August 11, 2010
(The “Animaniacs” opening plays out as NC pops in from off-screen to sing his part and wave)
Animaniacs: (singing) It’s time for Animaniacs.
NC: And the Critic!
Animaniacs: (singing) And we’re zany to the max.
NC: So’s the Critic!
Animaniacs: (singing) So just sit back and relax.
NC: With the Critic.
Animaniacs: (singing) You’ll laugh ‘til you collapse.
NC: Because of the Critic.
Animaniacs: (singing) We’re Animaniacs!
NC: With the Nostalgia Critic!
(The background behind NC cuts to his normal room)
NC: Hello—if you haven’t heard me the past five times—I’m the Nostalgia Critic, and I fucking love Animaniacs.
(Footage from Animaniacs plays out as NC speaks)
NC (voiceover): I mean, think about it. Is there any show from our childhood that was better written, better animated, or better handled than this masterpiece?
(A shot of Batman from Batman: The Animated Series standing on a building and posing while lightning strikes is shown)
NC (voiceover): Uh, OK. That was pretty good. (Back to the “Animaniacs” footage) But “Animaniacs” was still incredible. What great jokes. What great music. What absolutely unforgettable characters.
NC: And today, I’m paying homage to one of the greatest shows ever. And if I’m gonna do it, I’m gonna do it right. (He snaps his fingers)
(The title “Nostalgia Critic’s Animaniacs Tribute” appears in front of footage of a wrestling crowd as the Rocky theme music plays)
NC: (speaks as a boxing ring announcer, gesturing to camera left) In this corner, co-creator, writer, producer and story editor, Tom Ruegger!
(Tom Ruegger (sitting in his backyard) shakes with his hands together side to side and then raises his hands as the audience cheers in the background)
NC: (speaks as a boxing ring announcer, gesturing to camera right) And in this corner, writer, producer, story editor and voice of Slappy Squirrel, Sherri Stoner!
(Sherri Stoner politely waves to the camera as the audience cheers in the background)
NC: (speaks as a boxing announcer, gesturing to camera left, but at a different angle) And in this corner, writer for Animaniacs as well as Freakazoid, John P. McCann!
(John P. McCann shakes his fists in the air with both hands together as the audience cheers in the background)
NC: (speaks as a boxing announcer, gesturing to camera right, but at a different angle) And in this corner, writer for Animaniacs as well as the voice talent of Mr. Director and Freakazoid, Paul Rugg!
(Paul Rugg waves to the camera as the audience cheers in the background)
NC: (speaks as a boxing announcer, gesturing to the camera) And in this…somehow fifth corner, voice talent of Skippy Squirrel as well as the son of Tom Ruegger, Nate Ruegger!!
(Nate Ruegger smirks for the camera as the audience cheers in the background)
NC: (speaks as a boxing announcer) And the Italian Stallion himself, the heavyweight champion of the world, Rocky Balboa!!!
(Footage of Rocky Balboa from Rocky pumps up as the audience cheers in the background)
NC: (speaks as a boxing announcer) Wait, wait. No. He-He’s not in this. But still, we have a big truckload of people who made one of the greatest shows ever OVER THE EARTH!!!
(Footage of a crowd in a boxing arena is shown as we hear them cheer)
NC: (speaks normally) Guys, thank you so much for coming on the show and answering my stupid questions. This is so awesome…but let’s not waste any time. Uh…I guess the first thing to start off with is how you guys all got involved with the show, and the person to probably start with is Tom because…am I right? You’ve pretty much written for every cartoon show ever created. (We hear Tom Ruegger laugh) I mean, your background’s incredible. It’s like He-Man, Scooby Doo, all these huge shows, so you’ve probably had the longest experience in animation, right?
Tom Ruegger: I started as an assistant animator/in-betweener, and then made it up to animator. I began work out here at Hanna-Barbera, just kind of bizarre things like Shirt-Tales and Snorks. I got a chance to story edit and co-produce a bunch of Scooby series, then they gave me a shot to do a new version which turned out to be A Pup Named Scooby Doo, and in that one, we did a lot of sort of Tex Avery wild takes, and that show, believe it or not, was what landed me the gig on Tiny Toons.
Sherri Stoner: I started out as an actress back a hundred million years ago, and I was, um…I was in The Groundlings. I performed at The Groundings, and a friend of mine at The Groundlings asked if I’d be interested in maybe writing for a cartoon. Um, this was for Tiny Toons, actually. So I’ve never written anything before, but I’m a huge fan of the whole Warner Brothers cartoons, so I got hired on staff for Tiny Toons, and Animaniacs came along, and I jumped at the chance to develop that along with Tom Ruegger and everybody.
John P. McCann: Growing up, it was either sports or being funny, or being preyed upon, so I chose funny. Paul and I, at the time, were in a group called Acme Comedy Theatre, which is run by Sherri Stoner’s husband. She’d already been, uh…you know, brought on board for Tiny Toons and other shows, and when they started looking for writers for Animaniacs, they came down, they said “These guys are, you know, uh, lean and unemployed. They’ll probably work cheaply.” And they’re correct.
Paul Rugg: So when Animaniacs was coming up, she thought she’d just give, you know, John and I a script and when they were first developing it, and based on that, they hired us.
NC: Now…how did the actual creation of the show go down, like what was the process?
Tom Ruegger: Well, Animaniacs came from this whole success at Warner Brothers where we had made Tiny Toons, and Mr. Spielberg and Jean MacCurdy and a bunch of people decided, “Well, we have to make the sequel now.” We were looking for the lead characters for the show. Steven said “We need a billboard name. We can’t just go out there with nobody.” That stuck in my head, “billboard character.” So I was walking across the lot one day, I saw that the water tower, and I thought, “Well, that’s kind of a, you know, sort of a billboard.”
Sherri Stoner: As far as the Warner Brothers go, the initial creation of that was Tom Reugger’s. I remember it being first based on his three kids that were…three sons that were very small at the time, and just the chaotic element of having them in his life made him want to do something like that.
Tom Ruegger: What we did was we put a whole bunch of cartoon concepts together. “Pinky and the Brain,” “Slappy Squirrel,” and we took them all over to Steven’s house on a Saturday morning—which is an appropriate time, we all like cookies and milk.
Sherri Stoner: Tom would put them up on the big board, he had this big board in his office, and he would pin up names of characters that we pitched and different things like that, and then the artists would do drawings of different characters, and they sort of evolved as time went on, and some fell by the way side and some stuck.
Tom Ruegger: The last one to make the cut was Mindy and Buttons, and Mindy and Buttons were being jettisoned earlier in our little meeting, and then Steven’s family came in, including a bunch of little kids, and they went over to the Mindy and Buttons pictures and said, “I like!” So suddenly, Mindy and Buttons were back in.
Paul Rugg: They had a Bible which was literally…I remember it was, like, two inches thick, and it was pretty much all set about what they would be. There was a list, like, five pages about what they thought the characters’ catchphrases would be.
John P. McCann: Paul and I had a kind of, you know, feel our way. You know, trying to use some of the stuff they had and then some ideas that we had.
Tom Ruegger: I remember Deanna Oliver kept pushing this gecko and chuckwalla, and, course, it ultimately turned into the GEICO gecko, so. Deanna also was the one behind Chicken Boo. She said we have to do this chicken, and no one realizes it’s really a chicken, and it made no sense, and yet we made probably ten of them. (laughs) Nick Hollander basically did the Katie Kaboom deal based on his daughter, and of course, Sherri Stoner is, was, and always will be Slappy Squirrel.
Slappy Squirrel: Thank you, Mr. Exposition.
Tom Ruegger: She brought that character in from, uh, like a Groundlings skit that she had done, so we basically took the concept of Screwy Squirrel—who we all loved from the Tex Avery cartoons—and turning that character into sort of an elderly cranky squirrel. Pinky and the Brain, of course, famously were based on two of our artists, Tom Mitten as the Brain and Eddie Fitzgerald as Pinky. Basically, those two characters were based around the personalities of those two writer/director/artists. Mitten and Eddie Fitzgerald would be in the room next door, you know, and you’d hear Mitten go, (mutters softly to himself) and Eddie going “(laughs stupidly) Narf!”
