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How 3 Friends Took 10 Years to Debut 3 Minutes of Animation on Comedy Central

How 3 Friends Took 10 Years to Debut 3 Minutes of Animation on Comedy Central

By The Hundreds Staff

A few years ago, Bobby Hundreds wrote: “The Internet has manifested into everyone’s own glossy highlight reel; it misleads and distorts, obscuring the truth.” The truth that under all of these sparkling, perfect success stories and feeds lies—just a scratch under the surface—the reality of years of struggle, complete failures, frustration, self-doubt, and what he called “the searching and blind diligence” of people who simply—staunchly—believed in their ideas.

This is a story of the passion, patience, and perseverance it takes to see a dream come to fruition. It’s also a story of friendship. Three friends—Tofer, Jed, and Abram—spent 10 years trying to get their animated show, Gusto Rules!, off the ground. The result? Three 1-minute long episodes of stop motion animation that’s been debuting this month on Comedy Central’s TripTank (the second episode “Toilet” premieres this Monday night at 1am PST).

10 years also means a decade of setbacks and complications. It all began when producer/director Jed Hathaway had a light-bulb moment upon seeing artist Tofer Chin’s egg-shaped sculptures at his friend’s house (he told his friend, “Dude, do you think Tofer would want to make a show with his fucking artwork? Because I wanna see this move”). Tofer had always wanted to make cartoons since he was a kid—actually, still was watching them religiously as an adult—so the idea sparked an immediate creative union. Soon, they recruited Tofer’s friend, Lost in Oz writer Abram Makowka (Jed and Tofer say he’s the funniest of the three), and the project finally grew its legs.

L to R: director/producer Jed Hathaway, writer Abram Makowka, artist Tofer Chin, Chub Gusto star of Gusto Rules!

Gusto Rules! has since gone through rounds and rounds of iterations, while the core team of friends never wavered (Abram describes their sincere appreciation of each other as the “super-charging main ingredient for [their] long-lived creative relationship”). The show was sold multiple times, once to Cartoon Network during the Writers Guild strike; had backers that backed out after months of development; and went from being 22 minutes long, to 15, to 3, to just 1. At a point, it was supposed to be a children’s show (“That was weird. It didn’t feel right to us,” says Tofer). Now, in its final form under animation studio/production company ShadowMachine, Gusto Rules! is a 1-minute long show that revolves around a self-absorbed, idotic, yet insanely lovable egg-shaped dictator named Chub Gusto that rules over Eggmanland, a country populated entirely of egg sheeple. Chub is perfectly voiced by Dana Snyder, a longtime supporter of the project, who most will recognize as the iconic voice of Master Shake in Aqua Teen Hunger Force.

When The Hundreds spoke to the trio, 10 years of hard work culminated in Gusto Rules! being featured on the Comedy Central homepage that morning (Abram: “That’s like a dream come true”). The United States was in the midst of the Democratic National Convention, with the Republican National Convention having wrapped up just the week prior. After watching the first Gusto episode “Money,” we immediately sensed an absurd kinship between the show’s theme and current American politics. The citizens of Eggmanland in Gusto Rules! literally do whatever their dictator Chub says because they’re enraptured by his authoritarian confidence and charisma—it’s infectious, and really feels like what fueled Donald Trump’s strange rise to prominence.

Read our edited interview with Jed, Tofer, and Abram below, about the long journey it took for three friends determined to make a character in their minds real, and what it took to bring their ideas to life.

Gusto Rules! episode 1, “Money.”

THE HUNDREDS: With the way Gusto Rules! was written, was this perfect planning timed by you guys [with the DNC this week and the RNC last week]?

Abram Makowka: Things like this happen when you stay committed to something for so long, and I truly believe that. There were so many opportunities to walk away from this, and the fact that we didn’t and the fact that we’re so excited to just have 3 minutes—life is responding.

Jed Hathaway: We saw into the future. We just didn’t realize that when we were thinking of idiot dictators like Kim Jong-il and Hitler, that Trump would out-Trump all of them right at the perfect fucking time for us to be like, “Oh yeah, this is the idiot we were talking about the whole time.”

