FIVE QUESTIONS: KEVIN SHINICK & MARK MAREK
Black and White are at it again, this time on Cartoon Network. “Spy vs. Spy” and other Mad magazine classics will join a host of new animated sketches — such as “CSiCarly,” “2012 Dalmatians” and “Batman Family Feud” — in “MAD,” a new animated series based on the irreverent humor magazine. The 15-minute comedy show debuts at 8:30 p.m. Monday (Labor Day), and “MAD” gave Hero Complex readers an exclusive sneak peek video clip. Hero Complex contributor Noelene Clark caught up with the show’s producers Mark Marek (“KaBlam!” and “Crank Yankers“) and Emmy winner Kevin Shinick (“Robot Chicken”) for five questions.
NC: How did the idea for a Mad magazine-inspired cartoon end up on Cartoon Network?
KS: The idea was, they want to extend the hours of Adult Swim, which they already have done, so now it starts at 9 instead of 10, and they wanted something that would really bridge the gap, that would give everyone, the kids, the feeling of something they shouldn’t be watching, but technically we’re prime time.
It’s one of the last things you see on Cartoon Network before it goes to Adult Swim, so there isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t push the envelope and try and get away with something that could easily be done on Adult Swim, but because it’s Cartoon Network, every day we have our battles, and we win a lot of them.
It really does get you in the mood. You will notice a shift from watching Cartoon Network, and then you get “MAD,” and then you g o into Adult Swim. It’s going to be a nice transition.
MM: Quite honestly, we’re wondering why it took so long to get this show going, because Mad has been so popular for so many years, and you would think that it would have been produced by now. But I know one of the things was “MADtv” was on the air, and they didn’t want to have this kind of show at the same time. And when that was canceled, a few months after that, a year after that, it was decided, “Hey, Warner Bros. owns this property; let’s do something with it.”
KS: That being said, considering Mad is run by the Usual Gang of Idiots, I’m surprised it’s ever going to make it to air. I don’t know the exact moment, but no matter who you talk to out there, Mad has been an inspiration for so many of the shows on air now, be it “Robot Chicken” or “The Simpsons” or even “Monty Python,” you know, and Terry Gilliam was talking about how Mad was just a huge influence in his life.
I don’t know when the actual decision was made, but I think it was a good one to say, “Look, instead of having these shows pay homage to Mad or be inspired by Mad, let’s get out there and do an actual Mad show in the vein in which it should be done. I think “MADtv” had held that slot for so long, but it really had nothing to do with the magazine. I know in the first two seasons, they used some “Spy vs. Spy,” but they dropped those quickly. Really, if you’re going to try and duplicate or capture the flavor of Mad, you’re going to want it to be an animated series, because we have so many great artists from Sergio [Aragonés] to Don Martin, “Spy vs. Spy,” Al Jaffee, all these great artists that you want to bring to life. And the great thing about our show, I think, is that we have the actual guys. Sergio is working on our show, contributing stuff. Mark and I have talked about this before. It’s such a blessing to have these guys on the show. It’s not only a blessing, it’s a validation. I feel that they’re on board, and this truly is Mad. It may have taken a while to get here, but I don’t care how we got here. The point is, we’re here.
NC: You talk about a capturing a unique flavor. What’s so different about “Mad”?
KS: Whether you’re a magazine or whether you’re a TV show, you have a specific style that you’re going for. And that style either works or it doesn’t. People either like you or they don’t. With Mad, both the magazine and the TV show, it’s like we’re making a whole animated film festival. There are so many different styles of animation within our show, so many different styles of humor. We’ve got base humor, we’ve got high humor, we’ve got all sorts of things that we’re really covering the gamut.
MM: High humor?
KS: Well, Mark’s not that tall, so I’m able to say high humor and know it only meets a certain level.
MM: Ha, I didn’t sign on for that.
KS: But it really becomes a hub of many different styles. Whereas other shows may point to a specific style for their take on what their show is, I really revel in the idea that we are a chaos of cartoons, a chaos of comedy.
MM: And that’s part of the daunting thing. It’s a boulder to push along all these different styles. And it’s probably what’s sort of prohibited it moving along to this point, really. It’s a big boulder of all of these styles to try and get organized, and that’s why we’re late today.
KS: Exactly. It took so long for James Cameron to do “Avatar” because the technology wasn’t there, and yet it takes us this long to do “Avaturd” because we just waited for the right material. Sometimes it takes a while, but it will be worth it.
NC: How do you find the balance between newer animation styles and the old Don Martin and “Spy vs. Spy” classics?
MM: Some of those are hallmarks. “Spy vs. Spy” you at least have to bring in, and the Don Martin you have to bring in, and the Sergio you certainly have to bring in. And then it’s a matter of bringing in new styles, which is sort of the hallmark of Mad — introducing people. Some of the artists we may have known before, but a lot of times it’s like, “Let’s introduce this to a new audience, these styles that we like.” So it is a balance of a few of the lynchpins of the magazine with a pervasive, “We’re gonna introduce some new styles and new artists and new writers.”
