During this year’s C2E2, Comics Beat was #blessed to be able to sit down for a quick roundtable interview with Brad Neely, Daniel Weidenfeld, and Dave Newberg – the driving force behind Adult Swim’s hit show China, IL. What happened next was mostly laughing, carefully edited to read like a real conversation.
CB: Okay so China, IL! What can we expect from the rest of the third season?
Weidenfeld: Well, we have an episode coming up where the mayor bans eating anchovies on pizza in town – you can only eat pepperoni. It sort of becomes our take on the idea of a “gay gene.” We’re showing that now because of everything going on in Indiana. The pizza laws.
Neely: And at the end of the season we have an hour-long musical, kind of in the style of a Disney musical like Lion King, with thirteen original songs by me. We’ve got Cat Power singing, Rosa Salazar, Evan Peters, so we’re real excited about that. Otherwise we’ve got three or four other episodes in there.
CB: You’ve got an extensive cast of voice talent this season. How hard was it to round up all these people? There’s Hulk Hogan, Danny Trejo, Christian Slater, etc. Did you have to come to these people, or did they seek you out?
Neely: Yeah, no one comes to us, haha. We have to go to them. We just aren’t shy about asking, all they can do is say no. There’s an equally long list of people that we have asked that were either busy or thought we were disgusting. We’re very lucky to have these folks.
Weidenfeld: Yeah, Christian Slater has a monologue, and he just kills it, it’s so funny. He was so great, and such a pro, just amazing to record. We did it over the phone in like 15 minutes – it was perfect. And Danny Trejo was the same. We’re just really lucky to have all these talents that bring their own voices and their own style of comedy to keep it varied.
Neely: We have Donald Glover this season, which has been great. We like to think that he came over from Community and moved on to regular college. Stayed in school.
CB: What was it like to get Hulk Hogan onboard as the Dean?
Weidenfeld: Once we got Hulk Hogan, we re-wrote everything because we knew we now had America’s dad as the Dean. The father of masculinity. So everything changed for the better, for us. He’s very fun.
Neely: He recorded for an hour, how many 5-Hour Energy’s did he drink?
Weidenfeld: He brought three and slammed them all. But when you think about how big he is, the ratio kind of works out. He’s something else.
CB: I know in previous seasons the show is sort of done piece by piece and brought together at the end. Are you approaching the production differently this season?
Neely: Well, there’s a plan always. But you know, you have to stay on your toes to adapt to whatever is the funniest or working the most. We bring in every actor individually, we don’t record in an ensemble – to facilitate greater dexterity in editing. But we encourage the actors to read the lines in their own words, and improvise after we get what’s on the page.
Weidenfeld: Brad writes every episode, so we tend to write them a little long, so it’d be really hard to bring everyone into a room and have them all feeding off that energy. It’d be a lot harder to cut as a result. And with Brad doing three of the main voices on the show, we always have the luxury of re-recording. It’s incredible to have that flexibility, especially on an animated show. If we have to cut something, we can salvage lines that are important for story.
Neely: Yeah, we fix things by changing my characters’ stuff, because we don’t want to have to call somebody back in, especially after they’ve done something that’s great, and we’ll work around that and re-work my lines.
CB: Are there limits placed upon you by the network? Do you find that you have more or less creative space either way?
Neely: Strangely – you wouldn’t suspect this of a network with the reputation Adult Swim has – but they insist on us making sense on a emotional and character level. The story has to have an appropriate escalation and resolution. They’re pros about holding us accountable to those standards. They’re very involved when it comes to that.
Weidenfeld: Sometimes they’ll have a very specific thought of something they wants us to do, and we’ll have a conversation about it. There’s a real back and forth respect. We always try to meet in the middle in some capacity.
Neely: It’s a healthy working relationship. They don’t hold back when they think something isn’t working, or could be more forceful.
Weidenfeld: We can say shit now five times per episode. Never a fuck though. They don’t give fucks. Or dicksucker… or cocksucker.
Neely: But we can have an extended pause in between those two words.
CB: So do these episodes start with a joke, or does the joke come together after?
Neely: Every episode starts differently. Some of them just come from a nugget of, “I want to talk about Listerine strips,” or, “Don’t you hate it when you have to order food from a counter?” Sometimes we start with, “Alright, we need to see Frank in this kind of situation.” So we try to keep it balanced where there’s half that come from big stupid ideas and half that come from real deal emotional necessity.
Weidenfeld: But the main thing that has to happen in any given episode, is there has to be one big visual funny that Brad sees.
China, IL airs Sundays at 11:30 p.m. (ET/PT) on Adult Swim.