MAD’s 100th Episode! Interview with Creator Kevin Shinick
MAD is turning 100! 100 episodes, to be exact. The Cartoon Network series will be airing its 100th episode on Monday, November 11th at 8:30 PM ET and it’s going to be a 30 minute special.
The producers have always characterized the show as a mini animation festival and they couldn’t be more right. Whether it was stop motion, Flash, photo collage, or CG, MAD served up the laughs every week on TV, featuring the same brand of humor and ridiculousness of the iconic MAD Magazine which has been skewering pop culture for over 50 years.
In addition to being a hit show for Cartoon Network, MAD has been able to give fans the opportunity to see their favorite magazine brought to life, while at the same time introducing a whole new generation to Alfred E. Neuman and Spy vs. Spy.
ToonBarn’s Marc Morrell had a very nice conversation with Kevin Shinick, the Creator, Head Writer, Narrator, and Voice Artist for MAD. Kevin doesn’t like to sit idle doing just one thing, so it can be difficult to catch up with him. Between his work on MAD, which continues to be his foundation project, he has recently been found contributing to the Robot Chicken DC Comics Special – Part 2, and he just finished writing his last issue of the Comic Book Series, Superior Carnage, and he’ll be appearing in an episode of “Major Crimes” sometime in December. Let’s hear what Kevin had to say about MAD’s 100th episode, and much more…
Marc: Hey Kevin, tell us what you’re doing to make your 100th Episode of MAD something special for the fans.
Kevin: We’re pulling out the stops. This 100th episode special is special in many ways. Any kind of show that reaches 100 episodes: I joke that it took me 10 years to reach 100 episodes on Robot Chicken, and here we are on MAD, reaching it in about 3 years, which shows you how crazy our schedule has been. This is our 4th season and we started in September of 2010. Now, in November of 2013, we’re going to air our 100th episode.
So, I want to make something special about it. First off, I got the Network (Cartoon Network) to let me do a 22-minute special, so it’s twice as long as our regular episode. And I tried to do a little bit of both. I brought in some really great heavyweights that I always wanted to work with like “Weird Al” Yankovic came in to do some stuff, and Henry Winkler came in to do some stuff. You know, the show is what it is because of the great staff and cast that I have over the last 4 seasons. That includes Tara Strong, Fred Tatasciore, Jim Meskimen, I could go on and on. The thing that really makes me happy is I got them all in this special. So, we’ve got some new friends and we’ve got some old friends.
Marc: You had told me previously you were going to do a stop-action animation with Alfred E. Neuman?
Kevin: Yes, we have a couple things that are special about this special. One is, I broke from tradition and did a new cold open which we’re seeing Alfred E. Neuman in stop-motion animation for the first time. It’s this cold open where he kind of has to battle the spies for the 100th episode. It’s locked up in a can, and the spies steal it, so the first cold open is all about him trying to get that back, and like I said, it’s the first time we’re seeing him in stop-motion. So, once we did that, I also have a runner throughout the special, and we keep going back to him in stop-motion. So, it looks really cool.
Marc: Do you use Stoopid Buddy Stoodios for the stop-motion work?
Kevin: They do all our stop-motion Spies (Spy vs. Spy). Not only have they done all of our stop-motion Spies, since Season 2 I believe, but they have also done our Halloween specials for the past 3 seasons. This year, for the Halloween special, instead of Coraline, we did Doraline, which came out really great. It’s just really fun to see Dora the Explorer and Coraline mashed up together. So, that’s our Halloween special, which was completely separate from the 100th episode.
Marc: So, now that you’ve reached 100 episodes, it gives you a chance to reflect on the past 3-4 years. What are you doing now that you feel you’ve improved upon, that you weren’t doing as well in the beginning?
Kevin: It’s tough to say, because we’ve always just tried to have a good time with the show. When I started out, all I really wanted to do was successfully adapt MAD Magazine into a TV Show. MAD TV (the live-action sketch show) had existed, but it wasn’t quite the magazine. What I wanted was for people to feel like they were watching the magazine. Over the years, I’ve gotten a great response, and I really feel like we’ve done our jobs, which is exactly the thing I hear from the fans. From the adults, who say, “Oh my God, it’s like reading the magazine!” to all the kids, who didn’t know there was a magazine at first, and now, it’s the tail wagging the dog, they’re like, “This show’s awesome, and Oh my God, there’s a magazine, too?”
