Over the years, Adult Swim’s Robot Chicken series has lovingly paid tribute to hundreds of pop culture icons and projects, but this October, they're celebrating AMC’s The Walking Dead with an entire special episode devoted to Rick and his cohorts in honor of the show’s success and its legions of fans who remain devoted to the series after seven seasons.
At a recent press day, Daily Dead had the opportunity to speak with several members of the Robot Chicken family, including Seth Green, Breckin Meyer, Matthew Senreich, Tom Sheppard, as well as the incomparable Michael Rooker, whose character, Merle, makes a memorable appearance in the special (and sings us a little ditty about looking for love in a post-apocalyptic world). During the discussion, they chatted about being able to work with Robert Kirkman, Scott Gimple and The Walking Dead cast, how supportive AMC was to their idea of putting the Robot Chicken spotlight on their popular series, and they also dished on a few of the segments and discussed just what they weren’t allowed to get away with, too.
Look for Robot Chicken's The Walking Dead special to premiere this October on Adult Swim, and keep an eye out for more from our press day with the whole gang later this week.
For you guys that were involved with creating this special in particular, what was it about The Walking Dead that you felt was prime fodder for this treatment? And again, congratulations on the episode.
Michael Rooker: I was on the show. That was it. I was fodder. I’m always fodder [laughs].
Seth Green: The Walking Dead is one of the popular genre projects to date. Its popularity spans across comics and all forms of media.
Matthew Senreich: I started in comic books way back in the day, and I've known Robert Kirkman for way too long, probably. We were at dinner one night at San Diego Comic-Con. We do an annual dinner where a bunch of us who all started together kind of get together, and he leaned over to me, and I leaned over to him, and we were just on our DC special, and he's like, "Why do you do DC and not The Walking Dead?"
I was just like, "I don't know." That's how fast the special happened. It was just us kind of joking around at this dinner. We called up AMC immediately after and made this thing happen. But it all started with us just joking around.
Seth Green: Both AMC and Adult Swim were really cool at playing together, and that's why this exists.
Matthew Senreich: That's right. Again, most of our specials really just start with us just joking around with these people, and then just putting smiles on our faces saying, "Let's make something funny."
So, who had the idea to make a Negan musical number?
Seth Green: That was [Tom] Sheppard.
Tom Sheppard: I guess that was me, yeah. “The Negan Dip” was inspired by something we caught when we were catching up on the show.
Breckin Meyer: We were enjoying a lot of Negan on the show.
Tom Sheppard: Yeah, and the more we watched Negan, we kept seeing that he did this little move—after every line, pretty much.
Breckin Meyer: It was this great Jeffrey Dean Morgan affectation for Negan, which is like a pressure valve. He just undoes it. He's like, "I'll scare the hell out of you," you know what I mean?
Matthew Senreich: And I think also, when we recorded him, what made it fun was that he was immediately like, "I didn't even realize I was doing that dip until the third day of being on the show, and then everyone started to point it out. You just have called this out in a beautiful way." We actually recorded him via Skype, so we were going back and forth, and he did show it to us a little bit. We asked [laughs].
Seth Green: Just on a separate thing that's on the same vein of that, all of the actors that came to do this—I don't know that this has ever been done, having a parody version of the show performed by all of the actual cast, while the regular show was still on the air. I've never seen anything like it.
So, good on everybody for coming. The show itself is so indelible, the performances are so impressive, and the characters are so well-drawn, that it doesn't detract anything from the gravity of the real show to make this kind of parody. We're just excited that everybody came to play with us.
Michael Rooker: Did you guys make everyone sing?
Seth Green: No, no, just you and Jeffrey Dean Morgan. This is the best story ever, and I'm trying to get it right. Rooker was one of the last people to agree to do it. And it was only timing. You told me when I talked to you that you hadn't heard about it. So I was like, "I want you to do this, and it's a singing thing." He’s like, "Oh man, I don't sing," and "this is going to be terrible" and "you're going to need to T-Pain me, cause I can't sing at all."
I was like, "This will be fine." Then he comes in to record, and he's like, "We'll do 20 takes, I just do it. Maybe we'll go line by line." I'm like, "Okay, perfect." I'm really expecting this to be terrible. The very first take he sings the whole song, all the way through, pitch-fu**ing perfect. And we were just like, "You're playing with us, this is a joke that you're playing with us. You actually, like, studied singing. You're like Freddie Mercury in real life, aren't you? This was just a gag."
Michael Rooker: Again, of course, I'm thinking, "They're joking with me. They're really being kind to me, and there's no way."
Seth Green: You killed it, man.
Michael Rooker: I thought you were all joking. Even to this moment, I thought you were just goofing with me.
Seth Green: Are you serious?
Michael Rooker: Yeah, I'm totally serious.
Seth Green: You don't know at this point how deeply I love you?
Michael Rooker: No. I didn't realize it.
Seth Green: It's the truth, man.
In terms of doing the Negan dip and stuff like that, is there an art, when you're doing shows like this, to finding the little moments like that versus finding the more obvious and blatant moments, and balancing out those tidbits?
Seth Green: It's always that way, when we're writing, we just spitball ideas until we all agree what is the funniest, and then, when you put the whole show together, you've got a finite amount of time. So, originally this script was over 60 pages. Our first cut was 40 minutes and we cut it down to 22. We try and use all of the moments from the show that are funny or that are significant, that make us laugh, that make us ask questions. Like, Breckin, weren't you the one who pitched the Carl eye stuff? Wasn't that whole run you?
Breckin Meyer: Yeah. The toughest thing is when we started talking about the pitches, you don't go back seven years in your head, except to a couple iconic moments. For the most part, you're current—Carl with the eye thing and all that. I think I was the mean one who initially was like, "Hey, the prettiest girl on the show is Carl."
Then, I just went on a run with that. So we started watching older episodes, too, to familiarize ourselves. I will take a moment, not to blow smoke, but when Matt mentioned they were possibly doing The Walking Dead, I was like, "I'm writing on it. I'm coming to the office. I hadn't been to the office in a while. I was like, "I'm writing on that show, just mark my seat." As excited as I was about Star Wars, I was as excited about doing this special.
But we started watching it, and a lot of the stuff came in the room. The Negan thing, I think Carl with the eye. We just started talking about the most recent stuff on the show and giggling about it. Then, we'd have to go back and do earlier stuff, too. We knew we wanted Merle on the show, but we were just trying to figure out how to use him. What are we going to do with him?
Seth Green: There’s also that moment in the pilot where Rick finds that horse.
Breckin Meyer: Right.
Seth Green: And then he rides that horse into town like a proud sheriff, and then that horse is literally torn apart, in a crane shot, we were like, "Oh, we're for sure doing that." But with our unicorn.
Breckin Meyer: Everyone had their own favorite character already, and little bits. Seth and I were battling, because we didn't know which actor we'd get to do. At the beginning, we didn't know if the actors would be doing their roles or not.
Seth Green: We had no idea that any of the actors would do the voices for this, so we were both pitching ourselves for all these characters.
Breckin Meyer: I was already like, "I'm doing Negan, and I will punch anyone who tries to take Negan from me." And then we were battling about who would do Rick. We kept going back and forth, and then finally, Matt was like, “You know we got Andrew, right?” And we were like, “Ah, dammit.”
Seth Green: Yeah, I guess Andrew would be pretty good at the voice.
Matthew Senreich: But in time, as I said, it is finding those little moments. I always say it's that absurd world we make mundane. It's finding that little, quiet beat. It's right before, right after that big moment that you try to find. It's that awkwardness that you try to find.
Seth Green: There's also something important. The Walking Dead is so profoundly human, in spite of the circumstances. It's post-apocalyptic and it’s human. It's about basic humanity. That's the thing that we were talking about earlier. So, being able to find the completely nonchalant, mundane, human moments within this outrageousness? That's were we think the best jokes are.
Breckin Meyer: And I think it's clear that we are all—same as when we did Star Wars—giant fans of the show. So it's done out of love, as opposed to making fun of the show. We all love the show. The best part of doing this entire special is we got to see a couple episodes before they aired. Those were the giddiest moments of our day.
Matthew Senreich: It was great, too, because Kirkman and Scott Gimple sat in the writers' room with us. They would come in and goof around with us, and like shit on our jokes sometimes [laughs]. And they brought us a Lucille. They brought us a bat.
Seth Green: Yeah, which Breckin broke immediately. And then they brought us another bat after that.
Was there anything that Kirkman or AMC said was off limits?
Breckin Meyer: I think we toned down Carl.
Seth Green: But I have to be honest, it only made it funnier. Okay, great, so you know how old man Carl is saying things like, "What the fudge?" and "mother scratcher," I just thought it made it that much funnier. Especially with this concept of a kid being raised in that environment, and then becoming a man without any school or formal education. What kind of morality would that kid acquire? Old Man Carl rivals Old Man Logan. It’s one of my favorite things ever.
Out of the 60-page original script you guys had, was there anything that was cut that you were like, "I really wish that would have stayed in"?
