Interview: Christian Jacobs (Yo Gabba Gabba!)

Yo_Gabba_Gabba_23HR_lowres.jpgWhen characters you've created for a TV show start making appearances in Super Bowl ads, it's clear that your show has reached some decent level of cultural significance. So it is with Nick's Yo Gabba Gabba!, which is currently in it's third season, with a new episode, "Fairytale," premiering last week (Friday, Nov. 5th).

Crucial to its success, not only with kids and parents, but even amongst folks whose sippy-cup days are both far behind and ahead of them, are the musical guest stars -- the Roots, the Ting Tings, Sugarland, the Shins, and, on "Fairytale," the Flaming Lips. With the episode premiering on Friday and the Yo Gabba Gabba! Live tour making its way around the country, I thought it'd be a good time to talk with one of the show's creators, Christian Jacobs (that's him on the right there). The father of four chatted with me last week about his musical (and TV) childhood memories, Scooby Doo, and the difference between Tom Hanks and Anthony Bourdain.

Zooglobble: What are your earliest musical memories?
Christian Jacobs: Early on, my dad only 45s from the 1950s. Kinda wacky songs like "Alley Oop" or "Yackety Yak." There'd be songs that were like "news report" mixes, where they'd have spoken "news report" mixes interspersed with silly music, sort of like Dr. Demento. Children gravitate to the more silly things.

Then I listened to a lot of radio in the '70s -- DEVO, Blondie, the Clash, stuff that was different from what else was being played. I was drawn to the green hair, the spikes -- the media helped with that interest...
Yo_Gabba_Gabba_29HR_lowres.jpgHow about your TV memories?
A bunch: Sesame Street, Electric Company, ZOOM, Mr. Rogers... it was a golden age of kids TV. Daily feasts -- it was all new, there were no studies saying watching TV is bad. We'd watch PBS all day as a kid, then run outside.

It was really a different time as a kid. There was lots of freedom to be a kid without adult supervision. Those shows, that freedom, really resonated with a lot of parents our age. Yo Gabba Gabba! strikes that chord, I think, helps bring back that freedom.

Reminds me how I used to walk nearly a mile to my kindergarten along a relatively busy street... I don't think I'd let my kids walk that route today...
It was definitely a different time, yeah. I'd at least be a little scared. So with the show we're going backwards a little bit, trying to capture that feeling of imagination and freedom.

Was your conception of Yo Gabba Gabba! music always to include guest stars?
It definitely evolved. We wanted to have different musical styles represented in the show. But once we brought in Biz Markie in the pilot, we started thinking about about bands we could bring in. We were a little reluctant -- I remembered how a lot of times I'd just tune out the two-minute musical montage in Scooby Doo where they'd have some band. So how could we integrate the bands into the show? That's when we came up with the idea of the Super Friends Music Show, with the TV set. It was an organic thing.

YGG_FL_01HR_lowres.jpgHow has the process in getting artists change -- did you ever anticipate getting the Flaming Lips to be on the show?
In the beginning, we went to friends to fill in the gaps, or our own bands. And then we decided we'd send some requests to bands we liked. When folks like the Shins, and Cornelius, and Sugarland said "yes" right away, they made it OK.

With bands, managers or agents serve as a filter for requests; we'd actually written to the Flaming Lips when we first started and didn't hear back. But at some later point, they called and said, "We want to do this, we're fans, what can we do to be on the show?" At some point our schedules finally matched.

At this point bands that have been on the show are really big fans or have kids who are fans. They matched the show's energy level, they're giving really good performances.

I think that's a strength, actually -- you're not going to try to get somebody like Madonna because she's a big star. I mean, you had somebody like Jack Black on the show, and he's a star, but he fits with the show, and you're probably really big fans.
You know, I was talking with Tom Hanks at an awards show recently, which was by itself just cool. But he was saying, you know, my kids are grown now, I really don't know your show. Compare that to Anthony Bourdain, he was a huge fan, and came on the show. If he's not invested in the show, who cares about the performance?

How do you go about selecting the musical acts for the tour (since they're not always the same folks who've appeared on the show)?
Well, usually we start in the area. Like, who is local that could make an impact. It's hard to lock down people out on tour, for example. But we've had some great bands and guests on the tour and guests that have a local relevance to the cities.. Like Bootsy Collins in Cleveland, Run DMC from NYC, Zac Brown Band from Atlanta and so on. We always shoot for the moon, and sometimes we get really close!

What's up next for Yo Gabba Gabba generally?
We have our fingers crossed to start on a season 4 and we are working on a script for a movie. Pretty big plans for a pretty little preschool show! Ha!

Photo Nick Jr. (YGG cast w/ Christian Jacobs)
Photo Ben Clark/Nickelodeon. (Flaming Lips)