What It’s Like to be the Son of Zorn with Johnny Pemberton

We talk with Johnny Pemberton, the Son of Zorn himself, about what’s so special about his new hybrid sitcom.

Fox’s Son of Zorn Is a comedy that has been quick to catch a lot of people’s attention, not just due to the talent behind the program, but also because of the unique animated/live-action approach that the series takes. 

Zorn is a perfect example of taking a traditional sitcom idea and re-inventing it in a bold, creative new way. The series may still be establishing itself and making its mighty presence known, but something already clear is how great a job Johnny Pemberton (21 Jump Street, Peanut and Pickle) is doing as Zorn’s beleaguered, awkward son, Alan(gulon). With Son of Zorn’s first season still in its infancy, I got the opportunity to talk with Johnny about sitcom archetypes, serialization, and what would be the best animated body part to have.

DEN OF GEEK: Son of Zorn seems to hit a lot of familiar sitcom territory, but in some very new, exciting ways. What do you think a show like Zorn is trying to say?

JOHNNY PEMBERTON: I think you’re right about it that it’s familiar–almost pattern familiar. Maybe it’s even kind of mocking those particular tropes. I think it’s saying, “Watch this and then buy the products that are advertised during the commercials. Laugh a lot, too. Laugh a lot while you’re watching.” 

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One of my favorites touches from the show so far are in those moments where you actually see how similar Alan is to Zorn. What’s you take on Alan and how much of his father is in him?

Well he’s half his father, genetically. Yeah, I mean there’s obviously that. He’s his father from the waist down. He’s animated. There’s that inescapable reality that he has to deal with at all times. That’s like a big deal! 

Well that reveal of Alan’s cartoon legs is a great gag. Would cartoon legs be something that you’d like to have in real life? What would the major benefits or cons be there?

I don’t know! I think the only negatives would be self-inflicted. In terms of being embarrassed about them or being self conscious. Once you get over that hurdle I think it’s just all literally getting over hurdles. You could run hurdles infinitely faster. I would love it. I would love to have a cartoon digestive system. That’d be great.

Cartoon hair. I feel that would look perfect all the time and you wouldn’t have to worry about grooming. 

Yeah, it’s forever-at-the-beach look.

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Are there any exciting guest stars on tap this season? I’ve liked the brief glimpse that we’ve seen of Mark Proksch’s Todd at Zorn’s office. He’s the best.

Yeah, we’ve got a lot of him. There are a ton of guest stars! I think Fred Armisen’s in there at some point. We’ve got Keegan-Michael Key and also Nick Offerman from Parks & Recreation, who plays Corben the Cave Doctor and he’s great. That’s like a character that pops up a lot. A Zephyrian doctor. 

A show like Son of Zorn certainly seems like it would be more episodic in nature. However the second episode closes on a very ominous note. Does Zorn play with serialization and continuity at all?

There are definitely some bigger storylines that happen later in the season. There are some real big cliffhangers. The show is both though. You can pick up where you left off because Zorn is such an easy person to understand. I laugh at Zorn all the time; laughing at the idea of Zorn doing anything. Sometimes I’ll just think about Zorn, and he’s such a clearly defined character, that it’s just funny! So I think that it’s easy to drop into things, but also to enjoy the continuity of the story. There’s a bunch of that.

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Fox is doing a New Girl and Brooklyn Nine-Nine crossover event this season. If the Zorn universe could cross over with any other FOX show, what would you like to see it be?

I’d like to see it crossover with New Girl and Brooklyn Nine-Nine and just be the third wheel! That’d be great. Either that, or maybe a football game. He could play for one of those teams that had a name that should have been changed a hundred years ago. 

I’ve seen some of your stand-up and I dig it a lot. As unlikely as it is to enter the series, who do you think would end up having a better stand-up act, Alan or Zorn?

Ooh, I think Zorn would start strong but then end badly because he’s gotten overconfident. He would coast and he would fail. I think that Alan would end up being the stronger voice in the end because he would make up for his lack of confidence with strong writing and research!

Your podcast, “Twisting the Wind,” is something else that I enjoy a lot. It’s just such silly fun. Obviously you’ve gotten busier, but is the podcast still something you’re working on putting out?

Actually I’m starting a new podcast that should be out in a couple of weeks. I’ve got a few in the bank right now. I’m starting a new one that’s called “Live to Tape” that’s going to be on Feral Audio and be similar to “Twisting the Wind” but be all live because the editing process is just too much for me to do. So I’m going to be doing that one and it’s premiering with an episode with J.K. Simmons. So yeah, I’ve found some time to do it and I’m trying to make it so I can keep it as ongoing. It’s such a fun thing to do.

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Awesome. Do you know when “Live to Tape” will be coming out?

I’m thinking like the first week of October. 

You’ve been fortunate enough to work on a few projects that Phil Lord and Chris Miller have had a hand in. Do you think that you made any of the short lists when they were trying to pick the new Young Han Solo?

Well i don’t know! I have no idea about that. I didn’t want to play Han Solo. I told them that I wanted to play a real small role that just shows up for one line and leaves. I actually made an audition tape for them. I made it public, but I sent it to them privately before I posted it. It’s on my YouTube channel. I invented a couple really small roles like “Bartender” or “Host” since obviously everything is being kept under wraps, but I made a tape! They liked it but I haven’t heard anything back yet if I’ll be in the movie. Who knows!

You want to be like Young Han Solo’s friend that gets killed super early on!

Or like a guy that just goes like, “Uhh, I think your car is leaking something. Later!” And then leaves. 

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Lastly Johnny, is there anything from this season that you’re particularly excited about for people to see?

There’s a bunch of stuff. There’s something that’s really cool and interesting that’s coming later. I can’t even hint at it, but there’s so much absurd stuff happening. There’s an episode where Alan is using a piece of Zephyrian technology, and that’s pretty cool. It’s this animated handheld thing. All of stuff, I’m always interested to literally just see what it looks like! I just want to see how it’s animated because on the day I’m just holding a cardboard tube in green paint. All of that hybrid stuff that’s just really mixed in with real life I’m just excited to see for myself. It’s just such a weird thing to witness.

Son of Zorn’s first season is currently airing on Sundays at 8:30pm, on Fox.