nickelodeon
nickelodeon

15 Fun Facts About Rocko's Modern Life

nickelodeon
nickelodeon

Rocko’s Modern Life hasn’t been on the air since 1996, but that doesn’t mean fans aren’t still nostalgic for the residents of O-Town. Here are some facts you might not have known about the classic Nicktoon.

1. The creator had an early altercation with a television.

Show creator Joe Murray had a television fall on his head when he was 5. The cartoonist said there was no physical damage, but it may have explained his "slightly dislodged view" of the world. The end of the show's theme song features a television falling on the cartoon's characters—a possible callback to the real life event. 

2. Rocko’s Modern Life was created at the beginning of Nick’s golden era.

Nickelodeon opened Nickelodeon Studios in 1990, and the following year started producing its own cartoon shows (known as Nicktoons). The fledgling kids' channel was aiming to produce edgier, higher quality content than what other networks were creating for kids. The first three shows in development were Doug, The Ren & Stimpy Show, and Rugrats.

At the same time, Murray was creating short animated films and sending  copies to various people in the media. A copy of his film My Dog Zer—about a man with a dim-witted dog—found its way to the desk of Linda Simensky, the head of animation development at Nickelodeon. Simensky and the Nickelodeon team were enthralled by the movie and asked Murray if he would like to develop an original series. The newbie animator was hesitant, because children’s television was not very good quality in the '80s, but reluctantly agreed.

“There were no rules. Nothing held us back," Murray said in the book Not Just Cartoons. "Once we did a four-minute episode. Another one had no dialogue, just pantomime … so Steve Hillenburg, Doug Lawrence, and I were able to do a lot of weird things we couldn’t have done today.”

3. The show was Put together by an all-star team.

When Murray opened his new studio in Los Angeles to start Rocko’s Modern Life, he brought in talented animators from The Simpsons, Cool World, and Who Framed Roger Rabbit. He also worked with many newcomers, who eventually moved on to other amazing cartoons. Some notable examples are: Steve Hillenberg, creator of SpongeBob SquarePants; Nick Jennings, art director for SpongeBob and Adventure Time; and Jeff Marsh and Dan Povenmire, creators of Phineas and Ferb.

The voice acting was also top notch: Carlos Alazraqui (Reno 911) played Rocko; Doug Lawrence (known as Mr. Lawrence by his fans) doubled as director and voice of Filbert; and Tom Kenny (best known for his role as SpongeBob) portrayed Heffer. Prior to the cartoon, neither Alazraqui nor Kenny had any experience voice acting.

4. There’s a funny story of how Mr. Lawrence came to play Filbert.

Originally, Lawrence had only come onto the show to direct one of the storyboard teams. After feeling a kinship with the character Filbert, he decided he wanted to voice the neurotic turtle. The actor snuck his audition tape into the box of submissions. Without knowing whose tape he was listening to, Murray immediately decided the voice was perfect. “After nearly dozing off listening to audition after audition, I put in one more tape of someone voicing Filbert and quite literally jumped up, yelling ‘THAT’S IT!’" Murray recalled in Not Just Cartoons. "I didn’t find out until later that it was Doug Lawrence, so I can’t be accused of playing favorites."

5. Rocko is based off a Wallaby Murray saw at the zoo.

In the original pitch to Nickelodeon, Murray described his character as a 20 year old male scrub wallaby, who was “a young anthromorphic Woody Allen, who has just moved away from home into a surrealistic adult world.” In this sketch, he described the character as somewhat spacy and “naïve to the new chores of life.”

The creator can thank a trip to the zoo for this character outline. The little kangaroo seemed oblivious to the chaos around him; Murray liked the idea of a character “set within the eye of a hurricane called life.” He created a character called Travis, who starred in a comic strip that later went on to inspire Rocko’s Modern Life. Travis’ name was changed to Rocko because he sounded more like a fighter.

6. The theme song is by the B-52’s.

Kate Pierson and Fred Schneider from the B-52’s sang the theme song for the show from the second season on. They were actually the second choice: Murray originally wanted Danny Elfman to create the theme, but he was booked.

7. The office was very relaxed.

Often referred to by Murray as the “Wild West,” the cartooning world in the early '90s was a bit of a free-for-all (one crew member once brought an unloaded gun and holster to work for show and tell). Children were often invited into the studio, and Mr. Lawrence could often be found in pajamas, eating cereal on a fold-out couch. Afternoon breaks consisted of headstands, workers posing as bowling pins, or singing Brady Bunch songs. Pranks were also rampant—think gym socks in the coffee filter. Despite the shenanigans, all the cartoons were produced on time.