From maybe your first iteration of the show until now, how has the tone changed? Was it a little more lighthearted?

AM: I would say that it has maintained the same amount of aggression since the beginning, and the same kind of ridiculousness. But the only kind of ridiculousness that’s actually funny, in my opinion, is the ridiculousness that actually has a logic to it and is actually saying something. Like it’s not just insane to be insane, but when you cut through the insanity it’s like, “Oh my god, I’ve never thought about something that way.” It’s a commentary on something.

“Without that perseverance, without that drive, without that love for the project... it wouldn’t have happened.”

So each one of our episodes is more or less under layer, under layer, under layer. It’s a message about something. But we’ve had to kind of figure out, “Are we talking to kids or are we talking to adults? If we’re talking to adults, how old are those adults?” So it’s taken us this long to figure out, “This is the sweet spot.”

JH: I was gonna say, and I want Abram to hear this too, but it’s not only about the leaders and that part of it, but in Eggmanland, all of the citizens love [their leader] Chub Gusto even though he’s completely fucking them over every single day. So it’s sort of like the blind... you know, everyone’s just a sheep following along with whatever he’s saying. Even if he’s like, “I’m taking all of your money and burning it,” they’re like, “Yes!” Because they don’t have any individual voice in the world and all they can do is be happy for whatever it is that they have, not knowing that there’s anything even better or there’s a better world out there.

Tofer Chin: Jed, you make a really good point. And I think that’s the reason why we look to celebrities, why we look to [an] action sports star. It’s kind of this unadulterated confidence that a lot of people don’t have. And I think seeing that in other people, even if it is based in idiocy, is inspiring.

Yeah, I mean especially with Trump right now.

JH: Yeah. I mean do people even know why they like him? Are you just doing it to do it?

The star of Gusto Rules!—Chub Gusto, dictator and supreme ruler of Eggmanland.

It seems like what I’ve read in some interviews of people at [Trump] rallies or whatever, they’re just saying they like that he speaks his mind. They’re drawn to this—

JH: Right. Even though he’s a total idiot, they’re like, “Yeah! He’s really cool cause he says what he wants!” Well, that’s great, but I don’t like anything that he says.

TC: And how scary is that for a lot of people to speak their minds? Like that is not an easy thing to do and that’s why that’s a thing. That’s why people always say, “Be true to who you are.” If we all were just true to who we were then it wouldn’t have to be a ubiquitous statement. And so... Chub is really true to who he is and he really goes for it.

You know how Bobby [Hundreds] loves his slogans? One of them is 'Passion and Patience’—[but also perseverance]. What does it mean to have taken a decade to realize what you guys have done? How hard was it to get there? It’s absurd that it’s taken 10 years to finish 3 minutes of animation.

AM: But it’s also the quintessential entertainment industry story. There were so many [people] in my [graduating film] class that up and left to their hometown. And the only reason I bring it up is that I think a lot of people’s patience and perseverance—it wanes. You get sick of being kicked down so many times. And we told you we’ve had so many stops and starts and we’ve had people be like, “Yes, this is the greatest thing ever!” and then stopped returning our calls.

But I think the fact that we had the three of us, and we each bring a different perspective, we can kind of—for lack of a more masculine term—hold hands through it. Listen, the three of us have had falling outs over creative ideas over this project and have come back together and it’s made us stronger for it. 'Cause we’ve had to figure out how each of us thinks and what each of us believes and find a way to have three really strong opinions running parallel and intersecting when necessary. So I think it’s easier to be patient and persevere when we’re on the phone saying, “We’re going to fucking do it, and it’s going to fucking happen,” instead of standing in the mirror and saying it to yourself.

Citizens of Eggmanland aka egg-shaped sheeple.

TC: And for me, it was so awesome to have these guys believe in something that visually came from my brain [that] we, like, developed over a period of time… I cherish this relationship and the fact that all three of us have been on the same page. Because if we weren’t on the same page and all three of us didn’t have the same drive, we never would have gotten this done. Abram could’ve backed out, I could’ve backed out, Jed could’ve backed out, but we all stuck through the thick and thin and there were a lot of fucking hurdles that we’ve had to get over to reach the point where we’re at right now. Without that perseverance, without that drive, without that love for the project... it wouldn’t have happened.

