'We're more popular in the UK than we are in the US' | Interview with American Dad's co-creators

'We're more popular in the UK than we are in the US'

Interview with American Dad's co-creators

In our third animation interview, the co-creators of American Dad Matt Weitzman and Mike Barker, ppus producer Kara Vallow talk about their show. Click here to read the piece about The Cleveland Show; or here for Seth Green talking about Family Guy .

So, obviously American Dad was born out of the Bush administration. Are you missing him now as a source of inspiration?

MW: No one's missing him.

MB: It is the mess that we're trying to clean up.

MW: On the one hand, it was always nice to have. Stan had his power base behind him as, you know, the man who’s poking fun at The Man is always a fun thing to do. On the other hand, I think that Stan's arrogance will always trump whatever political party is in office. So he's always going to have that kind of arrogance to him. .

But are there any sort of subtle changes now that you've got Obama?

MB: Yeah. I mean, Stan is not on the winning team anymore, and so much of that did kind of inform his relationship with his liberal daughter. And now we're finding that his daughter Hayley is speaking up a little bit more and seeming a little bit more empowered. And the dynamic -- the power dynamic has shifted somewhat in the family in a way that's interesting after five years of Stan being able to just condescend. So that's been a nice change.

A lot of people said that it would be a tough time for comedians with the Obama presidency. Do you think so?

MW: No. Our show does not necessarily come from that place. I mean, it started out in that place of being all about politics and so forth. But I think that as time's gone on, we've become more of a family show with social, political themes that are run through it.

MB: And Obama is fair game now anyways. I think the inauguration has worn off.

KV: We make fun of him pretty quickly.

Are you surprised by how far you've been able to go and how much you've been able to get away with over the years?

MB:I actually feel that we don't get to go as far as we would like sometimes, compared to, say, Family Guy.

MW: We used to write on Family Guy back in the day when they got away with a lot. So we always expected we were going to get away with more.

MB: I think we're reined in a little bit compared to Family Guy. But, you know, none of the stuff we're doing, we're doing just to shock or titillate. We always seem to have, hopefully a higher message or some better reason than just the crassness for crass's sake. Anything that comes across as subversive or edgy is protected somewhat by the fact that it's animated, I think, has always been kind of the default protection for shows like ours and Family Guy.

But you said you don't get away with as much as Family Guy. Why is that?

MB: Well, it's a risk. What "Family Guy" does is always risky on broadcast television, so the network wants to reduce the amount of risk they take on.

MW: But also, Family Guy was developed in an age where they could get away with more.

KV: It has more of a precedent because it was made during the Clinton years.

MW: Exactly. Everything after Janet Jackson (appearance on Super Bowl) has to be toned down.

Do you think it will swing back?

KV: No, it's never going to swing back.

MB: There are so many problems for American politicians to contend with that cleaning up the airwaves seems to be an easy target for them to prove to their constituents that they're doing their job. So I don't think the struggle for the cleaner airwaves is going to subside anytime soon.

What kind of perspective do people from outside the States get on America out of this show?

MW:We get a lot of kudos. People love the show. They love the characters. Roger is outrageous and kind of can go anywhere and do anything.

MB: The only reaction I've heard comes from Patrick Stewart, who does the voice of Bullock. The fact that he's still doing the show is a blessing for us because, you know, he's just so phenomenally funny, and he's so amazing. I think he does the show because his fellow Brits tell him that they're digging the show. I think we're more popular in the UK than we are in the US.

KV: Seth [MacFarlane] and I were over in London earlier in the summer, and I met a bunch of rabid Family Guy fans. And when I talked to them about American Dad" they seemed to like it because they like to think that it's a parody idea of what we actually are. They like to make fun like, ‘Oh, yeah, that's what fathers are like in America.’ So they seem to take a great thrill in thinking that that's a depiction of a normal family.

MW: I think that anytime that America could be made fun of, the world loves to see - even if it's by Americans, because we have to be knocked off our high horses.

What guest stars do you have coming up in the next season? And who would you like?

MB: It would be cool to do something with Radiohead. We actually have a band called My Morning Jacket. They're playing themselves in an episode in November. Also in that episode we have Zach Galifianakis, who is really funny. And we're probably going to have an episode coming up with Hayden Panettiere from Heroes. She plays an absolutely crazy chick that Steve dates. And I think maybe Zoey Deschanel will do something for us this coming season.

MW: Ed Asner is playing Stan's grandfather. Lou Diamond Phillips is going to be playing Stan's half-brother, who is Indian.

MW: Kanye West came to us. He's a big fan of the show.

MB: But he's on the Christmas show for Cleveland.

MW: He’s doing something for Cleveland. But if we find something for him he would love to do it.

How is it working with Seth MacFarlane?

KV: In terms of American Dad, besides him doing the voices, which is obviously a huge part of the show, he lets Mike and Matt really take control and run the show. He's much more hands-on with Family Guy.

MB: But ultimately it's a little sad to know that you're working with the guy who makes everything you write funny and the fact that there's going to come a time when I'm going to try to do something without him doing the voices and fall on my face.

MW: Yeah, he does have a way of being able to make anything funny. It's amazing. It's an amazing gift he has.

  • Season 5 of American Dad is out on DBD now, priced £27.99 – but click here to buy from Amazon for £9.99

Published: 10 Oct 2010

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With typical hyperbole, the show is described thusly: 'Under-rehearsed, under-prepared and under pressure, Nick and his band somehow managed to pull together the greatest show in the last 27 years of living memory. That show went down as a thing of legend, often spoken about by weary travellers around campfires, but thought to have been lost to the sands of time forever.'

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