It's kind of insane that 'Robot Chicken' has become such a big thing, says Seth Green

15 years and 200 episodes later, this pop culture mash-up is officially popular enough to have become part of the culture itself

05 July 2020 - 00:00 By
A scene from 'Robot Chicken'.
A scene from 'Robot Chicken'.
Image: Supplied

Actor, writer and director Seth Green didn't imagine that a bit of toy play for adults, some silly stop-motion fun he and his buddy Matthew Senreich cooked up as a means of expressing their love for the popular culture they'd grown up with and the collectable toys they geeked out over, would itself end up - 15 years and 200 episodes later - as part of millennial pop culture.

The 10th season of Robot Chicken arrives on Showmax this month. Green recalls that he really only set out to make something fun with friends.

"The fact that it's grown into such a large thing is kind of insane."

As he points out, "The upside of the show is that it's always meant to reflect what the previous generation was influenced by. We started all the episodes and created the sketch content with questions we'd been asking amongst ourselves since we were little kids."

In order to preserve that spirit, these days Green and the Robot Chicken team continue to find young writers who are the same age as they were when they started making the show.

"We have them talk about the pop culture they're into and then we try to guide it so that it follows the mandates of Robot Chicken, which are that all the things we seem to be making fun of come from a place of love and appreciation."

Early episodes of the show featured parodies of the Transformers, Star Wars and the gritty prison show Oz. These days you're more likely to see takedowns of characters from Harry Potter and The Walking Dead and Star Wars.

The show has developed a loyal cult following among young adult audiences, who gleefully respond to its pop-culture in-jokes and references and its willingness to always take the toy-play to cringy levels of gross-out and stoner-humour outrageousness.

There are also just enough nods to broader political and social events to keep the material anchored in the present day. But, says Green: "The show takes about a year to produce so anything we're talking about, we've got to be confident we would still be talking about it a year later. So we don't like to tell any jokes that are too current because something may be explosive in a moment and not be remembered a week later.

"We tend not to focus on politics or current events and really think about the pop culture that's so sticky people will remember it."

WATCH | 'Robot Chicken' trailer.

He's still heavily involved in the creative process, but Green's been able to delegate a lot of the work and let go of what he describes as "the need for everything to be just so".

He assures me, though, that he still loves the show. "It's born of a place of love - it's meant to be funny, it's meant to be community based - these are ideas that are meant to be shared."

In the 15 years since it debuted on the Adult Swim network, "the weirdest thing was that we introduced audiences to characters and aspects of pop culture that were influential to us but that they'd never heard of except through our show", he says.

"So you'd have a kid saying that they didn't know about He Man or The Smurfs. They thought they only existed on our show. That's a weird inversion of reality for us."

Pop culture is an endlessly evolving beast, so there will always be plenty of material for Robot Chicken to draw on for its singular humour. But sometimes, especially now, the world can seem so strange that parody of it becomes almost unimaginable.

Green is cognisant of this moment.

"The real world is so outrageous. When the audience will believe things without any qualifying facts it becomes difficult to define parody. If the audience can't organically presume the difference between fact and fiction then our jokes are less funny because they're received as a potential fact. That in itself has taken some dexterity to navigate."

Green says these challenges are part and parcel of the Robot Chicken team's business, which is "making jokes and making people laugh, so it's just a question of figuring out how that role has evolved and how to work with it". 

• All 10 seasons of 'Robot Chicken' are now available on Showmax.

Would you like to comment on this article or view other readers' comments? Register (it’s quick and free) or sign in now.

Speech Bubbles

Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.