After being picked up from Nickelodeon’s Intergalactic Shorts Program a few years ago, the new Rock Paper Scissors cartoon is set to premiere this month. The animated series follows the titular trio of of best friends and roommates who lovingly compete over everything in hilarious but mostly wildly absurd ways. 

The Beat had the pleasure of chatting with the cast and crew of the Nickelodeon Rock Paper Scissors cartoon including creators and executive producers Kyle Stegina and Josh Lehrman and voice actors Ron Funches (Rock), Thomas Lennon (Paper), Carlos Alazraqui (Scissors), and Melissa Villaseñor (Pencil).

Taimur Dar: The concept for the show is simultaneously so simple yet brilliant. What was the genesis of the show?

Josh Lehrman: The genesis weirdly was just a shower thought. Exactly what you said is what we loved about it. The initial thought was what if Rock, Paper, and Scissors are roommates and best friends? They compete over everything and go on wacky adventures. It’s such a simple baseline that it allows for so much freedom. When I pitched that to Kyle I think that was the thing he really glommed onto. We can do so much with this as long as we have fun characters and they’re consistent. You can go anywhere and do anything.    

Kyle Stegina: Especially in animation, you want that freedom where you do not need to explain, unless it pertains to the story, how they go to the moon [or] go back in time. As long as you have a grounded story you can play that wackiness and anything goes. That’s really fun and overwhelming sometimes because you have so much freedom.

Dar: This show has such a fantastic cast, especially the three leads. After watching just a few episodes, I can’t imagine anyone else playing them. Did you have those actors in mind from the get-go or was it a process of auditioning and finding the right voices?

Stegina: We agree with you. We could not imagine anyone else playing them now. For the most part we got everyone that we wanted. We were driving back from a casting meeting and said, “Ron Funches would be great for Rock.” And we got Ron. “Tom Lennon would be great for Paper.” And we got Tom. Carlos came on a little bit later because for Scissors the tricky part about him is you really wanted to find somebody who brought the vulnerability because he’s kind of the lovable jerk character. So you need to balance him out with insecurity and his vulnerability to really like him. We worked with Carlos on another animated show that we wrote for and he just knocked it out of the park.

Dar: Even before the pandemic, having ensemble recording sessions was starting to occur less and less. Did the actors record together virtually or solo?  

Lehrman: It’s a combination. Sometimes they’ve been together. Oftentimes we do it separately. It’s a real testament to them as actors and actresses that it sounds like they’re together all the time. There are moments in our scripts where we write that they bicker. We have Tom, Carlos, and Ron adlib bickering with each other. When we’re putting the audio together it sounds like they’re all there. It’s pretty amazing.

Dar: For me the best kids cartoons are able to appeal to adults as well. This Rock Paper Scissors cartoon definitely qualifies. I found myself genuinely laughing out loud while watching episodes. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention I completely related to the gag about Great Expectations putting people to sleep because in high school I felt the same about another Charles Dickens novel, A Tale of Two Cities. What’s your approach to comedy that works on a level for both kids and adults.

Stegina: I’m so glad to hear you say that because that’s exactly what we wanted to do. The majority of our career has been in adult animation. At the end of the day, you just want to create a show that makes you laugh. We wanted to make a show that was really for us [and] dealt with stuff that we wanted to talk about. How could we make this more visual and wacky to tell these grounded stories about Paper coming to terms with his entitlement or dealing with low self-esteem or learning empathy? You have a grounded story that comes from the characters. The combination of one part smart [and] one part dumb with heart makes a good Rock Paper Scissors episode.   

Lehrman: The other thing too is we’re mid to late 30s children so that allows us to hit everybody.

Dar: As you mentioned, you’ve worked in the adult animation sphere. What kind of satisfaction or enjoyment do you get from working in children’s media?

Lehrman: In a weird way it’s kind of the same. Sort of the same answer to the last question, we’re trying to make what feels like an adult show that just doesn’t have anything inappropriate for kids. I think there is satisfaction being able to tell a story without limitations because sometimes it is hard. There are certain wells that you go to comedically in adult TV that you know will work that you just can’t go to in kids TV. It requires sometimes a little more thought. It’s satisfying when it all comes together.

Stegina: Like Josh said, it’s a challenge. Kids TV is like— climb this mountain but we’re not going to give you any rope or climbing materials or food. Alright, here we go! And when you are able to do it and do something, like you said, [that] resonates to all ages it sometimes is an even more exciting accomplished feeling than some other shows that we worked on.  

Lehrman: I will add too that the other satisfying thing is getting it to this time. Each episode is ten minutes and forty-five seconds exactly. To get all the story beats we want to in this very short period of time, you have to be so focused on what is essential for storytelling and what jokes and story points do I not need. 

Stegina: It makes you a better writer.

Dar: Finally, are there any episodes or moments from this season you’re excited for viewers to see?    

Lehrman: I have several. There are a few episodes that are more emotional. Because there are only two or three that are really genuinely emotional in the forty that we did, they genuinely take you by surprise. There is one that all I will say is the introduction of their vehicle. I think the ending works really well.  