8. Rocko was originally yellow.

Characters often undergo many changes during production, but the wallaby’s color swap still bugs creator Joe Murray. During the pilot, Rocko was a bright lemon yellow. Nickelodeon approached a toy company to make stuffed animals of the character, but the company said they already had a toy with similar coloring. In order to avoid confusion, Nick was asked to change Rocko’s color. Murray fought to keep the yellow, but eventually had to change it to the beige color we know today. In the end, the switch was for nothing; the toy company pulled out of the agreement.

9. Rocko’s Modern Life is an outline-driven show.

This means that the creation process starts with a premise. Writers laid out the story beats in an outline, and artists fleshed out the story with gags. Dialogue and jokes were written during storyboarding, taking advantage of visual storytelling. After the storyboards were completed, a recording script was typed up, and the voice acting was added.

The other kind of scripting for cartoon is script driven, where everything is written at once right into the script. Dialogue-heavy shows like American Dad and The Simpsons use this method.

10. The characters are designed to be easy to draw.

Murray wanted it to be easy to teach others how to draw his characters because he knew he would have to train a lot of people to recreate them. He needed to teach 200 people in Korea and 50 people in the United States how to draw each character, so they had to be easily replicated. He released several YouTube videos—like the one above—explaining the process for drawing his characters.

Some tips include: Heffer’s body resembled a hamburger, while his mouth is like a hotdog. Rocko’s feet are the same shape and size of his head cut in half. Bev and Ed Bighead share the same shape and outline (they also share the same voice actor, Charlie Adler).

Murray said that by the end of the show, the artists in the crew were drawing the characters even better than him; eventually, the crewmembers even started correcting his versions.

11. "Leap Frogs" was taken off the air.

A lot of inappropriate jokes slipped past the censors (including a scene where Rocko literally spanks a monkey), but one episode pushed it too far. In “Leap Frogs,” a neglected Bev Bighead decided to seduce Rocko. The episode ends with the Bigheads reconciling and breaking plates with their tongues. Angry parents found the episode to be too sexual, and the network pulled it.

12. Rocko almost had a sister.

In the original pitch to Nickelodeon, Rocko had a sister named Magdalane, who had two children. After going into production, the character was dropped because Murray felt the story worked better if Rocko was on his own. Then, in the season 2 episode "Wake Up Maggie," Murray added Magdalane back in. The general premise was that she was a narcoleptic. The network was found the plot a little strange and was on the fence about the character.

During a press conference, one reporter asked Murray why he didn’t have more positive female roles in Rocko. The creator rebutted that the show didn’t have any positive male characters either, and that the show was not made to have role models. Immediately after the event, Nick executives asked Murray to add Magdalane to the show and make her a strong character. Feeling unwanted pressure, the creator dropped the female character entirely.

13. This led to the creation of Dr. Hutchinson.

Nick continued to push for a strong female character on the cartoon even after Murray rejected Magdalane. They wanted a positive female character with a strong hook, so Murray and his team made one who literally had a hook for a hand. The new female “role model” was Dr. Hutchinson, a dentist who lost her hand to a crocodile patient.

14. Some of the characters were inspired by Murray’s childhood.

Rocko’s best friend Heffer was inspired by the creator’s own childhood friend. Like the cartoon cow, Murray’s friend is adopted and enjoys bologna sandwiches.

Ed and Bev Bighead are based off two cankerous neighbors Murray had growing up. “Whenever the baseball fell on their lawn, they would never give it back,” the creator explained. He made the characters cane toads because Australia was having trouble with the animals around the time of the cartoon’s conception (a problem that continues today). Bev’s hair is based on Murray’s mother’s hair in the ‘60s.

15. The "Wacky Delly" episode mirrored real life.

Just like the character Ralph Bighead, Murray wanted to get out of his job. He was nearing the end of his contract and wanted to move on. Someone brought in an old Dole promotional film about putting pineapple on meatloaf. They wanted to use the footage, but could not get permission. Murray made do and created his own pineapple meatloaf that you see in the "Wacky Delly" sequence.

BONUS: You can follow Joe Murray’s latest work on his blog.

Rocko’s Modern Life may be over, but the creator is still working on various projects and animations. You can see what he’s up to by reading his blog here.

Additional sources: Creating Animated Cartoons with Character: A Guide to Developing and Producing Your Own Series for TV, the Web, and Short FilmNot Just Cartoons: Nicktoons!

13 Ingenious Facts About Rube Goldberg

You turn a fan on, and the air blows a tiny toy sailboat until it hits a domino, causing a chain reaction as hundreds of dominoes are knocked down. As the last domino falls, it pushes a lever that triggers a sharp blade to swing, cracking an egg onto a griddle. An overly elaborate contraption that accomplishes a simple task—in this case, cooking an egg—is an example of a Rube Goldberg Machine.

