it, yeah, that’s what the internet is for! Make stuff and then people will see it. And then they’ll hire you or you’ll make a show. It’s so easy to do things yourself these days because you have-direct to-consumer distribution and you have tools like editing tools and video tools. An iPhone and a computer is all you need to make something these days. I’m jealous of that because when we started there wasn’t that, and we were trying to figure out how to make it all work.
Do you get a lot people sending you video sketch bits with their action figures on Twitter and Facebook etc.?
We don’t necessarily look at any of that stuff. But I will say I have found writers without them knowing, I mean they know now, but I find people on YouTube to write for us all the time. I like to scour for those people. We don’t like to hire the conventional way.
Rachel Bloom, who I love to preach about, did a music video online called Fuck Me, Ray Bradbury which is one of the most brilliant things I’ve ever seen. We brought her in to write for us and she’s been amazing. You just don’t expect where you’re going to find people. These two guys, Jordan [Allen-Dutton] and Erik [Weiner], who have written for us forever, did an off-Broadway play that I saw and I loved that was called Famous Last Nerds.
Those are the types of people I like to find. Hugh Davidson and Mikey Day came from Groundlings. We just thought they were brilliant performers.
Could you continue to do the show indefinitely or would you prefer something like 10 seasons and a movie?
[laughs] You know, we’re sketch comedy. I hope we’re SNL. I hope our sketch comedy keeps people entertained and we can keep going. There is no limitation to what that could do. The only difference is instead of actors we’re using toys.
Matt, thank you so much for your time! I really enjoyed the first two episodes of Season 7.
Thanks, man. I’m glad you like it and hopefully our nakedness at the beginning of the season didn’t off-put you too much.
[laughs] I was going to ask you if it’s totally weird playing yourself, but in action figure form…
I hate acting, and the fact that they make me act, especially as myself, which is the worst thing that can happen. But yeah, it’s an uncomfortable situation.
Is it easier playing like, say The Flash?
I prefer not to act ever. I’m the first to say I’m a bad actor. But because of budgetary limitations we only have so many people that can do voices. Because Seth [Green] and I created this show, we’re able to actually work with the ability to actually perform in it and get away with doing more. Seth does like 60+ voices because we can only afford him, and to break up Seth always sounding like Seth after the 60th voice I have to do occasionally 3 or 6 of them.
Robot Chicken Season 7 premieres Sunday, April 13 at 11:30 p.m. ET, exclusively on Adult Swim.