For comedy nerds and insomniacs, Adult Swim has been a hub for a long list of unforgettable, often nauseating, and sometimes profound moments during the course of its 15-year history. It began with Space Ghost and continued through the years in both live action and animation, from Tim and Eric and The Eric Andre Show to Rick and Morty.
Last week, we ranked every single show in the network’s history, which was definitive and without room for negotiation or debate. Now, we want to dive deeper, looking at some of the characters that have helped the network achieve its iconic status. Here are the 25 most important characters, a list that is also not subject to review or conversation.
25. Granny from Squidbillies
You know that Adult Swim needs to improve its representation of women when we resort to giving Granny from Squidbillies on our iconic characters list. Squidbillies, like most Adult Swim shows, sports and overwhelmingly male cast to the point where the presence of a female character at all, much less one as forceful as Granny, can be considered iconic.
24. Dr. Blake Downs from Children’s Hospital
23. Meatwad from Aqua Teen Hunger Force
22. Morty from Rick and Morty
Morty began as a thin animated reimagining of Marty McFly from Back to the Future, and has since evolved into one of the most complex characters that the Dan Harmon series has ever produced. Dragged along with his mad scientist grandfather Rick, the little kid and straight man is forced to come of age as he’s being shaped by his sociopathic grandfather while keeping the peace between his often troubled parents and sister Summer. Morty is a stabilizing force amidst the chaos of the series, and some of its best moments arise from his tension and stress erupting into a shrieked-out meltdown.
23. Hannibal Buress from The Eric Andre Show
20. Brak from Space Ghost Coast to Coast
All hail Brak! While the Space Ghost character, who was seemingly brught to life via just a few 1960s-era animated cels, was the fourth-billed in the series after Space Ghost, Moltar, and Zorak, he was the only breakout star deemed worthy of a spin-off. In his original incarnation, Brak was the beautiful dummy that pipes in with a sweet soft-brained comments to interrupt the emotionally violent dynamic between Space Ghost and Zorak. In The Brak Show, this bizarre innocence leaned into full force. Please, for your own mental health, watch Freddie Prinze Jr. and Brak singing on the highway.
19. Black Debbie from Sealab 2021
18. Master Shake from Aqua Teen Hunger Force
It wouldn’t be an Adult Swim list without a nod to Aqua Teen Hunger Force, the animated juggernaut that both inspired a series of anthropomorphic gross-out shows (see: Squidbillies, Super Jail!) and once generated a bomb scare. Shakey is the most recognizable character from the franchise and the leader of the show, and love him or hate him, he’s one of the most instantly recognizable cartoon characters of the last several decades.
17. Eric Wareheim from Tim and Eric
16. Brenda Richie from The Boondocks
15. Xavier from Xavier: Renegade Angel
Xavier the Renegade Angel is a remarkable character primarily because of his scattershot nature and personality that seems to have been generated by a faulty computer algorithm. If you’ve never seen Xavier, fix that, but just be aware that it’s unlikely that the ripped fallen angel who’s incredibly violent and inexplicably has a beak will ever be much more than a gorgeous abstract concept to viewers. But, you know, we like it that way.
14. Black Jesus from Black Jesus
13. Chris Monsanto from Eagleheart
Chris Elliott is one of the most under-appreciated comedic talents of the past 30-odd years (his one-man tribute to FDR is maybe one of the best things I’ve seen in my goddamn life, making Eagleheart a treat from start to finish. Chris Monsanto is a ‘70s cop caricature stretched to its furthest limits, and the tone of the show perfectly matches the brink-of-insanity characters that Elliott thrives in. Just, please, watch the show, and thanks very much.
12. Melissa Robbins from Home Movies
11. Jon from Delocated
10. Rick from Rick and Morty
9. Paula Small from Home Movies
Home Movies is one of Adult Swim’s earliest masterpieces, relying less on the shock humor of the early aughts and more on exploring adult themes in cartoons. While the series focuses primarily on young boy Brendon Small, the real champion of the series is single mother Paula Small, whose low-income struggle and desire to build a life for her son while being personally fulfilled as well is one of the more compelling portions of the show, even if it doesn’t receive as much screentime as a Home Movies A plot. Through Paula we see the struggles of holding down a job, paying bills and dating with a young child at home, and all the insecurities that come with it. She’s an outlier in the Adult Swim catalog, and a quiet strength that drives the series.