The only thing that got smoother was the ability to roll these things out faster. We’ve always tried to remain faithful to the kind of humor that we enjoy, and we’ve come to learn the balance between making the kids and adults happy at the same time. I really set out to make a show that kids can watch with their parents, because there are plenty of shows I watch with my daughter where I think, “I can’t stand to watch another episode of this”, although she loves it. There are shows I love, of course, that she’s not going to understand. So, my goal was to bridge that gap and just have a show that is funny in spots to both generations. That’s what we’ve come to really hone over the last 4 seasons.
Marc: So, that what you think you’re the best at now, having both kids and adults enjoy this together?
Kevin: I do! We were talking about that the other day, just talking to people at New York Comic Con. Hearing them say, “I watch it with my son” or “I am watching with my daughter” and “They’re explaining jokes that they are laughing at that I don’t get” or “I’m explaining jokes that they don’t get”. Little references that the kids say to adults, “Tell me what that’s about.” It’s a great feeling, because we are almost packing two shows into one show. We’re working on two levels. That’s what I’d say I have learned to do better over the past 4 seasons, to make that line a funnier line between the generations.
Marc: Over the last 100 episodes, are there any voice-acting performances that stand out above the rest, or any good stories that have come from the recordings?
Kevin: I had done Robot Chicken before MAD, but this is completely my baby. I had to pool my own resources, and like anybody, you go with who you know. I was pulling in people I knew, and that’s what’s been so great about the show. My pool of talent, and my group of friends has just grown exponentially. With so many talented people, this show is a nice gauge of culture. We parody pop culture, so it’s topical. It really reflects what’s going on at the moment. So, you look at Season 1 of MAD, it’s practically the Twilight series of movies, because every episode had a sketch about Kristin Stewart or Edward Cullen, or something like that. And the past two seasons have been all about Superheroes, because you’re inundated in real life with everything; Thor, The Avengers, Dark Knight, Superman. All this stuff. It’s a nice mirror of society, what we are all watching and looking at. But doing that, you tend to do sketches about similar guys, like “how many times do I have Will Smith in here?” or “how many times have I done The Hulk or Batman?” When you land on someone that really does that well, you tend to go back to those people every time you do that. It sounds like a cop-out to say, “Everybody I met was phenomenal.” But (knocks on wood), everybody I kept is phenomenal.
Today, I have a solid cast of about 20 people, that I use, rotating. I joke, but I auditioned people. I called cast directors, saying I had a Will Smith parody coming up, and I need people that sound like Will Smith. There were 10 auditions. 9 of them were African-American gentlemen. The 10th was one of the guys we work with named Stephen Stanton, who’s a middle-aged white guy. Without even knowing that, when I got to his, it was dead-on. It was more like Will Smith than even Will Smith sounds. I was so blown away by it. I asked, “How many times have you done this before?” He said, “This is the first. I didn’t even know if I could do this!” He went and tried it, and was just phenomenal. So, the two funny things are: I have Stephen Stanton doing Will Smith. I have my buddy Chris Cox, who has a great voice. It’s so funny. I have him come in and I ask, “Hey, who do you guys do?” “What do you think is in your wheelhouse of voices? Because then I’ll start writing to you.” One time, Chris Cox comes in, and he does the best Winnie the Pooh. He said, “I was doing the Pooh voice while reading to my daughter. That’s how I knew I could do it.” So, he auditioned for us. I thought it was great. So, I have him come in and do it. He’s our Pooh in “Pooh Grit”, or “Fast Hive”, or any of these things we’ve done, like “Frankenwinnie”. He’s our Pooh. While he’s in, one day he starts joking around, doing Denzel Washington. Oh my God, it was like Denzel Washington walked in the room. I was so blown away by it, that I went away and I wrote “Thomas the Unstoppable Tank Engine”, and that has been one of my absolute favorite parodies we’ve done. Because it was a mashup of the kids show, “Thomas the Train” and the movie that came out at that time, “Unstoppable”. So, I have two white guys playing black roles, and I have people like Gary Anthony Williams and Kevin Michael Richardson, who do so many white roles, it really is a great medium where you can truly not be typecast and just work across the grid.