Pinky: Egad, Brain! Brilliant!
Tom Ruegger: That’s where the whole Pinky and the Brain concept came from, because I always felt that they were plotting to take over the world.
NC: Now, that’s interesting, because I always thought maybe Pinky was Hugh Laurie from “Blackadder” or something, and I could have sworn that Brain was Orson Welles. He looks and talks like Orson Welles. Was there any inspiration for that?
Tom Ruegger: The voice actor doing the Brain, the beloved Maurice LaMarche, he would always warm up the same way. He warmed up doing the exact word-for-word recording session of an old Orson Welles commercial where Orson Welles doesn’t complete the commercial. It’s about, you know, Mrs. Cubington’s fish products or something, and it’s basically this diatribe by Orson Welles of him, like, going off-copy on his commercial and getting real ticked off at the engineer in the booth.
Orson Welles: (audio) Get me a jewelry and show me how you can stay in too long. (mutters) It’ll go down on you.
Tom Ruegger: That was where the Brain’s voice came from. It came from Maurice just loving this Orson Welles impression, and we said, “Yeah, I think that’ll work.”
NC: So was that—this is probably a stupid question—but was that the inspiration for “Yes, Always,” which is a cartoon where the Brain goes, does the voice audition and almost quotes word-for-word every line that Orson Welles said in those auditions?
Tom Ruegger: It is exactly the inspiration for that particular segment, and that’s the only “Animaniacs” cartoon in which I actually did my own voice.
Tom Ruegger (in the “Yes, Always” cartoon): (laughs) Come on, Brain. I write all your best material.
Brain: Shakespeare wrote my best material. You write drivel on “Fit for a Lifeboat” commercial.
Tom Ruegger (normal): Uh, Peter’s in it, and Andrea Romano’s in it, and basically, the Brain is just ripping into us.
Brain: (records his lines) “The finest prairie fit beef that tastes…” This is a lot of tripe, you know that.
Orson Welles: (audio over a photo of him) “The finest prairie beef that tastes…” This is a lot of shit, you know that.
NC: Now, your son Nate was the voice of Skippy Squirrel, which, of course, is a huge part, but on top of that, maybe even more iconic…he was the voice of Baby Plucky from Tiny Toons, and I can tell you right now everybody in my school was always quoting "The Potty Years." We’d always say, “Water go down the hooooooole!”
Baby Plucky: Water go down the hoooooole!
NC: And I’m wondering, Nate, uh, how did you get into this? Was this something that you really wanted to do, or did your father force you to do it, or how did it work?
(NOTE: When we first see Nate Ruegger talking, the quality in his webcam is slightly blurry: NC puts up the caption "Nate Ruegger, Who apologizes for 'Close up Blurry Cam'")
Nate Ruegger: Uh, I came to do the voice of Baby Plucky, actually because of my youngest brother Cody. Cody was two or three at the time, and he was the inspiration for Baby Plucky. Everything we remember Baby Plucky for, like taking everything he could find and flushing it down the toilet, getting into an elevator and pushing all the buttons…
Baby Plucky: Elevator go down the hoooooole.
Nate Ruegger: My youngest brother Cody did that, and my dad probably thought that was good television and was writing that up.
Skippy Squirrel: (to Slappy) Yeah, but we’re cartoons, and this is real life!
Slappy Squirrel: (to the camera) Don’t tell him. He might crack.
Nate Ruegger: I was the lead in our first grade production of You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown, so my seven-year-old brain registered that as, “Oh! I’m going to be a huge actor someday!” And I just begged my parents to take me to, like, every type of audition for movies and theatre and…some reason, they encouraged me.
Slappy Squirrel: I had to get him out of the city, away from all those bad influences.
Skippy Squirrel: You mean like peace and love?
Slappy Squirrel: Exactly.
Nate Ruegger: So at that point, I think it was a no-brainer for my dad to ask me to do kind of an impression of my younger brother Cody as the voice of Baby Plucky. And so that’s pretty much how I got my first job in show business by making fun of my baby brother on national television.
Tom Ruegger: I knew that I can get my kids to perform it the way I needed it to be, so it’s kind of almost a control thing that [is] my problem. (laughs)
Nate Ruegger: He knows me better than anyone pretty much, and so, very often, for a lot of the Skippy episodes that he didn’t write it, he was very involved with the writing, so the dialogue always came out that Skippy the character and his dialogue would fit me like a glove, so it was very easy. It was never strange, but it did get embarrassing as anyone’s father can be, but in these cases, there’d be times…the ones I remember were [when] I was supposed to give a laugh, and it wasn’t as big a laugh as they needed, and so my dad would slowly sneak into the recording booth and start tickling me. And there I was, like, giggling like an idiot with my dad tickling me in front of this room filled with Hollywood professionals.
(A clip of Skippy giggling is shown)
NC: Now, like Sherri said, a lot of Tom’s inspiration looks like it came from you kids. Uh, was there anything that you specifically came up with that made it into the show, even though you were just, like, a little child at the time?
(The quality in Nate’s webcam looks better from here on out)
Nate Ruegger: None of my ideas or episodic storylines or characters or anything like that from me got into the story…uh, got into the show Animaniacs, except for this one line. My dad was working on the main theme for Animaniacs, coming up with the lyrics, and he had run out of words that rhymed with Animaniacs.
Tom Ruegger: I know that I spent, like, a week writing the “Animaniacs” theme song lyrics, and I had, like, I probably had, like, seven different versions, all with different words.
Nate Ruegger: He had “Dot is cute and Yakko yaks, Wakko packs away the snacks,” and…didn’t have the rest of it. Uh, it just so happened that I saw on TV that day that our current president enjoyed playing the saxophone in his spare time, so I chimed in with “Bill Clinton plays the sax,” and that got into the final cut of the song.
Animaniacs: (singing) Wakko packs away the snacks / While Bill Clinton plays the sax / We’re Animaniacs!
Tom Ruegger: It rhymes, it’s amazing.
NC: Now, for all of you, when I think of writers on a show, especially a comedy show, I think of “Dick van Dyke”. I think of everybody packed in a room and they’re all shouting out ideas and they’re saying, “Oh, that’s great! What’s the next line? What’s the next line?” and…did the process work that way, or was it very much an individual process?
Paul Rugg: There wasn’t, like, you know, sort of like the “Dick van Dyke” thing where we’re all sitting in a room together going, “OK, what’s the next line?” We would all go away and, you know, sort of struggle over the scripts.
John P. McCann: It wasn’t, like, you know, the sitcom method where you sit in a room, you break a story and, you know, everybody kind of throws out their two cents.
Sherri Stoner: You would come up with ideas for characters, for different stories for different characters, and you’d pitch the idea to Tom and he’d say, “Yeah, that sounds good. Go write it,” that kind of thing. I do remember that Paul Rugg wrote a lot of the Warner Brothers cartoons, because he was especially good at that.
Tom Ruegger: Paul—you know, God bless him—he’s one of the funniest people on Earth and one of the most talented writers on Earth, but boy, when he’s into a script and he’s struggling with it when it’s not going perfectly, it’s like you can just see the pain.
Paul Rugg: I remember I was having problems once with an episode called “Hearts of Twilight.” It was a parody of “Hearts of Darkness,” and sometimes you get yourselves into a big problem because you’re like, “Boy, wouldn’t it be funny if the Warners had to go up studio in a golf cart and sort of stop a director who was making…he was spending millions of dollars, and that director would be, you know, Mr. Director sort of Jerry Lewis and stuff," and I was like, “Oh, that’s a great idea! Let’s [do it]!” you know, and I think I wrote the first two pages of that for, like, a week and a half, and finally, I was, like, I didn’t know what to do, so I went into Tom’s office and I said, “Tom, I just don’t get it. I think I should work on something else.” And I remember…the only time Tom ever got mad at me, he said, “No, this is too expensive. You need to finish it.” So I went back in my room and cried a little bit and then I sort of figured it out.
NC: So you were satirizing a documentary about a person slowly going crazy while making a movie about a person slowly going crazy, and you yourself were slowly going crazy?
Paul Rugg: That made me cry, but, you know, it was fun. I’m over it now.
