A Chat with Christy Karacas and Stephen Warbrick (“Superjail!”)

Trying to pin down the strangest series amongst Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim line-up is a fool’s errand. This, after all, is where a show about a crime-fighting Happy Meal can thrive for seven seasons, so it’s clear that anything goes, and then some. But absurdist comedy about talking food and drink is one thing. “Superjail!” is quite another. When Bullz-Eye was offered the opportunity to chat with two of the show’s executive producers, Christy Karacas and Stephen Warbrick, we couldn’t resist taking them up on their offer, if only so we could get at least a small hint of what kind of guys would create a show as insane as this one.

Bullz-Eye: Hey, guys!

Stephen Warbrick: Hi, Will.

Christy Karacas: Hi, Will!

SW: I don’t know if there’s too much differential between our voices.

BE: I think I’ll get the hang of it after I get talking to you guys.

SW: I’ll talk in a real Brooklyn-y accent, if that’ll help.

BE: Nice. That’ll definitely help. Well, I’m definitely a fan of the show…

SW: Oh, good!

BE: Now, I understand that “Superjail!” originated – indirectly, anyway – as a result of a short you guys did called “Barfight.” Is it true that it was just a case of one of your friends passing it on to someone at Cartoon Network?

CK: Pretty much.

SW: Yeah.

CK: It was funny. We made “Barfight,” we were going to enter it into film festivals, but it got rejected from every festival we were going to enter it into. So we were, like, “Fuck!” I mean, I stopped doing animation for awhile, and…Steve, I forgot what you were doing.

SW: I don’t even remember. (Laughs)

CK: But, yeah, for a couple of years, it was just floating around, and our buddy Dave Hughes, one of the editors on it, worked at Adult Swim and showed it to them, and they got in touch with us and were, like, “Hey, why don’t you try pitching a show here?” So that was pretty awesome.

SW: Yeah. (Laughs)

BE: Well, it’s definitely the kind of show where you just absolutely do not know what’s going to come next.

SW: Well, that’s good. We try to keep you on your toes. (Laughs)

BE: But how do you approach writing an episode of the show? I mean, do you just take a general premise and then go completely apeshit from there?

SW: Yeah, we’ll definitely have one general premise, and then try to build maybe one or two smaller subplots off of that, and then just go from there and keep adding and subtracting things until it feels right. And then you’ve got to get it approved, and that’s a whole different thing. (Laughs)

BE: Given what I’ve seen in there, I have to wonder what wasn’t approved at various times.

SW: Ah, it’s usually the weirdest things. Nothing violent ever gets kicked back. It’s usually weird little things.

CK: It’s usually weird copyright things, like, “Oh, that’s a name of something,” or stuff like that, which is really surprising. We thought we were going to get really censored, but they’ve actually been pretty cool about encouraging us to push it.

BE: I have to say that the theme song by Cheeseburger…which is your band, right, Christy?

CK: Yep.

BE: I was absolutely convinced that it was a classic ‘70s glam stomper that I had just not heard before, like by Slade or someone.

CK: Oh, awesome!

SW: That song’s great. I love that song.

BE: But I couldn’t find it on iTunes!

CK: It’s on there. Look up “Cheeseburger” or “Coming Home.” I think it’s available just as a single, ‘cause it wasn’t on our first record. But it’s on there. And, actually, we made a music video for it, and that’s one of the extras on the DVD, also.

SW: Good plug. (Laughs)

BE: Yes, very organic.

SW: It’s funny, ‘cause we originally had that 10CC song (“Rubber Bullets”) on there, and when we found out it was expensive and that we couldn’t get the rights, we were all bummed, but they took a crack at it, and, man, once I heard the song, I was, like, “Yeah, it’s better than what was there.”

CK: We were shocked, ‘cause we were so in love with “Rubber Bullets.”

SW: Yeah, but your song worked out better.

(Writer’s note: I never did find it on iTunes, but you can pick it up through Amazon.com’s MP3 Store.)

BE: With the Warden, there’s obviously a visual similarity to Willy Wonka, but I swear that David Wain is channeling Willy Wonka through Jello Biafra.

CK: (Laughs) He’s great.

BE: Did you give him a template of how you wanted him to sound, or did he just come up with the voice himself?

SW: No, I think it’s pretty much just his voice!

CK: Yeah, he was, like, the last character to nail the look and the voice. For so long, we would describe him as a Willy Wonka type, but we didn’t want to just draw him like Willy Wonka. But, finally, we just said, “Fuck it.” I mean, he is like Willy Wonka. Why shy away from it? And the voice we couldn’t find, but when we heard him, we said, “This guy just sounds perfect!” We don’t even really give him much direction. He just reads it, and it’s perfect. He’s so good.

SW: We’re just so starstruck. (Laughs)

BE: How did Tim Carrington come to be the live-action version of the Warden?