It's named for inventor and cartoonist Rube Goldberg, and although you’ve most likely seen funny sequences inspired by Goldberg’s machines in films, TV shows, music videos, and comics, you probably don’t know much about his life. In honor of what would be his 135th birthday, here are 13 ingenious facts about Goldberg.

1. HE EARNED AN ENGINEERING DEGREE FROM UC BERKELEY…

Born in San Francisco on July 4, 1883, Goldberg enjoyed drawing as a child and took art lessons from a sign painter. After studying engineering at UC Berkeley, he graduated in 1904 and mapped sewer pipes and water mains for the city of San Francisco. “I studied engineering because my father thought that all cartoonists were, you know, good-for-nothing, Bohemians, and couldn't make a living drawing pictures,” Goldberg revealed in a 1970 interview with Radio Smithsonian.

2. …BUT QUIT HIS JOB TO BECOME A CARTOONIST.

After just six months of work, Goldberg knew that engineering wasn’t the right fit for him. So he worked as a sports cartoonist at the San Francisco Chronicle before moving to New York City to be a cartoonist at The New York Evening Mail. Some of the comic strips and single-frame cartoons he created had names like "Boob McNutt," "Lala Palooza," and "Foolish Questions." Because his cartoons were nationally syndicated, he became famous and was extraordinarily well paid.

In the mid 1910s, he started illustrating complex contraptions, including a machine that automatically reduced a fat man’s weight and a sanitary way to lick a postage stamp. Between 1929 and 1931, he drew his absurd machine inventions for a series called “The Inventions of Professor Lucifer G. Butts,” which was inspired by his experiences in college engineering classes.

3. ONE OF HIS POLITICAL CARTOONS WON A PULITZER PRIZE.

In 1948, he won a Pulitzer Prize for a political cartoon called "Peace Today," in which he depicted the precarious balance between world control and destruction due to the atomic bomb. In a separate political cartoon (shown above), he drew a Rube Goldberg Machine to criticize President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s strategy to fix the economy by creating multiple governmental agencies.

4. BECAUSE OF HATE MAIL HE RECEIVED, GOLDBERG CHANGED THE LAST NAMES OF HIS CHILDREN.

The Goldberg family in 1929. Wikimedia Commons

Goldberg and his wife, Irma Seeman, had two sons, George and Thomas Goldberg. During World War II, Goldberg, who was Jewish, was publishing a good amount of political satire; he began receiving large amounts of hate mail, which included numerous death threats. To safeguard his sons, Goldberg decided to change their last names. When Thomas, his older son, chose the last name "George," Goldberg's younger son, George, decided to choose the same surname so that the brothers would have a cohesive family name. Thus, Goldberg's sons became known as Thomas George and George W. George. 

5. HE WROTE A FILM FOR THE THREE STOOGES BEFORE THEY WERE FAMOUS.

Twentieth Century Fox hired Goldberg to write a script for a feature film involving his complex machines. After writing in Hollywood for three months, the film came out in 1930. Called Soup To Nuts, the film wasn’t hugely successful, but it starred a pre-fame Three Stooges. Before they were Moe, Larry, and Curly, the vaudeville group consisted of four men who called themselves Ted Healy and his Stooges. Besides Healy and his Stooges, Soup To Nuts featured machines such as an anti-burglar device and a self-tipping hat.

6. HE WENT TO JAIL FOR REFEREEING A FIGHT IN HARLEM.

Goldberg admitted that he went to jail once, during his early years as a cartoonist for The New York Evening Mail. While covering fights for the newspaper, another sports writer would occasionally earn extra money refereeing the (illegal) fights. Goldberg accompanied him to cover a fight in Harlem and ended up keeping time since he was the only person there with a stopwatch. Before long, cops raided the fight and arrested Goldberg for being the timekeeper. An older fighter from the ring paid Goldberg's $500 bond.

7. HIS NAME IS AN ADJECTIVE IN THE DICTIONARY.

In 1931, Merriam-Webster immortalized Goldberg by putting his name in the dictionary. According to Merriam-Webster, Rube Goldberg is an adjective that means "doing something simple in a very complicated way that is not necessary." Speaking about his unexpected fame, the cartoonist later said: "I incorporated those [chain reaction machine inventions] in my regular cartoons and, for some reason or other, they were taken up. They stood out and I'm typed as an inventor; I'm a crazy inventor … and my name is in the dictionary and I'm very pleased." According to Goldberg’s official website, he’s the only person in history to be listed as an adjective in Merriam-Webster (as just the name alone, as opposed to namesake adjectives like, say, Shakespearean or Machiavellian).