“If we weren’t on the same page and all three of us didn’t have the same drive, we never would have gotten this done.”

JH: Without one of us, it just wouldn’t have worked, it seems like. We have so many other projects going on and lives going on and marriages and kids. At times, we would work almost everyday together for hours and hours and hours, for weeks on end, then not talk for months. But once we got to maybe the fifth or sixth year—the last three or four years and this last iteration of it, everybody knew where everybody stood. We had a plan, there was an agenda in place, we knew we wanted short 1-minute scripts and we knew we wanted it all about Chub.

So we had gone through so many, “Let’s try this, let’s try that, let’s develop this character, what about this thing,” and that was all great. And that’s all still there to be developed in the future. But I think it helped us narrow our focus and come down at a point where we’re in charge and we want to get this made. Let’s do it right, let’s take our time doing it. We’ve already spun our wheels on so many different ideas now that we’re all on the same page creatively to say, “Here’s what we’re gonna do, let’s go do it.”

The stage built for the stop animation sequences in the show, modeled after the Hollywood Bowl.

 

So for people that don’t know—I mean, I didn’t really know what the process of getting an animated show [going] was like. What’s been different about what you guys are doing?

JH: I mean, I’ll just speak to that because I’ve seen a million shows sold and go or not go or have a pilot or get cancelled… The fact that we’ve sold it to multiple places and we’ve had many reiterations of the same three creators and never brought in any outside voices, I think that might be one of the things that makes this project unique. Many people have sold things and not seen them happen or had to change it. We’ve always at least stuck to our values and what we want the integrity of the show to be regardless of how we sort of have molded it into certain spaces a little bit more than others.

TC: Like we tried that. We tried to fit it into a box that somebody else needed with us with Cartoon Network.

Like when it was supposed to be a children’s show.

TC: Yeah, that was weird. It didn’t feel right to us. It wasn’t right—the right tone. By the time we got to now, we just decided that as much as we want this to happen, we’re going to do it our way. We’re not going to bend for anybody.

It seems like each episode has some type of—I hate it when we say something has a 'statement’—but as a whole, what would you say is the statement of the show?

AM: I think it’s a little bit of what we’ve been talking about. It’s about trusting the people that are in charge. It’s about, how much do we believe these people? And how much do they really believe in it?

Tofer holding one of the set pieces.

 

Has it been difficult to work within the confines of a one-minute script?

JH: We had to find a rhythm and a cadence in the script in which we’d see multiple reactions from the crowd. I’ll speak for Abram—it was hard to write something for just 1 minute. But I think at the end of the day, it helped focus on what our direction was and what our purpose was. If we can’t do it in a minute, then it’s too complicated. It helped refine exactly what it is.

“At the end of the day, being a creative, you always have to fight for your voice… And you have to convince and show everyone that your idea and your voice is valid.”

AM: Well, here’s the truth. We spent so many hours and hours writing and rewriting all these scripts. And it came to the point where our producers were like, “Listen, we need scripts now.” We had 3-minute scripts that were still too long, minute and a half scripts still too long. And then it was like, we need them now if we want to get into this cycle of TripTank. We have to get these scripts approved immediately. So the three of us sat down at the table and banged out these three episodes in one sitting. We ate a couple hoagies. It was because of all the lead up. The Malcolm Gladwell 10,000 hours thing. It was like we had been trying to do it in so many different ways that when we were put before the fact, boom we just did it.

L to R: Chub Gusto, his children Tyler and Carly, and his royal attach'e Elton, a Faberg'e egg.

By that time, you guys knew exactly who the character was.

AM: Including the voice! Chub Gusto’s voice is Dana Snyder who is Master Shake on Aqua Teen [Hunger Force]. He’s a huge voiceover artist; he’s amazing.

