Waco O’Guin and Roger Black Talk ‘Brickleberry’
It’s been a long, tough slog from the grungy stages of Georgia’s college town clubs to a just announced season three pickup for the creators of Comedy Central’s hit animated series, Brickleberry. But after talking with Waco O’Guin and Roger Black, you get the feeling that despite the rough sledding, the journey has been worth it, because all they’ve ever wanted to do was make people laugh. These days, they’re making quite a few people laugh. An admirable, but not easily achieved goal. In any medium. But particularly difficult in episodic animated television.
Currently in its second season, averaging 1.6 million viewers a week, the show, executive produced by Daniel Tosh, is number one in its timeslot for all of television in the Men 18-24 demographic, according to Nielsen Media Research. Who am I to quibble with the Nielsens? A workplace ensemble centered on the questionable and mostly absurd activities of a group of dysfunctional park rangers at a second-rate national park, Brickleberry is a raunchy, ribald gag-driven whirlwind, a no-holds barred comedy slugfest sure to head butt the weak, the meek and the infirm. I recently had a chance to speak with Waco and Roger about the source of their humor, the inherent difficulty of the business of being funny and the years of hard work it took to finally get their show on the air.
Dan Sarto: Tell me about the genesis of the show. Where did the idea come from? Describe the tortuous path you took that brought you to Comedy Central? Very few adult series get made. How did you guys get yours on the air?
Waco O’Guin: It’s like hitting the lottery. It all started with me and Roger back in 1999. We had a sketch comedy show at the University of Georgia where we were both attending. It started getting more and more popular, we started selling out venues. Then we started doing shows around the Southeast. Then Roger got on the Howard Stern Show with his character Yucko the Clown. That helped us get hooked up with some guys and we got a live action sketch comedy show [Stankervision] on MTV2 in 2005. When that got canceled we started trying to shop other things, working with this company called Fox 21. So actually, Brickleberry started out as a live action show. But, when we wrote the script, they read it and said, “This is going to cost about $10 million to produce this pilot.” So it was the studio’s idea to make it an animated project. On our MTV2 show, we had little animated segments so we’ve always been huge fans of animation. So at that point, we rewrote the script to put more crazy stuff in it.
The actual idea for Brickleberry came from the fact my father-in-law is a retired park ranger. He worked at Yellowstone and a few other parks. He is a somewhat serious man and he took his job very seriously. Roger always messed with him. Every time he’d see him he’d call him Treetop, stuff like that. At my wedding reception, Roger had been messing with him all day and he just couldn’t take it anymore, so he grabbed Roger and put him in this park ranger hold, bent his thumb all the way back until Roger collapsed to his knees. This happened right there in the middle of the wedding, in front of everybody [laughs].
When we were thinking of ideas for a show, we were thinking about that, just laughing about it. Maybe we should do a show about these park rangers who are way too serious about their jobs. That’s where the original idea for Brickleberry came from. My wedding was in 2003. So you can see how long of a process it has been to actually get it on the screen.
We rewrote the script, gearing it for animation. Then we shopped it and shopped it. We got turned down by everybody. The good thing about Hollywood is that people always get fired. You wait a year or so, the studios have all new people and you can shop your show to them again. We got teamed with Eric Kaplan, who I think now is the head writer on Big Bang Theory [he is also co-executive producer]. He has an animation studio. So together we were pitching over at Fox, Comedy Central and a couple of other places. This was in 2007. Eric told us Fox would be a good test run for Comedy Central. There’s no way Fox is buying this show. One thing we learned, the more visual aids you have, the easier it is for the executives to wrap their head around this being a real show. We had all the characters drawn up and a bunch of future episode ideas. So, we pitched Fox and to everyone’s surprise, they bought it right there in the room. They knew Eric from his work on Futurama. So of course it really helped we had a producer attached that they knew.
It took us about a year to produce the pilot. They told us not to hold back, make it as dirty and racy as you want. They said, “Don’t worry about it. Go crazy.”
Roger Black: They just wanted us to do what we do. So we did what we do.
WO: So, the top guy at Fox sees the pilot, and he said, “There’s no way this can go on our network.” So Fox passed on the pilot. Then our agent at William Morris, who also represents Daniel Tosh, said Daniel had been looking for some other projects outside of his own show. He showed it to Daniel, he liked it and wanted to come on board. We knew that once he came on board, it would be a go at Comedy Central. But even with that, with the number one guy at the network, with the number one show, with a really good pilot, with lots of good ideas, even with all that going, we went in to pitch Comedy Central and they didn’t pick it up.
They wanted to do another pilot. Well, we didn’t want to do another pilot. So we took it to Adult Swim and pitched them. They wanted 10 episodes. Then Comedy Central said they wanted 10 episodes. So we had to twist their arm a bit. It was a long, long process to get this show on the air.
RB: Then we ended up here at Bento Box, which has been a really great experience. They’re a really good animation studio. They do Bob’s Burgers among others.
DS: Right. Now that you’re on the air, who’s watching? Who is the audience for this show? Who are you aiming to please?
WO: [Laughing] Young males.
RB: [Laughing] Yah. It does very well with that group.
DS: What ages? What’s your sweet spot?
WO: 18-24. That’s what they say. But the reality is it does skew a little younger.
RB: On Twitter, we see a lot of feedback from female fans as well.
WO: Yeah. Most of the time we’re number one in that 18-24 demo. That makes Comedy Central happy.
DS: So, where do the show’s ideas come from? Do you start with a theme? Do you start from a gag?
WO: For the first season, we had a lot of ideas banked involving state parks and the world of the show. We took those ideas and expanded them into ridiculous themes that we could animate. For season two, it was a little tougher. Mostly, we sat in a room and concentrated more on the characters. Everything starts with an idea, like, “What if Woody outsourced the ranger’s jobs?” or “What if there is a lake in Brickleberry that can heal people?” Ideas can come from anywhere. We got the idea for the Hello Dottie episode while we were in the post office. Most of our ideas come from real life experience. Any kind of idea can pop into your head at any moment. You have to write it all down right away, because as easily as it pops in, it can easily go away.
RB: Every episode is completely different. The way we come about each episode is always different. It’s about getting that first idea, then sitting in a room and talking it to death. We were basically locked away in a dungeon for 6 months writing season two. A lot of talking, a lot of false starts. Every episode has at least two stories, sometimes three. That’s a lot of stuff to think about especially with 13 episodes in a season. It’s hard. Writing is always the worst part of the process. It’s extremely difficult.