Interviewed by Less Lee Moore
When you’re a Venture Bros. fan, you see things through Venture-colored glasses and everything looks so much better. There is nothing not to love about this show: incredible characters, an overabundance of wit, numerous pop culture references, clever visuals, and a narrative arc that puts most live action TV shows to shame. In anticipation of the show’s Season 5 premiere on June 2, I chatted with Doc Hammer and Jackson Publick, the show’s creators, writers, voice actors, and just about everything else. We started discussing how they work and what drives them and eventually got into the important stuff: Kajagoogoo concerts, whether or not Trent Reznor is a poseur, and Gary Numan. When I got on the phone, Doc and Jackson were already there, chatting with each other.
Jackson: Yesterday there was fake harpsichord hold music.
Doc: I think it was fake guitar.
Jackson: I think it was trying to be fake harspsichord.
How are you guys doing?
Doc: So far, so good. [To Jackson] You can smoke when you’re doing the interview? Cos that’s what I’m doing. [To Me] What have you got for us? Give us hardball.
Popshifter: I don’t know how hardball this is. You can be hardball if you wanna be super honest.
Doc: We are always super honest. Throw the word “fuckin'” into every other question and it’ll seem like it’s hardball.
How fuckin’ soon after finishing work on a season do you start planning the next one?
Doc: We start planning the next one while working on the other seasons.
Jackson: That’s true. We did hash out a couple of the Season 5 episodes while we were writing the finale of Season 4. We just didn’t get around to actually writing them until about nine months later. And sometimes, actually, we just start planning the next season because we don’t get to finish something we’ve started in the present season, like when we started talking about it we thought we would get to it by the end.
Doc: When we were working on Season 5, we were planning Season 6, not only so we could see Season 6 through Season 5, but to keep us excited about writing another season. I think there was a Season 5 because at the end of Season 4, we started thinking about Season 5. (He laughs.) But during the rest of Season 4, Season 5 was up in the air.
Jackson: We didn’t know if there would be one.
Doc: It was generating that excitement and coming up with ideas and stuff. Fucking, excuse me.
Popshifter: (laughing) The fuckin’ ideas.
Doc: Yeah, generating the fuckin’ ideas.
Going into Season Five, there are a lot of characters we haven’t seen for a while. When you’re writing these episodes do you ever feel like you have to revisit these characters from a few seasons ago or do you ever worry about overusing other supporting characters instead?
Jackson: Uh. Yes. (I laugh.)
Jackson: I do, anyway. Like, there’s people that we just miss, you know? Or we get to the end of a season and we go, “Holy crap, we forgot to write Colonel Gentleman anywhere.”
Doc: That did not happen this year, my friend.
Jackson: That’s about the most spoilerish we can get, is to go, “Um, some guys that weren’t in it for a while come back.”
Doc: I can tell you this: Because of the Halloween special, which is actually an episode proper, Orpheus is really missing throughout this season.
Jackson: Yeah, we didn’t write much Orpheus in Season 5. The Halloween episode was our big Orpheus episode.
Doc: And that was going to be our big Orpheus episode, but it aired before the season.
Jackson: Yeah, and we didn’t get to write an episode we thought we would before the end. We ran out of episodes.
How do you balance your writing between actual story or the scripts versus between the lore and mythology and background behind the characters?
Jackson: Hmmmmm. It’s not conscious. (He laughs.)
Doc: Yeah, I think we’re just writing. When you write for a character that exists in your mind, and he has a past, some of the past the viewers know because we’ve shown it, but there’s past that we haven’t shown but Jackson and I speak of that is just a part of the character. So it looks like we’re writing for the lore, but we’re really not. It’s just having the character do things. The character’s very fleshed out so he’s just going to reference these things that happened in the past, and the things that happened in the past are going to be motivated. So we’re not too conscious of it; we’re just trying to write a comedy show.
Jackson: And as far as the longer story arc, we sort of, at the beginning, just kind of discuss, like where we generally want people to go and maybe we have a couple of little landmark moments we want to hit at some point. And just while we’re writing we will, occasionally, set some of those things up. Or we’re eager to hint at them.
