On the first evening our conversation was scheduled for, I was scrambling to get organized. Let’s not make this a pattern, David. This man has created one of the most outstanding and exceptional animated series of the year, so let’s show some respect.
To my luck and disappointment, I discovered I was not alone in my lack of preparedness. The gentleman I was set to speak with needed to reschedule.
A week passed. I was greeted by a familiar voice. Perhaps I had heard it before on Gravity Falls, Adventure Time, or most recently on Rick and Morty, or perhaps it was familiar because he and I are merely aspects of a single, timeless organism made up of all the motion and energy in the multiverse. No matter. The host of this temporary flesh vessel was none other than the great…
David Luna: How often do you draw?
Justin Roiland: Not as much as I used to. I always say I need to be drawing more than I do. I go through periods where I’ll spend full days drawing for weeks at a time, and then I just won’t draw for months and months and months. When I’m working on Rick and Morty, the drawing is mainly characters or scenarios that I’m drawing on the dry erase board to illustrate or reinforce a pitch or an idea or a character or whatever. The thing I don’t do often enough is comics—just freestyle, freeform, even if they’re bad. I used to keep idea/sketchbooks constantly. It’s kind of sad because the digital world has sort of completely taken over that. Like now I have Evernote on my phone, and then I’ve got my Cintique, and I’ve been just drawing stuff on the dry erase board and then taking pictures of it on my phone.
DL: A lot of people involved with Farscape have had guest appearances on Rick and Morty. Are there people you’ve tried to get on the show but couldn’t? And if you could have absolutely anybody’s voice to your disposal, who would you want on your show?
JR: Season 1, we tried to get David Bowie. It was a very pie in the sky, very unlikely thing, but we were like, “You can never be told no if you don’t ask.” And that didn’t happen, obviously. We got very lucky with Season 1. For the most part, everybody we really wanted ended up coming through and happening. Going into Season 2, again David Bowie; we’re going to try again. I would love to have him do a voice.
Now that we’ve aired and people are familiar with the show, it’s going to be really interesting to see what kind of leverage that gives us when it comes to casting guest voices in Season 2. The thing that’s always cool to think about is what people am I a fan of that I could get to meet as a result of casting. There’s a lot of musicians that I would love to meet. That world has always been the most distant to me. I don’t go to concerts a lot, so I have all these bands I love, but that musicians’ world just seems so foreign and far away. I’m probably going cast some people from Battlestar; I love the idea of casting people from like awesome sci-fi shows, or just TV shows in general that I love, and, if possible, doing them in pairs. We have an episode coming up with Virginia Hey and Claudia Black, and they literally talk to each other and they’re together as characters in this episode, and it’s just so cool because I’m the biggest Farscape fan.
And in regard to the high school kids, I love casting Degrassi kids. As we continue to expand and develop other high school-centric characters, I’m going to keep going back to Degrassi because I love that show so much. Like, I love it ironically. It’s so bad, but I just love how bad it is. And it’s like one of my favorite things ever. It’s just appalling how one-dimensional some of the shit is on that show. I love that no one is calling them out or giving them notes. They just fucking write their scripts and shoot it—who gives a shit—and it does well, thank God. I want to be 70 years old and still see that show going. If they cancel that show I’m going to be so heartbroken. There’s such a sea of talent that has come out of that—good, bad and otherwise.
DL: Are there any other living artists you’d like to work with someday, on that same creative level that you’re working with Dan Harmon?
JR: I’ve always wanted to work with Lord and Miller, the guys that did Clone High, and most recently, The Lego Movie. I’m a big fan of theirs, and I think they’ve been told about me over the years, and there’s just never been an opportune time to really come together with anything. They just seem like really fun dudes to work with.
I also would kill to work with Seth Rogen and his partner, Evan. Even though they’re more movie-centric, all those guys on the Seth Rogen side—Danny McBride and Jonah Hill and all those guys—just seem really cool.
DL: What was your first job?
JR: My first job ever was at a DVD duplication factory on the assembly line. It was these really brutal 12-hour shifts, and they would call you at four o’clock and say, “Can you come in at 7 p.m.?” So, psychologically you’d be like, “I’m just going to chill out today; I’m going to play some video games.” Then all of a sudden you’d get that phone call, and you’d be like, “Fuck. All right, I need the money. Fuck it.” It’s like a big bucket of water dumped on your head. It was an insane job because it was a bunch of people just on this assembly line with rubber gloves on, and a little conveyor belt would go by, and you would have one of many different jobs in the process of putting together a DVD, like literally those little clamshell cases. One person would be taking the sheets and sliding them into the plastic that’s basically the cover of the DVD, another person would have a huge spindle of the discs, and they’d be popping those into the little disc holder. It was a 12-hour shift, and it was endless. It was the worst.
