‘Aqua Teen’ creator Dave Willis: ‘When you make a cartoon you’re mostly in small dark rooms’
FIVE QUESTIONS: DAVE WILLIS
It’s been nearly 10 years since Dave Willis and Matt Maiellaro gave the world the animated misadventures of a meatball, a milkshake, a sack of fries and their greasy next-door neighbor. “Aqua Teen Hunger Force” premiered on Cartoon Network as part of its Adult Swim late-night programming block and the duo (who voice numerous characters on the show) delivered a cult classic. “Aqua Teen Hunger Force: Volume 7” hit stores this week with 11 episodes, including one with guest star T-Pain. Hero Complex contributor Gerrick D. Kennedy caught up with Willis (the voice behind Meatwad and Carl) for the latest edition of five questions.
GK: The show has been on for years now and has become a major franchise for Adult Swim. Did you ever imagine it would develop such a cult following?
DW: You know, I don’t know. Sometimes I think I have a good gauge about what I think might be popular, versus what I like. I always thought the show would be successful right off the bat. But I think my optimism far exceeded that expectation. I think Matt Maiellaro had a more skeptical eye for people to kind of understand [the show], which is probably true. I was in line to see this concert and the guy recognized me and said he was a fan. He told me the next time I was in Jersey he’d hook me up with submarines. This was years ago. I thought, ‘I’ve arrived — I’m gonna get a free sub sandwich.’ When you make a cartoon you’re mostly in small dark rooms, trying to make yourself laugh. I obviously had never had this experience before.
GK: You guys recently went out on tour for the show. What was that experience like? How was it coming out of that ‘small dark room’ and meeting the fans?
GK: Animated shows geared toward adults seem to have become more successful over the past few years. Why do you think that is?
DW: That’s an interesting question and we get it often. “The Simpsons” have been around for 20 years. These people have grown up with it. For some of the fans [of Adult Swim shows], “The Simpsons” has been on their entire lives. Animation isn’t this different thing. It’s just another way to do comedy. I don’t know anybody that doesn’t appreciate comedy. Animation is just a different medium. It’s not a medium that’s always been available. Now it’s cheaper to make [a cartoon], and there is another generation of kids that will have all these tools and resources to make these [types of shows]. There is going to be a lot of crap out there, but a lot of incredible things.
GK: With the show being on the air for as long as it has, do you guys pretty much have free reign or does the network step in often? Is there an episode that sticks out as a favorite, or one you’ve been surprised made the cut?
DW: I think the level of success has allowed us to do things. To be honest, even when the show was in its early stages we were given a lot of free rein. It’s been an enjoyable place to work. I would never say I get to do whatever I want, that would be untrue. For better or worse, the failings that we have made and the success that we have made have been ours. We can’t blame anyone else. I talk to friends that don’t get that same experience. [As far as a favorite episode] that’s a tough one … you know, the show has gone through so many changes. I like different shows for different reasons. I like “Handbanna” [from season four] a lot. The fourth episode, the Mooninites, (“Mayhem of the Mooninites” from season one) was at a time when I thought we were at a place where I didn’t think we’d get to make too many more episodes. “Dickesode,” I just can’t believe even got to air on television. I think that’s just unbelievable. We sent it to standards and practices and their only note was, “The thousands of severed penises have to be obscured” – I think that’s a direct quote.
— Gerrick D. Kennedy
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IMAGES: Top, The “Aqua Teen” crew Meatwad, voiced by Dave Willis, with Master Shake and Frylock. (Credit: Adult Swim.) Second, Dave Willis. (Handout photo.) Third: Carl, also voiced by Willis (Adult Swim). Fourth: Mari-Kari (FEAR.net)
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