Way More Than You Ever Wanted to Know About Yo Gabba Gabba
Since its debut in 2007 on Nick Jr., Yo Gabba Gabba — a kid’s show featuring a red cyclops, a magic robot, a pink flower-girl, a green-striped guy, a blue cat-dragon, and a host wearing orange spandex and a fluffy hat — has become one of the biggest draws for the preschool crowd. But thanks to the show's hipster-friendly musical performances and celebrity guest stars, Yo Gabba Gabba has transcended its kiddie roots to become a hit with fans of all ages.
Who Comes Up With This Stuff?
Cousins Christian Jacobs and Scott Schultz got the idea for the show when, as two mid-30s dads, they were less-than-enthusiastic about the television shows their kids were watching. It wasn't that the other shows were bad; they were just boring and sanitized. With their experience as musicians and videographers, Jacobs and Schultz thought they could do something different. So they scraped together about $150,000 and began writing, animating, and shooting demo episodes of Yo Gabba Gabba in their garage. They posted these videos online and Jared Hess, director of Napoleon Dynamite, happened to see them. Impressed, Hess passed the link on to Brown Johnson, an executive at Nickelodeon, who said, “Lordy. Nothing else looks like this on television.” She quickly contacted the duo and, in a risky move that has obviously paid off, gave them complete creative control of their own show on Nick Jr.
Christian Jacobs was a child actor in the 1980s with bit parts on Highway to Heaven and Roseanne. He also appeared in Pretty in Pink and the Christian Slater skateboarding classic, Gleaming the Cube. But his biggest part was as Joey Stivic, the son of Sally Struthers’ Gloria Bunker Stivic, on the short-lived All in the Family spin-off Gloria. More on co-creator Scott Shultz in a moment.
Gabba Gabba What?
According to Jacobs, the name of the show is a nonsense phrase meant to be reminiscent of the first words spoken by a baby. However, that doesn't mean Jacobs and Schultz aren't happy the name also pays homage to The Ramones, who used the phrase “Gabba Gabba Hey!” in their song “Pinhead.” But that actually makes it an homage of an homage, as The Ramones were paying tribute to the original source of the phrase, the 1932 cult classic film, Freaks. In the film, “Gabba Gabba Hey!” is part of a chant uttered by a group of circus freaks as they welcome a new member into the fold.
The Gabba action figures that DJ Lance brings to life at the beginning of each episode were produced by Kidrobot, one of the leading names in the vinyl toy movement, and a branch of W!LDBRAIN Productions. For a brief time in 2007 and 2008, you could buy your own copy of the toys based on the original molds for about $50 each. But because the toys are now out of production, it's not unusual to see them go for upwards of $275 on eBay.
Theme Song Selection
The show's intro music seems suspiciously like the intro music from another kinetic kid's show, Pee-wee's Playhouse. Pay close attention to when the trees part on the Pee-wee's intro and you'll hear a lot of similarities between the two.
The show is a worldwide phenomenon, currently broadcast in Italy, France, the UK, the Netherlands, Australia, and Canada. Check out the French version of “Snacky Snacks” from Tiji, France's answer to Nick Jr.
Meet DJ Lance
DJ Lance Rock is actually Lance Robertson — and he really is a DJ. Robertson grew up in St. Louis, where he started spinning records in the early 90s before moving to Los Angeles at the age of 29. While in L.A., he played with a band, The Ray Makers, who played a few gigs with a group called Majestic, which counted future Yo Gabba Gabba co-creator Scott Schultz as a member. When the YGG guys were looking for a host, Schultz thought of the outgoing and friendly Robertson. After Robertson signed on, one of the first things he did was suggest they change DJ Lance's look to the now-iconic orange jumpsuit and fuzzy hat. The original costume included a waistcoat similar to the one worn by Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka.
While the other characters were created exclusively for YGG, Muno and Brobee were already around as part of the live show for Christian Jacob's kid-friendly ska/punk band, The Aquabats. Since shortly after their founding in 1994, The Aquabats have dressed in matching superhero costumes, fighting evil under aliases like The MC Bat Commander (Jacobs), Crash McLarson, Jimmy the Robot, Ricky Fitness, and Eagle “Bones” Falconhawk. The line-up has changed frequently over the years (Travis Barker of Blink-182 was briefly their drummer under the name “The Baron von Tito”), but the band still performs live and releases the occasional studio album. Naturally, they’ve made a handful of appearances on YGG, as well.
The Devo Connection
While most kids only know him as the kookie art teacher on the show, Mark Mothersbaugh was one of the founding members and lead singer of the New Wave band, Devo. Even when he’s not wearing a red terraced “Energy Dome” hat, Mothersbaugh’s career has been prolific as a composer for dozens of TV shows, films, video games, and commercials, including Apple’s famous “I’m a Mac” ads starring Justin Long and mental_floss favorite, John Hodgman.
