Rocko’s Modern Life Stars On The Show’s Past And Future

Filburt, Rocko and Heffer are returning in Rocko's Modern Life: Static Cling
Filburt, Rocko and Heffer are returning in Rocko's Modern Life: Static Cling Nickelodeon

Nickelodeon is rebooting Rocko’s Modern Life for a one-off television special episode titled Rocko’s Modern Life: Static Cling, which brings the O-Town crew to the 21st century. The entire cast and original creator, Joe Murray, are all returning to bring these characters back for new and old audiences.

The morning of Day 1 of San Diego Comic-Con I had the pleasure of sitting down and chatting with two returning cast members. Tom Kenny, the voice of Heffer Wolf (and a ton of other notable cartoon characters ) and Doug “Mr” Lawrence who voices Filburt the turtle and has has worked on so many animated series, including Ren & Stimpy, Camp Lazlo and, of course, Rocko’s Modern Life.

The two voice acting powerhouses continue to work today on a little show called Spongebob Squarepants, but on the morning of the first day of SDCC, we had some time to shoot the shit. We talked about why the show was cancelled more than 20 years ago, the state of children’s shows today and the importance of keeping those adult jokes in the TV special.

NOTE: the following interview was lightly edited for clarity and length.

Player.One: Let’s talk some Rocko’s Modern Life.

Doug Lawrence: Did you watch it?

I used to. Me and my brother watched it everyday, and when it was gone it killed me.

Tom Kenny: It killed me too

DL: It killed us, we didn’t want it to end. Four seasons wasn’t enough, it should have been six.

TK: When did production end on that?

DL: 96? 97?

TK: So that dovetailed into the Spongebob pilot.

DL: Yeah around that time. I think it was 96-97, yea it was all the same time.

TK: We’re trying to complete the timeline here. It’s like a Trump Tower/Russia meeting, connect the dots and figure out who’s there.

[Laughs] But why only four seasons?

DL: I think some people at the time perceived it as a Ren and Stimpy rip-off, which it wasn’t. People were watching it because it was on but it just wasn’t getting press.

TK: At that time, it’s funny, my IMDB is stacked with stuff that’s much more powerful in depth, but the people that Rocko was resonating with were kids that were watching it [back then]. You have to wait for those kids to hatch. You have to wait for them to mature, grow up and have nostalgia for it, go back and revisit it and realize what a f’d up crazy show it was and that their memories are true.

DL: The show wasn’t easy to find on video. People had video tapes that they taped over and they are showing clips on YouTube that were terrible. But there was no remastered version. Now we have one.

TK: There wasn’t any re-release of the episodes until fairly recently.

DL: So the show was coming mostly from their memory, saying “I remember that show.”

TK:People have come up to me asking me to sign their video tapes that have the episodes with the commercials and stuff. So yes, I think that Rocko did ok when it was on it never really hit that sweet spot with the pundits of popular culture. Almost like in a Star Trek way, where it had to go away and come back. People re-watching it made them realize what they liked about it as kids.

DL: And I almost started writing it off in my head. Like “eh it didn’t work. I was a kid when I made that” and then watching it again the last couple of years and I was just surprised with how good it was.

TK: It was edgy in a way that has become increasingly hard to do in children’s shows.

DL: It’s becoming safer.

TK: Like with Adult Swim, or FOX primetime animation or whatever, it gets edgier and edgier.

DL: It’s because of that separation in Adult Swim that it’s so over-the-top adult that there’s no middle ground. There’s no Ren and Stimpy.

TK: You want to be as dirty and offensive as possible because why not? And I think kids shows these days there’s such a low bar. it’s innocuous to try and keep things from becoming innocuous drek.

DL: It’s harder now, it’s more intelligent to build upon the stuff we grew up on. It always had really intelligent, intellectual ideas in it so even as a kid, even if you don’t get it you’re still thinking “what does that mean? What is that about?” and i think it’s something that’s missing in modern cartoons.

TK: And I see Rocko , like when I talk to adults who grew up with it, Rocko informed their worldview on the modern world in a way that the cartoons Doug is talking about and MAD magazine and stuff like that informed my worldview.

Why bring back the show now? Why in this modern setting?

DL: We were talking about this before too. They’re rebooting everything at Nickelodeon.

TK: Nostalgia for 90s cartoons is strong right now.

DL: So when Nickelodeon when to Joe Murray and asked if he wanted to do it again. He wanted to get the old band back together and he approached us and asked “do you want to this? Because if you don’t want to, I don’t want to.” So we all sat down for lunch and talked about what Rocko would go through and Filburt, and Heffer and what they would be happening with them today and we started laughing. And we started realizing that there was a lot of stuff, there’s so many new things to attack, satirically, that why not do it?

TK: But the character’s attitudes towards those things are easy to extrapolate because the characters are so well delineated and written so well. You know how Rocko, Filburt, Heffer, Mr. Big Head are going to react to modern stimuli that wasn’t around back in the 90s.

DL: This is the first show for me, I haven’t drawn. I haven’t done much storyboards, I was on the writing end, but on this I got to draw the Fat Heads again. So it was weird, I was back in that seat again, never had touched or looked at these characters in years and I started drawing them and improving on them. I can do this better now.

TK: Yea 10,000 hours later, you know what I mean. It’s like “Hey! I sorta don’t suck.”

[Laughs] You guys got away with a lot when the show was originally on, do you guys still have that freedom with this special?

DL: Surprisingly, yes.

TK: I think that was a condition moving forward with it. If this is going to happen, it has to be true to the original series. It can’t feel like a neutered version.

DL: And you’ll see when you see it. It’s got things in it you'll be like “oh, I’m not used to seeing that in a kids show.”

TK: Unless it’s something firmly in the “not for kids” camp.

DL: Right, so we lucked out that we were able to do it again. It’s kind of like you’re trying to sabotage it so it doesn’t happen. You write conditions down and everyone just says “yup, we’ll do that , we’ll do that and that.”

Tk: Road block removed, firewall removed.

DL: Once that opened up, everyone stayed true.

TK: The script and the board were 100 percent true to Rocko’s Modern Life . All the same people, obviously. No one is dead or in prison, we’ll see how the Comic-Con goes [laughs]

DL: Everyone is still here. That’s the thing, Jesus, we still got the whole cast here.

Is there something in particular to look out for in this special? Anything they will be surprised by?

TK: Ooo that’s that a good question.

DL: We can’t really talk about, specifically, what fans will be surprised by. Expect surprises, there will be surprises.

TK: Chokey Chicken is still around.

Rocko’s Modern Life: Static Cling will air on Nickelodeon in 2018.

Are you excited for the return of Rocko’s Modern Life ? Let us know in the comments section below.

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