Doc: We try to create a long arc on the big board—the giant dry erase board in the AstroBase. Sometimes we hit everything; sometimes we don’t. Sometimes I’ll hit something really early, and Jackson’s scared because I was supposed to not hit it early. . . (Jackson laughs.)
Doc: Then he’ll hit two things and I was about to hit one of them, so it all works out.
Jackson: It’s pretty loose, though. We’re constantly either tripping over each other or picking up the other guy after he tripped.
Doc: Sometimes we’re tripping over everything. Sometimes we forget the big arc and we just kind of move forward and down. It’s a mess. (He laughs.)
Jackson: And then we get to the end and we go, “Oh shit, I guess that’ll happen in the next season now!”
Doc: Or the things we pick up become things that we take through. It’s a strange way that we work. It’s two people who know the characters very well and we let them do what they’re gonna do and then we pick up the pieces. That’s about what happens.
Popshifter: Has it always been that way or has that evolved over time?
Doc: I believe it’s always been that way. It’s how we work. We didn’t walk into this going, “This is how we’re gonna do it.” We just started working together and realized that we have the same brain for writing. Many people can’t tell who wrote which episode. And I assure you it’s really written by the person it says it’s written by. And it’s a lot of the exact same kind of humor, speech cadence. Each character, which has a really different voice on our show, they’re very different characters. They speak the same, no matter who’s writing it, and that’s a really unique thing. Jackson and I just got kind of, abusive with it. (Jackson laughs.)
Doc: It’s something that never really happens. Two people shouldn’t really be able to write isolated and come up with the exact same voice, but since we can, we can hole up in our own little corners and write an episode together. It’s something we didn’t sign up for, but it works.
You’re so involved in the show, since it’s just the two of you writing. You’ve developed the whole world and the voice acting and some of the music. Is that desire to be so involved the reason why there haven’t been comics or games? Or is there another reason for that?
Jackson: No, that’s pretty much it. Nobody’s really come to us with much in the way of games, but comics come up about once a year and I’m always interested, but I can’t imagine finding the time to write a comic. I’m kinda looking into that, but I don’t know. And I think letting go is kind of difficult for both of us. Or hearing someone else’s voice in the mix would freak us out!
Doc: And at this point, how deep we are in it. I mean, I think one of the reasons why we’re still very fresh, and a lot of people are looking at us like we’re an up and coming thing? People look at the Venture Bros. like it’s an up and coming cult show and we’ve been on the air for fuckin’ ten years. (Jackson cracks up.)
Doc: And I think one of the reasons why that is is because we still both write it like it’s Season 1. We still care, we still do everything that we’re supposed to do, we are still very much concerned about this. We haven’t just sat back and said, “Yeah, we’ll just do the voices and somebody else can man it and we’ll just cash the check.” Like, this is still really important to us and we still love the characters. So you know, that’s given us longevity.
So now that Dethklok has toured, is Shallow Gravy going to tour?
(There is much laughter.)
Doc: What I did do was, I taught “Jacket” to my band Weep. . . (I crack up.)
Doc: And one of these days I’m gonna invite Jackson to a show and then drag him up to perform “Jacket.” And then we’ll release the iPhone version of it, as held up by an idiot, as a special feature. (I’m still laughing.)
Doc: With weird, shaky, bad audio of Jackson and I reading “Jacket” off a sheet of paper because we do not know the words!
Jackson: (laughing) Nobody will remember the words!
Doc: And it’ll be just awful because I do not look like Dermott. Jackson looks a little bit more like Hank, but he’s all grown up! So maybe we’ll do that.
Jackson: Yeah, and I don’t play bass. (He laughs.)
Doc: Exactly. So we’ll have an actual band behind us; we don’t have a H.E.L.P.eR.
Jackson: Yeah, you need a robot.
Doc: I would love a robot. Although my drummer’s fantastic and I would hate to replace him with a robot. Although if I had a Walking Eye, fuck it, he’s gone.
