Years ago, back during Fox’s Animation Domination heyday of The Simpsons, Family Guy, and King of The Hill, Justin Roiland almost had his own series on Fox. It was called The Paloni Family Comedy Show, which was in essence, a variety series of animated shorts that were as equally funny as they were unafraid to ‘go there’. Not unlike, those hit interdimensional cable episodes on Rick and Morty. Though the series didn’t take off on Fox, like a zombie back from the dead, it’s apparently getting another life as The Paloni Show! Halloween Special! an unofficial sequel on Hulu, airing on October 17th.
The special focuses on the Paloni family who’s going to host a Halloween special of shorts by up-and-coming animators. We got to sit with voice actor Zach Hadel and executive producer Ben Bayouth about the new series, what was funny about it, and a semi-serious conversation about the expectations of balancing horror and comedy.
This interview has been edited for clarity
So how excited are you about The Paloni Show?
Ben: “Oh, extremely excited. This is kind of a one off really cool project we’ve been working on for over a year. For it to be culminating to a point where it’s coinciding with not only Comic Con, but Halloween?
There’s a lot of fun buzz around it so I’m excited about that.”
Now, while this is a Halloween special, is there a possibility that we get another holiday special?
Zach: “The sky is the limit! We keep saying… Arbor day special! Write it down. Pencil it in. We plant trees. Feature a whole lot of tree comedy. There’s a lot of jokes you can do!”
Ben: “Tree related… Any holiday!
There’s even room for us to think about the Paloni’s hosting their own show that’s not holiday-specific. It’s like a modern day adult, KaBlam! There’s a lot of potential for the future and we’re just eager to see how audiences are receptive of the show.”
Totally. Now, on a somber note. Is this in fact, the final acting gig of Gilbert Godfrey?
Ben: “I don’t know if it is actually the final one but i do know we recorded him two weeks before he passed. It’s possible he had other things going on. We were deeply saddened to hear that he passed and Brian Wysol, who created the short that Gilbert is in, is a huge fan as are all of us. It was really heartbreaking but we felt very honored to have worked with him so close before his passing.”
What’s your relationship with horror and how do you think animated shorts express that differently?
Ben: “Well it’s a completely different world. With animation, you can do some bending in horror that you just can’t with live action. We’ve had some of our creators who really push it to its limit like Jaime Rodriguez. His short that is one of my favorites just because of the impressive visual artistry that he’s baked into it.
Also, with the Paloni’s framing the special, there’s many wonderful references on Justin’s favorite halloween movies that we tied in. All fun to play with in an animated space.”
Zach: “I think if you do something with live-action you have to build props and animatronics. Get actors. Have costumes. With animation, the sky is the limit. You can do whatever you want. That’s freeing when you’re writing as there are no obstacles like budget or laying things down. You can do a lot more. You can go ridiculous with it.
Ben: Also, the animated medium allows the tone of the content to excuse a lot. Shit you could not get away with in live action.”
Now, each animated short in The Paloni Show! features a different style. What was the curation process like?
Ben: “We really tried not to meddle. On the outset, we reached out to creators we were fans of or just, people we’d always wanted to work with. We paired up with animation studios to figure out what their voice on paper would feel like on animation.
On that note, anything that looks similar to the main animated storyline of the Paloni’s is a coincidence. We knew that when we approached Lee Hardcastle, that he was going to make a claymation animated short. It was really just a grab bag in letting things organically flow and not really meddling with the creator’s vision.”
What do you think was the most exciting part of the process so far in the series?
Ben: “Aside from just being around all the different creative people? Recording with Zach and Justin.”
Zach: “It was a lot of fun. Obviously, we used a script, but a lot of it was just improvising. There were times where I would stutter or mess up or screw up, and I tried to stop myself, but Justin would say, ‘Leave that in. Don’t stop yourself. Keep moving’.
Which is a hard instinct to follow because when you fuck something up your instinct is to start over. If you hear any stuttering in the actual scripts, that’s not me trying to be funny, that’s a screwup that was left in. It’s funny in animation because that gets animated after its recorded… So it’s interesting to see people animate that.”
Ben: “Being on the other side of the booth with them and Pamela Adlon interacting together was a treat. We do the scripted stuff first, then everyone had fun. So many moments of magic and the difficult part by far was in finding what to cut out.
A scene that was on one page on paper became five so fast.”