8. AT 80 YEARS OLD, HE BECAME A SCULPTOR.

Most people don’t begin entirely new careers in their 80s, but Goldberg decided to take up sculpture. “I just bought some clay, and some sticks, tools and all, and I didn't know you had to use an armature [a wire frame around which sculptors build the clay],” he told Radio Smithsonian. He viewed sculpting as a natural continuation of his engineering and cartooning work, and he even got commissions for his work. Goldberg molded busts of politicians, authors, and friends, and he had shows of his work in New York and California. In 1970, the Smithsonian's Museum of History and Technology featured an exhibition of his career; Goldberg died in December of that year at age 87.

9. THE REUBEN AWARD FOR CARTOONISTS IS NAMED AFTER HIM.

Musicians have Grammy Awards, actors have Oscars, and cartoonists have Reubens. Since 1954, the National Cartoonists Society has awarded the Reuben Award for Outstanding Cartoonist of the Year to a top cartoonist. Named after Goldberg, whose full name was Reuben Garret Lucius Goldberg, the award itself is a statue based on one of his sculptures. He later joked that the trophy looked grotesque, and although the award is named after him, it took him 22 years to win one himself.

10. HE GOT HIS OWN U.S. POSTAGE STAMP.

Goldberg’s black and white cartoon of a man using a self-operating napkin became a U.S. postage stamp in 1995. The colorized stamp shows the steps involved in the contraption: the man raises a spoon to his mouth, and a napkin wipes his mouth after a series of steps involving a string, ladle, cracker, parrot, seeds, cup, cord, clock, lighter, and sickle.

11. EACH YEAR, TEAMS COMPETE IN RUBE GOLDBERG MACHINE CONTESTS.

Since 1988, teams of students have competed each year in Rube Goldberg Machine Contests to build machines that evoke the spirit of Goldberg. Teams compete for prizes such as Best Design and Funniest Step (one step being a transfer from one action to another). Prior winners have built elaborate contraptions to zip a zipper, water a plant, erase a chalkboard, and open an umbrella.

12. YOU CAN USE AN APP TO CREATE A DIGITAL RUBE GOLDBERG MACHINE.

To try your hand at creating your own (digital) Rube Goldberg machine, download the Rube Works app on your phone. As the first officially licensed Goldberg game, Rube Works allows players to build machines to achieve simple goals, such as getting a glass of orange juice. The game incorporates puzzles, illustrations, physics, and logic, challenging players to build functional machines to get to the next level.

13. HIS FAMILY MEMBERS CONTINUE HIS LEGACY.

In the late 1980s, one of Goldberg’s sons started Rube Goldberg, Inc. (RGI), a company that keeps the cartoonist’s legacy alive via licensing and merchandising. RGI also hosts Rube Goldberg Machine Contests, created the official Rube Works app, and promotes science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics education. Today, Jennifer George, Rube’s granddaughter, serves as the company's legacy director and recently published a book on his work.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
iStock
Why Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Was Hero Turtles in the UK
iStock
iStock

by Simon Brew

When the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie made it to British cinemas in 1990, there was a disparity that became immediately apparent to the youth of the United Kingdom. By this time, kids around the world were familiar with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon series, yet kids in the UK knew it under a different name: Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles.

So, why the change?

At the time, the British government was on the offensive against violence in children's television, and ninjas and nunchucks were both in the firing line. As such, in spite of the preexisting comic line, it soon became clear that Ninja Turtles wasn't going to be allowed near England's impressionable youth. Thus, the turtles needed to be heroes, not ninjas, and the cartoon theme song lyrics, action figure packaging, and video game box art needed to reflect that.

Since the movie wasn't being screened on children's television, it managed to escape the alterations and keep its original title. However, nunchucks were still taboo, so only brief glimpses of Michelangelo's signature weapon are seen in the UK version of the movie—and they're never used in action. The censorship was so strict, that in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze, a scene in which Michelangelo uses a pair of sausage links as faux nunchucks was also edited out, leading to the following note from the British Board of Film Classification: "After turtle takes down sausages and uses them as a flail. Reduce to minimum dazzling display of swinging sausages indistinguishable from chainsticks."

The changes in the cartoon name stretched well beyond the UK and actually affected other European countries as well. Episodes of Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles were aired to children in Austria, Germany, Norway, and Belgium, before the title eventually reverted to Ninja Turtles as subsequent reruns began airing years later. And if you visit Nickelodeon's UK website for the most recent Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon that began in 2012, the name remains unchanged (you can even see a picture of Michelangelo holding some nunchucks).

It's fair to say that the Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles name is pretty much no more, but here's a look at the edited intro sequence that British children got to watch:

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios