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Yakko, Pinky, and the Meaning of Life :: An Interview with Voice Actor Rob Paulsen

Yakko, Pinky, and the Meaning of Life :: An Interview with Voice Actor Rob Paulsen

By Devin O’Neill

Animaniacs was an Emmy and Peabody Award-winning landmark 1990s cartoon precisely because the show’s creators understood that the art had to come first. Because of Steven Spielberg’s involvement, the writers, actors, and animators could afford to take huge risks—the show could lampoon Hollywood, include Sondheim-style musical numbers with a full orchestra, and layer fourth-wall-breaking jokes that appeal to adults and kids alike, in the eternal and sacred spirit of Looney Tunes.

Rob Paulsen was instrumental to the show’s zany magic, as the speaking and singing voice of Animaniacs’ Yakko and fan-favorite Pinky, of Pinky and the Brain. He also brought instincts and energy from his work in other groundbreaking franchises and animated series, and his list of credits is so massive (from Ninja Turtles to Darkwing Duck to Gummi Bears to PJ from A Goofy Movie) that he basically defined 1990s childhood.

Every interaction I’ve had with Rob has been genuinely kind and cool. When you’re talking with people in Hollywood, especially famous people, it sometimes feels like you’re speaking through a layer of people. But even via email, I felt his sincerity, and to make things easy and comfortable for me to interview him, due to some scheduling conflicts, he just invited me out to his house.

It was a breezy drive as I passed through sunny, storied Calabasas, watching the developments thin. Rob’s cozy ranch is tucked away in a tawny canyon. At first, I was sure I had the wrong exit—it looked like I was headed toward hiking country. But then I saw the mailbox, and I knew I had arrived at the right place.

What I didn’t know was that I’d basically arrived at the ashram of a guru. During our conversation, I didn’t expect to have my existential compass radically tuned. This man is famous for voicing cartoons, I had to keep reminding myself as he repeatedly pointed me towards what’s important in my own life. Somehow, for him, doing funny voices has been the gateway to something very real.

He started by asking me questions about myself: where I grew up, how I left a tiny desert town called Ridgecrest to come to Los Angeles, and now writing for The Hundreds. When I talked about how long and strange my path had been, he latched onto that immediately.

During our conversation, I didn’t expect to have my existential compass radically tuned.

ROB PAULSEN: The main thing is, you’re doing what you want to do. You’re trying to find that. And that’s precisely how I ended up here. I followed my passion. I know not everybody—and I know this especially having been around—not everybody can wake up and say, wow, I am getting paid to do essentially what I would do for free. And that’s about as good as it gets.

I don’t care if you’re an actor, a journalist, a PR person, or an auto mechanic. If you are doing something that you can say, “Honestly, if I didn’t get paid for this, I’d find a way to do it anyway, because it’s what I do in my free time, it makes me happy...” golf, bowling, I don’t care what it is.

I am a lottery winner. I didn’t start out to be a voice actor. Like most people my age who decided to become an entertainer, I was a singer, who became an actor, and moved to LA ostensibly to do live action, and that’s what I was doing.

But then the opportunity came up to audition for animation… I jumped on it, because I love to work. And I love to be able to use my voice. I was a singer first, I used to create my own characters as a kid just because it made me happy.

I really wanted to be a professional hockey player, and I was not good enough. But the other thing that made me so happy was to just be creative with my voice, and create characters, and learn how to sing in them. Just because it was fun. Nobody asked me to do it, nobody forced me to do it, I just loved it.

“That phrase ‘luck is when opportunity meets preparation’ is so true.”

DEVIN O’NEILL: Your love of work stands out to me. I hear a lot about people wanting to follow their dreams, wanting to be famous. But that nose-to-the-grindstone mentality— the joy you get from being involved in something, even if it’s not your first plan—rings true. I think that openness could be of great use to my own generation in these weird times.

Yeah. And mind you, the opportunity was there. There’s a phrase that I can tell you categorically is true, having done it now several times; that phrase “luck is when opportunity meets preparation” is so true, Devin. It is so true.