CK: Well, he’s a friend of mine, and we’re fans of his band (Les Savy Fav), and we just wanted to do that live-action thing. I mean, David was in L.A., I think he was shooting “Role Models,” but…he’s kind of too big for us. (Laughs)

SW: Too big to lie in the garbage. (Laughs)

CK: And Tim’s just kind of a crazy guy, so we thought, “What if ‘Superjail!’ was just some homeless guy’s dream and wasn’t really real?” But he worked out good.

SW: Tim was the only guy willing to lie in a real pile of vomit for that shoot.

BE: So if the Warden is Willy Wonka, who’s Jared’s point of comparison? Or does he have one?

SW: Hmmm. Who is Jared’s point of comparison?

BE: He’s about the height of an Oompa-Loompa…

SW: (Laughs) No, I wouldn’t say he’s any Willy Wonka reference. He’s just that…that counterpart, y’know. You say one thing, I’m always going to think it’s wrong, and I should suggest what’s the right thing to do. But he’s got his own problems.

CK: I think he’s also, like, everybody in their everyday work, being a sucker at the office. You’ve always got to deal with some asshole boss, and…I dunno, there’s the guy who always makes your life hell.

SW: And Jared’s the kind of guy who always says, “I’m quitting this job today, that’s it,” but then the next day, sure enough, he’s there.

BE: I think my favorite episode might be “Don’t Be A Negaton.” M. Wartella strikes me as if he’s doing a Paul Stanley impression, and there’s a lot of stuff that reminds me of the KISS merchandising phenomenon taken to the absurd? Was that a point of inspiration for the episode?

SW: Actually, it was Diamond Dave more than anyone.

CK: Yeah, David Lee Roth was the big one. But I think that one started out as more of a cult episode, where we were talking about stuff like…what’s that cult?

SW: Oh, the Heaven’s Gate guys?

CK: Yeah. And we just started joking around the room and I think we were, like, “Well, what if it was this rock ‘n’ roll dude owning a cult, and then he started turning it into a space cult like Heaven’s Gate?” When we write those, it’s, like, a bunch of people in a room, riffing ideas, so that it turns into kind of a weird snowball of ideas.

BE: How did you come to get M. Wartella to voice D.L. Diamond?

CK: Well, he was working on the show. He was doing character layout for the pilot, and then he was going to work on Season 1, so when we had writing meetings for Season 1, we’d bring all of the animators in and just try to get everyone in for, like, gags and ideas. And he just started talking in that voice, and we said, “You’ve just got to do that voice!”

SW: Yeah, it was perfect. (Laughs) I remember he was all bashful when he was doing it in the booth, too. He didn’t want to stand in front of the window, and he wanted to turn the lights out and everything. It was pretty funny.

CK: Yeah, he was, like, hiding in the corner with the lights off, but then this crazy loud voice…

SW: …this voice comes out at you, and you’re, like, “There it is!” (Laughs)

BE: With the Twins, it took me a second to figure out why I recognized the look: “Logan’s Run.” What led you to decide to give them that look? Were you just fans of the film?

SW: Yeah, I just…I saw that film really young, and I always just really liked it. I don’t know why we did that, though. I think because we just think of them as these kind of glammy space guys, kind of like something from a glitter band, and then “Logan’s Run” came up and…I don’t know. It’s just a ‘70s glam look for them, something spacey and cool.

CK: Yeah, ‘70s glam and space attire are kind of synonomus with each other. (Laughs)

BE: And there are a lot of other great ‘70s references, too…or, at least, I think there are. For instance, the organ in “Dream Machine” certainly strikes me as being like the one in the “Dr. Phibes” movies.

CK: Yeah! (Laughs) What was the other movie we were watching, too?

SW: Oh, “Dr. T”?

CK: Yeah, it’s this Dr. Seuss movie, and he had this crazy organ with all of these kids playing it. We didn’t go that nuts with it, but…

SW: Another creepy reference.

BE: And the music during the Terror-arium sequences certainly seemed reminiscent of “Planet of the Apes.”

SW: (Laughs) Oh, that was definitely a reference.

CK: Yeah, when we were doing the music, a lot of times we’d go to these Jerry Goldsmith soundtracks that were really percussive. I think it’s because we grew up on that stuff that we like it so much.

SW: Also, it’s just better. Let’s be honest.

CK: (Laughs) Shit now totally sucks.

BE: Are there any other ‘70s tributes that you may have slid in that are more obscure?

SW: Hmmm. It’s been awhile now. I can’t even remember.

CK: Sometimes we’ll do them and then I forget we were kind of, like, ripping something off, and then you realize and go… (Depressed voice) “Oh. Right.” I can’t think of any right off the top of my head, but I’m sure there are a million of them. Oh, wait: the Dream Police kind of look like Cheap Trick a little bit. (Laughs) I’m surprised we haven’t been sued, like, twenty times by now!

SW: Hey, it’s all parody. No one understands what the parody law is.

BE: I know you guys have said that you’ve been influenced by Tex Avery, but there’s at least one overt example of it in “Ladies Night,” with a notable eye-bugging moment. Who are some of your other animation points of reference and influences?

