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INTERVIEW: Director Zeb Wells on Season 6 of “Robot Chicken”

INTERVIEW: Director Zeb Wells on Season 6 of "Robot Chicken"

Now that the 6th season of Adult Swim’s Robot Chicken is finally on DVD, America can revel in all its grotesque grossness, racy raunch and searing satire. Yes, the Nobel Prize-worthy roster of Season Six presents such sketches as Alvin and the Chipmunks carrying on with groupies, the horrific memories of Mr. T, a disastrous Avengers musical, the Shirt Tales in a fierce aerial battle, Hoarders with Polly Pocket, The Fast and Furious on Big Wheels and The Biggest Loser with Garfield, Pooh, Mario and Miss Piggy, and generous moments of pooping and peeing.

Season six is the first one directed by Zeb Wells, who acquired his role in a highly unique way. Here’s the inside scoop from Zeb himself.

GREG EHRBAR: Can you tell me something about your beautiful story and how you ascended to the throne of directing Robot Chicken this season?

ZEB WELLS:  (laughs) Well, it’s kind of a funny story because I got my break – I guess you would call it – by entering a short film contest with my friends for Wizard Magazine. I ended up winning that a couple of years in a row. The prize was to go to a comic convention were they showed the video. An editor at Marvel saw that video and that’s how I got my job, writing comics.

A couple of years later, Matt Senreich and Seth Green created Robot Chicken. They remembered that guy who made those funny videos and I started writing on Season 3. When the director position became available, I aggressively angled for it and somehow talked them into giving me a shot.

GREG: Was it scary to take the helm at first?

ZEB:  Yeah, definitely. On an intellectual level you can be scared but you have to just move past that and press on. But one of the things that was also great was that I didn’t really have time to be scared.

GREG:  Season 6 was also the first one with female writers. 

ZEB:  I think it added a lot more grist to the conversations for sure – to get some more viewpoints in the writers’ room. And it didn’t change anything as far as the content of the show. Some of the most aggressively offensive sketches came from the women. I think that everybody really enjoyed it and I’m glad we finally found two women that were willing to work on the show!

GREG: The misconception that you have to be a certain gender, age or background in order to write for characters that aren’t like you is an absurd myth that too often is perpetuated. That kind of prejudice is far more repulsive than anything on Robot Chicken. If you’ve got the talent you can write in any voice, right?

ZEB: Yeah, exactly. I wish we had found these writers years earlier! They’ve come up with awesome sketches. Jessica Gao wrote the “Wilson” sketch – the Castaway spoof where Wilson was brought back like Jason Bourne. No one in their right mind would say “Oh, that was obviously written by a woman.”

GREG:   You must get asked this a lot – how do you all get away with what you get away with?

ZEB: It actually surprises me, too. I’m not even certain how we get away with it. It was just the norm when I got here and I guess I just don’t want to poke that bear.

Everybody has different tastes. Some writers have a lot of that kind of material in their sketches but some writers hate that stuff. Sometimes you think you hate it too, but then you get desperate at 3:30, when you have to hand in your ideas by 3:45 – and suddenly someone having their head bashed in with a bat doesn’t seem so morally repugnant, and you just throw it in there.

GREG:  It is interesting to know that the creative team has those different points of view. The show actually has a lot of tones, not just the off-color humor.

ZEB:  There’s no imperative to do that.

GREG: Do any suits come back and say you have crossed the line?

ZEB: Yeah, we have conversations with Standards and Practices and we always work with them. They are really cool, but there are definitely lines you can’t cross. I think they let us get away with plenty, so no complaints there.

GREG: On the other hand it seems to be extraordinarily cathartic to have that freedom.

ZEB: Yeah, definitely.

GREG:  In the bonus feature on the DVD about the voice actors, they seem to all say, “Wow! I can’t believe I could do this, it’s so freeing.”

ZEB: Yeah, absolutely. You can just show up, be goofy and free to be as exaggerated as you want.

GREG:  Have you had any celebrities who have had second thoughts and said “I don’t know if I should have said that?”

ZEB: Yeah, we’ve had a couple and sometimes we rewrite dialogue for them on the spot. We’re always respectful about that. We’re not trying to get anyone in trouble, we’re just trying to have fun.

GREG:   So, you’re working on season 7 now and there doesn’t seem to be any end in sight for Robot Chicken.

ZEB: Well, that’s what we hope. Season 6 went really well. You never run out of things to make fun of or lampoon. I just love the fact that there is a stop motion television show on every year.  I think that is great and it would be great to keep that going.

I’m just thankful to everyone for giving me the shot at directing. By the end of season 6, we were working together as a great machine and that’s rolled over into season 7. I’m really excited about season 7, but I’m also excited to just sit back and watch season 6 on the DVD to see how it all came out. It was such a whirlwind year, I can barely remember a lot of it now!

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