8. Dr. Venture from The Venture Brothers
7. Space Ghost from Space Ghost: Coast to Coast
6. Huey Freeman from The Boondocks
Huey Freeman isn’t just the child wunderkind that drove The Boondocks as a comic strip and a series, he’s the most impressive satirical character the network has ever produced. Boondocks served as Adult Swim’s earliest foray in building a show around a black family and commenting on society’s less pleasant realities; white flight and gentrification dominated the plotlines, which were more sensitive and complicated than almost anything else that’s aired on the channel. Huey introduces a kid’s perspective to these issues and we see in him a capable, highly intelligent young character whose rightful anger against the systematic oppression built into his mostly white neighborhood shapes his motivation and personality as the series goes on.
5. Summer Smith from Rick and Morty
One of the trickiest parts about approaching Adult Swim as a fan is its well-known woman problem. Not only are there next to no female showrunners or writers present at the channel, there’s also a massive dearth of female characters to look up to. Enter Summer Smith, one of the few and the proud. She’s Morty’s older sister and Rick’s granddaughter on Rick and Morty, and she serves as the voice of reason (and, well, tattletale) on the show. It’d be easier to use Summer’s character as nothing but an insufferable nag, Summer just as often acts as the motivator for the trippy interdimensional adventures the show hinges its success on.
4. Tim Heidecker, in everything
Tim and Eric may have started as a package deal, but Heidecker has since broken off into his own series of spinoffs, most notably last year’s Decker: Unclassified and his long-running podcast and occasional live show On Movies with Neil Hamburger. Heidecker thrives in unsympathetic portraits of the pathetic and underqualified, each of them without a measure of self-awareness. Whether it’s his new incompetent Decker character, his adamant and clueless movie fan character, or any of the weirdos featured on Tim and Eric, Awesome Show! Great Job! and Tim and Eric’s Bedtime Stories, Heidecker’s work has comprised about a quarter of the network’s programming for the past ten years and served as the spark behind the live-action Renaissance Adult Swim is currently going through.
3. Zorak from Space Ghost Coast to Coast
The sudden passing of C. Martin Croker last year hit the Adult Swim brand hard, as the animator and voice actor was responsible for the better part of Space Ghost: Ghost to Coast, the title character’s evil hostage sidekicks Moltar the lava man and Zorak, a massive insect with a hoarse voice.
Zorak is unquestionably the funniest character on the show (Brak fans stand down), serving as Space Ghost’s band leader and substituting the normal sarcastic humor of the sidekick and replacing it with complete and utter contempt. Some of my favorite Zorak interruptions: “I’m coppin’ and attitude!,” “I’m Egyptian!,” “I smell bad!,” usually followed by Space Ghost’s classic zapping Zorak using the recycled footage from the original 1960s Space Ghost show. Zorak is all confidence and spite in a way we call are just beneath the surface, saying that he likes to do “nothing” and is good at “everything.” Honestly, same.
2. Eric Andre from The Eric Andre Show
Before The Eric Andre Show, all the general public knew about the comedian was a series of underwhelming network TV parts and guest appearances. What lay beneath was an agent of chaos that has reshaped the direction of Adult Swim entirely, honed to perfection alongside sidekick Hannibal Burress in The Eric Andre Show. While the show itself is a talk show parody cranked up to 11, the physical and emotional commitment of Andre himself is core to the show’s success; whether he’s blasting through yet another piece of drywall or making the studio reek of fish to keep his guests on edge, the titular character keeps the show teetering between silliness and complete bedlam.
1. Steve Brule from Check it Out! with Dr. Steve Brule
If Tim and Eric, Awesome Show! Great Job! is one of the most iconic Adult Swim shows ever to be broadcast, Steve Brule is their piece de resistance. Brule has not only inspired his own long-running spin-off but captured the tone of the Tim and Eric brand at times better than the eponymous performers themselves. John C. Reilly gives the performance of his career (yeah, I said it) as Dr. Steve Brule, the sweet, misguided and occasionally unhinged public access non-doctor giving viewers tips “for your health,” and it’s a masterful balance of absurdity and, you could argue, a tragic clown.