There’s one particular short that’s live-action. Who wrote that one and what was it like to work in that space?
Ben: “I’m very close with that short. There are these two very talented girls, Sydney Heller and Olivia DeLorentis, who are in it. Early on, Justin wanted to pair them up with me because I have a background in undoing live action puppets. So i kind of jumped in and directed with them. We had a lot of fun workshopping that dynamic which just happened to workout that way. That was a fun shoot.”
To Zach, I’m familiar with psychicpebbles. You have so many subscribers. What’s it like being given a platform to reach more people with Hulu and The Paloni Special?”
Zach: “It’s great. I’m definitely from the weird unconventional world of making your own stuff and throwing it out there, with people reacting how they want to react. It’s a different process, but I mean, that’s the fun of the recording stuff and bringing that chaotic energy. Justin definitely likes that school of thought coming from channel 101. Sure, there’s more structure to it for the series, but i liked it.”
Ben: “Well there was also moments in post-production, hanging in Justin’s house, where he was like, ‘Yo Zach, check out what we have. Wanna do any redlines, draw over stuff, or plug-up the animation?’
Thankfully, Zach is not just a voice actor. He’s got so many other talents when it comes to making animation come to life that helped us in that respect too.”
What are some holiday specials that inspired you as a kid that you may have thought about in the making of this?
Ben: “The Garfield Halloween special. Kind of the old school ghoul callback but fun.”
Zach: “I love weird animated Halloween specials. The Spongebob one. The South Park one. Treehouse of Horror. I was born in 1993, so by the time I was 15, I kind of missed Simpsons mania. But the Treehouse of Horrors were so culturally impactful, so much so, that I’ve actually seen all of them despite having seen none of The Simpsons. Also, any TV comedy and horror, especially animated, I really love. That’s why it’s so great to work on something like this.”
Ben: “It’s also similar to doing anthology stuff like Amazing Stories [To Tell In The Dark]. A lot of them are really scary, and like, weird. I grew up on that as well. I see a lot of that happening when it comes to the tone of these shorts, which is coincidental, but I was happy to see it.”
What’s strengths come from doing an anthology compared to drawing it out?
Ben: “Well that’s one of the things from Justin’s original concept. You’ve got characters who are not just hosting a variety show but who also get drawn into their own story at the same time. Which I think is unique to this own show.
There’s a big strength to it. That when a sketch ends, you come back in and we’re in the middle of a chase sequence. There’s a lot of energy there that allows pacing to keep up.”
Zach: “I agree with that. Also, I love horror anthology. One of my favorite shows is the Twilight Zone or Tales from The Crypt. Anthology is not done a lot anymore because people need to come back to the same characters every week, but anthologies also, give you a totally blank slate to do whatever you want to throw characters out there. Kill them off. Do whatever you want. Condense something to a 2-5 minute short and sky’s the limit.
You can’t kill off George Costanza in Seinfeld or the show would be screwed. But you can kill off George Costanza in something like this.
… Let me say, we don’t actually kill George Costanza. I’m just saying the analogy is if you wanted to, you could in this!”
How do find that nice balance between comedy and horror?
Ben: “With the writing of The Paloni stuff, a lot of the horror is pulling from existing movies. The horrific elements are easy because we comment on Halloween, take some horrific elements from there, and then put some comedic elements in. In fact, some of the sketches are just funny and not really horrific. And some are not super halloween involved and is up to the creators with how they did it.”
Zach: “I honestly love horror and comedy because I feel like if you make your characters in the world funny, you almost relate to them more. I love all sorts of horror but in a pure slasher where it’s just a bunch of teens are making out, that’s good, but if you make them likable and funny, I don’t want to see them die. That really helps it. You’re almost begging them to survive which increases the stakes.
If you do make it funny you kind of naturally lifts the horror up in a way.”
How do you get away with making fun of Hulu so much?
Ben: “Find the line. Push the envelop as far as it can go and see when people start telling you not to do stuff.”
Zach: “Which did happen. There were more Hulu references in there, like 100 times, before we pulled back quite a bit.”
Ben: “And a big part of it was the improvisation because it was very funny in the room.”
Zach: “It became a thing where there was a little bit in script. But then we just kept saying Hulu. No one ever came in to our recording and said, ‘Don’t say it!’.”
Ben: It was funny, but then we just got tired… until it started getting funny again! We kept mentioning it quite a bit until we found the line.”