The Rocko's Modern Life FAQ

Lisa (Kiczuk) Trainor interviews Martin Olson, writer for Rocko's Modern Life

Thank you, Martin!

February 27, 1999

LT: First let me tell you, there isn't a day that goes by that we don't use a quote from the show.

MO: I know what you mean. Sometimes when I go out with my kids, I wear my old Rocko jacket, which Joe spent a lot of moolah to reward us with, being a very appreciative and thoughtful boss; and I can't tell you how many times I'm stopped on the street with people who tell me it's their FAVORITE show! This is very rewarding, especially hearing that some of the favorite episodes were mine!

Joe gave Doug his VERY FIRST [directing] JOB in animation - ever! Get this: This is how wild Joe is: Doug came out to L.A. cold from New Jersey with just some drawings and painting and a background as a standup comic. Joe interviewed him, studied his work, and had the insight (and balls) to hire Doug -- AS A DIRECTOR!!!! (Note: It's virtually UNHEARD OF for someone to be hired as a director with ZERO experience!) But that's how clever Joe was in breaking all the rules, and yet making sure Rocko's characters were absolutely solid and 3-D psychologically. He hand-picked the entire team (including me!) intuitively. My point is, when Doug or George or myself would pitch something COMPLETELY INSANE to Joe, he would smile, shake his head knowingly -- and let us do it! Because that's exactly why he hired us. He knew we would give him things a more experienced staff would be too afraid to pitch, because no one had done it before. So it was Joe and Joe alone who determined the tenor and originality of the show, so don't let him "snow" ya. Don't think, of course, that we didn't have our beefs as is wont on any artistic enterprise; but Joe was always there to listen and problem-solve. I learned how to produce shows from working with that crazy guy, a grad course in TV production and keeping a staff happy and productive.

As for the rest of the gang, they've all gone on to other interesting projects:

Tim Bergland (aka Tim Bjorkland) started his own studio called INK BISCUITS STUDIO. They've produced all the old style animation titles for The Cartoon Channel. Tim also designed the characters for a show I created called TIFFANY & JADE, which we now have in development as a 3D CGI series at Netter Digital, who produce Babylon 5 and Voltron.

I'm not sure, but I think Joe Murray and Tim Hill were working together on something, maybe a show proposal? Not sure, but Tim is a great guy who came on the show the last season as a story editor. Tim Hill had created another show for Nickelodeon's Florida studio; Nick exec Mary Harrington asked Joe to interview Hill to work on the last season to replace the two writers who left the show, Vince Calandra and Ron Houge. Since Joe and Nick Jennings are old friends, I'm sure they've been working on projects together as well (or at least talking about working together!)

Steve Hillenberg, the director Joe chose to produce the last season of Rocko, created a new show for Nick called SPONGE BOB, about a boy sponge and his adventures under the sea. Doug Lawrence is presently writing the show for Steve.

Doug Lawrence (AKA Mr. Lawrence) is developing a show for Film Roman called HAIRBALLS, an adult animated show about three cats. Doug and I created a show for Buccieri & Weiss Productions, the guys who created the show I produce, PENN & TELLER'S SIN CITY SPECTACULAR. It's an adult puppet show called THE JOEY POPE SHOW, with the same format as Sat Night Live, but with weird lifesize puppets.

Rob Porter and Derik Drymon are directing CATDOG.

Mark O'Hare, one of the best storyboard artists and gagwriters on Rocko, went on to create the hilarious daily comic strip CITIZEN DOG, now syndicated all around the country.

LT: What is your favorite Rocko episode?

MO: My favorite Rocko episodes are:

3. JET SCREAM (I didn't write that one!)

My favorite individual scenes from Rocko are:

1. In "TOOTH & NAIL" (Tim Berland, dir.) when Rocko is writhing in a filthy dumpster chewing on a mannequin's foot.
2. The opening and lunatic closing of SUGAR FROSTED FRIGHTS (Doug Lawrence, dir./ Robert Scull, board artist).
3. The fake "opening credits" sequence to the first FATHEADS toon-within-a- toon in "I HAVE NO SON" (Doug, dir.)
4. When Heff is belch-talking to himself in the mirror in BELCH OF DESTINY (Steve Hillenberg, dir.)

LT: What was the most memorable time for you working on the show?