Let's All Do It Together With Biz
Gabba fans learn how to beatbox thanks to rapper Biz Markie (born Marcel Theo Hall) and his “Beat of the Day” segment. Biz was initially asked to do a Dancey Dance routine for the show, but he has a bad back, so he offered to teach the kids how to do a beat instead. The producers loved it and it became a staple on the show. Parents know Biz best from his 1989 hit, “Just a Friend,” featuring his unique brand of rapping and “singing.” Shortly after the single reached #9 on the Billboard charts, he released his follow-up album, I Need a Haircut, but ran into legal trouble when he was sued for copyright infringement by singer/songwriter Gilbert O'Sullivan over a track that sampled O'Sullivan's song, “Alone Again.”
The ruling in the case had a serious impact on the music business, as now any time a musician samples another person's song, they have to get clearance from the original copyright holder. This usually involves some kind of fee, which makes producing songs with samples much more expensive. In response to the suit, Biz's next album was called, All Samples Cleared!
Here's one of Biz's segments on the show:
When You're in Trouble, and You Need Help...
The comic book the Gabba gang often reads, Super Martian Robot Girl, is the creation of married underground comic book celebrities Sarah Dyer and Evan Dorkin. Dorkin is the genius behind the small press comic Milk and Cheese about “dairy products gone bad” — a milk carton and a wedge of cheese who love to drink gin and beat people up. Dyer was an influential creator in the 90's zine scene, where she was one of the few people giving female zinesters a voice with her Action Girl Newsletter, which later paved the way for the similarly-themed Action Girl Comics.
The Trophy Case
Yo Gabba Gabba received Daytime Emmy nominations last year for Outstanding Achievement in Art Direction/Set Decoration/Scenic Design, as well as their first for Outstanding Pre-School Children's Series. They already have a BAFTA and a Television Critic's Award on their mantle, as well as two previous Daytime Emmy nominations for costume design.
Ever wanted to see Foofa pop a wheelie? How about Toodee ride a surfboard? Now you can thanks to a series of videos the Gabba gang shot to promote their line of Vans Shoes, a brand popular among the X-Games crowd. The characters shared the screen with some of the biggest names in the X-Games, like surfers Alex Knost and Jared Mel, skateboarders Bucky Lasek and Christian Hosoi, BMXers Allistair Whitton and Coco Zurita, and motocross stars Dean Wilson and Ryan Villopoto. You can check out the videos at Yo Gabba Gabba's official YouTube channel.
On the Road
Yo Gabba Gabba has performed a handful of concerts as part of the “Yo Gabba Gabba Live! There's a Party in My City!” tour. The live performances are essentially extended episodes of the show, with a lot more musical numbers and special celebrity guests on stage. For the L.A. show in November 2010, quite a few famous folks attended with their kids, including Christina Aguilera, Gwen Stefani, Mila Jovovich, Jack Black, and Nicole Richie. Snoop Dogg was a special guest for the Dancey Dance portion of the show and Mix Master Mike of the Beastie Boys was the DJ. Moby showed up when the tour reached Radio City Music Hall.
The gang invaded the Coachella Music Festival in 2010 where they performed, hung out with celebrity fans backstage, and even showed up to dance with the audience at other musical performances. (I can't even imagine how hot it must have been inside those suits!) Check out Muno's behind-the-scenes video for a glimpse:
For Halloween 2009, Brad Pitt donned DJ Lance's orange jumpsuit and fuzzy hat when he took his kids trick-or-treating. Lance was later quoted as saying that Pitt looked “Awesome” and invited Brangelina and the kids to hang out in Gabbaland anytime.
While most celebrities only come on the show to do a Dancey Dance or Cool Tricks segment, there have been a handful of guests that played a bigger role in an episode. The first was Jack Black, who had an entire episode dedicated to his adventures in Gabbaland after his flying motorbike ran out of gas. He got the gig after his wife emailed the show and practically begged them to let Jack come on because he was such a big fan. Since then, Angela Kinsey from The Office has played a teacher, the Tooth Fairy was played by Amy Sedaris, Mos Def saved the day as Super Mr. Superhero, and hard-edged food critic Anthony Bourdain cameoed as a doctor.
The list of celebrities leading the Gabbas in Dancey Dances or performing Cool Tricks is long, but here are some highlights:
Elijah Wood (Actor)
Sarah Silverman (Comedian/Actor)
Sean Kingston (Singer)
Sugarland (Country music duo)
Rob Dyrdek (Professional Skateboarder)
Tony Hawk (Professional Skateboarder)
Mix Master Mike (DJ for the Beastie Boys)
Andy Samberg (SNL Actor)
Laila Ali (Boxer and Muhammad Ali's daughter)
Amar'e Stoudemire (Basketball Star)
Here are some of the biggest bands who've performed on the show:
The Flaming Lips
Weird Al Yankovic
Taking Back Sunday
Paul Williams (who sang his most famous song, “Rainbow Connection”)
Jimmy Eat World
Hot Hot Heat
Mates of State
The Ting Tings