Laura joined a roundtable at the recent Wondercon in Los Angeles with American Dad co-creator Matt Weitzman and voice artist Dee Bradley Baker to talk about the show’s 200th episode, which aired on the 28th of March in the US. They chatted about what it takes to keep a show funny and grounded over twelve seasons and two networks…
Can you introduce yourselves just to get us started?
Matt Weitzman: I’m Matt Weitzman, one of the creators and showrunners of American Dad.
Dee Bradley Baker: And I’m Dee Bradley Baker. And I’m Klaus, a fish in a bowl.
Weitzman: Your voice is so resonant.
Baker: Thank you. Ein bischen.
Weitzman: You actually speak German, don’t you?
Baker: Yeah, I do. (Baker spouts a few words of German gibberish)
Weitzman: That’s great.
Baker: Actually that’s nothing—it’s nonsense.
Weitzman: Oh, well, you speak great fake German.
Baker: (More German gibberish, including something about dancing if my college German serves) That’s Nietzsche.
Weitzman: Mine’s not great. I can only sing Edelweiss.
So as showrunner do you ever have a day where you’re like, I just can’t? Where it’s just too offensive?
Weitzman: Well, I remember way back we once had a joke where Patrick Stewart, who’s head of the CIA, had a thing for little kids. And he actually was the one who would not allow the joke. He wouldn’t say it. So our monitor is kind of off. But yeah, we’ve had times where we know not to cross a line. We have a line, but it’s kind of been pushed forward now that we’re on TBS (cable station). They allow us to do a little bit more. But all in all, we monitor ourselves some. Not enough, maybe…
Baker: Can I ask a follow-up on that question? So on the Patrick Stewart thing, was it that he personally felt offended by it or because he felt that the character wouldn’t say it?
Weitzman: Well, I think it’s part-and-parcel.
Well, he is an advocate against abuse. Not child abuse, but domestic abuse.
Weitzman: Oh, huh….okay.
Matt, what’s the best thing you’ve had Patrick Stewart do you’ve had Patrick Stewart do?
Baker: A table read.
Weitzman: Well, the biggest compliment I’ve ever gotten was that Patrick Stewart was grateful to the show itself for opening the door to comedy for himself because he never really considered himself a comedic actor and being on the series really showed the world that he had these amazing comedic chops. I think that’s the best thing I ever heard him say. As far as any particular episode, there’s the one where he sang. There’s a song that he sings when he’s sleeping with Hayley: “I, I, I love little girls, they make me feel so good.” By Oingo Boingo. And when he was the on-camera host of American Dad when we did the kind of Masterpiece Theater thing. And he loved doing that. So we are very grateful to have him as part of our ensemble. He’s really great and a very generous fellow, very happy to do really anything with the exception of what we talked about.
Was he your first choice?
Weitzman: Yeah, I’m going to give all the credit there to Seth. That was his choice: to make the head of the CIA British, which blew my mind because the larger part of me says, “How can we have this British man being the head of the American CIA?” But it worked, and no one has really asked the question.
Baker: It’s really great how you don’t have to pay attention to logic or things like that.
Weitzman: Thank God because there are so many logic bombs in our show. I’ve said this before, but Roger was never expected to leave the house in that first year. He was expected to stay in the house like Alf. And then we discovered that, by putting him in a wig and giving him a little bit of an accent or something, suddenly the world doesn’t notice that he has no nose and three toes.
Baker: So I guess it’s not really an issue.
Weitzman: No, as long as we can justify it then the audience goes along with us.
Baker: Yeah, I think it’s great that you don’t have to explain it, that you can do all those crazy things and it’s okay.
Weitzman: It’s great that everybody’s willing to come along for the ride
Last week was your 200th show, you’ve been on for a long time now. And a lot of new shows that come on that are in an increasingly edgy or raunchy how do you sort of keep your age among this new crop of shows?
Weitzman: You can’t compare yourself, because once you start looking at other things, then you lose your own focus. So, no, we just kept on doing what we thought was best for the show. And sometimes you lose your way, but then you regain what your destination is. Which is always to come up with a funny, heartfelt show.
Baker: And that’s what’s key to me is the heart. The heart is affirmed…the family part. It’s not just about the jokes, it’s not just about making fun of reality and pulling things apart.
Weitzman: There is a love for each other and it all comes back together. As misguided as everybody can be, it all comes back to “We’re all in this together.”
Baker: And that’s why you care about the characters and that’s why you’d come back and watch the show again. Otherwise, we do become other shows that are all about edge. You watch those other shows and you just don’t care. Why are we here?
200 episodes. Do you ever find yourself really stretching for something new or repeating yourself?
Weitzman: You do end up repeating yourself in some ways. You end up using one character with another character in a similar story line. But the goal is to come up with new and fresh ideas as much as we can. We have a new set of writers. One set of writers were there for about the first eight seasons. And then the show was not going to get picked up, and people had to go out and get real jobs on other shows. So we brought another crew in, and luckily we had enough people who have been there from the beginning. That was kind of a blessing because we had new people with new perspectives to bring new life to the show that we didn’t have in the beginning, but we also had this base who knew the kind of show that we what we wanted to do. The new people had to adapt to that. But all in all, I think we’re the same show that we were in the beginning.
Baker: And it feels like that for me, in a good way. From the fish point of view. It could have been this thing where we started doing one thing and then it feels like we’re going off the rails and we’re doing something completely different, and I don’t even know where we are now. But it’s not feeling like that. It’s much more like where we started, but like there’s new manure added to the garden every week.
Weitzman: And as terrible as this sounds, you’re part of that manure.
Baker: Are you saying my performance is shit? That’s what you’re saying.
Weitzman: Yes, that’s what I’m saying in the best possible way. But like with Klaus… We had a version of Klaus in the beginning as kind of lascivious, and he played a much more minor role. But the new crop of writers of embraced the character much more, and so that’s why there’s a lot more love and a lot more parts for Dee and Klaus to play in our new world. That’s why he now has much fuller stories.
Matt, having done both Family Guy and American Dad–one very gag-based and the other more story-driven—do you think that these are two different audiences watching the shows or are these just two different pleasures? And how do you address either the two different audiences or the two different pleasures?
Weitzman: That’s a good question. I guess that I would say that it’s the latter, two different pleasures. You can’t have dessert for your dinner and then again for afterwards. You need the flavors: the two different flavors. We discovered that we had to be different from Family Guy. And I think that also that we discovered a certain degree of maturity in the audience that was gained desp[ite being initially just in it for the gags. As time goes on, you want a little bit more on your plate. And I think we’ve been able to offer that to our audience. Yeah, they wanted to be funny and gagging, but they also wanted to be more grounded. And it comes back to that heart thing. You want people to be able to connect with your show. And as long as we keep doing that, I think we can keep the Family Guy audience as well as have our own.
Matt Weitzman and Dee Bradley Baker, thank you very much!
Photo credits: Gary Richardson.