Kids’ Media Heroes: Interview with Christian Jacobs

by Amy Kraft on May 29, 2013


It’s not often you get to interview people whose work you love and admire, but I aim to make this the first of many interviews with people doing great work in children’s media. Christian Jacobs is one of the creators of our beloved Yo Gabba Gabba, and more recently he has given older kids The Aquabats! Super Show! on the Hub Network, where he is also the star and lead Aquabat, The M.C. Bat Commander.

I watched a lot of TV growing up (a lot) and The Aquabats! Super Show! is reminiscent of Saturday morning cartoons, SuperfriendsThe Monkees, and the old Adam West Batman. Everything about it rules, but it’s almost shocking to watch it with the weirdness and plentiful explosions I remember from the shows I love but that I don’t see much of in the shows made today. The first season of The Aquabats! Super Show! is available on DVD and is now streaming on Netflix (just as Yo Gabba Gabba has been cruelly ripped from Netflix), and season 2 premieres this Saturday, June 1 at 10:00 am PT/1:00 pm ET. In the meantime, learn more about the awesome Christian Jacobs. 

MM: I’ll start with two questions from my daughter. She asks why Crash McLarson grows so big when he’s mad.

CJ: Oh man! We are going to have to explore that later in another season. That means we’re going to need more time! We need more episodes! THE WORLD NEEDS TO KNOW!! HA!

Also, what happened to the MC Bat Commander’s front tooth?

THAT is going to be addressed in an episode we are writing now! HA! For reelz! The episode is called ‘THE TOOTH.’ Kids are going to love it…

The Aquabats! Super Show! brings to mind so many Saturday morning shows of the 70s and 80s. What shows are influential in your creative process?

Are you sure you wanna go there?? Haha! There are SO many shows that influence the Aquabats in general. TV is a huge influence on us. I think I watched way too much TV when I was a kid. I can barely figure out how to file my taxes but I can tell you the fall line up of Saturday morning cartoons from 1977 -1984. I’ve got some BIGFOOT and WILDBOY residue in my brain, some KROFFT SUPER SHOW, anyone for the FUNKY PHANTOM? RICKETY ROCKET BLAST OFF!!! Ha! THUNDARR THE BARBARIAN?? JASON OF STAR COMMAND!! SHAZAM!!? Oh YES! So many more.

CC_Hub_AB Retouches_Group_Fist_R4

Between Yo Gabba Gabba’s Dancey Dance Time and The Super Music Friends Show and the guest spots on Aquabats, you’ve had an impressive array of celebrity guests. Who were some of your favorites to work with?

AL YANKOVIC! Al is a consummate professional and total gentleman. Mark Mothersbaugh guest stars on THE AQUABATS! SUPER SHOW! this season. He is such a great fellow. Jack Black, Jon Heder and Dave Grohl are total dudes! Like really good buddy types. Wayne Coyne is the wizard of rad. Great guy. Oh man… MOS DEF, Tom Lennon, Busy Phillips, Sam Levine, Martin Starr… Anthony Bourdain, Bill Hader, Lou Diamond Phillips… The list is so long… I think if you have any desire to be on YO GABBA GABBA! or THE AQUABATS! SUPER SHOW! you have to be pretty self aware and able to laugh at yourself. That makes for some good hanging out with some great people.

Who would you love to work with that hasn’t yet been on one of the shows?

The PIXIES, Frank Black, Bill Murray, GORILLAZ, Bad Brains, Robert Downey Jr. and um… Donny Osmond!  HA!

The Aquabats! Super Show! could have easily have been for adults, going the route of shows like Flight of the Conchords. Why make it for kids?

I just like stuff that is inclusive. You know stuff that doesn’t leave anyone out. That is the mission statement of kids TV. I think in the early plans for The Aquabats! show it felt a little more ‘mature’ or more for ‘adults’ but having kids of my own really brought me back into wanting to do things that could include them. The Aquabats! were always pretty clean, but having a family really made me want to let them in on the fun, too.  It’s more fun when things can work for all ages. There are so many shows competing for the most clever, hip, adult comedy of the year but there aren’t a lot of really well done shows in the kid’s space.

Like… what if Pee Wee Herman decided to stick with HBO and adult audiences only etc. We wouldn’t have PEE WEE’S BIG ADVENTURE and so on. That show wasn’t ‘just for kids’, that was just for… EVERYONE! Ha! That’s the kind of entertainment you can feel good about forever. Anyone can drop a ‘blue’ joke or the F-bomb but is it really THAT clever? I just want to stay 9 years old I guess. The world is more interesting from a kid’s point of view.

I do a lot of work in preschool entertainment where I’ve noticed that many creators, marketers, and educators like to play it very safe. I got my hands on the pilot of Yo Gabba Gabba and it seemed revolutionary, not playing by the conventions for preschool entertainment. Did you intentionally shake things up?

Yeah, for sure! But we were coming from a very organic place as dads, lovingly wanting to make a show for their kids. I know our hearts were in the right place but we wanted to shake things up for sure. I think it was just time for someone to metaphorically ‘John Belushi’ smash the acoustic guitar of pre-school shows and get funky! It was time to add our generation’s take on what we wanted to watch with our kids. SESAME STREET was the pioneer, but then along the way ‘pre-school’ kids TV got SO super soft. I think a lot of it got to a point where it felt really condescending and patronizing to the audience. We wanted to make a show that it felt like it was being made by kids in the sandbox. And, actually there are a ton of conventions in YO GABBA GABBA! but you don’t really notice them because we consciously tried to break up so many of the ‘established’ kid show formulas. We just knew from our own families that kids AND parents don’t want formula… they want the real thing!!

