Muno, Foofa, Brobee, Toodee and Plex. If you have any idea of what that means, there’s a really good chance you’re a parent who’s been to Gabba Land a time or two (or 28,000 times, if you’re in my home). I mean, there’s always the possibility that you’re a college sophomore with a big bowl of Lucky Charms in one hand and a magic brownie in the other, but, either way, you’re well familiar with the strange and magical landscape of Yo Gabba Gabba!, the place ruled by a skinny DJ in a bright orange jumpsuit and Papakhi hat, where music is king and simple life lessons are learned.
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Part School House Rocks!, part Krofft Superstars, Yo Gabba Gabba! is the brainchild of longtime friends Scott Schultz and (Aquabats singer) Christian Jacobs. What started out as an attempt to create something to entertain their own children has turned into a worldwide phenomenon currently airing in seven different countries across the globe. Featuring oversize, costumed characters that dole out practical advice, beat-boxing segments with Biz Markie, retro interludes, drawing lessons with Devo frontman Mark Motherbaugh, cartoons, musical appearances by the likes of the Roots, MGMT, the Flaming Lips and The Killers, alongside all kinds of other weird/hip/unique segments, the children’s television show has rightfully earned its broad base of appeal. Yo Gabba Gabba has also become a magnet for celebrity appearances, boasting Anthony Bourdain, Jack Black, Sarah Silverman, Elijah Wood, Andy Samberg, Tony Hawk, Amy Sedaris and countless others as past guests.
A touring version of the show is making its way to the Civic Theatre for two shows on Sunday, and I recently talked with co-creator Scott Schultz about it all.
Scott McDonald: How are you?
Scott Schultz: Good. Good. Doing great.
SM: Nice first foray into television.
SS: [laughs] Thanks. Christian and I are musicians, and we did do skateboard videos for the action-sports industry. We’re also artists and skaters, but until now, we were never in the entertainment business. Christian’s band, the Aquabats, flirted with it a little bit when they developed a kids show around the band, but it really wasn’t until we both had our first kids, right around 2001-2003, that we had our eyes opened to pre-school programming. As dads, I think we had misconceptions of what went on in preschool, remembering from what went on when we were young. But it was a much different landscape, and we were surprised at what was being aimed at 1 and 3-year-olds. It was such a spark of, "Man, we can do something way better than this." We thought we could do something amazing, much the same way that Sesame Street did in pulling together all of the best musicians, all the best artists, celebrities -- all kinds of different people who were coming together to make something that was totally, pop-culturally relevant and just great for children. We thought everyone could come together for the kids, and that’s what we naïvely set out to do ourselves.
SM: How did it get from idea to show?
SS: We knew we couldn’t pitch this kind of a broad idea. It was just so weird. We knew we just had to make something and show people. You can imagine -- it was like nothing anyone had seen before, and trying to get network executives to sign off on it was just impossible, but we did get lucky and got financing to make a pilot, and we made it exactly like we wanted it. And that process, of making the pilot ourselves, was where the real Yo Gabba Gabba! came from. It wasn’t just me and Christian, it was our friends and families as well. Lance Robertson (DJ Lance Rock) was just a friend of ours that we brought on when we were talking about it with him, and he brought so much of what you see in his character to the table. The pilot was the genesis, and it sparked something. We also put it on the Internet, and that was the catalyst that set it off.
SM: I assume, in your wildest dreams, that you couldn’t have imagined it becoming the juggernaut it’s become.
SS: [laughs] Oh, my gosh. Never. I mean, when we think about it ... we were just dads that had some crazy ideas. It was amazing that we got to make a pilot. But from there, it’s been like chasing an out-of-control boulder down a hill. It was rolling faster than we could catch it. We were musicians. We hadn’t worked on anything like this before. It’s been amazing. And it’s still amazing for me to watch now. It still blows my mind. It’s everything that we dreamed about. It’s a giant stage show, for kids, that’s every bit as exciting as the shows we would go to as young adults. It’s like a kid’s first concert. It’s so exciting. I still love going with my kids and experiencing it again.
SM: It really seems like you take the parents into consideration as well.
SS: Absolutely. You’re totally right on. Most 3- year-olds don’t know who the Roots -- or any of these Coachella bands -- are, so it’s great that everyone can enjoy it. But first and foremost, we’re not doing it to try and be cool. We’re really doing it for our kids. The thought is to provide them with a wider array of music, knowing that they will respond to that. They have likes and dislikes just like we do, but if you pander to kids, and show them just what we assume a kid’s show should be, that’s just one way to do things. We’re not against that. We just want to update that and make generally cool things also kid-centric. MGMT did a great song about art for the show. And all of that is relatable to kids. At this point, we have so many of our favorite bands and artists and DJs that want to be involved, we just help point them in the right direction. And we’re also doing this for ourselves. We’re there with our kids when they’re watching TV, and we want to experience something fun with them -- even if that’s something that we can have a little bit of common ground on. We’re always looking for that totally awesome section of common ground.
SM: The music really is an awesome part of the show.
SS: What’s great about it is that it’s not just these artists stopping by and playing their latest single or something. They play songs that we write and are produced exclusively for the show. We become kids again with them through that. That is definitely a big part of it.
SM: Was the live show always part of the game plan?
SS: It was always part of the plan, for sure. We came from the viewpoint of being musicians. We played at all kinds of multisize venues. That experience onstage is every bit as relevant and exciting in a kid’s life as it was for us, and even though they’re different, it’s just as exciting as the show is for them. For us, translating it to a live show was essential. If you want to sit down and be engaged or stand up and dance when you’re watching the show, you can, but with the live show, it’s such a different, beautiful vibe. Everyone is celebrating together. And we’re all celebrating what it’s like to be a kid. Everyone’s throwing caution to the wind and giving in to that concert vibe. For me, going to a Flaming Lips show, that’s what I feel like these audiences are experiencing. It’s all about just being alive.
SM: What’s next?
SS: So much more -- but everything will be bigger and better. People will not believe what’s happening in Season 4. We’re going on some huge adventures. But, like everything so far, it’s just going to be one big party for kids.