Interview: 'The Boondocks' creator Aaron McGruder
Thu, 05 Jun 2008 17:16:48
The Boondocks creator Aaron McGruder is one smart dude. With the highly acclaimed show, he's crafted a sharp, incisive, and hilarious jeremiad that explores politics, social issues, and hip hop through the lenses of two young African American brothers, Huey and Riley. The animated show (first season DVD) is based on McGruder's award-winning comic strip of the same name, and he's now two seasons deep into a partnership with Cartoon Network's Adult Swim. The second season (due on DVD June 10, 2008) finds main characters Huey and Riley at their funniest and most endearing yet. While in Los Angeles, McGruder took some time to sit down with ARTISTdirect for an exclusive interview about Boondocks. He talks about the balance the show strikes, hip hop, and much more.
It feels like the show evolved a lot during the second season. The characters feel further developed. How do you feel like it’s progressed?
I think it progressed in every way that a show can progress. We learned a lot from doing the first season. It's hard to apply what you learn in the middle of a season. You make all of the decisions up front, and then you just have to live with them. So you're not really able to make adjustments until the new season comes along. I think you're seeing that we learned a lot more about how to get the show done. It's funnier. The actors are more comfortable with their characters, and certainly, the animation has improved very much. So I agree with you.
Would you say that Huey and Riley have grown up as well?
Not so much. We made some alterations to the art style, and that's made people think we were aging the characters. We're not though. I think they transitioned better to T.V. on the second season. They just worked better. It's what we were going for, but we really didn't know how to do it the first time around [Laughs].
The back story has become more vivid. An example of that is the episode about "Catcher Freeman."
That was fun. Trying to tackle that episode was the biggest headache that we had this season. At the end of the day, I think it came out cool. I don't want to always stay in the same place in a season. I'm looking for ways to break out and tell a different story. It's tough, because it's murder on the art department when you're doing an episode that takes place in a completely new environment. That means everything has to be drawn new. You can't just reuse the stuff that you normally had around the neighborhood. We can't do too many of those, but it's always fun when we can.
The first episode where the kids go to the movies is hilarious. It was the perfect way to kick things off.
Thank you. That's actually one of my favorites of the season as well. I think you get to see all of the main characters doing what they do. We're normally doing that to focus on one or two characters in particular. I think that episode gives a good sample of everybody.
Plus, the fact that they're stuck in one location makes the characters stand out even more.
Right, I love the fight at the end of that episode, too!
The rap world has become more seamlessly integrated into the show with the cameos from Lil Wayne and Snoop Dogg. Was that a goal from the beginning?
Once the rappers knew the show, it was a lot easier to get them on there. Some of them actually approached us. Then it just involved finding a way to make their inclusion organic to the show. I thought it was cool the way that it worked. The rappers are cool. I was really impressed by everyone. Lil Wayne was really funny. He was good. He really got into it. He was really easy to work with. None of us had ever met him, and we didn't know what to expect. He was cool, man. He's a fan of the show, and he just threw himself into it. He had ad-libs and great timing. He's a great performer. Snoop was on. Busta Rhymes was on. Ghostface Killah was on. Mos Def comes back as Gangstalicious. Cee-Lo from Gnarls Barkley was fantastic as Reverend Good Low. He had a very challenging part. He did really well.
They brought life to the characters. Their onstage personas are so vibrant that their charisma translated well in the animated realm.
I think so, too. That was fun.
You have a lot of reverence for the hip hop culture, but at the same time, you pose some questions about it. You show the intelligence inherent in rap, as well as exploring the downsides of the genre.
Yeah, that's the point. We grew up with hip hop. It's certainly got a big cultural influence, and it's a big deal. Yet, we've lived with it for so long, and we've seen it change. It's still different from what we do politically in the comic strip. You look at society and you're poking holes, not because you hate it, but because you can see where people really need to ask themselves, "What's going on?" Socially and politically, there's so much stupidity out there, and people overlook it or they accept it. I think what the show tries to do is point those things out and make us think about them, even if it's only in our own minds.
You deliver these views and observations in a very funny and palatable manner, too.
Nobody would watch the show if all we did was propose points of view [laughs]. It's a tough balance, because you're trying to pack as much humor in as you possibly can, which usually means ignorance, and still get some intelligent point across. Sometimes, it can feel like you're engaging in some of the stupidity that you're making fun of. The truth is, I think we earn ourselves all of the juvenile humor with the points we're trying to make. In the second season, we were certainly aware of trying to be a little less preachy and really trying to work in the points a little more subtly, at least in some of the cases. We tried to make the show more fun, too. You can say whatever you want about it, but the show has to be fun.
Well, the show is often so funny that you have to watch it again, because you miss jokes due to laughing so much.
Oh, that's nice. I appreciate that. I see each of these episodes three million times, so I know where all the jokes are [laughs]. I've caught all of them at this point.
Other shows have setup children for conduits of social commentary, especially South Park. Cartman functions as the profane prophet in some respects. In Boondocks you've got two kids that function as the voice of reason.
I think Boondocks is a very different show from the other animated shows that are on. I tried to keep it close in spirit to what the strip was. The strip was always Huey and Riley. South Park tackles issues right up to the minute. We have to talk about broader issues, because we're so far away from the air dates. The episodes are written almost a year away from airing. It's like looking into the future and hoping it'll still make sense. It's nuts. That actually is something I'm happy about. The show is different, and I didn't want to do something that everyone else had done. We keep trying.
Is there anything included on the Season 2 DVD that you're particularly excited about?
I'm just happy the banned episodes are on there. They could've not been on there. That was the whole ordeal of them being banned. I'm glad Sony threw them on there. They really are heavier episodes. They were really good. They did have a pretty strong point, and now the world will get to see them.