On a similar note, over the weekend we binge-watched a good part of The Aquabats! Super Show! season 1. I think the last time I saw that many explosions was when I binge-watched The Muppet Show. What kind of resistance do you get from the network or parents or kids for your comic mischief?

That is a GREAT compliment!!  I wish Crazy Larry was our PyroFX dude on the show! AND, yes, we tested the show a little and there were some parents that were angry and like ‘this show has NO redeeming qualities and it’s …. (aghast) VIOLENT’. I think they must’ve sounded like Sam the Eagle when they were reviewing our show!

We do get a gaggle of notes and resistance from standards and practices from Hub Network about fighting and political correctness (boring) etc. SO, the show has been rated PG. But that’s what we wanted! We want dads and doms to watch and hopefully get hooked into the show too. I just saw IRON MAN 3 with my kids and the audience was FULL of kids. That movie is FULL of people exploding and being killed etc. but… no blood…. It’s weird how we draw a line in the sand with TV. I think our show is cartoony enough and campy enough that kids can grasp the idea that it’s ‘safer’ than maybe that Marvel movie world. In the end, parents should decide what is best for their kids and have discussions about things they are watching together etc. That alone is more important than anything. Parenting! The new babysitter! Ha!

When all was said and done, the best review and highest marks we got from the testing came from a 7-year-old girl who said that she’d been waiting her whole life for THE AQUABATS! SUPER SHOW! That is so cute!

What crosses the line for you?  What do you think is not appropriate to show to kids?

I think ‘life’ is important and I think there are HORRIBLE things out there for both kids and adults in regards to respect of life. All of that torture movie, slasher crap, etc. is so hurtful. I think as a kid, I thought I liked that stuff but as a parent I REALLY abhor it. We deal with some violent ends of things on the show at times but it’s different. We aren’t desecrating life. Death is part of life and must be understood with respect. We deal with that a little too, like when The M.C. Bat Commander is eating a burrito off of someone’s grave. We hope kids see that Karma comes back to settle the score in the form of a ghost in his video game!

I think kids don’t need to be corralled into growing up so fast either. There are TV shows that seem to try to fast track kids into moral destruction. All the Teen Mom stuff in between shows about ‘hook ups’ is SO awful. Keep pornography FAR away from kids. Forever. Let’s stay golden. Let’s cherish innocence and virtue.

I also really hate when things get overboard sarcastic. In THE AQUABATS! SUPER SHOW!, we rarely lash out at each other on the show because I don’t really like to show kids that. I don’t think showing kids how to argue, talk back or snark at authority is appropriate. Like those shows with 45 year olds playing 14 year olds that are just verbally cutting down anyone in their way and disrespecting ‘grown ups.’ Teaching kids how to deceive people and snark their way out of it. I can’t stand those kinds of shows. It’s like do we really need any more kids to grow up narcissistic liars? There are only so many jobs in Washington! HA!

There’s a girl in The Wiggles now. Any chance of getting a girl Aquabat?

HA! There’s always a chance! We’ve been trying to figure out a way to involve more strong female characters in the show but I think deep down, like most little boys … The Aquabats! are scared of girls!

Can you share any good nuggets with us about the upcoming season of The Aquabats! Super Show!? What great heroism and villainy can we expect?

Well, The Aquabats! return to Earth after being stranded in space at the end of last season. Turns out they have come back as conquering heroes, even though none of them has any memory of what actually took place. So instead of their usual underdog status, The Aquabats! have to deal with their newfound fame. You know, it’s sorta like a cult band going mainstream. HA!

There are some new villains and old ones! Bigfoot shows up, of course! There are even some REAL old villains from the 90’s!

Old foe Silver Skull returns to challenge The Aquabats! Shoot! I don’t want to spoil too much. We’ve got some cool cameos. Tony Hawk, Eric Koston, Leslie Hall, Mark Mothersbaugh, Martin Starr, Mikey Way, etc. Gerard Way from the band My Chemical Romance came in to help write and direct an episode. It’s gonna be really fun!

One last little thing. While preparing these questions, I stumbled upon the knowledge that you were the boy in the record store in Pretty in Pink. Would you care to comment on how awesome that is?

Yes, it was awesome. Everyone always asks me “Dude! (yes, everyone says ‘dude’ first) What was Molly Ringwald like? Were you in heaven? Was she so hot?” Well, I was 13 at the time so of course I was in love…. with ANNIE POTTS!! OH MAN, SO IN LOVE!! Like an OMD song!!

It was a lot of fun! Great memories. Hanging around with all of them for a week. Chatting it up with John Hughes etc. It was a great. It’s all about Ducky!

Thank you so much! My family and I are big fans of the shows. I had a second kid just so I could keep watching Yo Gabba Gabba, and now the four of us sit and watch The Aquabats! Super Show! together.

OK! Congrats on the rad family and thanks! Remember to please watch responsibly! Some of the episodes may be a little intense for the under 5 set — so be on your toes!

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