Interview: Wonder Showzen’s Vernon Chatman and John Lee

Filed Under Animation, Interview, Sketch Comedy

Wonder Showzen LogoVernon Chatman and John Lee are the creators of “Wonder Showzen”, which is quite simply, brilliant. The show is much more than a parody of a kids show. The darkness of the content, like a segment where children will talk about a trip to the hotdog factory that turns into taking heroin with the workers, is played against the kid’s-show form (“I got to ride the black pony!”) in a way that leads to explosive laughs. This season they might run a segment when children ask people to recount their Sept. 11 experiences while wearing Groucho glasses. Wonder Showzen’s first season DVD was released today and its second season begins on MTV2 this Friday (9:30 EST). A preview segment can be seen here.

I interviewed the creators Vernon and John over email. I asked them about horror and humor, what children can get away with and, of course, patience. They answered me with… well, just read it.

Matt and Trey have often said while describing South Park that “Children are assholes.” What do you think of children?

Children are the magical glue that keeps our society hurtling towards guaranteed destruction.  Every morning we force feverish miscreants (selves) to huff that glue, before we translate their death spasms into morse code, and then into English.  We lay it out into script format and shoot. Children’s assholes have almost nothing to do with it.  What Matt and Trey were probably trying to say was that they are so rich, they can afford to shit from children.

Wonder Showzen attaches a lot of horrific elements to the humor – blood, screams, decomposing and dying animals. How close are horror and humor in your minds?

Our minds are so tiny and so symmetrical, everything is crammed equally close to everything else up in there.  That said, anyone who has watched helplessly as their entire family was mercilessly and methodically butchered before their eyes knows firsthand how delightfully interchangeable horror and humor truly are. 

Some of the performances by children in the show are absolutely spot-on in terms of inflection – they’ll say the line exactly as an adult might. How hard is it to get these performances?

Have you ever placed a medicinal lozenge in the mouth of a dead mule and then attempted to pull it back out from the other end of the beast?  You have?  I’m jealous of you.  Because you’ve had it easy.  Also, you smell nice. Especially your hands.

I’ve heard some shows add extra material they know won’t get in to get the jokes that they want on the show. How much bargaining goes on between you and the MTV censors?

Please don’t give away our secret techniques. We don’t tell everyone about all that weird gunk you have tethered to your balls.

When creating an animated segment, sometimes the styles are obvious (HOBOPPS) but on others do you know what style you want the animation to be or does Augenblick Studios (animators of many of the show’s segments) have pretty free reign there?

We are Hitler and Augenblick is Volkswagon—we need each other to make our Rumba appear so effortless, graceful, and American.

The joke density of the show is incredibly rich. You could be laughing at one bit and miss two others. How much does technology like DVRs influence your work – i.e. you know people can go back and catch a joke they missed?

Your average TV comedy’s got a J.P.M. (Note to editors:  you might want to point out to any of your slower readers, who probably aren’t in the Industry like we are, that J.P.M. is standard showbiz terminology for “Joke Per Minute”.) that clocks in at about 6. We here at Wonder Showzen have spent a lifetime in the garage with the show up on blocks so we can peer up its skirt and keep the schtick valve as lubed as the light bulb wedged up your grandma’s giggle slit.  That keeps the yucks coming all night.

The show stays true to the kid show format – it’s a real commitment that seeps into all the segments. Has that decision ever limited what type of jokes you can do? Is there material you haven’t been able to fit inside of it?

Real children’s programs have no discernable standards, and we haven’t been able to think up anything so despicable it didn’t ring true.  We can shove anything into anything else.  When it works, Wonder Showzen is a magnificent, ecstatic shove to the face of all things too palsied to defend itself.

Wonder Showzen Boy as Hitler Interviewing Man on StreetDoes it ever scare or surprise you how much interview subjects play along during segments like Beat Kids? Can children get away with asking anything?

Children have gotten away with hijacking our culture, grandpappy.  Its only fair that we use them as a vessel for our withered cynicism, and we beg their mercy on judgment day. 

David Cross referred to you in his open letter to Larry the Cable Guy. How’s it feel to spark this comedian feud?

Career hoax alert, ya’ll.  Think about it—any man with the technical expertise to become a licensed cable guy, clearly possesses the capability to hack the Neilson system to falsify his huge ratings, his scathingly insightful jokes, and a heart. Wake up.