Marc: So, what would you say are the most outstanding performances?
Kevin: Easily, I would say Stephen Stanton as Will Smith. I will say Jim Meskimen as Gandalf or anything with Ian McKellen. Chris Cox as Winnie the Pooh and Denzel Washington. Grey DeLisle and Tara Strong in everything they do. Those two gals are fantastic. They work all the time and there’s a reason for that. They are so solid. I’ve got Keith Ferguson, who does a dead-on Harrison Ford for Han Solo. These are the ones I am just talking about off the top of my head. Jim Meskimen also does a great Tommy Lee Jones. I mean, this guy went on to perform on America’s Got Talent, and he came into the final round. That Finale on AGT was filmed in front of a live audience in Radio City Music Hall. He’s an impersonator. It’s not like he’s in a band. You’re one person, and you have to fill and capture the attention of Radio City Music Hall. He did it, and he was incredible. We use Nolan North. He’s all over the place. He’s fantastic. Oh my God, Ralph Garman. Ralph did some of my other favorite parodies. He did Al Pacino for us in “Al Pacino and the Chipmunks”, and he did Donald Trump in “Celebrity Ape-prentice”.
It’s so funny, these parodies have a life of their own. The writers pitch the idea and I like it or don’t like it right there. Then I find something I like from their idea, and I think this is great. Then, I’ll go and write the script. Then, I’ll see if I love it or don’t love it, and see if it has a life there. Then, we go and cast it. I keep some roles for myself, and I give some to these guys, and they just make it come to life. Then I go and we add the sound, we enter the mix, where we add all the special effects and all. Every step of the way, it’s just incredible to see the episode grow. It truly is a collaboration of all the people I just mentioned, because it starts with a seed of an idea and by the time I leave that online, I think, “That was amazing!”
So, one of the reasons I wanted to make a big deal of this 100th episode special is because I want to involve all the people who have helped to make this series such a huge success. They’re family now. And I rely on them. I write specifically to their talents. Fred Tatasciore does the best Vin Diesel I’ve ever heard. If you know they do it, you can really put it to use. What’s hilarious to me, is because I have my own sense of humor, and I am trying to bridge the gap between generations, I’ll do things that kids won’t get necessarily from the title, but the skits themselves will be funny to them. Instead of “Oz, the Great and Powerful.”, I did “Jaws, the Great and Powerful.” I sent out calls for “Who can do a great Robert Shaw? or who can do a great Roy Scheider?” These people are dead, but yet, there are people out there who have been sitting on these impersonations thinking, “Oh, I guess I’ll never get a chance to do my Roy Scheider!” Then they show up, and their impression is dead-on, and it makes me so happy because it all just comes together for me in the voices.
Marc: Has there ever been a parody sketch where fans were so in love with it, that it took on a life of its own and maybe spurned merchandise or fan art?
Kevin: There were a couple of GIFs came out. We did two parodies that stick in my mind. I wrote a song for the Superfriends, where it was a parody where they were superfriends in name only. “We call ourselves the superfriends, but could you help me move, drive me to the airport? You never do these things.” That really went gangbusters on the internet. We did another one called “Thunder-LOL-Cats”, which was a celebration of all the memes that are on the internet right now. Someone took that, and made a GIF of that, so it kind of folded in on itself, because we were poking fun at the whole internet thing, and it became an internet sensation.
Marc: I had asked you, when we were at San Diego ComicCon, if there were any animators that debuted on MAD, and then went on to bigger and better things as an animator, and you said there was one you knew of, but weren’t allowed to mention it yet. Can you talk about it yet?
