Creating "Lil' Bush": A Conference Call with Donick Cary and Iggy Pop
Donick Cary is a veteran of television comedy, starting out as a writer for Late Night with David Letterman and The Simpsons. Late last year, he was tapped by Amp’d Mobile to create animated shows for broadcast on cell phones. The result was Lil’ Bush, a comedy series that follows the misadventures of a pint-sized version of the President and his staff, including Lil’ Rummy, Lil’ Condi, and Lil’ Cheney. The show was enough of a hit to make the jump from the cell phone network to cable television, debuting as a half-hour comedy on Comedy Central on June 13 at 10:30 PM (Eastern Time). On May 24, Toon Zone News joined a conference call with Cary and rock star Iggy Pop, who will be providing the voice of Lil’ Donald Rumsfeld.
The call began wth Cary and Iggy Pop greeting the participants. Cary stated that Lil’ Bush will get six half-hour episodes on Comedy Central, with two stories per episode. The Lil’ Bush band will also play a song in each episode, although it was revealed that Iggy Pop will not be providing music for the show. In response to a question, Cary said that the music would be provided by Chris Phillips, drummer for the Squirrel Nut Zippers, and that they were inspired by classic music-driven shows like The Archies, The Banana Splits, and The Monkees, although the music on the show will include parodies of the Sex Pistols, Guns and Roses, the Grateful Dead, and Wham. Cary said that there would be a number of musical guest stars, such as Anthony Kiedis of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Frank Black from the Pixies, Jeff Tweedy from Wilco, and Henry Rollins, and that they were working on getting Boy George to voice Tony Blair.
Of the original six cell phone shorts that were made, about five of them were “picked clean…for a joke here or there or…an idea,” but the TV show will totally redo the shorts so that, “they’re all new jokes, all new things and expanded stories.” In response to another question, Cary admitted that there were more restrictions on what he could do on Comedy Central than there were on the Amp’d Network, but that “Comedy Central…is known for doing stuff that’s edgy and…takes those few risks.” He said that there were times when the network felt something in the shows was a little too edgy, but he could often counter these attempts to tone down the show by pointing out similar jokes from South Park or the Colbert Report. He did say that “it’s actually a pretty good home for this and the notes haven’t been bad,” and that, “we want (the show) to be funny, first and foremost, and fun,” and that the area where they were being very careful was with storylines involving Iraq or the troops. Cary added that the staff was aware that, “there’s a line when it’s not funny … pointing out things that are like, ‘Hey we want to support these guys and we’re not doing it by doing this,'” and mentioned that one upcoming episode would deal with the recent scandal around the Walter Reed Medical Center.
This isn’t to suggest that the network didn’t impose some changes on the show. Cary said that, “the first note I got from Comedy Central was like, ‘We loved everything about this but the voice of Rumsfeld is not so great,'” which came as something of a disappointment to Cary since he was the voice of Donald Rumsfeld in the original cell phone cartoons. After joking that he tried to get the real Donald Rumsfeld to do the voice (“When (Rumsfeld) originally got fired I was like … he’s going to be out of work. Maybe we can use him”), Cary stated that he was listening to an Iggy Pop album when thinking about who to recast as Lil’ Rummy, and thought, “Let’s just call Iggy see if that’s something he wanted to do.” Iggy Pop agreed after watching the original cell phone shorts, and added that he used to watch Rumsfeld’s press conferences. He said that, “At the beginning I thought he was just terrific at working publicly,” but that “he got into trouble as time went on.” Iggy Pop continued, “what (Rumsfeld) wasn’t good at was disagreement,” and he felt that “he should be the kind of person that’s easily ignited so that if anybody questions him or he should get hyper urgent very quickly.”
The subject of Comedy Central’s That’s My Bush! came up as well. Cary stated that “there’s definitely some comedy DNA in all this” that’s similar to the earlier show, and that depicting members of the current administration as children lent the show some “South Park crossover.” He mentioned that he had friends who worked on That’s My Bush!, and that he felt that the show might not have done as well as it could have because it “didn’t seem like the time for us to be judging the president” in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. However, Cary added, “now we’ve had a few more years and we’re kind of like hey wait a minute – this guy’s hilarious.” Cary went on to say that the administration, “likes to break stuff up, they dive head first into things, they refuse to follow anybody’s rules. They’re…probably the first punk rock administration in a weird way,” reinforcing the point by noting an example when the Vice President used the same kind of salty language as many punk rockers. He also said that it was a lot easier to push the envelope with cartoon characters than with live-action, saying that you could never do some of the things on The Simpsons on a live-action show like Everybody Loves Raymond.
However, neither Cary nor Iggy Pop claimed to have an explicit political agenda in making Lil’ Bush. In response to a question on the call, Iggy Pop even stated that he neither sought out nor avoided political comedy, saying, “It’s kind of take it or leave it with me.” Iggy Pop also stated outright that he was “absolutely not” expressing any political view through his role as Lil’ Rummy. He added that “when Bush was elected the first time there was a photo op down there in Crawford. I think he had Cheney and Powell with him and they were all walking this cowboy walk. And…I just said to myself, ‘Okay, we’re going to get into a scrap with some country when this guy gets elected,” although he made sure to add that he was not, “condemning the political ramifications or all that but some of this stuff is just plain human, you know?” and also said that he was not a fan of “Kerry or Clinton, Mrs. Clinton, or any of the other candidates.” Cary said that many prominent Washington, D.C., figures would be appearing on the show, such as Lil’ Hillary, Lil’ John Kerry, Lil’ Barack, and Lil’ Al Gore, and that “there’s jokes that are off-limits, but I don’t think there’s any one (person) specifically off-limits.”
The show is being produced by an animation studio in Bulgaria (Cary mentioned, “there’s four or five hard core Iggy Pop fans here”), which is apparently hand-drawing the show and then importing it into Flash to do detail work. Cary said that this production pipeline was used mainly, “because of the short startup time;” episodes can be done in six weeks to two months, and if they go further they would be able to build up their Flash library to make the shows even more quickly.
The closing question of the conference call dealt with balancing political humor’s need to be up-to-date with the desire to make a show that can have more longevity. Cary stated that he’s been “trying to make the stories at least to some extent timeless,” and that the show is also at least partially grounded in the family sitcom. Iggy Pop interjected to add that songs by Donna Summer and Kool and the Gang still sound good, suggesting that even a product of its time can have more longevity than one might think. However, Cary did also say that they were going to try and get very short lead-ins where Lil’ Bush will address the camera about something extremely topical, since these can be turned around in 3 to 5 days.
Lil’ Bush will debut on Comedy Central on June 13, 2007, at 10:30 PM (Eastern/Pacific). In addition to the broadcast version of Lil’ Bush, Donick Cary is currently working on new original series for Amp’d Mobile such as Lil’ Hollywood, a spin-off of Lil’ Bush set in Tinseltown, and Mexican Crazy Show, a live-action variety series about a zany late-night talk show set South of the Border.