The episode “Patience” is insanely multilayered – Augenblick said you were trying to create a “visual palindrome.” I’m amazed it got on air at all, considering it’s structure. Did you do it as the last episode of season one simply because you thought you might not get another shot at doing it?

Our guru Mustapha teaches that humankind must “Do everything in life as though it were the last episode of your gleefully caustic kids show parody.”

Patience was a joke, then a challenge, and now it is dead.  We must move on or be destroyed by doves.

In the “Nature” episode sponsored by “CoCor”, you pushed viewers to the commercials, almost as if they were just another cartoons. How was that received by sponsors, if they noticed at all?

It’s no big whoop.  Most of the advertising on MTV2 is fake. Wake up— have you or anyone you know ever actually seen or used this thing called “deodorant”?  The nose doesn’t lie.

What the hell have you got against Calibos?

Kramdar is the gnarled demon who yanked the glimmering life gem from the core of the earth, then lifted it towards God, who queefed his glorious light through it. Refraction occurred and the light beams were lovingly bent and folded into the illusion of both PFFR and our own importance.  Since then he’s been living in a bucket of oats in Sarasota.

It’s interesting how people attach agendas to comedy. I’ve seen people state they that you two must be hard core vegetarians due to your segments involving children’s visits to food factories. The warning at the beginning of the show states that it contains “profound truths”, but do you expect anybody to be looking for them?

Yup, there is one in this sentence.  But not this one. And rest assured: our vegan detractors have all been eaten.

What can we expect in season two?

An ashy cloud of veracity that will blanket this country. When it clears (and it won’t) the real World War One will begin.

Previously: Wonder Showzen - TV Horrorhouse

More clips from the upcoming new season.

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Posted by Anthony on 03/29  at  04:23 AM

I like what they do, but… That was kinda annoying, wasn’t it?

Posted by Loutherama on 03/30  at  10:47 AM

Indeed, that was fucking pathetic.

All these annoying ‘animateurs’ that South Park has spawned allow superficial dudes like these to get rich off meaningless drivel.

Posted by Buster Chow on 04/03  at  02:33 PM

It’s true.  Todd’s hands do smell nice.  That’s because he keeps candycanes in his pants.

Posted by icecreamcreatures on 04/14  at  02:49 PM

So much smarter than Southpark.

Posted by Kriytz on 07/28  at  11:04 PM

It’s absolutely true that these guys are genius; the very essence of their shows is the greatest satire ever introduced to the television set.  These guys make messages so clear that i can’t understand how anyone could ever call it meaningless.  I’m going to NYC in like 5 days, and expect to hunt those bastards down. >:)

Posted by mitochondria on 08/23  at  01:02 AM

One of the best shows ever…but this is one of the worst interviews ever.  Trying to be funny but it doens’t work.

Posted by G-Ride555 on 11/22  at  01:03 PM

Wonder showzen is great but I think they cram to much technique and time into a single episode thusly causing other episodes like horse apples to occur. The episode patience was a funny concept, but that caused other episodes to be more poorly produced. Still I hope it finds a third season. It’s a great show.

Posted by Matt Doan on 01/09  at  02:51 AM


open your minds.

Posted by Amanda on 01/19  at  12:32 PM

wondershowzen is non stop laughter. and horse apples just put the icing in the cake.

Posted by Robert D. Hipps on 02/07  at  03:01 AM

I thought the interview was great. I think that the double meanings wee halarious. Like in the second to last question when the interviewer never really states what he means by the question (what are th profound truths he speaks of…them being veetarians?). The only way to anwser both possible meanings of the question is to do exactly what he did, anwser “yes” to both by saying there was a profound truth in that sentence (which may or may not be the vegetarian thing), then go on to hint at both sides of the anwser “yes” (“but not in this one”, and “we ate the detractors”). All of that being done in three short sentences is impressive to me, and they even add an easy joke to understand which keeps it seeming simple.

Posted by wet towel on 10/29  at  02:31 PM

Vernon Chatman’s new DVD Final Flesh is available via Drag City Records Nov. 17th

Posted by crapman on 08/31  at  01:28 PM

you can totally tell that this was an email interview, because they had time to think of all this crap in there answers.

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