Seth Green: We don't cut stuff because we don't like it. Things just get cut because of time.
Matthew Senreich: There's a sketch Breckin wrote, sorry to break it to you, there's a sketch. You know, everybody loses an eye on The Walking Dead. So he wrote this sketch called Patches O’Patches, which is like a clearing house for a guy who sells eye patches.
Seth Green: Oh yeah. "Now, hi there, I'm selling patches. We live in a post-apocalyptic future where most people tend to lose a limb or an eye. Well, here's a place to get what you need to cover up that gaping eye hole with our fancy patches."
Matthew Senreich: What was the Robin Williams sketch?
Seth Green: Oh, yeah, there was a Patch Adams, a doctor in the apocalypse trying to cure the zombie disease through comedy.
Breckin Meyer: Yeah, Patch Adams shows up when Rick first wakes up and Rick is in the hospital. Patch Adams shows up and is just trying to be happy. And the worst thing is that I can't do a Robin impression, and really, nobody can do a Robin Williams impression, so that’s tough. Is that cut?
Matthew Senreich: Yeah, it’s cut.
Seth Green: At the end of the day, it's very off topic, and if you are going to whittle this entire thing to 22 minutes, you really want the whole cast in the show, and not to spend two minutes with a side character that doesn't exist in this world.
How long do these take to shoot?
Tom Sheppard: We started shooting this in May, and we finished it like, a month ago.
Matthew Senreich: Yeah, I'd say it's probably 14 to 16 weeks start to finish for a special, but we shoot everything all at once, so, it's usually about 14 months for a full season. Our animators average about 10 seconds a day.
Seth Green: The Walking Dead was one of the largest projects we've taken on, as far as specific likeness of characters, or each background character needing to be just so accurate.
Breckin Meyer: But the work that everyone put into this was unbelievable. The details to some of these characters they're doing is mind-blowing. Even all the walkers, too.
Seth Green: Well, because we're doing close-up photography with high-powered lenses, you're capturing every bit of dirt. And in some cases, with Robot Chicken it's fun to see fingerprints, it's fun to see a little bit of messiness. That makes it feel like you made it yourself. But with a project as popular as Walking Dead, we want to make sure that we put our efforts toward it, and that's what we did.
Tom Sheppard: We were also dealing with the timeline of the seven seasons of the show, so Rick, and Carl, especially, changed drastically through the seasons. So we really had to specifically pick their looks for A, B, and C, and then track those.
Seth Green: But there was a legit moment when we had a meeting about hair, and what material we were going to make the hair out of, and what sort of flexibility and movement would be allowed for animation. We all agreed that Carl's hair was an important character for the series, but being able to accurately represent it on the show we thought was really important. So that's why we did this quasi-rooted hair process for him. You'll notice he's the only character with actually flowing hair.
Breckin Meyer: With these beautiful, flowing locks [laughs].
Seth Green: We took advantage of it, too. We lit all across him to catch the sun off it and everything [laughs].
Where did the idea of the framing device of the post-post-apocalypse museum come from?
Seth Green: I walked out of the room for five minutes, and when I came back, they were like, "We got a framing device." It's a museum after the apocalypse [laughs].
Matthew Senreich: I think where it really started was we noticed a lot of the sketches were Carl-based, especially in the original draft, so I think, trying to figure out taking characters that maybe aren't the most popular with the masses right away, and then turning them into the most popular in some way.
Like using Jar Jar, and the fact that Ahmed Best can win an AMI Award for his performance of Jar Jar, says everything. The fact that you can turn a character like that into something amazing is really cool. So we took the Carl character and we wanted to make it the coolest character that you could do. And that was kind of our framework.
You guys have been on, as you mentioned, for a bunch of seasons now. And I know it was kind of a joke early on at the end of every season where you guys might get canceled or something–
Seth Green: That hasn't gone anywhere [laughs].
I was just going to ask if you guys have more breathing room now?
Seth Green: Adult Swim has let us know very clearly that they have hundreds of episodes in syndication now. So, if at any point the show became too expensive to produce, they would just rely on their surplus of produced material. Not in like a shitty way, it's just like, there's a reason this show works. There's a reason that we're able to deliver the quality, and it's at a cost. So, there is a reason that that cost balances across Turner's platform of business. And if at any point it didn't, I'm sure it could legitimately be canceled.
Matthew Senreich: The one thing Mike Lazzo always says to us, he's like, "You're our SNL. You're a sketch comedy show, but you're using toys instead of actors."
Seth Green: As long as everybody's making it from the same place, and as long as it never gets un-producible, we'll keep making it.