Yo Gabba Gabba! co-creator Christian Jacobs on making kids TV fun for everyone
The beating heart of Yo Gabba Gabba!: Scott Schultz (clockwise from left) DJ Lance Rock and Christian Jacobs
As co-creator of the children's television show Yo Gabba Gabba!, Christian Jacobs has a simple agenda: Create entertainment that engages both parents and their kids through really awesome music. The show, which brings people-sized puppets together with dozens of guests, including Leslie Hall, MGMT, and of Montreal, blends together creativity and physical movement through the simple conduit of music.
Using what he's learned as a dad who also happens to be the lead singer of the Aquabats, Jacobs' vision for a live version of Yo Gabba Gabba -- coming to the 1STBANK Center this Sunday, November 7 at 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. -- is part concert, part dance party.
Jacobs and his crew forgo the notion that live children's shows should have narratives and host fake versions of beloved characters, instead choosing to bring DJ Lance Rock, Biz Markie, and the rest of Yo Gabba Gabba on the road, just like any touring band.
We caught up with the super busy dad dude for moment to chat about co-creator Scott Schultz' Biz Markie vision, just saying no to the Joe Bros, and why The Bronx rule, but Mariachi El Bronx is just better for the kids.
Westword: Yo Gabba Gabba Live! comes through Denver this Sunday, and then the Aquabats play the following week. Are you back with the Aquabats full-time again?
Christian Jacobs: It's kind of like we never really quit playing? When we shoot Yo Gabba Gabba, it takes up most of the year -- it takes three or four months to write the show, another three to shoot it, and a couple of months to edit it. So when we have time off, we're out touring with the band. It is still super fun. You know the Aquabats: We just go crazy and its one big party. We love it and miss it. We're in the studio now finishing up a new record that will be out in January. You can count on us for more silliness!
So it sounds like there is a lot of cross over in the Yo Gabba Gabba staff and the band.
Yeah. Most of the guys contribute to the show. Ricki [Fitness/Falomir], Aquabats' drummer, is a full-time member of the songwriting staff, so is Aquabats' Prince Adam. Everyone comes in and works on the show in a certain capacity -- if we need a bass part for a song on the show, Crash [Chad Larson] will come in, or Jimmy [the Robot/James Randall Briggs] will come play the sax on a certain song. The songwriting department is made-up of our friends in general.
Initially, did you think about Yo Gabba Gabba connecting with adults that maybe didn't have kids?
We didn't really think it through too hard, and that's maybe why the show is doing well. It just organically happened. When my buddy Scott [Schultz] and I created the show -- in watching television with our kids -- we realized there just wasn't something that spoke to our generation, as far as parents go. We were seeing lots of "kid's" shows. They were "just for kids."
As far as stuff we watched when we were kids--stuff like Sesame Street or Pee Wee's Playhouse -- there were parts of those shows that you could watch as an adult and enjoy as well. But it wasn't subversive, like Family Guy or South Park, which are completely for adults, but in the disguise of a kids show -- and that is not what we wanted to do at all. We wanted to make a straight-up kids show you could watch with your whole family.
How did music come to be such an integral force in Yo Gabba Gabba!?
Mostly, us just being music fans and knowing there was so much great music out there and it wasn't really being represented on children's shows. You watch a kid's show and the music is so nice and safe; why can't kids dance? Why can't you turn up the bass and get crazy, and sing about veggies and brushing your teeth? Just change the lyrics, and those songs work for kids. Having kids myself, I know that they like the Aquabats, not that I force it on them. [Laughs.]
They have their own likes and dislikes -- when my son Oscar was two, he would say "Hey! Ho! Mommy. Hey! Ho!" My wife was like, "What did he call me?" I'm kidding. But he was asking for "Blitzkrieg Bop." He loved The Ramones. It's that kind of thing -- kids know good music. So why not give it to them, but in an appropriate way? That brings out the kid in everybody -- from parents to kids to teenagers -- the show has translated to everyone. It's about having fun, having a good time, and being innocent again.
You don't have to pander to kids, the way say a show like Barney and Friends did.
Exactly. You don't have to spoon-feed kids. They want to go out and explore. We grew up in a time when there was an explosion of all of these crazy, colorful kids' shows: Sesame Street, Electric Company, Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood, H.R. PufnStuf, The Banana Splits, and later, Pee Wee's Playhouse.
After the shows were over, our parents were like, "Okay. Now go outside and play. I know you're only four-years-old, but come back before it's dark." [Laughs.] So we were out in the woods alone for hours, you know? That's something that kids, I don't think, will ever get to experience again -- playing outside by yourself for hours, and taking what you saw on television and playing pretend all day long.
Now it's like, let's watch that show again -- and again and again and again. There's not that outlet to get up and move and actually pretend. It's just a different time. With Yo Gabba Gabba!, we want to capture that feeling, and encourage parents to like, re-live some of that with their kids, in a safe way.
Like, hey, we just watched Yo Gabba Gabba! -- let's go outside and play, or turn up the music and dance together. We're hoping the show strikes a chord in the parents. That's what we want to encourage with the show, a bond between parents, and the show and their kids, to create a strong relationship.
I know you've said previously that you specifically don't pick Jonas Brothers'-style groups that are marketed to kids. How do you choose the bands that come on Yo Gabba Gabba?
We're really selective with the bands, even though it seems like we have so many different people on the show. That's deliberate. It is important that the bands and performers we bring on the show have the same kind of energy, and that they're just as excited about being on Yo Gabba Gabba! as we are, that they are, if that makes sense?
Then they're there for the right reasons -- they're there for their kids and their energy matches the show -- not to sell an album. Because Yo Gabba Gabba! has gotten cool to a certain extent now, we've had calls from managers and agents basically saying, "Hey, so-and-so wants to be on your show, so you need to let them on." That's not going to happen.
But you have bands like the Flaming Lips or the Roots or Weezer, or even the Killers contacting us and telling us they want to be on the show because their kids love it. Even Mark Mothersbaugh, who teaches art on the show was like, "Christian, can we put Devo on?"
He was waiting for me to ask him! And the funny thing was, I was too scared to ask him. [Laughs.] I'm thinking, Devo will never do this. But then they came on the show. That's the kind of thing we look for in guests -- an enthusiasm about the world of Yo Gabba Gabba!, which is in turn an enthusiasm about the world of our kids.
How did you get connected with Mark Mothersbaugh and Biz Markie?
In the pilot, Scott had this prophetic idea -- let's do a segment where we bring someone in from outside and have him or her teach a dance. Biz Markie has this wacky dance called "The Biz Dance," and Scott was like, we gotta get Biz in here. I'm like, "Why Biz Markie?" and Scott is like, "I don't know. We just have to get him."
So we went on a crazy search, and believe it or not, at the last second, we got a hold of him on MySpace. This was four or five years ago. Now, it seems like a normal way to contact people, but then, we had no idea. Social networking has been huge for the show.
So Biz just said yes? Yeah! Biz happened to be in town, so he came and filmed. Once he did that, and created "Biz's Beat of the Day," it sort of opened the door for other people. Once the show got picked up, I had this idea for a segment where someone would come in and teach art. I wanted it to be Mark Mothersbaugh. I had worked for a clothing company at one point, and Mark did some t-shirt designs for us for charity. He knew about The Aquabats, but always used to chide us for ripping off Devo. [Laughs.]
So we brought the pilot to Mark, and told him that we would love if he would come and teach art on the show. He basically was like, "I would love to do it, but there is one thing I have to check out first." He had his kids watch the show. He came back to us and was like, "They haven't stopped watching it. I'm totally in. Let's do it." That right there was perfect. Mark is doing it for his kids, and that's what the show is all about.
Is there an artist that you dream of bringing on Yo Gabba Gabba!?
Sure. The list goes on and on. It would be awesome to work with The Pixies, or Bill Murray, Damon Albarn from Gorillaz and Blur -- he seems amazing. Jay-Z would be pretty awesome, though he's pretty far out of the stratosphere. There are some underground people we've been talking with, too -- we're looking forward to working with Passion Pit this season. Murs is a great guy we're bringing on too.
Our friend Matt is in The Bronx, and they do this thing called Mariachi El Bronx, and that's a band I would love to have on Yo Gabba Gabba!. I've known Matt forever and I think he's great -- I just thought The Bronx might be a little hard for the show, but Mariachi would be perfect.
That's so much great music and entertainment happening at this time, there is no end to the great things we can bring to Yo Gabba Gabba!. In theory, the show could last forever. No one is ever going to stop making music.
What is your involvement with the touring aspect of Yo Gabba Gabba! Live?
We approach the live show just as we approach the TV show -- we have to make it better than what is currently being done. Coming from touring with the Aquabats, there is so much we wanted to carry over. Obviously, we wanted to tour with the real DJ Lance Rock and have the real kids from the show to be performing.
We wanted it to be real, like a concert, just like when a band comes to town. As a dad, that is the kind of thing that would frustrate me -- I wouldn't want to drop $200 to take my family to a show full of actors and have my kid go, "That's not DJ Lance Rock."
We approached Yo Gabba Gabba! live the way we do Aquabats' shows -- we pull out all the stops. It's a sensory overload, with stuff flying off the stage and giant screens playing videos and stuff. It can be overwhelming but for the most part, it's awesome.
Imagine if the Aquabats were given free reign. That's how the Yo Gabba Live show is. The sky is the limit. We drop 3,000 balloons each show, and there's confetti cannons going off every couple of songs and bubbles. There are guest stars and bands that teach dances -- it's insane. It's less like a narrative and more like a concert.