Stegina: For me, there’s an episode called “The Fart Joke Debate.” I believe it is premiering after the Super Bowl on Nickelodeon. It came from the fact that Josh doesn’t like fart jokes. Of course I like fart jokes! It’s joy and wonder! Who doesn’t? That argument led to an episode that is both very dumb and has a wonderful thematic message at the end delivered by Jason Alexander who deserves an Emmy just for his speech at the end of the episode. Please watch this one episode. You’ll love it!

Lehrman: I agree. If you watch that episode and you don’t like it, we have nothing for you!

Nickelodeon Rock Paper Scissors cartoonDar: It goes without saying that most of you are not only friends but have actually worked together. The most obvious being Thomas and Carlos in the Reno 911! comedy show. I know you didn’t record together in every session but there is definitely something magical that transpires with ensemble voice sessions. Could you discuss the voice recording experience for this Rock Paper Scissors cartoon?

Thomas Lennon: When we’re together it’s always a lot more fun because we do have a lot of history. Ron made an appearance on Reno 911! also. Sometimes the fun of doing the show is if it’s like a radio play. We can do that sometimes, not all the time. It’s always a joy when we did.   

Ron Funches: Absolutely. The main difference is, with all honesty, when we got to record together it felt so much fun and like being in this old school vaudeville thing [like] The Three Stooges. It was so much fun. You could kind of improvise a little bit. But it took so much longer because you had to listen to other people’s lines that weren’t yours. When you record by yourself, you don’t get that but you go home in a half hour. So, I will take either!


Carlos Alazraqui: It has its own merits, like Ron said. You’re done and you’re at home and you’re finished. But it’s very symphonic when everybody’s together in the same room. It’s like a bunch of studio musicians versus a band that’s like, “We’re going to record this live in studio.” That is the best experience that one can have doing voiceover. It’s rare for us but when we got to do publicity at Nickelodeon, it was Ron, Melissa, and I together live in person for the first time. Unfortunately, Tom was out that day but that was a joy. I really enjoy that process.

Melissa Villaseñor: Each other’s energy can wake me up and have more fun. So I’m grateful when it happens.

Dar: I often feel that voice directors are the unsung heroes of animation. For this Nickelodeon Rock Paper Scissors cartoon, the voice director is Kristi Reed. I believe most of you worked with her on previous animated projects. What does Kristi bring to the series and your working relationship with her?

Villaseñor: She’s so smart and she really pinpoints exactly what is needed for the line. Sometimes she’ll even say exactly the way I should [deliver the line] and it really helps. I’m really grateful for it. She’s just so cool. She really knows her stuff and loves it. She’s really passionate and great.  

Funches: I’ll echo what Melissa said. One thing I love about her is that she’s able to communicate what you need in a way that’s easy for an actor to comprehend. Some people have a vision of what they want you to do but it’s not that easy for them to express it. She can say it in little key words or just by giving you a read of it. It’s always so right on or adds an extra level of what you were doing before. It shows how much she cares and how much investment she has in the characters and our performance. I’m a people pleaser but when you do a good job, especially on Zoom when you can see her, it shows on her face and makes me happy.  

Alazraqui: Sometimes to a fault, respectfully, Josh and Kyle could know exactly what they want. And me as an actor can know exactly what I want. Sometimes there’s right in the middle where we’re missing it. That’s where Kristi is such a great liaison to go, “I know what you want. And I know what you’re thinking. But how about this. I’m going to blend the best of both of what you want and make it happen.” That’s what she does because she knows the material so well. It’s great to work with Kristi.  

Dar: I wasn’t expecting this Nickelodeon Rock Paper Scissors cartoon to have so much genuine heart. It reminds me during the pandemic when so many people, myself included, found comfort in shows like The Office. What’s the secret to doing comedy with heart?

Lennon: To me in everything I do, whether it’s comedy writing or Reno 911!, it’s only about sincerity. If you’re trying to play things like they’re funny, it’s basically the antithesis of making something funny. I know for me and this show, I’m playing everything like it’s straight drama. That’s the secret of the show. It’s super sincere and its heart is in a really good place.

Funches: I agree with Tom in that we all are good at playing the reality of the situation and not the joke of it. Beyond that, to have comedy with heart you have to get comedians and comedic actors who have heart and who are good people and enjoy being around each other. That’s not something you can fake. We have a genuine friendship between us. I’ve known Tom, Carlos, and Melissa for over a decade. Those are all things I think you can hear. It goes to the casting and the fact that they really wanted good comedians who had their own unique perspective. They ended up picking people who all genuinely know and enjoy each other.

Villaseñor: Amen! I can tell too when I say things with feeling and with heart, you can feel it from a cartoon. If I’m smiling and saying the line, you can feel it.  

Alazraqui: This show embraces a sense of desperation. They’re not really smart. Collectively they are. Individually, they may not get it right. They don’t have the monetary means to always succeed. Every episode is not really a foregone conclusion that they will succeed. So there is a joy when it sort of works out like Clouseau or Columbo or the Reno Sheriff’s Department actually kind of helping and getting it right.

Lennon: Getting it right but not necessarily on purpose!

Alazraqui: Exactly!

Rock Paper Scissors premieres Monday, February 12, 2024, at 5:30 p.m. (ET/PT) on Nickelodeon