And a great example... is Animaniacs. Because, as I told you when I was 13, 14, 15, I had a little reel-to-reel tape player, and me and my friends would make sounds and noises, and play it backwards and forwards, and I was a big fan of Peter Sellers, and Monty Python, and The Goons, and Jonathan Winters, and Carol Burnett, just character stuff. And I had a pretty good ear, but I also loved to sing. So who knew, when I was fourteen or fifteen, that twenty years later I wouldn’t be doing it in Flint, Michigan, I’d be doing it in Hollywood, and I’d be auditioning for Steven Spielberg.

I had an opportunity there. I’d worked with Tom Ruegger and Steven Spielberg and Jean MacCurdy; the people who created Animaniacs and Pinky and the Brain also created Tiny Toons, and I worked with them. And I had heard that phrase about luck. And it sort of was like this light-bulb. I said, Holy Moly. This is what they’re talking about. This is exactly what that phrase is.

It was a moment, in other words. An opening—an instant where you saw a shining path rolling out in front of you and you knew what you had to do.

Right. We all have these epiphanal moments, and you may have already had one that got you out of Ridgecrest. And I had one that got me out of central Michigan. Not because I didn’t love my friends and my family, but because it was... you know what, this is as good as it gets here. This is as far as you can go here. If you’re the big fish in this pond, this musical pond in Flint, Michigan, without being a rock and roll star, this is about as good as it’s going to get.

Left to right: Jess Harnell (Wakko), Tress MacNeille (Dot), Rob Paulsen (Yakko, Pinky), Maurice LaMarche (Brain)

So you have to decide whether you want to do it as an avocation, or, now that you’re—I don’t know, I was twenty, twenty-one—this is the time to go mess around in Hollywood. Because you have no encumbrances, you’re not married, you don’t have kids, you don’t have a giant mortgage. So if you’re going to do it, this is the time to do it.

And, just like you, I moved to, you know, the big Hollywood sandbox. But I did have that epiphanal moment... gosh, I moved to LA at twenty-two, and Animaniacs came along when I was thirty-five. So that was my second big epiphany, I think, was when I thought, Holy smokes, this is it. Steven Spielberg, Warner Bros., all original characters, I’m a singer... And I went to the producers Tom Ruegger and Andre Romano who’s our director, and I said, “If you guys don’t hire me for this, you’re making a mistake.” And it was completely not arrogant.

I can tell it wasn’t. You knew it in your bones. You were the guy.

Yes! Exactly. And I knew that I could say that to them, because I’d worked with them for years on Tiny Toons. So I already knew them. And I said, “Tommy, I’m telling you, man. If you don’t hire me for this, you’re making a mistake, because I can kill this.”

And it turns out that I was right, and it turns out that they were right. It really worked well. And not just with me. With Tress MacNeille, with Jess Harnell, with Maurice LaMarche... everybody.

I knew Animaniacs was your second big break, after you helped change the animation landscape with Ninja Turtles. But as I researched your work, my eyes got wider and wider. I was like, “Oh. You were the voice of my entire childhood.” I was obsessed with Goofy Movie when I was a kid; I made my brother watch it over and over.

[Laughs] Thank you! [In character] Oh yeah, PJ! Cool, I dig that guy!

[Laughs] Exactly. Holy crap. This is blowing my mind.

[In character] Yeah, I bet you’re thinking, wow, there’s this guy that looks like my grandpa, and he’s talking’ like PJ, bro.

You’ve done so much incredible work, on so many shows. It was kind of staggering to process. But even as a kid, Animaniacs stood out to me. It seemed like it was a different order of show entirely.

Well, yeah. And that was utterly by design. Steven and Tom Ruegger and Jean MacCurdy were all children of the Looney Tunes universe. And Rocky and Bullwinkle, and all of that. In fact—I don’t know if you’ve seen the two hour documentary on HBO on Steven that’s out there now. You should watch that, as a fan. Even the things that were flops, the stories about them are interesting.