JH: He’s also a creator of Suck It, Gary! which is a skit that got spun off out of TripTank as well, proving the formula of TripTank being an incubator for shows such as Gusto to get its legs.

AM: So once we knew he was going to come back to these episodes, we could write for his voice… He’s been a real ally of the show. When we did a teaser years ago to sell the show, he was the voice for us and did it.

For writers, it might be more obvious how intimately you need to know a character and how little the audience gets to see parts of that. Can you guys talk a little about that?

AM: Again, I think it was writing all these other scripts. We had episodes that took place in the royal kitchen. We saw what Tyler’s bedroom looked like, we saw what Carly’s bedroom looked like, we saw the royal pool. It’s filled with pudding that Chub Gusto rides his gold jet ski in. We saw what his bedroom looked like when Elton brings him pancakes every morning. We developed everything. When he goes off that stage and gets in his limo that’s powered by Elton pulling him back to the castle, we know all that stuff. It was really about distilling it. Because we only have 1 minute, it was about making every word count. When you have more time, as a writer—I can fill pages for days with stuff. So to have to distill it to his essence, which is Chub, which is him speaking to us and speaking his mind.

We had to go through all the rooms in his castle to get to this point.

How’s it been living with this character for ten years?

JH: It’s been fucking awesome. I love Chub Gusto so much.

Gusto Rules! episode 2, “Toilet.”

Do you guys do normal things in your life and then think of [Chub] while you’re getting coffee or something?

JH: Absolutely… Whatever it is, we’re constantly trying to build this guy as a living, breathing human entity. We learn more about him every day. We know a lot about this guy, but we learn a lot about him.

TC: He’s real to us.

AM: Just as relentless as he is about his insane ideas and forcing people to respond to his crazy whims and wills, we’re just as determined to make sure he exists. We’re gonna blow it out on Sunday and we’re all trying to be in the moment with the fact that today, [we get] to see him on the front page of Comedy Central. That’s like a dream come true.

“It’s easy to come up with an idea; we can come up with insane ideas for days. But committing to that idea and actually making it three dimensional takes a lot.”

JH: You have no idea. It was like, “Holy shit, this is it.”

AM: It’s such a combination of forcing something. If this is the end, it feels just as good as if this is ten years to really get it started.

TC: We’re all creatives. And at the end of the day, being a creative, you always have to fight for your voice. Like, no matter what. Even though this isn’t particularly my industry that I’m involved with everyday, I’m an artist—a fine artist—and it’s a similar thing. You always have to fight for what you believe in and you have to believe in it because it starts with you. And you have to convince and show everyone that your idea and your voice is valid.

Jed, Abram, and Tofer at the Hollywood Bowl, whose architecture the Gusto Rules! series set was modeled after.

I don’t know if you guys saw the “Wildfire” short film that Bobby did, but the whole concept behind it was the conception of an idea. You wake up in the morning and have an idea, then you bring it to your partner, then he shows it to the whole team, then everybody has a part in it, then the idea becomes viral. It’s kind of like that where you had your art show, he saw it and thought, “Hey—that’s awesome.” Then you were like, “He’d be the perfect writer for this,” and it kind of grew from that. Do you guys have anything to say about that process?

AM: I think that that’s really true. It happened very organically. If Jed hadn’t been inspired by the work, we wouldn’t be sitting here. The initial idea started with Jed in this form but like he needed to created the work for him to be inspired. We needed to all see the potential in it and all like each other enough from the get to stay committed to each other through thick and thin.

It’s easy to come up with an idea; we can come up with insane ideas for days. But committing to that idea and actually making it three dimensional takes a lot. You need the match strike; you know matches burn down and burn out. Just to use the metaphor they’re using in that film—you need the Wildfire to take off for it to actually become something and for other people to stop and take note. Like I’m just geeking off the fact that anybody who went to Comedy Central and saw it is like, “Who is this jerk?” That’s insane!

***

Follow Gusto Rules! on Instagram @gustorules and tune into the premiere of episode 2 this Monday August 15 on Comedy Central’s TripTank at 1am PST.

Portraits by Josh Zucker, behind the scenes photos courtesy of Gusto Rules!

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