Brad Neely, cartoonist, animator and Adult Swim showrunner, is acutely aware of how long he’s been in the game. I mentioned I’d been watching his shows for 10 years, and he laughed, sheepishly. “Oof, that’s great,” Neely said. “But man, that makes me feel old.” Wizard People, his infamous, hilarious re-dubbing of a Harry Potter film, was released in 2004.
It’s frustrating to hear that a guy whose entire career has been about crafting his own access to an audience — illegally dubbing his comedy and screening the remade film, or uploading musical animation to YouTube — has stalled in trying to get his album into the open, asking hands of his dedicated fans.
Though his first series for Adult Swim, China, IL, debuted to critical success, and his new series Brad Neely’s Harg’ Nallin Sclopio Peepio is about to premiere on the network, Neely says it’s difficult to satisfy his teeming brain, and the subject of an album weighs on him.
“I can never shut the door on doubt, especially regarding myself. Just talking about this stuff feels embarrassing. Like, ‘old man tries to be a rock star’?” I reminded him how of frantic and devoted his fanbase is — most of us loved him as a YouTube creator, and his original t-shirts, which he released through his Creased Comics website, sold out almost immediately. To fans of alt-comedy and adult animation, he is a rock star. But the subject of fandom seemed to ruffle him too. We talked with Neely recently about the new show, religion, George Clooney’s floating space corpse, and more.
Do you feel annoyed when fans repeat Frank’s quotes back to you?
Actually, no one does that to me. I think they’re afraid of me. It happens at Comic Con, sometimes, I mean, people do the voice, but I think I just exude such hate most of the time that people pick up on it, using some super-dimensional wavelength.
I really don’t hate it when it happens. It makes me happy that I’ve made something that could be picked up by people. When I was younger, and not making things of my own, of course I imitated Cartman and Homer Simpson. I understand it, but I just don’t know what to do in response.
There’s nothing I can say, I just say “hey man, thats very good”, even though it’s not at all. It’s like a child showing you a picture they did, allegedly of you, but it’s not even a cohesive shape, it’s just lines and squiggles. I just say, “that’s great!”
I can’t go, “ah, well, that’s a little too low”, or give them notes on the voices.
You know, next time someone does Frank’s voice at me, I’m just gonna start weeping like I’ve seen God.
That’s funny that you say God. My dad is a pretty religious guy, and he loves the lectures you animated, when Frank is talking about Sodom and Gomorrah. What’s with your interest in religious texts?
I’m still into it! I’m not really anti-religious person. I’m not really anti-anything. I’m just anti-hate, you know? Everything else is just a matter of opinion.
But religious texts, yeah, I grew up going to different churches as a kid, and Im a rather gullible person, and as a kid I took everything that was said to me at an extreme level. Heaven, hell, the do’s and don’t of being alive. Honestly, I still have a hard time shaking that. I still have a lot of that uh, that…religious-osity. Is that a word?
If I was filling out a form, I’d probably say I wasn’t religious, but I’m a doubtful person. I know there isn’t real truth to these things, but maybe a person like your dad is picking up on my ambivalence. I like to think I’m irreverent without using a hateful tone.
So, you as a kid. Is that where you found Queeblo, or the girls singing about buying beer and riding bikes in the first episode of ‘Harg Nallin’’?
That’s the neighborhood I came from, so that’s probably true. Just, not getting a whole lot of help in defining what a youth is supposed to do with their time. Trying to figure out, like, how to navigate this animal world we live in, just getting drinks, riding bikes and skateboarding around, that was just…
When people think about the good old days, that’s my good old days as a kid, so I tap back into it for a person like Queeblo. I did work at a Michael’s, in the back with the boxes, so that’s where that came from.
And those girls riding the bikes, yeah, I had that for a long time in my back pocket. That’s Mary Elizabeth Winstead singing that song, so I thought, “I have to use it now.”
So you presented that idea to your writers room for this show. Do you ever feel self-conscious introducing new ideas to the group? You used to write and animate all of your stuff, so I bet that’s different.
Not really, I think that’s one of the prerequisites for building a writing team. I mean, if I am self-conscious, I just sort of stick that feeling away somewhere. I keep a running list of ideas throughout my life, and if the occasion arises, I can pull from that.
One of the things we did for this writers’ room, and we did it with China, too, was to generate a list of starter ideas. We get like fifty things going, and people can make notes.
Often, once we’re in the room, there are a few obvious favorites that every writer likes. There’s universally maligned ideas too. I feel like, to overcome that anxiety, you have to overshoot it.
Shannon and Chris at Titmouse told me you created hundreds of new characters for this new show. Is that true?
There’s literally hundreds of new bits in Harg Nallin’. I wrote 600 bits and recorded a majority of them, and I think 300 of those got into this season. If nothing else, it’s just a mountain of content and I hope that’ll be a reason to watch, just by itself. It’s a constant restart, here’s something new, and here’s something else new.
Was it freeing, to write a sketch show this time around, rather than building out the larger story like you did in ‘China, IL’?
It’s a little scary, actually, but “freeing” is kind of what we’ve been saying. We’ve been saying it’s freeing. It’s a different muscle you have to use, to build an extended narrative, and in production, it’s harder to track a story and the causality that has to occur in 22 minutes.
The whole team is like, “Oh shit, he’s still got that red shirt on,” five minutes into animating. It’s like, “fuck!” so we got worn out on that process.
On the other hand, it feels like George Clooney in Gravity, working on a sketch show and floating out into space, untethered. I don’t have any idea if we need anything.
That does sound scary.
You know, I bet that’s just George Clooney’s life all the time, floating around space.
Do you miss Steve and Frank at all?
When we started doing Harg Nallin’, we were not aware that we wouldn’t continue doing China. We were gonna have some bits with them, I mean, Babycakes does show up a couple times in this show.
We actually had a Pony bit that we had to cut because it was so nasty. It was gonna be beyond our TV-MA rating.
There’s things that I miss about them, but also, that’s not the type of creator I am. I don’t just do one thing.
Do you like working with teams, on Adult Swim and with Titmouse? How is that different from producing ‘Wizard People, Dear Reader’ or the Professor Brothers?
They help me express what I’m trying to express in the cleanest, fastest way possible. It’s good, having someone see what youre doing and asking, “were you going for this? Maybe if your character just had a little frowny face right there, that would help.” That kind of stuff.
When I was by myself, I’d send my friend at SuperDeluxe things, and he was the only person commenting. But then, we were young and we didn’t care, and it was the internet.