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Interview: Christian Jacobs of Yo Gabba Gabba

I visited by phone yesterday with Christian Jacobs, frontman for the band The Aquabats and, more relevant to most of our readers, co-creator of Yo Gabba Gabba! (That’s him on the far right over there next to Brobee.) Christian called from his home in southern California, while his kids were getting ready for school. Side-of-the-mouth whispers to “go get your shoes and socks on” and quick breaks to discuss Silly Bandz with his five-year-old were terribly endearing. Kids will be kids, even when Dad created the most popular kids’ show on the planet…

Yo Gabba Gabba! Live comes to Kansas City (Midland Theatre) tomorrow (11/6/2010) for two shows. I believe there are still a few tickets available if you haven’t purchased yours yet!

Christian was at home, having taken a few weeks off of the Yo Gabba Gabba tour, to spend some time with his family before he heads back out on the road with his band, The Aquabats. The band has been around, in various incarnations, for more than 15 years – and is playing with Reel Big Fish next Friday (11/12/2010) at the Beaumont Club in Westport. Christian tells me that Reel Big Fish might drop some cuss words but that The Aquabats and supporting act Koo Koo Kanga Roo are perfectly family appropriate (it’s an all ages show – but not a kids’ show).

So, Yo Gabba Gabba. I asked Christian how YGG came about. After playing in a band and being on the road for important moments like his oldest daughter’s first steps (she’s 11 now), he decided to try to steer his career toward television and get off the road. So, he and co-creator Scott Schultz began work on what would become Yo Gabba Gabba. The irony, of course, is that the television show that evolved is now a live road show! But, this time around, Christian can take his family on the road a bit.

In fact, the Jacobs family was able to spend a few days in New York City recently when YGG Live! played Radio City Music Hall. Christian described the experience as “totally surreal”. He said that The Aquabats has played NYC many, many times but always in “little dives and clubs”, so to be on-stage at Radio City Music Hall was kind of a “weird thing”!

After traveling for years with The Aquabats in vans and buses, Christian laughed as he told me that his characters Foofa and Plex certainly have much cushier tour transportation than he ever did. The YGG crew has been on the road for two months now and have two months to go – Christian is “rooting for them to hang in there” because he knows how much of a grind it can be to be on the road for so long.

Christian describes the YGG Live! show as similar to the television show but says they “crank it up a little”. He recalled going to other live preschool-age shows with his kids and being disappointed that the music and dialogue was often pre-recorded and that the live characters were sometimes quite different from the show characters. YGG Live is the real DJ Lance and the real characters in a “crazy concert party with balloons, bubbles and confetti”.

He excitedly told me of the level of interactivity of the show, described kids dancing in the aisles and talked about fun celebrity guests. He quite sincerely described the fact that watching kids engage at the shows brings him a “a lot of joy, warms my heart and brings me to tears sometimes.” The show, according to Christian, is “presented in a Flaming Lips kind of vibe…but for preschoolers.” Love it.

So, how did Yo Gabba Gabba come about? As I mentioned, Christian was interested in being at home with his family more. He had actually had a few development deals in the late 90s to take The Aquabats to TV and so, his thoughts went to television.  He and Schultz began conceptualizing YGG. “Two dads in a garage, trying to make a children’s show” is how Christian described it to me.

They wanted the show to be rooted in all ages fun – even the choices of musical guests (bands like The Roots, Mates of State, The Shins, Of Montreal, The Ting Tings) was an attempt to “re-package things we like in a way that our preschoolers will like them too.”

When I asked how 80s hip-hop DJ Biz Markie got involved, Christian laughed and attributed it to an idea his co-creator Schultz came up with. They were able to track Biz down via his MySpace page of all things and Biz agreed to come in a film a “Dancey Dance”-type segment for the pilot. The segment didn’t have the right energy though – and Biz actually suggested teaching kids to beat box. And Biz’s Beat of the Day was born. (Biz appears in the YGG Live! show, by the way.)

Did you know that the artist who does Mark’s Magic Pictures is Mark Mothersbaugh? You may know Mark as the lead singer of Devo. Or you may know Mark’s music from Rugrats, many movies and many video games. Mark, like most of the show’s guests, agreed to be involved because his kids love Yo Gabba Gabba.

Christian said the real common denominator between YGG celebrity guests is “they’re doing it for their kids” and because of that they bring “a lot of love and energy to the show.”

Having told Christian a story about my soon-to-be-four-year-old twin sons stripping their shirts off to “box”, he closed our conversation by telling me that he really hoped I had a chance to bring the boys to the show. “We’re that kind of show,” he said, “Kids can take off their shirts and box in the aisles if they want. No rules, just fun.”

I was a fan before the interview – and probably a bigger fan now. Unlike a lot of children’s shows out there now, it really seems that Yo Gabba Gabba is really for the kids. Thanks Christian!

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