Tom Ruegger: It happened because Paul Rugg was writing in that room for, like, three weeks and his, like, brain was bleeding and it finally came out.
(Cut to a clip of Mr. Director walking away from the Warners; the camera pans to the right to view where another trio of the Warners are standing, blocking Mr. Director’s way)
Mr. Director: (speaking like Jerry Lewis) Hoil! How’d you with the going, you were there but here now?
NC: From the look of things, it seemed like there was a lot of freedom, and…I know it’s a cliché to be like, (shakes his fist and speaks like an elderly person) “They don’t make them like in the old days!” (normal) But it almost does seem like that. I guess what I’m wondering is was Animaniacs one of those rare experiences where everything just seemed to go right and everything clicked, or are these experiences really like a dime a dozen?
Paul Rugg: Well…that was really my first real writing job, and so I now have learned that it doesn’t go that well.
John P. McCann: You know, it’s like we got our dessert first in animation, and then, you know, as time went on, we learned what beans tasted like.
Tom Ruegger: Some of the head guys at Warner Brothers, the big mucky-muck said, “Well, you can’t do shorts. Whatever you do, don’t do shorts.” And we said, “Well, why not?” He said, “Because there’s no precedent. No one knows how to do them. You have no model to follow,” (laughs) which is hilarious, because, of course, there were 35, 40 years of these gems, these seven-minute gems.
John P. McCann: Most shows, it’s, you know, it’s a three-act structure. You know what you’re gonna do. Stories have a beginning, middle, end, they’re half-hours, they’re two 11-minutes, you know. It’s much more simpler and easier on the editing budget.
Sherri Stoner: Quite a few of the writers that eventually came on to work on Animaniacs were people that I knew through sketch comedy, and they weren’t animation writers per se when they started out; in fact, not at all. John McCann and Paul Rugg and Peter Hastings and Deanna Oliver, these were people that I knew from sketch comedy. The first thing that they wanted to be was funny. None of us knew exactly the wrong way to do it, so…more of the right way to do it, so we just did it the best we could, and the funniest way we could.
Paul Rugg: Mostly, we had Tom Ruegger as a great producer, and he would, you know, he would bring us all in, and people would say, “Well, I think I want to write one where they (the Warners) goof on Albert Einstein,” and normally, it was, like, “Great! You...go do that. That’ll be great.” And today, in a lot of shows I’ve been doing, you can say, “Yeah, I want to have them goof on Albert Einstein,” and it’s like, “OK, good. Go away and write exactly what that would be, but don’t write it.” So you do sort of a three-page outline about what’ll happen. The nice thing about Animaniacs was we didn’t really…there was really none of that.
John P. McCann: You get assigned a script and that’ll be your script. It was loose. I mean, ultimately, it was your job to get the script done, get it in. But, you know, you had plenty of help there to get you through the rough spots.
Sherri Stoner: There was a lot of freedom. We didn’t really have a lot of people hovering over us telling us what to do or telling us that that was inappropriate to do or that kids wouldn’t get this or that or the other.
Tom Ruegger: I personally never had as much freedom, before or after, than I had during the Animaniacs.
Paul Rugg: Sometimes in a network, there are, like, you know, 50 people reading your script, and you’ll get competing notes from different people, and we didn’t really have that. It went to Tom Ruegger, it’d go off to Steven Spielberg, and that was it!
Sherri Stoner: We were very, very lucky in that regard. I mean, it certainly changed now.
John P. McCann: This was at the dawn of the imitate-able behavior of things, so, you know, they were afraid that any behavior with a common household object that children could imitate would, you know, in turn, lead them to do that, and then…you know, trigger a lawsuit.
Sherri Stoner: The certain educational elements that had to be involved when you’re dealing with certain hours of the day for television and all of that stuff that I still don’t understand.
John P. McCann: There was a scene in “Draculee Dracula” where there was something about turning into a bat, Wakko pulls out an actual bat and hits the vampire. But they didn’t care for that. You know, they said, “You can’t use a real bat.” Tom Ruegger, in a masterful stroke, got around it by putting wings on the wooden bat, and somehow, that made it OK.
NC: So a bat with bat wings was OK, but a bat without bat wings was corrupting the youth of America?
(An image of a baseball player taking a swing is shown with NC’s caption pointing to the player, “Worse than Hitler”)
NC: All I gotta say is that I’m glad most houses don’t have anvils and mallets lying around.
John P. McCann: Right. Dynamite, except for certain areas of the Southwest, (NC laughs) we’re, you know, safe there.
Sherri Stoner: If we got any sort of inkling that somebody wanted us to be more educational or have more of a theme, then we would mock that, like with the Wheel of Morality, that sort of thing.
Yakko: (spins the Wheel of Morality) Wheel of Morality, turn, turn, turn. Tell us the lesson that we should learn. (The wheel stops on the number 2) Moral number 2. And the moral of today’s story is… (He takes a piece of paper printed out of the Wheel of Morality machine)
(The title card “Be sure to watch Part 2 and 3: The Naughty Moments of Animaniacs & Improvising with the Actors” is shown)
(“Part 2” begins)
NC: Now, I did a countdown a long time ago called “The Top 11 Naughtiest Animaniac Moments,” and to this day, it continues to be the most viewed Nostalgia Critic video. And, looking over these jokes again, I gotta say…how did you get away with half of these risqué jokes? I mean, they’re just unbelievable!
Sherri Stoner: You know, I don’t know. I don’t know how we got away with them.
Paul Rugg: I don’t know!
Tom Ruegger: (laughs) I have no idea how.
John P. McCann: A lot of it is benign neglect.
Tom Ruegger: I did see that segment of the Nostalgia Critic, and I love it. The one from, uh, it’s on a boat is something about finding fingerprints.
Dot: I found Prince! (She holds the music artist Prince in her arms)
Yakko: No, no, no, finger-prints!
Dot: (looks at Prince, who grins, then shakes her head to the camera) I don’t think so.
Tom Ruegger: I mean, we’ve obviously put that in, and we just said, “Oh, let the censor have a laugh and call us.” (laughs) And I guess the censor was away that week, because that’s still in there. It’s amazing.
Paul Rugg: Probably one of my favorite exchanges where, you know, Yakko sings all the planets…
Yakko: (sings) We travel on to Neptune / That’s a gassy, freezing ball / And cold and tiny Pluto / It’s the furthest one of all. (speaks) There you go. That’s our solar system.
Wakko: You forgot Uranus.
Yakko: Goodnight, everybody!
Paul Rugg: I think I put that in as a joke and expecting Tom or someone in authority with good taste to cut it out, and they never did, so…but then again, you know, Tom wrote “Lake Titicaca.”
Tom Ruegger: Let me sing that for you. (starts to sing before the Warners come in to sing) Lake Titicaca, oh, Lake Titicaca / Why do we sing it of its fame? / Lake Titicaca, yes, Lake Titicaca / ‘Cause we really like saying its name! / Titicaca!
(NC slowly applauds a few times)
Tom Ruegger: Thank you.
Sherri Stoner: It was all double entendres, so…it was more naughty than anything, I think. You know, we weren’t being…we were trying not to be really mean, but we were being sort of…naughty.
John P. McCann: You know, you couldn’t do it today, but we did it then.
Paul Rugg: Our gatekeeper was pretty much as twisted as we were, so I think that’s the problem.
Yakko: You should be ashamed of yourself for even thinking it!
NC: Now, something I hear writers do a lot of, especially on kids shows to get around the censors, is that they’ll have a joke that’s a little risqué and they think the censors are gonna pull [it] off, so they put in an even bigger joke, something really shocking and really risqué to distract from the smaller risqué joke. Did you guys ever do anything like that?
Tom Ruegger: That’s exactly right, and so you fight like mad for this really outrageous thing that you know should never be in there. You fight, fight, fight for that so that when the other thing, they’re so exhausted, they say, “OK, you can have the other thing.”
NC: You guys pretty much satirized…well, everything. You did movies, you did shows, you did music videos, people…did anyone ever get upset at the jokes you’ve made?
Tom Ruegger: Tim Robbins.
Tom Ruegger: We were at the Emmy—the Daytime Emmys, and we were coming out, and Tim Robbins was escorting Mr. Rogers under the stage, and as he passed us when we were walking around, he said, “I love you, I love Animaniacs, but please don’t…please don’t ever put me in your cartoon. Don’t make fun of me.” And I said, “I’m sorry, I think we’ve already done it.” (laughs)
John P. McCann: I think Country Joe of Country Joe and the Fish called. We did a “Woodstock Slappy.” He was upset about something we parodied in there.
Country Joe (in the “Woodstock Slappy” segment): (sings) And it's eight, ten, twelve, I’m just killing time / My contract says to sing a song, yee-haw! I made a rhyme.
Tom Ruegger: That doesn’t sound like a parody. That sounds like my song. (laughs)
Paul Rugg: I think that Steven showed Martin Scorsese “The Goodfeathers,” and he really thought it was funny.
Tom Ruegger: Got a little close to Richard Lewis’ material in “Noah’s Ark” cartoon, so I think Richard Lewis’ manager said, you know, “Could you try not to steal all of his material next time?” And we said, “OK.”
Noah (caricature of Ricard Lewis): (to Flavio and Marita, two hippo characters) Look, I don’t know who you think I am, and I wish I cared, but I don’t, get on the boat.
Tom Ruegger: It was an homage, Richard.
Paul Rugg: Now, norm—…nobody really, we never heard from anybody, but maybe because of this, they will, and they’re gonna come after us, so thanks a lot.
NC: Yes, well, I live to destroy careers.
Noah: Shoot me!
NC: With that said, Sherri…as people may or may not know, you were the live-action reference for Ariel from The Little Mermaid and Belle from Beauty and the Beast. And something I’ve noticed is that there’s a lot of Disney-related jokes in Animaniacs, particularly in the Slappy the Squirrel cartoons.
Singer (in the “Bumbie’s Mom” segment): Bumbie, the dearest deer.
Slappy Squirrel: That junk’s rotting out your brain. No wonder you like that Bonkers show.
NC: I even recall one where you blow up, run over and smash Pluto the Dog. Um…bad memories, or just an easy target?
Sherri Stoner: Certainly not bad memories. No, no, no. That was a lot of fun doing The Little Mermaid and Belle. No, probably an easy target. I mean, Slappy made fun of—not made fun of, but she knew everybody in show business, so everybody was fair game, you know. Hanna-Barbera characters got slapped around by her, too.
Slappy Squirrel: (referring to the actress who played Bumbie’s Mom) She used to date George Jetson.
NC: Of course, Steven Spielberg produced both this show and Tiny Toons, which were both gigantic hits. How involved was he in the process? Because from the look of things, it looks like he was a pretty damn good producer.
John P. McCann: Great. I mean, he was involved in the fact that, you know, he was making, at the time, I think Jurassic Park and Schindler’s List, and then whatever, and he’d be faxing us notes on his little animated scripts we’d write, but mostly, he was interested in it being funny and having a different look and a feel and everything else like that.
Sherri Stoner: He read every script. What I remember about him was that we’d give him, you know, deliver a half-hour script to maybe at, like, two o’clock, and by five o’clock, he’d be calling with notes. It was very fast. The turn-around with him was very fast. Now, sometimes of course, he’d be busy, really busy making a movie or something.
Tom Ruegger: I have a photo of him on the set of Schindler’s List looking at, like, a Pinky and the Brain storyboard, so.
Paul Rugg: I was there maybe…two months or something, and I’d written a little bit, and I got a memo from Steven. I think it said, “I really like what you wrote.” I think tears began to swell in my eyes and I immediately called my wife at work, (pretends to sound like he’s crying) and I read her the memo and “Look what it said!” (speaks normally) and then I think I ran throughout the studio, I got a flashlight and I let everyone read the memo. There was an episode of Freakazoid; it’s Freakazoid, and then all of a sudden, Wakko comes in, and then Pinky and the Brain come in, and there’s this whole exchange about what show Steven likes best. “Well, Steven likes us best, because we got a memo.” And that’s the memo I was talking about.
Freakazoid: If I’m not mistaken, Freakazoid is Steven’s favorite show. (He pulls out a memo) We got a memo.
Paul Rugg: And I have the memo still. It’s in a safe. I don’t let anyone look at it, but was very nice.
NC: I can’t complain. I’m one of the few people in the world that actually framed a Twitter from Roger Ebert, so…(A shot of Roger Ebert’s framed Twitter (which says “The best, funniest video about Siskel and Ebert I’ve ever seen”) is shown as Paul Rugg laughs)…I’d be lying if I said I didn’t get excited about stupid stuff like that, too.
Tom Ruegger: The beautiful thing was when people did come after us or censors or, you know, he basically would step in and ask others to, like, “Back off these guys. They’re doing a good job, you know, they’re making the show I want.” So it was fabulous.
Nate Ruegger: People asked me like they ask everyone when they were kids, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” And so I said, “I wanted to be Steven Spielberg when I grow up.” My parents did a really amazing thing and got me a chance to meet him after this big wrap party. He just asked me what were my favorite dinosaurs and what were my favorite movies, and I remember just telling him, “These were the best dinosaurs there are, and these were the best movies, and you should make movies with these dinosaurs, and…” God, it was so embarrassing, but it was really amazing that he listened to me, like I could see that the words I was telling him, like, really sunk in.
NC: Nate, you were a little kid obviously when you did the voice of Skippy Squirrel. Did people recognize you, and if they did, did you keep it low-key or did you try to soak up the attention?
Nate Ruegger: At first, no one really did recognize me. That’s the great part of being in an animated series. You can do all this hard work, you have this other secret identity, but I got interviewed for “Sports Illustrated for Kids.” They were just gonna do a short interview and take a few photos, and it turned into this, like, three or four page spread about me as a voice actor, and after that, the secret was out. It was hard to, like…I wasn’t a celebrity, though. It was very low-key, but it was the worst kind of celebrity for me at that age. I was turning thirteen, I was trying to appear very masculine and suave to the ladies, but they all thought of me as this (speaks baby talk) cuddly, wuddly fuzzy little squirrel, (speaks normally) and that did not help me with the ladies for quite a while. Yeah.
NC: It’s hard being a squirrel. Now, when I watch these cartoons, I really get a feeling of the original Looney Tunes, even more than Tiny Toons, which was literally mimicking the original Looney Tunes. But something about Animaniacs just seemed to have the same creative energy, the same need to hit both the adult audience as well as the children audience…did they play a big part when writing this, and if not, who did?
Sherri Stoner: We weren’t consciously thinking about the old Looney Tunes, you know, saying, “Let’s do this thing like Bugs did.” But it certainly had to be in our consciousness.
John P. McCann: [The] template I think we used originally were the Marx brothers. You know, that sort of chaos that they orchestrated in their films. Most of the artists and, you know, certainly the writers were very much influenced by the Looney Tunes cartoons.
Paul Rugg: I think if you take Marx Brothers and Looney Tunes and smash them together, I think you get Animaniacs.
Sherri Stoner: They were so masterful that it was something to aspire to. I don’t think they’ve been surpassed, certainly. To me, I’m still in awe whenever I see the old Warner Brothers cartoons, you know.
Paul Rugg: For me, Daffy Duck is pretty much the most perfect cartoon character of all time. That was a big influence.
NC: I would know nothing about him being an influence.
Paul Rugg: What sort of maybe I learned from Looney Tunes was it’s all about character, and if you have a great character, you can write a billion episodes, and I think that’s what Looney Tunes was all about. Rather than sort of necessarily, “This happens, then this happens, and then this happens,” the Looney Tunes were like, “Yeah, Daffy’s on a cruise ship. What can happen?”
Tom Ruegger: All the cultural major events of our lives, I think, everything we’ve gone through up to the point where we’re working on Animaniacs was fair game as far as we were concerned.
Sherri Stoner: Any kind of inspired silliness. Anything that was fun for fun’s sake would factor in.
Paul Ruggs: You know, Ernie Kovacs, that sort of weird stuff.
John P. McCann: I was a big fan of Monty Python and Jonathan Winters.
Tom Ruegger: There were a few Abbott and Costello movies that I virtually had memorized.
(Cut to a clip of Abbott and Costello “Who’s on First” skit)
Costello: Go ahead and tell me.
Costello: The guy on first.
Costello: The guy on first base!
Abbott: Who is on first!
(Cut to a clip from the “Woodstock Slappy” segment)
Slappy Squirrel: Tell me the name of the band on stage.
Skippy Squirrel: Who.
Slappy Squirrel: The name of the band.
Skippy Squirrel: Who.
Slappy Squirrel: The band on stage!
Nate Ruegger: One of my favorite memories working with Sherri Stoner was doing the “Woodstock” episode with the “What’s the name of the band on stage?” bit. We spent a lot of time together in the booth so that we could get the timing just right.
Skippy Squirrel: Who.
Slappy Squirrel: The name of the group.
Skippy Squirrel: Who!
Slappy Squirrel: The group on stage!
Skippy Squirrel: WHO!
Slappy Squirrel: THE BAND!
Skippy Squirrel: No, the band is performing later.
Paul Rugg: And then the Jerry Lewis thing, for me, was just…I was raised in Vegas, I was eight years old, and I would see Jerry Lewis’ name on the marquee, and I just thought he was the funniest guy in the world.
NC: Paul, you have a character simply called Mr. Director, who you also do the voice for, and he is obviously a big influence of Jerry Lewis.
Mr. Director: (to the Warners) You kids are gonna be in my movie.
Warners: (look to the camera) Movie?
Mr. Director: Who are you just looking at?
Wakko: (pokes at the camera lens) The people watching on TV.
Mr. Director: Peoples? What peoples? (He moves the Warners aside to do a close up on the camera with his face) Hello, nice people in the TV!!
NC: I’m wondering, has he ever seen any of those cartoons?
Paul Rugg: You know what? I have no idea, although when I was at Disney—I was doing a show for them a while back—I tried to get Jerry Lewis to actually do a bit on it, and he said no, and I don’t know whether it’s because they said, “Oh, Paul Rugg’s the guy that used to do you.” I’m not quite sure.
NC: I actually remember there was a tribute on Comedy Central for Jerry Lewis, and one of the clips they showed was Mr. Director acting as Indiana Jones, so chances are he did see one of those cartoons at some point.
Paul Rugg: OK, good. Good. See?
NC: And most likely knew who you were and totally snubbed you.
Paul Rugg: Oh, well, then, there you go. (He places a palm on his face in embarrassment) Oh, well.
NC: Um, Sherri, am I right that you were originally brought in to Tiny Toons to mainly write for the Babs Bunny character?
Sherri Stoner: Yeah.
NC: Since that is the case, and you also invented Slappy Squirrel, what I really like about your writing is…we have another reviewer called the Nostalgia Chick, and she has a term called The Smurfette Principle, and this is about how a children’s show wants to be gender neutral by throwing in a token chick pretty much, and it’s almost a cliché to say men can’t write for women, but most of these female leads were written as females first before they were written as actual characters. And I can say growing up with Babs, Slappy, Dot, I always saw them as characters first before I saw them as females, and I guess what I’m wondering is, was there ever a conscious effort to fight how females were being written in animated shows at that time, or was this just how you saw the characters?
Sherri Stoner: I was never really into girly-girl characters when I was young. I remember liking Groucho Marx and Harpo Marx, I liked Bugs Bunny the best out of the Warner Brothers, I liked Gomez on The Addams Family, I always liked the funny one, you know? And so I was never into princesses (Two images of Ariel from The Little Mermaid and Belle from Beauty and the Beast are shown side by side of Sherri with NC’s caption “Oh, the irony” between them) or any of that kind of thing, so it didn’t really factor in for me to write from that perspective for Babs or any of the girl characters that I wrote for, because it wasn’t how I looked at the world, and no one ever said, “Oh, you know, let’s bring in girl issues for Babs or for Dot or for anyone.” I don’t think I would’ve, first of all, known, in fact, I know, I wouldn’t know how to do that very well, ‘cause I don’t look at the world that way. I didn’t try to make Babs one of the fellows, or I didn’t try to make Dot one of the fellows. Certainly not Dot, because, I mean…there’s a lot of fun to be had with her playing up her girlish charms that she knows, or at least she thinks she knows she’s got. No, I wasn’t conscious; it just was the way that I sort of approached things.
NC: Let’s talk about the animation. The animation was always great, but it did seem to have a lot of variations. The style would change very often. Sometimes it would be very solid, other times it would be very bouncy, sometimes it was subtle, sometimes it was exaggerated. How did that work? Was there different animation groups depend on the director?
Paul Rugg: Like, five different companies that would, you know, be farmed out a certain short.
John P. McCann: We were employing most of Asia at the time. We had studios set up all over Korea and Japan and New Zealand at one point.
Paul Rugg: There’s a company called TMS, there was a company called Wang.
John P. McCann: Like AKOM, I think in Japan, was one of the top studios. Whatever you sent, they always came back looking great.
Paul Rugg: I can see that, like, Wang had a style of drawing the Warners that was a little bit more roundy, AKOM was a little bit more, you know, angular and stuff, so, yeah, each company had its own way of doing it.
John P. McCann: And at other studios, it would depend on, you know, what they were up against. You wouldn’t always get their best crew.
Paul Rugg: You know, we’d get it back, and it would literally look like, you know, Yakko’s eyes were melting off his face, and you’d be like, “Oh! We’re in trouble.”
John P. McCann: Certain ones came back so…hashed, you know. You couldn’t save them in editing. You had to try and make them into something else.
Paul Rugg: There would be a deep, detailed storyboard about exactly what would happen. Then the timing person would come in and say, “OK, the gag from Yakko to go from this position to this position has so many frames.” These days, there isn’t as much control. You sort of just, you know, “Show me your storyboard and you ship it over and you kiss it goodbye and hope nobody looks really gross.”
NC: Now, let’s talk about one of the biggest factors on the show…the music, particularly the songs. We all know Richard Stone did the incredible scores and incredible music, but with every episode, there had to be a minimum of, like, two to five songs in an episode, many of them using public domain music or satirizing famous musicals. How did writing songs for the show work? Did the writers come up with it, did the musicians come up with it, [or] was this sort of both?
John P. McCann: We’ve done a lot of music in improv, so we were used to throwing it into, you know, into sketches. I think, for me, what really got me interested in including more music was that it paid residuals.
Paul Rugg: When we all found out we would get extra money for writing songs, we wrote a lot of songs. No.
John P. McCann: For a while, everything I wrote was a light opera.
Tom Ruegger: We had so many great music composers, people scoring the show. Richard Stone and the Bernsteins (Steve and Julie), sometimes we would throw them some lyrics that they would also have to, like, turn into little jingles and everything.
Sherri Stoner: You would write the lyrics first, then it was up to Richard Stone to find a way to make it sound like the original, but not so much that we get sued.
Slappy Squirrel: What can I say? I love the lyrics.
John P. McCann: And the musicians were great. They knew exactly how to craft the songs, you know, to stay within the legal limits of the time.
Sherri Stoner: Anybody could do it. Anybody did it, everybody. I can’t think of anybody that didn’t write at least some songs.
John P. McCann: Our legal guy, uh, we had one legal guy who’d stop by once every two years. “Yeah, you guys are doing fine, you know. You’re staying off. You’re not getting us any letters from lawyers.” So, yeah, they were masters, Richard Stone and our other composers were masters at keeping it, you know, just one side of a phone call.
Tevye (from Fiddler on the Roof): (sings) If I were a rich man / Yubby dibby dibby dibby dibby dibby dibby dum.
Pesto (from the “Pigeon on the Roof” segment): If I were the Godpigeon / Cooey cooey cooey fettuchini cream sauce parmesan.
Tom Ruegger: Then we had a guy like Randy Rogel who comes in, and he was working on Batman, and he’d say, “Hey, Tom,” he’d walk up one day and say, “You know, I got this little song. I wrote it a year ago,” and it wasn’t particularly written for Animaniacs, but he said, “I think it would be cool for your show.” And so…he played it, and everybody that heard it said, “Yeah, we should have Yakko, we’ve got Rob Paulsen sing this and put it in the show.” He really didn’t have anything to do with any other part of the show, but it was turned into “Yakko’s World.”
Yakko: (sings) United States, Canada, Mexico, Panama / Haiti, Jamaica, Peru / Republic Dominican, Cuba, Carribbean, Greenland, El Salvador, too.
Tom Ruegger: Talk about hits on the Internet. I mean, people remember the show for this song.
Yakko: (sings) Bolivia, then Argentina / And Ecuador, Chile, Brazil. / Costa Rica, Belize…
Tom Ruegger: So once we had Rogel aboard, we said, “Yeah, Randy, you can stay.” (laughs)
Sherri Stoner: And then Rob Paulsen, who was…so amazing, is so, so amazing that he could deliver on the song like that, right? I mean, I’ve seen him do it live, I can’t even believe it. He’s amazing.
Rob Paulsen: (singing as Yakko as the live audience claps along in rhythm) Costa Rica, Belize, Nicaragua, Bermuda / Bahamas, Tobago, San Juan, / Paraguay, Uruguay, Suriname / And French Guiana, Barbados, and Guam.
NC: I actually tried memorizing that song when I was a kid. I don’t recall doing well, I think I got up to…Canada, but…yeah, it’s obviously a very well-written song.
Sherri Stoner: My son took the AP History test, and he said kids in the class were singing the Presidents Song before the test, so I thought that was pretty funny.
Wakko: (sings) John Tyler he liked country folk.
Dot: (sings) And after him came President Polk.
Yakko: (sings) Zachary Taylor liked to smoke / His breath killed friends whenever he spoke.
Sherri Stoner: Then it became once we saw how Tom saw how successful he was at the first one, then it just became, “Well, let’s let Randy, you know, name all the planets, so let’s let, you know, [him] name all the molecules, and…” I don’t know what I’m saying, but you know what I mean?
Tom Ruegger: So then we were…we would literally throw Randy a song idea, like “How about, like, you know…you ever been stoned, Randy?” I don’t think Randy has ever been stoned, but you know, “But when you kind of play the universe, Randy, you know, like, like…the whole universe could be on the head of a pin,” you know, and so then, he wrote “Yakko’s Universe,” which I think is just a beautiful song.
Yakko: (sings) ‘Cause there’s a hundred billion galaxies that stretch across the sky/ Filled with constellations, planets, moons and stars / And still, the universe extends to a place that never ends / Which is maybe just inside a little jar!
Paul Rugg: He really took it to the next level about, you know, what a song for “Animaniacs” is gonna be, and then Deanna…I think she did a whole “Goodfeathers” parody that was all singing and stuff. That was not my…I couldn’t even…oh…I just made my head hurt.
Sherri Stoner: With “Les Miseranimal,” that was Deanna Oliver who did that, and she was very familiar with the musical, obviously.
Monsieur Thernardier (from the Les Miserables 10th Anniversary Concert): Master of the House, doling out the charm / Ready with a handshake and an open palm.
Tristesse (from the “Les Miseranimals” segment): Bitten in the butt / Got an awful tear / Took a little nibble from my derriere!
NC: Now, how on earth did you guys get Bernadette Peters? Because that wasn’t just a walk-on cameo. That was one of the main characters. She’s in the opening credits, and she’s pretty much a goddess of Broadway. I mean, she was huge!
Tom Ruegger: I think…honestly, I mean…I think Steven Spielberg’s name carries a lot of clap.
Paul Rugg: Andrea Romano and Tom Ruegger sort of had talked about it and said, “You know, she would be great. Boy, if only we could get her.” And then everyone was like, “Ah! Steven!”
Sherri Stoner: I know that Andrea Romano was putting it out there to a lot of singers first, and somehow, she got through to Bernadette Peters’ people, and she said yes, which was amazing.
Rita: (sings) At the end of the road is a city of light / The city of romance.
Dog Chorus, Runt and Rita: (sings) We’ll eat, drink, be merry and dance / And with any luck at all we’ll find shelter tonight.
Tom Ruegger: We were very lucky to get her. We would have to, like, get sort of work around her schedule, she would come out once every month and maybe we’d do two or three of her cartoons then, and so she would have to sing, learn, and sing through at least two songs per cartoon. Some of them were, like, ballads and big, whopping songs!
Rita: (sings) There is a flat in Gay Paree / Safe on a tree-lined avenue.
Tom Ruegger: She’s a performer. She didn’t want to do these things like that. (snaps his fingers a couple times) I mean, she needed to, like, hone them.
Sherri Stoner: And then what a treat to actually go into a recording session and actually get to hear her sing in person, ‘cause it’s just astonishing.
Rita: (sings) Out here in the shadow’s end / Out here is a promised land / Out here…
Tom Ruegger: And, you know, some of the performances are almost, like… (places a hand on his heart as though to clutch it) …oh, they’re almost touching, haunting, you know.
Rita: (sings) This place our home.
(NC’s title card “Be Sure to watch Part 3: including Improvising with the Actors” is shown)
(“Part 3” begins)
NC: Paul, I know you and a lot of the writers eventually went on to Freakazoid, and something very interesting that I noticed is that Tiny Toons was very much children-oriented entertainment, Animaniacs was sort of both children and adults, Freakazoid seemed very much surreal odd adult humor, and again, was there sort of a conscious effort to follow the age of your audience as they got older?
Paul Rugg: It could be that we were sort of ready to write that. When Freakazoid came along, I was originally a little hesitant to sort of get into it, because it was a superhero thing, but then once we started writing it and realized it didn’t have to be a superhero kind of thing—it just had to be really weird and fun and dumb—then that’s what we started writing, so I don’t know if it was a conscious decision from anybody, but it just felt like this is what we really feel like writing now.
NC: Tom, I have sort of a weird question—it doesn’t have to relate to much here—but it’s something that’s just driven me nuts for a really, really long time. My favorite cartoon is “Hooked on a Ceiling,” which is where the Warners help Michelangelo paint the Sistine Chapel, and to me, that’s about as perfect as a cartoon as you can get…but why was Michelangelo portrayed as Kirk Douglas?
Michelangelo (in the “Hooked on a Ceiling” segment): Out, you incompetent fools! You call yourselves artists?
NC: Instead of Charleton Heston, who played Michelangelo in “[The] Agony and the Ecstasy,” why Kirk Douglas?
Tom Ruegger: Now, that is a really good question. That is, like, I think, like, the definitive Warners cartoon. It’s, like, a perfect cartoon; it’s beautifully done. You know, here’s my guess: We had this great caricature of Kirk Douglas. We didn’t have such a great drawing of Charleton Heston. Also, the voice for Kirk is so much funnier than Charleton, at least what we were doing Charleton.
Michelangelo (“Hooked on a Ceiling”): (to the Warners) You fools, I’m the great Michelangelo, and this is the Sistine Chapel.
Yakko: Oh, yeah? If you’re so great, what did you do with the other fifteen chapels, huh? Got you there.
Tom Ruegger: The thing had to do with performance and drawing in that case. I guess we could have been parodying the movie closer with Charleton, but, eh. It worked.
NC: After the success at Warner Brothers, all of you, of course, went on to do various different things. What have you been guys up to, like Nate? Did you ever consider going back into voice acting at all?
Nate Ruegger: I did think about going back into voice acting, but then puberty hit, and my voice cracked, and that pretty much killed my career as a child voice actor. Just so you know, they were actually digitally pitching my voice higher at the end of Animaniacs, because my voice had noticeably changed.
Skippy Squirrel (Before): That’s not Bumbie’s Mom. She’s old.
Skippy Squirrel (After, sounding higher): I’m gonna eat peanuts and popcorn and dodger dogs ‘til I barf!
Nate Ruegger: So I guess instead of going back into voice acting, I have been working my way back into Hollywood as a writer/director, and just recently, I finished a short film called Another Life. It’s a neo-noir thriller about a young female veteran who has three days to kill an innocent man or they both die.
NC: …Not a comedy, then.
(A veteran in a clip from Another Life fires)
NC: OK, OK! Not a comedy. So, the rest of you guys. What have you been up to ever since the success of Animaniacs?
Tom Ruegger: I’ve been gardening.
John P. McCann: I’ve been sitting on my laurels mostly. You know, just trying to milk it as much as I can.
Paul Rugg: After Freakazoid, I did a stint with Peter Hastings at Disney, “One Saturday Morning,” and I did a live-action character for him called Manny the Uncanny.
John P. McCann: Often, I ask fans that I made on Facebook and other places for cash or to sign a loan.
Tom Ruegger: I produced and story-edited a show called Animalia for PBS. I did something called “Sushi Pack".
Paul Rugg: You know, I sold a pilot to Nickelodeon. I’m working on Kung Fu Panda.
NC: Wait…Kung Fu Panda? Like the movie?
Paul Rugg: It’s called Legends of Awesomeness. It’s the Nick TV show, so it’s CG, but it’s half-hour stories.
NC: And John, outside of begging your fans, what have you been doing with your time?
John P. McCann: Been writing more short fiction, actually. I’m working on my first novel right now, which is kind of fun.
Tom Ruegger: I pitch a lot of stuff. I’m getting together with a lot of the people you’re interviewing for this to pitch a new show.
NC: And…can I ask what that’s about?
Tom Ruegger: It’s about a flock of… (laughs) vultures. It’s the first, to my knowledge, the first totally improv-ed animated sitcom pilot. I gathered together a couple of very funny actors, Paul Rugg and John McCann, Sherri Stoner and Deanna Oliver, gathered in a recording studio. By the end of the day, they improv-ed an entirely new animated sitcom.
NC: That sounds awesome. I’m gonna support this. I’m going to get behind this show.
Tom Ruegger: I want you to make it happen.
NC: Hey, you think Spielberg’s name carries a lot of cl— The Nostalgia Critic, OK? Household name. Everybody knows me, and Spielberg, like…some people in China know him, I don’t know.
Tom Ruegger: We’re gonna fly you out here, and you’re gonna improv with these people.
NC: That’s right! That’s right. My methods of improv are very…goodish. So, now, how about you, Sherri? What have you been doing with your time?
Sherri Stoner: Well, I’m a mother. (laughs)
NC: Say no more.
Sherri Stoner: I’m working on a couple of projects of my own that hopefully will see the light of day very, very soon.
NC: (teases Sherri) And can you tell us about any of these projects?
Sherri Stoner: (smiles) No.
NC: Oh, BOOOO! Come on, Tom told us about his improv-ing vultures!
Sherri Stoner: Oh! Well, see…well…he’s tricky.
NC: All right, all right, but because of that, you got to start everybody off by saying who’s your favorite character on Animaniacs.
Sherri Stoner: Well, it has to be Slappy. (laughs) I don’t…I mean, I can’t be sort of self-loathing if I didn’t say Slappy in a way, would it?
Nate Ruegger: Well, Skippy Squirrel’s the best, obviously. I made him the best.
Tom Ruegger: Probably Yakko.
John P. McCann: Probably Yakko.
Nate Ruegger: I have to go with Yakko. I know a lot of other people like Yakko; it might be prosaic.
Paul Rugg: I’m gonna go with Wakko.
NC: Alright, and technically, the last question I’m gonna ask you guys is, uh, what’s your favorite episode that any of you have worked on?
Paul Rugg: I like “Cookies for Einstein,” because I was desperate to find a way to end it, and my wife suggested that “Acme” backwards was sort of like “e=mc^2,” so I sort of like that one.
Sherri Stoner: I think I have two. One is “Bumbie’s Mom,” and the other would be “Bubba Bo Bob Brain.”
Tom Ruegger: I really have to name my favorite?
NC: Yes. And you only have five seconds! (Tom laughs) Five, four, three, two, one!
Tom Ruegger: I’d say it’s a toss-up between “Woodstock Slappy” and “Star Warners.”
NC: You still don’t win the car.
John P. McCann: I really enjoyed “Space Probed,” you know. I love science fiction, and I was able to include a lot of the films that I really like.
Nate Ruegger: I think episode 85 that has the two-note song where Wakko is trying to convince Dr. Scratchandsniff that you can still make music out of just two notes. In this song, there’s this child-like joy and wonder in finding beauty in even the simplest music.
NC: Now, there’s two more people I will like to talk to if I can. Paul, I would like to talk with Mr. Director. Is it possible to speak with him?
Paul Rugg: (as Mr. Director in a deep voice) Absolutely. Absolutely.
NC: Mr. Director, in your professional opinion, what is the secret of comedy?
Paul Rugg: (as Mr. Director in a deep voice) Timing. Timing, good coffee, many words that the people you’re talking to don’t really understand is an affectation of brilliance that you exeunt from your own pores to cause the others to be flattered with your perspiration.
NC: Now, I’m also wondering—
Paul Rugg: (as Mr. Director, speaking like Jerry Lewis in a shrill voice) SO YOU UNDERSTANDING WHAT I’M SAYING? (NC cracks a smile) YOU’RE GETTING IT? BECAUSE I’M TRYING TO TALK, AND YOU’RE NOT—THERE’S NOTHIN’ THERE! Go ahead…part.
NC: (with a cracked smile on his face) Mr. Director, um, directing is obviously in your name, but I have to admit, I haven’t seen any of the films that you have worked on. What are some of the films that you’ve directed?
Paul Rugg: (as Mr. Director in a deep voice) The Tin Boy. It was about a boy who was tin, and a rust came, and it was very sad.
Paul Rugg: (as Mr. Director) Schmeckula. I don’t know if you saw that. It was a Jewish vampire. I don’t know if you saw that. Very good [film]. The Glass People, Schlumkin — Schlumkin was good—and Bushkablibbin.
NC: …How’d that last one go again?
Paul Rugg: (as Mr. Director) Here, say it with me. Say “Bush”…
Paul Rugg: (as Mr. Director) “Ka”…
Paul Rugg: (as Mr. Director) “Blibbin.”
Paul Rugg: (as Mr. Director) “Bushkablibbin.”
NC: …Could you give me a plot synopsis on that one, by any chance?
Paul Rugg: (as Mr. Director) Bushkablibbin, yes. There was a man made of dough.
NC: Oh. (nods)
Paul Rugg: (as Mr. Director) He was formed in the oven, much like a creator or God would form you, and he was made of dough. But his arm was, because of a baking accident or something, his arm was backwards from the rest of his body, and this caused him to be mocked, to be ridiculed, and so, it’s about him finding someone to chew his arm off.
NC: …Wow, that-that’s very moving. I gotta say…
Paul Rugg: (as Mr. Director) No.
NC: Nono, I was touched. I was touched by that.
Paul Rugg: (as Mr. Director, interrupting NC) You don’t have to be impressed with it. I’m just—that’s just the first three pages.
NC: Oh, really?
Paul Rugg: (as Mr. Director) After that, there’s a war… (NC laughs)…he goes through a fairyland where there are fireballs, and he’s eventually reformed in a new dough and is made whole.
NC: This is sounding like a fairytale from Tommy Wiseau.
Paul Rugg: (as Mr. Director) I won an award in Cleveland.
NC: No kidding! And what was that called?
Paul Rugg: (as Mr. Director) The Award of Cleveland. (NC laughs) I’m not saying it was clever, but that’s what it was called; The Award of Cleveland for that. “That” being my movie.
NC: Now, Mr. Director, I recall a character—a clown, specifically—who was hired to terrorize Wakko at one point. And I must say he bares an unbelievable likeness to you; he even has a very similar voice.
Clown (in the “Clown and Out” segment): (holds a balloon animal) Hello, I’m a puppy, barklevenwoof!
NC: Distant relative, or…?
Paul Rugg: (as Mr. Director) Which is very interesting here, and I will tell this to no one else.
Paul Rugg: (as Mr. Director) I had a desperate time. Things were not working well for me. I was in foreclosure on a boat that I lived on, and in order to pay the bills…I hate to admit this, I had to do that part. And that was actually me, but in hindsight, I think it was brilliant. There was talk of me winning an Emmy, but I didn’t, because…I didn’t, but there was talk of it.
NC: And, uh, did he ever have any temptations about returning to the clownhood?
Paul Rugg: (as Mr. Director) To the clownhood?
NC: Yeah. It’s not a gang film starring Bozo. I’ve obstained to the—
Paul Rugg: (as Mr. Director) I mean, to me, singing songs, (sings higher pitched like Jerry Lewis) “Being SILLY! MAKING A LAUGH!” (speaks in a deep voice again) See? Just when you mention it there, (sings like Jerry Lewis) You BRING IT OUT OF MEEEEE! (speaks in a deep voice) So, excuse me, but that had to come out. Sorry.
NC: It’s cool. I wouldn’t know nothing about sudden impulses. (He holds up a skull upside down and drinks from it while firing a gun into the air multiple times before putting both objects down) Now, Mr. Director, very last question. Uh, in your opinion—again, your professional opinion—what is funny? What is the absolute bare essence of funny?
Paul Rugg: (as Mr. Director) Alright, here’s…go with me on a thought experiment.
Paul Rugg: (as Mr. Director) You’re in the jungle. There’s an elephant, and it’s chasing you. The elephant knocks you to the ground. (He tries to think up something else to say as NC waits for him to speak) I’m still going with this.
NC: (speaks simultaneously) Oh, I’m with you. I’m totally with you, man. I’m on board.
Paul Rugg: (as Mr. Director, speaking simultaneously) It’s just brilliant. It’s the most brilliant that you can understand. Repeat after me: “I’m in the jungle.”
NC: I’m in the jungle.
Paul Rugg: (as Mr. Director) “An elephant’s chasing me.”
NC: An elephant is chasing me.
Paul Rugg: (as Mr. Director) “It knocked me down.”
NC: It knocked me down.
Paul Rugg: (as Mr. Director) And then it makes a poop. (NC laughs) That’s pretty much, so you didn’t expect it, did you? (speaks simultaneously with NC) You expect something maybe to be, but then it poops a poop, and for me…
NC: (speaks simultaneously) N-No, I would not be, but then, a pooping elephant, yeah, I have to admit I did not see that coming.
Paul Rugg: (as Mr. Director) That’s comedy.
NC: Thank you so much, Mr. Director. I can see why they call you a genius.
Paul Rugg: (as Mr. Director) Thank you!
NC: Now, uh, Sherri…is there any chance we can talk to Slappy Squirrel for a moment?
Sherri Stoner: I’ll do my best! OK… (speaks like Slappy Squirrel) Yeah?
NC: Slappy, what has happened with cartoons nowadays? I mean, they don’t just seem as funny as they were in the old days.
Sherri Stoner: (as Slappy) Yeah, they’re no good. I’ll tell you why. They’re hiring hacks to be in them. A bunch of prima donna hacks that don’t know how to take any dynamite to the head. Nobody’s falling down anymore, nobody’s getting hurt. They just stand there going “Yack, yack, yack, yack, yack.” When’s the last time that Family Guy got hit on the head with a mallet? You ain’t gonna see it.
NC: Now, Slappy, you’ve obviously known a lot of cartoon characters and have gotten the dirt on them, a good chunk of them. Tell me, who was the most shocking that you ever had to work with?
Sherri Stoner: (as Slappy) Judy Jetson.
NC: Really? I wouldn’t have guessed that.
Sherri Stoner: (as Slappy) Yeah, Judy Jetson was a handful to make Lindsay Lohan look like Shirley Temple. You know what I’m talking about? She was a mess, a nightmare, never wore underpants.
NC: No kidding! (laughs) I’ll have to watch more of “The Jetsons.” Now, we all know that Olive Oyl has never been the same ever since her breast reduction, but what I’m wondering is, did any of that have to do with Popeye’s spinach abuse? Did you know the couple well? Was there any truth to these rumors?
Sherri Stoner: (as Slappy) It was sad, really. You know, poor Olive Oyl. Well, nowadays, they would have probably put her in some sort of rehab facility for eating disorders, but in her day, it was just, “Lose weight! It’s funny! Lose weight! It’s funny!” you know? “Turn sideways, can’t see you,” that sort of thing. And the poor girl went for it. She finally went invisible completely. No one’s heard of her.
NC: I’ve always suspected that Woody Woodpecker was a pill popper. Was there any suspicion that he had an addictive personality?
Sherri Stoner: (as Slappy) Yeah, he was a wood addict. Oak.
NC: Oh! Well, that’s tragic.
Sherri Stoner: (as Slappy) Couldn’t get enough of the stuff. We used to call him a little pecker. (NC laughs) He was, too.
NC: Slappy, what do you think about cartoon characters nowadays? Like…I don’t know, what do you think about Spongebob?
Sherri Stoner: (as Slappy) Now, you know, I adore that Spongebob. What a nice kid. He’s written so many fan letters. He once camped out on my lawn, you know. He’s almost a stalker, really. He’s a very, very nice guy, and very subdued in real life, very calm. Very Zen, you know? He’s a Buddhist.
NC: (laughs) I did not know that.
Sherri Stoner: (as Slappy) One of the wisest individuals I’ve ever met. Very nice.
NC: Slappy, you have a nephew named Skippy, and you two obviously spend a lot of time together, but it almost seems like he’s living with you. You’re practically taking care of him. Uh…where are his parents?
Sherri Stoner: (as Slappy) They’re on sabbatical.
NC: Is that so? Wow!
Sherri Stoner: (as Slappy) They went on a cruise shortly after Skippy was born, and they haven’t returned. They’re seeing the world, seeing the sights, living the high life…we don’t speak much, but they’re very kind people.
NC: Yeah, they sound real attentive there. They sound like real caring people, I must say.
Sherri Stoner: (as Slappy) They send me a check every month.
NC: Now, Slappy, I got one last question for you. Are you aware of a woman named Sherri Stoner?
Sherri Stoner: (as Slappy) Yes.
NC: What were your impressions of her?
Sherri Stoner: (as Slappy) She’s very tiny.
NC: (laughs) And that’s all I got. Guys, thank you so much for doing this. This was just so freaking awesome.
Tom Ruegger: One final thing. (stands up from his chair) I just want you to be able to, uh, see that…you know, we won a bunch of Emmys, so, uh…you know, what do you do with these things? (He looks behind him to gesture toward a wheelbarrow) So what we did was we planted a couple, and we got a crop. (He goes over the wheelbarrow as NC looks up to see what he’s doing) I don’t know if you can see this.
NC: Oh, wow! Yeah! That’s…
Tom Ruegger: (brings over a wheelbarrow full of Emmy Award trophies) So, you know, we bring in this crop every year.
NC: That’s a very impressive crop!
Tom Ruegger: So, and then we, uh…you know, at Halloween, we hand them out, because, you know, what do you do with them? (NC laughs) We’re gonna ship out a load of these to you, Nostalgia Critic, as soon as we can.
NC: Thank you! A Tom Ruegger Emmy. I’ll put that right next to my Roger Ebert Twitter. Guys, thank you so much for doing this. This is just a dream come true. I love Animaniacs, I love the work you guys put into it, I think it’s a wonderful show, I really think it holds up, thank you all for doing this again…I have one last question, and that question is for Nate. Nate, I know it’s been several years ago, but I simply gotta ask. (He pauses before acting giddy) Can you say “Water go down the hooooole”?
Nate Ruegger: Oh, my God, man. (He does a facepalm and sighs) You really want me to say that? You really want me to say that again?
NC: (acts giddy) Yes, yes, say “Water go down the hoooooole”!
Nate Ruegger: I’m 26 years old. It’s been 17 years. I’m a grown man.
NC: (points to the camera) FUCK THE FACT THAT YOU’RE A GROWN MAN! JUST SAY THE LINE! Go on, say it! Say it! SAY IIIIIITTTT!!!!
Nate Ruegger: Water go down the hooooooole!
NC: (laughs like an idiot for a bit before calming down; Nate doesn’t look amused) That was wonderful. (He laughs a bit more) Now say it while wearing a diaper.
Nate Ruegger: No chance in hell. (He gets up to leave his room)
NC: Nate? Nate, where are you going? Don’t you run away from me! I’m supporting your dad’s weird vulture idea! Nate! NATE! NAAAAAATTTEE!! You fluffy-tailed bastard! I’ll get you for this! (points to the camera and speaking like Zod from Superman II) YOU WILL SAY THAT LINE WHILE WEARING A DIAPER! FIRST YOU, AND THEN ONE DAY, YOUR HEIRS! (Pauses while looking disappointed) Awww, interview go down the hoooooole.
Channel Awesome Tagline—
Nate Ruegger: Water go down the hoooooole!