MO: The most memorable moments were:

1. WORKING ON "DIRTY DOG": I laughed when Joe showed me his first hilarious designs of Bloaty & Squirmy, and we all had tons of fun recording and singing my nutty "Bloaty & Squirmy Theme Song".
2. RALPH BIGHEAD: When Joe sketched out the first design for Ralph and showed it to me. At the same time, he told me he'd thought it over and agreed to do Ralph's voice, which I had tried to convince him to do since the second I first proposed the character. ("Joe, wouldn't it be great to create a character who's a grouchy cartoonist, and have you do the voice?") And when Doug Lawrence got Joe (as Ralph) to scream "NEVER NEVER NEVER NEVER NEVER!" (The joke was, Joe NEVER EVER screamed; in fact, his voice was always a quiet, thoughtful murmur, so it was really hilarious having Joe as his alter-ego screaming like a nut!)
3. When we got the first batch of FATHEADS footage back, and howled laughing that we were putting over the airwaves such incredibly insane surrealism.
4. When Joe used to take us out on "writing trips" to brainstorm new ideas. Once to the LaBrea Tar Pits, to an outdoor eatery called ROCKY'S, out to the country, etc. And he was right. Getting us out of the office environment caused us to think in new categories and, as a result, we always came up with crazy new ideas for episodes. And it also made it easier for the writers to meet girls.
5. When the Nick execs OK'd my idea to have Filburt and Dr. Hutch get married. They balked at first (no one had done extreme linear character development through the episodes on any other Nick animated series), but Joe, God bless 'im, talked them into it.

LT: Did you use alot of real-life experiences in the shows you wrote?

MO: Only one I can think of (aside from when I used to writhe in dumpsters chewing on mannequin feet) -- and that was in "BELCH OF DESTINY".

That story came about when I was at a party and I heard my old friend David Pritchard (now CEO of FILM ROMAN, who produce THE SIMPSONS!) "belch-talking" and everybody laughing at his insane performance.

I immediately imagined Heffer "belch-talking"... What if that was Heff's one lame talent, something that would make him popular with the kids, but which his parents would hate? I wrote up the story, Joe approved it and I got his permission to record Dave to test his ineffable ability to belch. So I took Steve Hillenberg and Mark O'Hare to Dave's sound studio and recorded a test of Dave "belch-talking". (I think it was Steve's idea to have Dave belch the DeNiro/Taxi Driver line: "You talkin' to me?!")

Later, Dave came for an official recording at Joe's regular session. (I guess that's when Joe gave Dave the extra spicy burrito to encourage more exotic and sublime belches). But I guess Dave's belching wasn't up to par that day, because I think Joe used most of the belching from Dave's test that Steve, Mark and I recorded. So... that story came directly from real life and my gaseous friend's garbling at a party.

LT: Of course, I have to ask you this one... which is funnier, bananas or cheese?

MO: I believe that exquisite question was George Maestri and Jeff "Swampy" Marsh's brainchild. You'll have to ask them. But be careful...they're both completely insane. One likes bananas and the other likes cheese, but I forget which. And if you offer either the wrong one, they'll ram their heads against the wall and scream until they get their medication.

LT: Which of the characters on the show did you create and did you model them after real people in your life?

MO: I created seven recurring characters: RALPH, THE FATHEADS, BLOATY & SQUIRMY, FLECKO THE FLY and SATAN ("PEACHES" in TO HECK & BACK etc.). I based Ralph on Joe (and his satirized his experiences with Nickelodeon!) Like Ralph, Joe is a genius, a deep thinker with a funny "moody" exterior...but in reality, he loves to laugh and is a complete pussycat!

LT: Were you writing for RML for the entire 4 seasons? How did you get the job?

MO: Yes. George and I were the only writers who wrote all four seasons of stories for Rocko, so the characters were pretty real to us after all that time. I was mainly a comedy writer and had mainly written HBO comedy specials for comedians. Joe wanted to hire people who were not part of the TV animation scene and would come in without preconceptions of what an animated show "is supposed to be". And Joe's brilliance was hiring the most original talents he could find, people who weren't getting work on the more mainstream shows because they didn't come up with mainstream ideas. But neither did Joe. And that's why the show was so unique.

LT: Do you know where RML merchandise (dolls, figures, etc...) can be bought? That is a question that we get almost daily from people that visit the site.

MO: I'll have to defer to Joe on that one. I have aside from my Rocko leather jacket and the Rocko calandars Joe had printed for the staff. You could call Nick studios and ask that question to public relations or merchandising. 818-736-3000.

This interview was conducted in February, 1999 and made public in February of 2002.

Copyright © 2002
The contents of this interview may not be reproduced in part or in full without the written permission of the author.
Lisa (Kiczuk) Trainor