Kevin: I do know that MAD has been a great stomping ground for animators, writers, and voice people. If an animator works on our show, the great thing about it is, they could work here for a month, and leave with an incredible reel, because we do so much. Most people go on a show, and if they are there a month, they’ve done an episode. Here, after a month, they have 15 sketches under their belt, that they were able to do and see to completion. So, it’s a really great thing to say, “Look at all the work I’ve done.” All I can say about it, and I can’t say more than I said at ComicCon, but future shows, people are really impressed with the animation they see on MAD. One of the things I like, is I tried to make it more like an animation festival. It is like a display of all the talents that are out there. Warner Bros. has come to MAD and looked at the animators and picked certain animators to move on to bigger and better things. And there is bigger and better than MAD.
Marc: So, what do you say when they pull those people away from you?
Kevin: They don’t necessarily pull them, where they are gone. They give them other opportunities. We all do many things here. We’re never just working on one project. So, I am happy to let any of my writers or animators work on something they have been hand-picked for, because I know that they are also loyal to MAD.
Marc: Speaking of other projects, Congratulations on finishing Superior Carnage!
Kevin: Thank you very much! Issue 4 came out, and Issue 5 comes out right before Thanksgiving. I handed in my last issue and I am very happy with it. Marvel seemed to be happy with it. Hopefully, there’s more down the pipeline, because it was a great ride with Superior Carnage.
Marc: They seem to like your work at Marvel, if they ask you back to do more.
Kevin: I have been very blessed with both Marvel Comics and DC Comics. The funny thing is, I always wanted to work on Comic Books. I am kind of going in reverse. Most people go from Comic Books to working in television. It’s my television work that brought the attention of DC and Marvel Comics to my door. DC saw a Robot Chicken sketch they really liked that I had written, and they said, “Hey, you want to write some comics?” Same thing, Steve Wackerman, who’s the Senior Editor over at Marvel, his family are big MAD fans, and we start talking. I said, “I’m a big Spiderman fan.” So that led to that. Like I said, I am doing it in reverse, but I LOVE writing comics. I love everything I do, and I think because I have such variety in whatever I do, I never get bored in whatever project I am working on, but I horoughly get thrilled when i am working on these comic books.
Marc: Another project you worked on, the Robot Chicken DC Comics Special Part 2 is coming out soon as well, right?
Kevin: Yes, yes. Part 2 focuses more on the villains. This is called “Villains in Paradise.” I don’t want to give too much away. It looks closely at how the villains complain about their jobs, like a lot of people in this world complain about their jobs. They take that idea and run with it.
Marc: With all the hats you wear, sometimes you are a director, other times, a writer, a show creator, an actor, and sometimes, you get to be a husband and father who takes out the trash at home. How are you managing all this? Is there some magic tool you are using?
Kevin: I don’t know how I do it sometimes. I always feel I am failing in some regard on something. All I can say is, Deadlines really help. I am one for deadlines because I am a stickler for hitting them. I think it just makes me focus more. Sometimes, I am one of those people where they say if you need something done, give it to a busy person. Because, if I have 1 project, that project may linger for awhile, or maybe I’ll spend too much time on it, or I’ll get too precious with it. But when I have 8 projects, not that it’s less perfect, but I am less precious about it, and sometimes you find spontaneity is a good thing. If you sweat over something too long, you’ll never get it out the door. That was a big problem of mine, where I wanted everything to be perfect the second it left me. Nobody works like that. You have to get it out, and re-write it or re-shoot it, re-voice it, or whatever half the time. But, getting it out is the most important part.
I think when you do have a number of projects you are working on, you don’t have the luxury to sit and sweat over something too long. You have to make snap decisions sometimes. You have to be committed to your decisions, or know an idea where you are headed. So, all those projects have only helped me focus my time and energy. On the flip side, it’s also a release. I am in the thick of this MAD episode, which is has been great fun, but it’s also work. As an actor, I booked a guest spot on the show, Major Crimes, which is going to air in December, I think. So, that forced me to take a week off from MAD, and focus back on my acting talents, and do that for a week. It’s the insanity that keeps me sane, if that makes any sense.
Marc: It makes perfect sense. We are looking forward to seeing the 100th episode of MAD, Monday, November 11, at 8:30 PM ET. Good luck with all your projects! We can’t wait to see you again at the Cons next year.
Kevin: Thank you very much, Marc.
For those of you who are planning to catch the 100th episode of MAD on Cartoon Network, here is a taste of what you will see: