I don’t think it would take a lot of work to make the argument that right now the two pillars of Cartoon Network’s evening programming are Adventure Time and The Regular Show. Both series have earned their reps for their respective creators’ willingness to dig deep into the surreal, going all over the map with their 11-minute comic opuses while still creating strange, funny, and interesting worlds and characters.
J.G. Quintel is the mind behind The Regular Show. A CalArts grad and Cartoon Network veteran, he and I spoke recently by phone about the genesis of the series, and the winding path that got him and his animal leads Mordecai and Rigby, onto Cartoon Network.
MTV Geek: So why a bluejay and a raccoon?
J.G. Quintel: [laughs] Because they’re the coolest animals—the obvious choice.
I always like raccoons and bluejays were cool growing up. I thought raccoons were cool because they have “man hands,” and they’re always getting into trash and doing funny things. Bluejays, it’s just seemed like a cool animal.
MTV Geek: Were Rigby and Mordecai anyone from your life?
Quintel: Well, Moredcai is really based on me as a college student. That was where he was created as well, at Cal Arts. And so a lot of his mannerisms and the way he talks are probably just stuff that I did with my friends.
And then Rigby was kind of a random occurrence where I had a Post-It of a raccoon hula hooping and I thought, “Aw, I need to find a character that’s kind of like not that responsible and kind of the jerk character to go with the straight character that Mordecai was kind of becoming.
Geek: The show’s about a very specific period of being in your early 20’s and having a crap job. What was yours?
Quintel: Well, I had a couple of bad jobs growing up. My first job was working at a movie theater which was pretty crappy. I had to serve food to people and I had to clean bathrooms and I had all this crazy stuff happen to me while I was there. Like we would shoot water balloons and we would experiment with how much oil to put in the popcorn popper until it was just neon orange and people wouldn’t want it. And there was one time I literally had a rat fall on my head while I was changing ceiling tiles, which is probably the most disgusting thing that’s ever happened to me at a job.
I worked at a bookstore for a while, and then after that I just kind of became a full-time student.
Geek: And what was the trajectory from there to creating The Regular Show?
Quintel: Well, I always wanted to make cartoons as a kid. [They] were my favorite things to watch on TV, and I loved Saturday morning cartoons, and I always wanted to make animations, and I was always doing flip books and doodles in my binders at school. And I finally started trying to make animated films in high school and I eventually found out about CalArts, so I eventually tried to get into school for that.
And I was rejected a few times and ended up going to junior college where I made a few animated films and took some animation courses. And as I was learning more and more about animation, I found that I didn’t really enjoy animating per se, but I just liked coming up with the stories and making the films. And that’s where TV started to feel like the place to go because you could do a ton of short films.
And I started working at Cartoon Network when I was in college, and I started working on my first show as a revisionist and started to see what the process was like. Then I got into writing and doing storyboards and doing that it was kind of my favorite part of the process. So then I just wanted to make my own show so I could kind of start doing the stories I wanted to do and that’s kind of how it happened.
Quintel: I guess that parents like the show, sometimes more than their kids [laughs]. Like, I see a lot of comments online from a lot of parents who actually watching it with their kids. I think that’s something that we really wanted to have happen, but I wasn’t sure that it would. Because the show’s pretty out there, and it’s a little weird and it’s cartoony. But the fact that adults were able to sit down and watch it, I thought that was really nice.
Geek: What do you think is behind that? The points of reference for the show? The period and setting you’ve given it?
Quintel: Well, I think the way we’re writing it—we’re writing it for ourselves—we’ve put in a lot of things that I’m not sure kids are going to pick up on. Like there’s lots of subtle innuendo and we’re referencing the 80’s a lot and using licensed music from the 80’s. And I think there’s a lot of kids that may have never heard these songs before, but their parents definitely did. So they’re watching it, catching all these things from when they were growing up, and I’m sure that must be part of the reason why they’re responding to it.
Geek: That 80’s feel is easy to pick up from the get-go. Was there a particular reason you gravitated towards that era and that sort of surreal Caddyshack feel?
Quintel: Well, I grew up in the 80’s a little bit and I was definitely a product of that as far as video games and all of those cartoons from back then. They were a part of my life then and maybe it’s cyclical, maybe they’re just coming around again.
Geek: What were some of your favorite cartoon memories from that time? Anything that might have made it into the show?
Quintel: I don’t know, growing up my favorite cartoons were stuff like The Smurfs and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Transformers, ThunderCats, and all that kind of stuff. Some of that stuff is pretty weird, I mean like ninja animals and just some bizarre stuff. But you grow up with it and you’re just like, “Yep, of course, why wouldn’t it be that way!” And maybe that had a little bit to do with why the characters are animals in this show.
Different movies and for sure, I played a lot of video games growing up, and I think that definitely filters into the show. Just the idea that I can remember a time buying a new game based on the cover and thinking “Oh, it’s going to be so awesome,” and then the graphics would be total crap, but you’d still be like, “Oh yeah, it’s so cool!” And just, like into it.
Geek: There’s definitely a lot of love for that 8-bit and 16-bit era of gaming on the show. What kind of thought have you had about getting Rigby and Mordecai into a game on consoles at some point?
Quintel: That would be awesome. I would really like to have them on a console. I know we’re doing Flash-type stuff for the Internet, but yeah, consoles would be—especially if it was a multiplayer game with puzzles. Something with a little more depth than an iPhone game, you know?
We’re planning on doing more games for the website, and hopefully that’ll expand into more complex games.
Geek: What are some things fans should be on the lookout for with The Regular Show this year?
Quintel: We have a couple of episodes coming up later in the year that are going to be some of our first half-hour stories. We’re going to be doing some half-hour specials and they’re going to be pretty cool. I’m really excited for those. We’re just finishing up the storyboarding for them, so they should be animated and finished in a couple of months.
It’s going be pretty rad.
The Regular Show airs Mondays at 8 PM EST, with new episodes airing regularly on Cartoon Network. The first Regular Show DVD set, “The Slack Pack,” is available now.