DL: Who are your favorite living artists/animators/illustrators/creative minds in general living today?
JR: There’s so many. I think Mike Judge is brilliant. I’ve always been a fan of John K., the Hensons: Lisa Henson and Brian Henson. Their father, Jim Henson, was an insane influence on me. Like really, really heavy, huge influence on me. I’m really saddened at the state of the entertainment industry, TV and movies, in relation to the diminishing presence of practical effects and creatures and puppetry and animatronics, in place of CGI. Whenever I see something that has animatronics or creatures, it’s always cooler to me. Even if it looks a little stiffer or whatever, it’s always cooler than just some CGI shit. There’s just not enough of that anymore, and I wish there was. Hopefully there will be some resurgence at some point.
DL: If you could speak with a dead historical figure from the past 200 years, who would that be?
JR: It would probably be Jim Henson, I would think. I’m pretty sure. He’s on the short list. I would say Kurt Cobain too, but Jim Henson is one of the people where I remember where I was when I found out he died. I literally have a vivid memory of finding that out, and it just fucking sucked because everything he did was incredible, and all I could think of was all the stuff that I’m not going to get to see him make.
DL: When you were in middle school what sort of career did you want to pursue?
JR: Definitely what I’m doing now. A huge driving force behind that was Ren & Stimpy, because that was the year the show premiered, in ’92. I was in seventh grade and I remember I was just obsessed with that show. I had been coming up with casts of characters, just creating worlds and cartoon things, all probably really horrible if I were to look at them now. But it was definitely me looking at Ren & Stimpy and I was so just wanting to do what John K. was doing. That cartoon was one of the first to come out that was really creator-driven and different, and it wasn’t like this thing designed to sell product. It was just this beautiful, crazy cartoon that was just really inspiring.
And I never thought I was going to, actually. In middle school, that was the dream. It’s weird that I ended up actually coming full circle and being able to do this for real. It’s pretty nuts.
DL: Can you remember some of those earlier characters or stories you created?
JR: I remember just a huge, endless cast of characters. I had one character named Lumpy that was just this big, fat girl. I had one of those little mini-cassette recorders and I would record, and then I would try to make my sister lose her shit—try to piss her off, antagonize her, make her cry or scream in rage or whatever. Just provoke her, basically, into losing her shit and then try to capture all that on audio. And then I would play it back in the slow speed. And her voice as a kid, slowed down, and hearing all the emotion and rage slowed down, was so fucking funny to me. It was like, the funniest thing in the world. So, I created this character named Lumpy that was how I envisioned this slowed-down voice. To this day I’ve been looking for those tapes. They have to exist somewhere. God, if I could find those tapes. Because now I actually have those resources to potentially animate that stuff and it would just be so fucking great.
But that’s one example. There’s just tons of characters like that. In high school I had Jinx the Monkey, and his best friend was this guy who was always naked, and it was just really psychotic. I had a character that was made out of cake named Cake Boy. Just stupid shit. I was so busy creating stuff. It was constant.
DL: Were you ever religious, or did you have a religious upbringing?
JR: There was never really an agenda to push any specific religion on me or my sister growing up. My dad went to Catholic school, grew up Catholic. And like most Catholics who went to Catholic school, he’s—I wouldn’t say an atheist, but he’s as close to that as you’re going to get probably without literally claiming to be. He was kind of like, “Eh, you know, whatever. Just be a good person.” A lot of my family on my mom’s side is split between basic Christian and Mormons. I guess you could say I’m kind of an agnostic, in that I just don’t fucking know. I have no idea. I’m actually really preoccupied and obsessed with what this whole thing is, this life, this fucking weird existence and being. I don’t subscribe to anything that any of the more traditional religions believe. There’s a lot of stuff in there that feels like it’s oppressive to certain people. Anything like that just doesn’t feel right. It doesn’t make sense. That seems like a really shortsighted agenda that would not really factor into the insanity of our existence and just how crazy it is. And you just look at humanity as a whole and how violent and just chaotic it is.
I’ve got all kinds of theories, none of which I truly believe, but I like to play with the idea of what really happens when you die, and just mess around with that and come up with different religions that a—
You can explore further aspects of Justin’s imagination by keeping up with Rick and Morty Mondays at 10:30 on Adult Swim, follow him on twitter @JustinRoiland, or visit Roilandtv.com.
Portraits by Buddy Purucker and Parker Benbow.
Puppet by Kevin Cole