NYCC | Robot Chicken Co-Creator on Star Wars, Toys and Parody
Matthew Senreich, co-creator of Adult Swim’s hit series Robot Chicken, began his sit-down with reporters at New York Comic Con with an apology: His collaborator Seth Green, whom he insisted is the better public speaker, couldn’t be present, meaning journalists were left with Senreich.
“If I sound awkward, again, I’m very sorry,” he joked.
With that out of the way, Senreich revealed there have been discussions about creating a Robot Chicken video game, but that no one has gotten serious about the project. “If you know any video game companies, though, I would be happy to go in that direction,” he said.
Addressing the show’s early seasons, Senreich admitted, “When we started we had no idea what we were doing. Adult Swim was like, ‘Here’s a show, go make it.’ We didn’t know how much work [stop motion] entailed. I still remember, it was episode seven of the first season and our animators, our production crew and everybody kept us in the office until 3 a.m. to tell us how awful of a job we were doing. It ended up working for the best. Going into this season, we really know how to make it work.”
Senreich said that many of the guest stars, like Joel McHale from Community or Bryan Cranston from Breaking Bad, are invited simply because he or Green are fans of their shows. He then revealed that Aaron Paul, who plays Jesse Pinkman on Breaking Bad, is one of the actors he’s trying to recruit for the sixth season.
Singer Cee Lo Green saw Green at a party and asked, “Why the fuck aren’t I on Robot Chicken yet?” so the creators got him on the show the very next day.
Senreich called Harrison Ford his most-desired guest star, describing him as “the ultimate get.”
He confessed that, “Star Wars has become a part of my life in a way that I never expected possible.” Robot Chicken has aired three acclaimed Star Wars specials, and Senreich and Green are developing an animated comedy based on the sci-fi franchise.
“It’s weird for people to say that their introduction to Star Wars was through Robot Chicken. I say ‘I’m sorry’ when that happens,” he joked.
The Star Wars specials came about after they had aired a sketch featuring the Emperor. The next week Senreich and Green were invited to the Lucasfilm compound, where Senreich pitched the idea for the first special.
“Seth stomped on my foot like, ‘Shut the fuck up!’” he recalled. “But literally within three weeks we were up and running.”
Shifting away from Star Wars, Senreich brought up one sketch idea that even the show’s producers felt crossed a line: A doctor delivers a woman’s stillborn baby, pauses, then lifts its head up and mimics the babies scream. “You laugh [when hearing it] but it’s so much more horrible than you think,” he said. “We like dark, you saw our tooth fairy sketch. We like dark, but that was a little too much for us.”
A Final Destination-meets-Archie sketch got them in to more trouble than any other, he said. At first, Archie Comics hated it and made them pull the sketch, but after understanding it was all in good fun, the publisher came to love the sketch. “It’s now back on the air.”
Asked about the show’s workflow, Senreich said, “I look at Seth and I don’t know how he does it. On top of the insanity of the day-to-day stuff that we’re doing. On top of us trying to build a company, Stoopid Monkey, and doing shorts and doing other projects as well and overseeing things, he’s also an actor and has to maintain this public persona of smiling. People recognize him every where he goes.”
“There’s a reason we’re going gray,” he added.
The sketch that he called “the worst day of [his] life” was the Olsen twins’ sketch from the seventh episode. “From there, it only got better because I figured out how to do it,” he said
Some properties they want to use, but haven’t been able to find a humorous slant on include SilverHawks and Gundam. The question is, “Where’s the in? How do you make it more mass appeal? There’s always those types of conversations.”
The way they decide which sketches get included is a simple four-judge voting process, with head writers Senreich, Green, Douglas Goldstein and Tom Root each getting a vote. “The other writers in the room don’t get a vote, so they hate us for it,” Senreich said. “But it has to be three to one for it to go in.”
As his Archie Comics story indicates, Robot Chicken send-ups of properties typically aren’t approved by the rights holders ahead of time. That extends to the toys used in sketches. “We just make stuff,” Senreich said. “We don’t get permission beforehand as long as it’s cleared through legal, as long as it’s parody. That’s the biggest thing, you have to define what parody is. [...] We do a lot of stuff where we actually make the toys in-house now, because if you use real toys they break.”
The one toy Senreich regrets having to destroy is an original Mego Batmobile. Green had purchased it from an old woman’s collection and their animators told them they had to bash it with a hammer. Senreich called up Green in the middle of the night asking him if it was okay to destroy it. Green begrudgingly allowed it, but it was heartbreaking for both of them.
Two segments the network made them change included a Power Rangers sketch, in which the rangers acted like the stereotypes associated with their colors, and the infamous tooth fairy sketch. The creators won the latter battle, though, and executives ended up admitting it was one of the best sketches they’d produced.
“It established our relationship with the network so well, and I think it’s why they support us, which is nice,” Senreich said.
He said that, should he and Green ever leave Robot Chicken, he hopes the show continues without him, like Saturday Night Live.
“You know what, 10 years from now, I wanna find the next generation of writers who are gonna take it on,” Senreich said. “Who are those people?”
If the show were ever canceled, however, he wants to finish with a dramatic episode in which “We don’t even tell one joke.”
“Our two head writers want us to do that episode desperately and Seth and I say no,” Senreich said. “But I would let them have that if we ever did get canceled. For that last episode, I would vote yes.”
New episodes of Robot Chicken air Sundays at 11:30 p.m. ET/PT on Adult Swim.