But there was a really neat little video piece [shared] by a website called Film School Rejects just a couple weeks ago, and it was very flattering. I knew nothing about it, but somebody said, “Hey Rob, take a look at this.” And it said Animaniacs: The Cartoon That Saved Cartoons.”

And the proof is now in the pudding, because of the unqualified success of the show on Netflix. It’s been frikkin’ huge. And that’s not a bunch of eight year olds.

And in this piece about Animaniacs, the cartoon, et cetera, Steven at the beginning says, you know, I really think all directors should be animators. They should make their own animated projects. Because you can’t just have wind blowing on an animal’s hair by turning on a fan. You have to draw that.

You have to make a decision.

Yeah. And it is utterly creative. That is to say, from a clean sheet of paper, literally.

From the ground up.

Right. It is not dependent on light, equipment—it’s dependent on your pencil and your brain… all that reinforces what we were doing back then. But cut to twenty years later, we haven’t done a new Animaniacs episode in over twenty years. But I don’t even know how to tell you how many people I’ve met around the world in the last few years who come up to me and say, “Dude. Animaniacs. I never realized, until I watched it with fresh eyes as a 30-year-old, and oh my god! How did some of that get through?”

But that was utterly by design. And they knew what they were doing, and they said, “Oh, wait a minute. Rocky and Bullwinkle, Looney Tunes, Fractured Fairy Tales, all that stuff; it’s all relevant. Shows that were made in the ‘50s and ‘60s are relevant sixty years later, because of Chuck Jones and Bob McKimson, and Mel Blanc. And they were beautifully executed, and they did not, on purpose, condescend to the audience.

No. It was subversive. It spoke to people of all ages.

Exactly. And that was utterly by design. And Devin, the fact that you can come here, and I can talk to a nice young fellow like yourself... it never gets old. Because it’s a validation that we knew what we were doing. And mind you, I don’t write them and I don’t draw them. I’m just an actor. But the reason they hired Tress and Jess and myself, and Maurice, and Frank Welker, was because they knew we could bring something to the party.

“Shows that were made in the ‘50s and ‘60s are relevant sixty years later, because… they did not, on purpose, condescend to the audience.”

And it really is the ultimate collaborative effort. Because I can’t draw them, but once you start to groove on a character, the writers begin to know how Yakko, how the actor performing Yakko, has sensibilities that work really well with the character. So we’re going to write jokes that end with “Good night everybody!”

Same with Pinky and the Brain. The non-sequitur responses to “Are you pondering...”

So it’s a real dialog.

Oh yeah, absolutely. And there are many things that ended up in both series that were the result of an actor’s improv. And that was an example of how much we all worked together. And other shows like Rick and Morty were the same way.

I was just going to mention them! There are whole episodes of Rick and Morty that are based around improv. And a lot of the Adult Swim stuff... I don’t think a lot of that would’ve been possible without Animaniacs.

And that was the point of this article: that Animaniacs paved the way for shows like that. And even Family Guy, with the music... [in character] “It’s a great big universe, and we’re all really puny, we’re just tiny little specks, about the size of Mickey Rooney...” Those kinds of interludes.

And the guy’s point was—and he’s probably about your age, a film school guy, saying, “This stuff was pretty remarkable twenty years ago.” And the fact that we’re here talking is just a testament to that. And the beautiful experience is that I still do it, Tress still does it, Maurice still does it… I don’t even know how to tell you what that means to me. It never is not cool. Using a double negative. It never is not a fabulous experience.

It really was our Monty Python, partially because of those kinds of catchphrases. Those things are universal. Like, the number of times I’ve been sitting around a table and somebody said, “What are we going to do tonight? We going to the bar?” And someone else said, “The same thing we do every night, Pinky!”

How about that.

From when I was a kid until now, people still do that. My mother does it. Do you know what i mean?