KS: Even the artists from the classic Mad, we’re putting them through a current filter. Although we do take certain things, like Don Martin has since passed, but we will breathe new life into his already-created Don Martin sketches. Sergio will take on something that happened yesterday. So we can keep very topical and still be very Mad, because we’re able to take something that happened this week and say, “Hey Sergio, we’re going to make fun of this this week,” and he’ll go and draw that. So where it has the old flavor of Mad, it also has a very current spin on it. That was the great thing about the magazine. They brought so many different artists, and a lot of them took hold and made shape of that magazine. We’ve got those guys, but now we also have a whole new crew, in addition to the classic guys, who are going to hopefully bring Mad further along, and you’ll get to know these artists as well. … Every episode has a sampling of Flash animation, photo collage, stop-motion, and for every one of those things that I’ve mentioned, there are at least three companies that do different styles of that type of animation, so it will really be like a mini film festival of different styles of things.
MM: I think a big part of the fun of this is we’re working with a lot of talent out there. It’s almost like an acknowledgement of the economy that there’s such great talent available right now. Most people are usually so busy, you can’t get ‘em. But it’s like, wow, we’ve really been able to grab a lot of really great animators. … Plus everybody, when you say, “Mad,” are, “Yeah, I wanna help out! I wanna help out!” There’s nobody that’s said, “Nah, I never really liked Mad. I don’t really want to get involved.” It’s amazing.
NC: So what’s going on now that you think is ripe for satire?
MM: Everything. Everything. Oil spill. … Well, we haven’t gotten to that yet.
KS: Well, we have a little bit. We’ve got a couple of things about the oil spill. A lot of stuff out there that is topical that you don’t want to do. There’s a lot of bad news, a lot of crappy things going on out there, and we try to focus on stuff that can be funny and not necessarily mean or just doing it because it is topical. If it’s topical and we find something’s funny, then we’ll absolutely do that. The great thing about this show too is that I don’t think our society’s ever been more pop-culture-crazy than it has been over the last couple of years. There are celebrities out there that are having their 15 minutes, and it may be up next week for all we know, but they’re always in the news, and we have new things popping up every day. We just jump on them. We look at the paper, we look at teen mags and People magazine and Entertainment Weekly and all that sort of stuff, and just jump on what’s happening now.
MM: And it’s a very fast-moving pop culture, so if we’re at all bored with the current Justin Bieber, next week it will be his brother.
KS: A lot of these things we try to make — I don’t want to say timeless — but not so dated. In other words, a lot of these movie parodies will be cross references. Like we did a “CSiCarly.” So you don’t have just one reference there. And within one sketch, you’ll have references to characters you see in other shows. So it doesn’t necessarily feel dated. It’s not like, “Oh, that show is done, it’s over.” It has its own life. It exists as an anomaly. That kind of gives it a little extra time and life.
NC: Do you think the show will appeal to a different kind of audience than the magazine?
MM: First you look at who the magazine initially appealed to, and way back in the ’50s and ’60s, it was kids who were bucking authority, and it probably even inspired eventually a “National Lampoon” crowd. We certainly are shooting for a demographic on Cartoon Network, but I know Kevin and I are both hoping that it bleeds into college kids and older people and people that loved the magazine 30 years ago.
KS: I think it will. Bottom line is, Mark and I come to work every day and yes, we have a certain demographic that we’re shooting for, but we come up with stuff that makes us laugh. If it doesn’t make us laugh, I’m not gonna put it on the show, and he’s not gonna put it on the show.
MM: Which is an extremely young demographic, what makes us laugh.
KS: Fortunately, we have a very basic, crass sense of humor. But that being said, I think everyone growing up kind of discovers Mad somewhere between the ages of 8 and 15, when all of a sudden you begin to question authority, and I think that’s the demographic we want to shoot for. But we want this to be funny for everybody — college kids, adults — and I think we’re doing that. … We really do make stuff that makes ourselves laugh, and I think you have to start from that place, because if you’re on board, then other people will follow.
MM: I pinch myself when I’m working on this, just because it just takes me back. Animation in general, but this particular job is a dream job for me.
KS: It really is. I write on “Robot Chicken,” and then I come over here, creating “Mad,” and you know, we won an Emmy Award last week, and all I kept saying was, “Thank you for awarding what is pretty much just my midlife crisis.” I think about it, and it really is. It’s like, gosh, look what I’m doing. It is amazing.
– Noelene Clark
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Photos, from top: Robin Hood, in a sketch based on work originally by the late cartoonist Don Martin; cookies fight back in a “Mad Moment”; puppies and the end of the world combine for one bit; “Spy Vs. Spy”; birds are aflutter in a commercial parody; a children’s movie character turns undead in a film parody. Credit: Mad / Cartoon Network