Gabbin' with Yo Gabba Gabba

Yo Gabba Gabba is one of those rare kids' programs that's good enough to also hold the interest of their parents (think more The Wombles, less Barney and Friends). First, there are the show's grown-up-friendly guests (Biz Markie, Anthony Bourdain, Andy Samberg). Then there's the unitard-clad, beat-spinning host, DJ Lance. And finally, there's the cast of totally endearing, uniquely costumed characters (with not-too-annoying voices!) who look an awful lot like collectible Kid Robot toys. All these elements come together in the poppy, bright, and exciting vision of show creators Christian Jacobs and Scott Schultz. Drawing upon their collective experience in the music industry (Jacobs is the lead singer of the superhero costumed band The Aquabats, and Schultz is a former skate- and music-video director) the duo is teaching kids everything from dance moves to how to play Twinkle Twinkle, Little Star on their hands, one episode at a time. We spoke with Schultz about what goes into producing the show. Hi Scott. Let's start with the basics. How did you come up with the name Yo Gabba Gabba, and is it true that it was inspired by The Ramones' chant Gabba Gabba Hey?

Scott Schultz:You know originally I would have said it wasn't, but I think it kind of is. When we set up to make a name, we knew there was going to be the magic word to bring the characters to life. The abracadabra. We wanted it to be absolutely gaga goo goo baby talk, something that every kid, even a one-year-old, could say. And as we were sort of going through the gaga-goo-goos, gabba gabba just seemed like it was totally it. So it's a little bit rock with the Ramones reference and a little bit hip-hop with the 'yo' part, [which] I think really sort of sums up the show.

How about the names of the characters?

[We started by] defining their personalities; then we tried to give them phonetic names to match. Like, Foofa just sounds kind of soft and pink. And Plex really sounds hard and mechanical. We brainstormed on what would really sound like their personalities. A couple of them were already existing names from when we were making characters for the Aquabats. Brobee came from that Aquabat era.

How did your combined experience with The Aquabats and music videos influence your approach to Yo Gabba Gabba?

Our biggest influence obviously was when we first had kids and then started watching television with them. But I think we're just pulling from popular culture, the things that we find exciting and interesting and special. We're trying to cultivate the best music, bands, and art and present it to our kids.

Speaking of influences, Yo Gabba Gabba takes elements from both highly successful kids shows like Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, Sesame Street and more esoteric shows like the Wombles and H.R. Pufnstuf. What else do you look to for inspiration?

Well, there's definitely all the shows that influenced us as kids, all the way from our early, early days. Then [there are] those that we still watch as adults and find inspiration in. You know I think as a daily show, Sesame Street really informed us as people. I think I really grew up on Sesame Street, Electric Company, and I would say The Muppet Show, because it was kind of a show that I would watch with my parents. It was like a whole-family affair that really had an impact on me in [that it was] trying to create a show where parents and kids could watch it together, or at least have some sort of common ground. For sure all Sid and Marty Krofft stuff. I mean, we are absolutely fanatics about [their work]. And cartoons. I think our generation really comes out of that explosion of kids' entertainment, especially in the 80's. That's all definitely played into our inspiration.

Which came first: The idea for a character named DJ Lance Rock, or did Lance Robertson inspire the character? Or was it a little bit of both?

Honestly I would say it's a little bit of both. Here's the deal: I've been friends with Lance for years and years. It was probably four or five years before we even started working on the pilot of the show when I was just talking to Lance and thinking, 'He needs to be the host of a kids' show.' He's just so awesome. He's just perfect. He's unique and friendly and just really genuine. We weren't really creating the show with him in mind as the host, but we didn't really have it spelled out who the host would be. So when the time came and we really had to figure out what to do, I told everyone, I just want you to meet [Lance] and see what you guys think. That was kind of the casting process. We met him at a record store, shook his hand and everyone knew immediately, wow, that this was the guy.

You seem to get a ton of A-list celebrity guests. What do you think is the appeal for them to appear on your show, apart from having what looks like a pretty amazing time?

(Laughs) You know, I think that they're really doing it for the kids. I'd like to think that they see something in our show that is maybe a resurgence or a rebirth of creativity. I loved Sesame Street. And back when they first did it, it was so groundbreaking. When I was watching it as a kid it seemed like a really great time, a really great thing to be a part of. Culturally, it was so vibrant, with the animators, the musicians, just everyone that was kind of the best of the world, throwing it into the pot for the kids. And that's what we've been trying to cultivate with Yo Gabba. We want to jam pack [the show with] as much amazing music, and as many bands, celebrities and just things from the world.

Do the guest stars inspire your sketches, or do you have an idea of who you would like to play certain characters? For instance, did you think Amy Sedaris would make a great tooth fairy? Or did you think MGMT would make the best art vikings? How much do you collaborate with your guests?

It's kind of both. A lot of people ask to be on the show and we, in turn, are really searching for people to be on the show that we really like. Amy Sedaris knows what's going on and she really likes the show. And we had already had a teeth episode in the works, and I knew that she kind of had some fun excitement about teeth, so the planets aligned and it all came together. And that's kind of what happens with Gabba a lot of the time. It's no one thing. It almost happens more magically than you could have planned it.

Which brings me to your live show. I watched the trailer for the show that's on tour now, and it's certainly a star-studded performance that draws a star-studded audience. How did you get so many A-listers to sign on?

I wish I could say I knew. There's an incredible good will for the show. People get what we're trying to do, and those who have kids want their kids to be a part of it. I really think that they're there for the kids. Some of the people in the live show actually are in Season 3 and we just asked that they come out to the live show and do both.

What's the live show like?

I would say that most traditional kids shows seem more to me like musical theater, like a Broadway production where you're seeing an episode unfold on stage. Whereas we really approach this from a musicians' standpoint. We wanted it to be a fun and amazing concert. [We wanted to make it like a 'first concert' experience], a live, exciting, music-based thing where you could scream and yell and hear all your favorite songs. It would mimic the show but it wouldn't necessarily be an episode of the show. I think you can have fun and watch the show from home seeing it on the couch but this is a time when you can really be together and go to a concert.

Do you have any special dream guests?

We've had so many great guests, I'd feel greedy to say I want more. I mean, we had Paul Williams on, and he came out to sing "Rainbow Connection." Most of the people who I love and whose work I respect come out to the show. I guess I could say maybe Paul McCartney. That would be quite an amazing experience for me, a big moment. Maybe Brad Pitt could surprise us all one day and come on and wear a DJ Lance outfit.

Okay, I have one last question. What inspired the song "Don't Bite Your Friends"?

I'll be totally truthful. It was my son Max, who is now 9 years old. He had some troubles biting when he was little. And as a dad I just wanted to help him. "Party In My Tummy" was written for him too. But there's something beautiful about "Don't Bite Your Friends," because that's one of those things that both adults and kids can latch onto. We've always thought that was a really great song.

Yo Gabba Gabba airs daily at 10:30am on Nickelodeon.

Like on Facebook