I do know what you’re talking about. And I meet people all the time, as recently as last weekend, and I will meet them this weekend when we go do... myself and Randy Rogel, who wrote most of those songs, have a wonderful show with Warner Bros. Consumer Products in which we’re able to take the music of Animaniacs around the country and perform it live.

On Animaniacs Live, members of the original voice cast and Emmy-winning composer Randy Rogel perform songs from the original show live accompanied by an orchestra.

Yeah, I was checking that out! So what is that like? And how is it different from doing it in the studio?

Oh well, of course the immediate audience response is the first bitchin’ thing. Because I grew up doing live performance. And when you can sit there with a couple thousand people in the audience who are there, you know, obviously they come to see Animaniacs. But of course they want to know about, you know, I’ve been two Turtles, and Jimmy Neutron, and The Tick and The Mask, and so it’s great. We do a Q&A at every show, and people love asking questions. It’s great fun.

And everybody, and every gig that we do—this weekend will be no exception; I’m going to Tucson on Friday—I will meet someone to whom the characters that I’ve been involved in... and I make it very clear: I’m just the actor. But I’m the one who gets to go out and be the point-person.

And I will meet people to whom these characters have had an incredible impact. Often much, much bigger than I ever would have expected. People who say, “I’ve got to tell you, I went through a major clinical depression,” or, “My mother had ovarian cancer, and the only thing that made her laugh was Pinky and the Brain,” or “My brother and I were twins, and our parents got a divorce, and we hung onto each other through Ninja Turtles,” and. “I hear that voice, or that song, and I want to let you know what Pinky or Mighty Max meant to me.”

And Devin, I never would have known that had I not had the opportunity to do interviews like this, and going around meeting people in person.

“Animaniacs was successful because it was art for the sake of the art.”

So, I have a strange question. And we don’t necessarily have to talk about this if you don’t want to, but I know that you confronted cancer recently, and you got through it.

No, yeah, last year. And I’m happy to talk about it.

Well, you were talking about the stuff that this show and these experiences have done for your fans. Do you feel like you carry something like that with you from your work? Like, did that health experience feel totally separate, like a distraction? Did it feel alienated from your work? Or did you think about your legacy and your work as you were going through it? Did your work help you get through it in any way?

The cancer thing? Well, I thought about my ability to work in the future. But I’ll tell you, it was a remarkable experience. The toughest physical thing I’ve ever been through in my life.

But everybody goes through something like that. I hope you never have to, but you know people—you may have loved ones who have died of cancer. It’s ubiquitous, unfortunately. I’ll tell you what it was. Ultimately... and, I’m a pretty positive guy. This interview is not any different than it would’ve been two years ago. I am who I am. I am by nature, my DNA, is as a pretty positive guy.

However, the cancer experience was... I don’t know if I’m quite removed from it enough to say it was a gift, ultimately. Because I’m still recovering. I lost fifty pounds in the process; I was 180 and I got down to 128. So I’m at 140 now. It’s pretty intense.

Anyway, I can tell you that the experiences I had, primarily with Ninja Turtles, on the first go-round, and by that, I mean the experiences I had outside the actual recording of the show. When that show hit, and I mean—you know what it became. I and the other boys got to talk to so many children around the world, who were often in hospitals and struggling with impossible circumstances… So when I was diagnosed, the incredible opportunities that I’d had to speak to so many people really put my struggle “in perspective.” I knew, right away, several things: even if it was going to kill me, even if they had said, “You’ve got to go home right now and get your shit in order, because you’re done…”—I was sixty. Fifty-nine and a half. I wasn’t twenty-five with two kids. I wasn’t at the beginning of my career. If I die tomorrow... man, I’ve had a hell of a run.

I never expected to have the kind of life I have. I pinch myself every day. I get to talk to nice people like you, I go to work with people I would choose to spend my free time with. And then I get done with my work, and people tell me how great I am, doing something I’d do for free. I’m a very, very fortunate fellow.

So that’s one side of the equation. The other side of the equation was: they did say, once I got going, “You are going to die, but not from this. We got this. You’re gonna die someday, probably from old age.”

From something else, yeah. [laughs]

[Laughs] Right. However: the treatment is going to really kick your ass. And it did. it’s brutal. It’s... no surgery in my case, knock on wood, but it was stage 3, which meant that it had already spread to another area. The primary tumor was at the base of my tongue, and it had spread to a lymph node in my neck.

So they said, “Okay, we’re going to keep our knives in our back pocket. But you’re going to have seven weeks of daily radiation, and a bunch of chemo. And it’ll knock you on your ass. You’re going to wish you were dead, but you’re not dying.” So I went through it. And my wife was spectacular, everything was great. I’m so lucky I’ve got great insurance. But the main thing that got me through the times when it was really tough was remembering, literally, all these children. And the parents have kept in touch with me after their kids have died. And they keep pictures of their kid with their Raphael doll, or dressed in their Ninja Turtle pajamas.

Or in one case, you know, a sweet boy who... he and his sister had muscular dystrophy. I met this little fellow Chad. He was in this room! Years ago, when he was probably the same age as my son. They lived in Calgary, and the family came down to take the kid to Disneyland. Both kids in a wheelchair. They’re in an RV, and wheel the kids in here, and my boy’s playing video games...

Well, Chad finally passed away a couple years ago… But when I met him the first time, when he was probably five, I’d given him a Ninja Turtles jacket that I had, that we all got. Crew jackets. And I had run out of Ninja Turtle pictures, so I gave him the crew jacket. And every year that I would go back—they brought me up every year to be the host of the muscular dystrophy telethon feed in Calgary. So for about four years I went up there and I would see Chad and his family every year. So here we have an experience with this young fellow who has ultimately died, and, you know, his mother buried him with his Ninja Turtles jacket at twenty-four years old.

So that impact—and I know there are millions of other people who have had that experience with various and sundry other animated characters.

“Twenty four hours after you’re diagnosed, you meet people who will be part of your life for a long time.”

So my relative struggle was put in perspective by literally... I don’t even know how many children I’ve gotten to talk to. And again, it’s not just me. I’m not a superman. We all know how fortunate we are. And it never gets old. I love the fact that I can make you, or anybody else, just burst into a smile, and sometimes tears, when I do Pinky or Yakko or Raphael or Donatello, or [in character] Carl Wheeeeezer...

Whatever it is, it just makes everybody smile. And that is a magical thing. And it is not just the voice. It’s because of the rendering, the art, the music. All of it together.

So yeah, it’s tough. I can’t taste food anymore. I really have no saliva function; that’s why I’ve got water and coffee in front of me. But I’ll be damned, I can do my job. And I am incredibly fortunate... And okay, so, you know what, Rob? Straighten up. You can deal with this. You can handle this, whatever it is, most of the time. And what that does to me is that it allows me to put in perspective when things really are tough. Like the cancer.

I just put my head down and said, all right, I can take a punch. This is my thing, it’s my turn in the WWF cage. Everybody has it. Whether it’s bankruptcy, divorce, a loved one, whatever it is. Listen man, nobody gets out of here without a couple of dings.

That’s sort of what I was talking about. That kind of stuff, I can imagine, is an enormous source of strength. And the stuff you’ve done, it does go way beyond. You know, I played Ninja Turtles when I was a kid. I played with the toys and played pretend with my brother. And we found sticks, and I was Donatello. And it was all based around the cartoon, because that’s what we watched.

And Animaniacs is the same. I drew things, and started making absurd jokes, because of that show. So you gave us tools to dream with. You know what I mean? You and the team.

Boy. That’s a huge, huge compliment.

“It really is about laughing… it’s about being able to look at a situation and find the humor in it.”

Yeah, you know, it’s real stuff.

Well, and especially Animaniacs. You can make the argument... it’s almost inarguable. Animaniacs was successful because it was art for the sake of the art. I mean, trust me. I mean, trust me. I’ve been involved in shows that become essentially half-hour commercials to sell action figures. And I get that, I’m a capitalist… However, when you’re able to work on something that ticks all the boxes artistically and culturally, and it’s a significant piece of entertainment that you say, my goodness, gave us the tools to dream—what a profound compliment.

And it was done because guys like Steven can get it done. But honestly, I am a lottery winner. I have at least one or two moments every day where I think, “I cannot believe that I’m able to do this.” There was a really great quote—and I wrote it down, it presented itself today, from a book I was reading. Let me see if I can find it.

It’s from Relentless, by Tim Grover. I’m not crazy about the book, but the quote is: “Not everyone gets the opportunity to be stressed by the potential to achieve exceptional things.”

Yeah! Yeah, exactly.

You know what I mean? So the fact that I have you coming, and I was on the phone with a guy from Toronto, and I’ve got to get out of here and make sure I’m at work at 2:00... and I’m getting on a plane Friday to go to Tucson, and you and I had trouble connecting because of my schedule—this is is what I asked for! And every time I start to go, “Holy shit, this is a lot...” I remember that. And I say, you know what, not everybody gets this chance, to be running in twelve directions going, “Can you do this tomorrow? These nice people at The Hundreds want to talk to you, when can you...” Oh my god, this is what I asked for, Devin. I am grateful.

That’s why I say... I’m maybe still a little close to it, but ultimately I think the cancer thing will be a gift. Because I’m fine, but the experience has left a mark, which is a good thing… The first day I met my radiation oncologist, the guy who mapped out my throat and zapped me for a couple months—great guy. And by the way, I know you know this, but... there really are angels who walk among us. People who do incredible stuff. Twenty four hours after you’re diagnosed, you meet people who will be part of your life for a long time. They don’t know you, they don’t know your family, but they are smart, and they are kind, and generous, and empathic. And whether it’s helping you get through it, or whether it’s helping you on your way out...

So this Dr. Henry Yampolski, great, big, tall good-looking Russian guy. Sounds like Goldfinger, man. And he comes in and he says [Russian accent] “Mr. Paulsen. Is pleasure to meet you. I think we will be able to help you. I think for sure we can cure you. Unfortunately before we do we almost have to kill you.”

And I started laughing and I said, “All right. I get it. So you’ve got a sense of humor.”

“No, Mr. Bond. I expect you to die.”

Right! Exactly right. You get it. “No, Mr. Bond. I expect you to die.” That’s exactly what I thought. And I thought, Oh my god. You’re Goldfinger. So we had a blast. Turns out his daughter is a huge fan of the characters I did.

So, you know, one thing leads to another. When I was getting my chemo, Maurice LaMarche, who’s [the voice of] The Brain, would come and sit with me—God bless that man. And when the people there, all the doctors, nurse’s aids, all the people thought holy christ, that’s Pinky and The Brain! “Yeah, well, they look like it.” “No, no, it really is.”

People would come by, doctors, oncologists, and they’d say, “These guys tell me, Are you guys really Pinky and The Brain?” I’d say [in character] “Yes I am! And this is my friend, The Brain!” “Would you make my voicemail...” “Egad, Dr. Hamburg isn’t here at the moment... NARF!” Oh my god, it’s the greatest thing.

So honestly, it really is about laughing, and it’s about humor, and it’s about being able to look at a situation and find the humor in it.

“Pinky teaches us that having almost unconditional love and support for people in whom you believe is important.”

[Laughs] I watched an interview with you and Maurice, and you were talking about the core of the narrative for Pinky and the Brain being that they try, every night, and fail, every night, and the next day they try again. And Maurice was talking about how that is sort of the core lesson, this is what life is about. You get up, and you try again. This is the lesson we learn from The Brain.

How about that. It’s allegorical, isn’t it?

It very much is. And so I was wondering, if that’s the lesson we learn from The Brain… then what does Pinky teach us?

You know what? That’s a great question. I think he teaches us that no matter how severe your overbite is, you can still get a job in show business. 

[Laughs]

No, but seriously, I hope, it is truly my hope, that Pinky teaches us that having almost unconditional love and support for people in whom you believe is important.

Now, The Brain, although he may have had his subversive reasons for wanting to take over the world, he never hurt anybody. It was never about hurting... it was about, “I can help you all, just trust me. I’m a megalomaniac.” And Pinky is utterly, I believe, the best example of what true friendship is about. You will go to the mat for somebody whom you love and care about.

I have one more question, because I feel like we’re wrapping up. And I have to know this: how did you memorize that insane nations-of-the-world song [Yakko’s World]? Because at first I was like, it’s a cartoon, of course he’s reading from the script. But then I saw you do it live in a video from Comic-Con.

You know what, we recorded it, but what you grew up listening to was recorded in one take. We recorded two takes, but the one that turned out to be... it really is a seminal piece of animation. It’s a beautifully done cartoon. Rusty Mills directed it, Randy Rogel wrote that song.

It’s so gorgeous. It’s so fluid, the movements...

Beautiful. It’s two and a half minutes of really great stuff. The magic is—look, Hollywood is full of great singers. The magic is the song, the way it’s constructed. It’s in four very specific areas. Randy not only rhymed most of the sovereign nations of the world at that time, but he did it in segments.

…We had this song where we lampooned Hollywood: “In Hollywood, they have a different language that they speak. It’s used by all those folks who went to school for just one week.” You know. “Hicks makes pick, but the flick needs fix, means someone made a movie that bombed. The veeps in charge are now at large, means everyone involved is gone. The plot conflicts, no beautiful chicks, so it’s coming out on video soon. They’ve taken their licks, and the critics say nix, but the editors are going to try and save it in the mix.” Shut up!

“Tom Ruegger, Jean MacCurdy, Steven Spielberg… had the genius of knowing who to hire and then turning them loose.”

[Laughs] Oh my god. That’s incredible. And their willingness to lampoon their own industry.

Oh yeah, absolutely. But then, he was charged with writing songs about everything. He wrote a song about time that goes, “When you’re traveling from Nantucket, through Chicago to St. Paul, and you’re standing in an airport, and you look upon the wall, there’s a clock for every city—and a different time for all, from Asia through Malaysia to Peru. Did you ever wonder why that when it is six o’clock in Maine, at precisely the same moment, it is 8am in Spain? When it’s breakfast-time in Rome, they’re having lunch in the Ukraine, and it’s supper up in upper Kathmandu.”

It’s insane. It’s like Mary Poppins-level stuff, but like episodically, every week.

It is. It’s just like Rogers and Hammerstein, it’s like cartoon Sondheim. It’s just brilliant. And he still does it. He wrote a new stanza because of all the countries that have sprung up since that song was written. So the new one goes, “Montenegro and Bosnia, Herzegovina, the Soviet Union is gone. South Africa, Georgia, Moldovia, Latvia, Belarus, Azerbaijan. Uzbekistan! Kazakstan! Then there’s Tajikistan too. Turkmenistan! Kurdistan! Armenia, Tonga, Palau.” I mean, this stuff just rolls off his head.

[Laughs] It’s crazy. Next-level.

So, look, I’m good at my job. But that’s crazy good writing. And again, it holds up beautifully. It just shows that good stuff is good stuff, man. When Tom Ruegger, Jean MacCurdy, Steven Spielberg, and the people they hired—they also had the genius of knowing who to hire and then turning them loose.

They didn’t micromanage. Steven was involved in every facet, and same with Tom. But they hired great writers. Peter Hastings. Andrea Romano, Deanna Oliver, Shari Stoner. John McCann. Paul Rugg. They would hire all these people and just say, “Man, these cats are good.”

***

This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity. The Hundreds X Animaniacs is currently sold out, but can still be found at select retailers—full stockist list HERE.

For more information on Animaniacs Live! and upcoming shows, visit animaniacslive.com

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