Geoff Johns: Getting His Robot Chicken On

Geoff Johns Talks Robot Chicken

If you tune in to catch the season 4 premiere of Adult Swim’s Robot Chicken tonight at 11:30pm, you’ll see a new name along with the likes of Matt Senreich, Doug Goldstein, and Seth Green – Geoff Johns.

For those keeping track of Johns career, he’s been associated with the Robot Chicken for a while now, and at one time, there was serious talk of a movie. But that’s been a while.

So what brought Johns on to Robot Chicken? We spoke with him this weekend to find out (and by the way, you can preview the entire episode here).

Newsarama: First off Geoff, you've known the guys at Robot Chicken for a while – are there still plans to make a movie with them?

Geoff Johns: Yes, and Seth, Matt and I are still working on it. It's called Naughty or Nice and we have our test puppets made (Santa Claus and our lead character - an elf named Fig). Since the last update, our film was put into turn around - which means that after paying for all of our script and pre-production costs, they did not give us the greenlight. They got timid about a stop-motion animated feature that wasn't "dark and gothic", I think and they were looking something more in the tone of Hoodwinked, which we weren't interested in doing. We've created what I think is a Pixar-level concept and story, but with a dash of Robot Chicken humor.

We're currently in talks with another studio that is knee-deep in acquiring it and then we'll be ready to roll, hopefully. It's always a tricky process. Jon Favreau has also come on as an Executive Producer, which is really exciting. After Elf, he's been looking for a stop-motion Christmas project and as a fan of Robot Chicken. He's already brought a lot great insight on the film. Plus, it's fun to talk to him about Iron Man.

NRAMA: So how did that relationship end up with you getting roped in to writing for this season? Don't you have enough to do?

GJ: I do. Comics are my first passion and main job, that's why I didn't contribute a lot - only a few sketches and channel flips - but enough to get some of my sketches on the air. (I'll always be fond of Sinestro's Night Out, but it didn’t make the cut.) I think I worked a total of three days on it, but I still weaseled some in.

My sketches include a PaRappa the Rappa sketch, which I think airs on tonight's premiere, which I did with Zeb Wells. There's also the "Secret Origin of Faker" which airs in a week or two. That's my favorite one. I wrote that with Tom Root, who is the master of all things comedy. I love He-Man so it was fun to do a slightly askew take on the blue He-Man clone and his humble beginnings. There's a few others, including a channel flip with Rodney Dangerfield doing his infamous dive.

Ironically, I did not have any superhero sketches made.

NRAMA: What's the process like working with Seth, Matt, Doug and the rest? Judging by the show, I would guess that it's not a suit and tie, sit-down, agenda-driven writers meeting?

GJ: It's very casual, but still a regiment. Again, I didn't work very much on it, but since I was working out of the same office, it just happened. There's Seth and Matt who are the super geniuses of all things stop-motion and humor. And the writers are hilarious - Zeb (we talk comic trash talk), Doug Goldstein (who fans know already as one of the head honchos, a very dry and brilliant sense of humor), Tom Root (one of my best friends and the best comedy writer I've ever met - every sketch of his should've gotten approved), Kevin Shinnick (former host of Where In Time Is Carmen Sandiego? and the best lyricist of all of the them, he needs his own sitcom), Hugh Davidson (who is disturbingly funny, his sketch with the subway car...you'll see what I mean) and the lynchpin of Robot Chicken, Mike Fasolo. Mike wrote one of my favorite sketches about Dinosaurs attempting to blow up the asteroid that hit the Earth and wiped them all out. He's obsessed with bad action films.

But it's an amazing process to watch the amount of material these guys churn out. And how far they can push it.

NRAMA: That said, when you came in, what were the guidelines or limits on what you could write for Robot Chicken? Is it as "anything goes" as the show would suggest, or are there sacred cows that can't be touched?

GJ: There is a sketch about a sacred cow being slaughtered and eaten, so no. Anything goes. Until the lawyers say otherwise...then it mostly goes anyway.

NRAMA: For you, how do you approach writing these bits? It would seem that, with your other work going on, this would be a pressure release valve in a way, or is it hard to be funny on demand?

GJ: It was a totally different way of writing, which is why it was refreshing. It's not hard to be funny when you're basically hanging out with all your friends. These guys are my friends day-to-day, so jumping in and riffing with Tom or Kevin or Zeb is fairly standard. This time I just wrote it down.

NRAMA: For all the bits that end up in an episode, how many were pitched that don't?

GJ: I'd say at least 75% to 85% never make it on screen. Maybe more. I wasn't in the room long enough, but I do know seeing things shot down is a normal affair. You grow a thick skin really quick. But the guys do rewrite and try and get them in over and over. There was a Bizarro sketch that wouldn't die. I don't think it ever made it though, even after rewrites.

NRAMA: The season premiere is tonight – what's the production process like? For one thing – how long ago did you write the bits for tonight's show? Were you on set and did you have to pitch in on the modeling and filming?

GJ: I wrote in months and months ago. There's a long process of stop-motion, which I've learned working on the film. The producers at Shadowmachine, Alex and Corey, have perfected what they can't help but call a "turn key" operation. They can produce animation at an unbelievable level of quality for a fraction of the cost. They're homegrown, the animators are some of the best in the world (the same crew that worked on Coraline, many of them) and it's fascinating process. The studio is a lot of fun to work out of. I have a Karate Champ in my office. I never play it.

NRAMA: Any teases as to what's coming up that you're putting your spin on, and are there any toys or properties that you're actively looking for a way to skewer?

GJ: As I said, He-Man is a favorite. Long live Faker and Robot Chicken! Tonight on Adult Swim!

And it's back to comics...mostly!

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