CK: Well, we like a lot of those old “Sesame Street” cartoons. They were these short things that were weird and cool, like the pinball countdown. I like Bruce Bickford. He did all of those things like “Baby Snakes” and these psychedelic things. But we also like a lot of cheesy stuff, like “He-Man.” (Laughs)

BE: I heard that Aaron (Augenblick, executive producer) contributed to “Yo Gabba Gabba.”

CK: Yeah! I think he was working on that at the tail end of when we were finishing up. But it’s a pretty big place.

BE: So what would you guys say is your favorite episode of the first season?

CK: That’s hard. I like ‘em all. But I think I really like the “Time Police” two-parter.

SW: Yeah, I like that one, too. That one and “Compaticus” are my two favorites, I think.

CK: Yeah, “Compaticus” is pretty good, too, actually. (Laughs)

BE: The end of that episode was oddly moving, actually, with the whole “I am the new god of war” line.

SW: Yeah, we get that from that and from…the one with the little girl, Baby Cancer.

CK: Yeah, what the hell’s the name of that episode?

SW: (Laughs) I’m drawing a blank right now! It’s the inner child one.

BE: Oh, “Mr. Grumpy-Pants”?

CK: Yeah, “Mr. Grumpy-Pants.” There you go. Jesus. (Laughs) It’s been awhile.

SW: Yeah, did you hear that, Adult Swim? Are you ready to pick this up yet, or what? It’s been so long, we don’t even remember the episode names! (Laughs) But, yeah, people seem to either really be, like, “Oh, I can’t believe you did that,” or, “We love Baby Cancer!”

CK: Yeah, my one friend who loves the show, he’s, like, “That episode, though, I hate! That was too much.”

BE: It’s funny, though, because for all the violence that’s in the show, that one bit really is, like, “Wow, really? A kid with cancer?”

CK: (Laughs) You’ve got to draw the line somewhere.

BE: So what is the deal with Season 2? I’d heard it was happening, but from what you just said, it sounds like maybe it hasn’t been picked up after all.

SW: There’s nothing official, but we’ve been writing some new scripts, so we’re hoping the DVD sells well and they get psyched.

CK: Yeah, so we can get going!

SW: Yeah, ‘cause we’ve got lots of cool new ideas! (Laughs)

CK: Yep. And lots of mayhem.

BE: Something I wanted to ask about was the fact that you guys don’t really utilize a lot of guest voices in your episodes. I mean, there’s one that apparently has Rachel Dratch in it, but…

CK: Nope. (Laughs)

BE: She’s not?

CK: No.

BE: That’s funny, because according to IMDb, she is.

CK and SW: Really…?!?

BE: Yep.

SW: I wish. She’s awesome.

CK: How dare she try to take credit for that? (Laughs)

SW: What voice does it say she was?

BE: It just says “voice.” But it says she’s in “Ladies Night.”

SW: No, I don’t think she is. I feel like we’d know.

CK: Yeah, she’s definitely not. There’s no money, so…

SW: David Wain’s, like, the biggest voice. There’s not enough money to ever have anyone. Plus, we like to get a lot of our friends do it, but we always have to do stuff through the union, like, through AFTRA (American Federation of Television and Radio Artists) and all that crap, which kind of sucks, ‘cause it’s fun to bring your crazy, weird friends in and have them do cartoon voices. But, yeah, the budgets are pretty small for these shows, so we’ve got to spend it on animation. Actually, the voice of Jared was a buddy of Steve’s from his basketball team. (Laughs)

CK: How’s your voice? Do you wanna get in there?

BE: Well…

CK: Will you work for cheap? (Laughs)

BE: I will absolutely work for cheap. You’ve got my number. (Laughs) Well, I guess I’ll just close by saying that, of all the imagery in this show, and there’s certainly some gross stuff in there, but the most disturbing may have been the tequila worm.

SW: You know what’s funny? We just thought that was funny, and…we got into so many weird discussions about how it needed to say something more crazy or weird. Remember that?

CK: Yeah.

SW: It was, like, “You can’t just have him say that.” It was such a stupid little…

CK: I know, it was just a throwaway thing.

SW: It was just a little joke of this gross-looking worm, and we could’ve even just had it burp or go, “Bleacchhh!” But there was this really big debate about, “What should it say?” (Laughs) What did you say in that last interview?

CK: “The more you talk about it, the less interesting it sounds.” (Laughs)

SW: (Laughs) Yeah, you just kind of have to watch it.

CK: It’s true. Which is good, because you can’t really do it justice by describing it and trying to talk it through and figure out what’s what. Just watch it. Or, better yet, buy the DVD!

BE: (Laughs) I don’t think I’m going to get a better closing line than that.

CK: But now I’m going to sound like a dick!

BE: Oh, wait, that’s a better closing line.

CK: (Laughs) Shut that recorder off!

  

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