Jackson: You could do that thing where he plays, sort of, you know, percussion. The timbales.
Popshifter: Well, maybe he could be the Bez of Weep. (They both laugh.)
Doc: Yeah, that’s a good idea. That might happen, but a tour, where we play one song? (Everyone laughs.)
Jackson: At best, four versions of one song and two half pieces of a song.
Popshifter: I know people who used to see Dramarama and they said that they played their one hit song, like three times in one set, so. . . (Jackson laughs.)
Doc: Wow. I saw Kajagoogoo and they only played “Too Shy” once.
Popshifter: (laughing) Wait, when did you see Kajagoogoo?
Doc: They were touring with The Cars a very, very long time ago. My big sister took me.
Popshifter: Oh my god, my 13-year-old self would be very envious. Actually my non-13-year-old self now is very envious.
Doc: It’s a little blurry because I was young, but it was a stadium show, which even as a kid I didn’t like. So it was kind of weird, you know, nosebleed seats, and you could barely see Limahl or Nick Beggs.
Jackson: Or Mowgli, or any of them! Yeah, stadium shows suck unless it’s like, Queen at Wembley Stadium. (He laughs.)
Doc: Yeah, exactly! Unless it’s like a big deal. That’s why I refuse to see Depeche Mode or The Cure. They’re like huge shows for bands that should be playing Irving Plaza. In my mind, right?
What do you hope fans will like most about Season 5 AND is Gary Numan ever going to make an appearance? And if so, hopefully it will be on Season 5.
Doc: We haven’t spoken of Gary Numan.
Jackson: He’s like a jet pilot and everything, I mean, he’s definitely Guild. We should hit Gary Numan next season.
Doc: That would bother Jim Thirlwell, though. (He laughs.)
Popshifter: He doesn’t like Gary Numan? Why am I not surprised?
Doc: Thirlwell is the real fucking deal.
Popshifter: I know.
Doc: All these bands, the Cabaret Voltaires and stuff, were poised to break and then suddenly, when the scene breaks, it’s Gary Numan. So he still sees Gary Numan as The Backstreet Boys.
Jackson: The same way a lot of people feel about Trent Reznor.
Doc: I still think Trent Reznor is a poseur! I can’t get rid of it! (Jackson cracks up.)
Doc: I mean, the guy’s had a career since the fuckin’ ’80s and I still think he’s a poseur! I can’t get it out of my head!
Jackson: For the same reason, right?
Doc: For the same reason.
Jackson: Because out of this whole techno, industrial scene, he was the one who broke.
Doc: He was the one who broke, and I’m like, who the hell is THIS guy?!
Popshifter: Whenever people talk about Trent Reznor I ask them if they’ve heard Thirlwell and they usually haven’t.
Doc: I understand Thirlwell’s thing, but I personally love Gary Numan.
Popshifter: Me too.
Jackson: He’s got a great aesthetic, and maybe we could get him. Let’s put that on the “to do” map.
Doc: Remember that chair that he had in URGH! A Music War? (Jackson laughs.)
Doc: If we could have him drive around in that weird chair?
Jackson: Done. It’s done.
Doc: That’s how we do it. He just drives around in that little chair with a pyramid on it.
Jackson: Oh! And he takes it to his invisible jet plane.
Doc: Yeah, yeah. And he puts on his magic power wig and takes it to his invisible jet plane. Yeah, I would love that.
Jackson: And then flies it to the hat shop that the guy from The Fixx runs.
Doc: Cy Curnin. Evil haberdasher, Cy Curnin. (Everyone is cracking up at this point.)
Popshifter: Oh my god, that was really good. Well, thanks a lot. You guys are hilarious, as usual.
Doc: You’re welcome. I hope you can piece something together from this.
Popshifter: Oh yeah, I will, no worries.
Doc: You’ll probably have the most interesting interview today, I promise you.
Popshifter: Oh, I hope. Well, that’s good. Good for me.
Doc: All right Leslie, take care.
Popshifter: You too, thanks.
Jackson: Take care, thanks!
The Venture Bros. Season 5 premieres June 2 on Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim.