Interview with Aqua Teen Hunger Force’s Dana Snyder: Still Number One In The Hood

Considered by many to be Adult Swim’s flagship series, and by far its longest running cartoon, Aqua Teen Hunger Force is a show set in Southern New Jersey about the exploits of a “crime-fighting” milkshake named Master Shake, a box of French fries named Frylock, and a ball of red meat named Meatwad, sometimes including their neighbor Carl, aliens, robot ghosts from the future, rapping spiders from Hell, cursed sandwiches, etc.

Actually, I have no idea why I’m trying to explain the show. If you’ve seen the surrealistic show, you know what I’m talking about, and if you haven’t, I’m not going to be of any help.

The absurdist show is the work of several people, including series creators Dave Willis and Matt Maiellaro and voice actors Dana Snyder and Carey Means. Willis and Snyder are also involved in another Adult Swim show, Squidbillies, which is another experiment in anthropomorphism, this time involving hillbilly squids in middle America.

Again, you’d have to see it.

In the live event world that we’re living in, the principals of Aqua Teen and Squidbillies have taken the show on the road, so to speak, in a hybrid show including puppets, clip showings, contests, Q&As, and hopefully, a telethon. I may be reaching about the telethon, but you never know with these guys.

Snyder, the voice of Master Shake, fills us in on the live show, the audience, and the possibility that Danzig will show up.

What was the inspiration to take this on the road in the first place?

I think the inspiration was Dave saw everyone else doing it, and then said, ‘Hey, wait a minute, why can’t we do that?’ So then we did it. (laughs). Dethklok, Tim And Eric, you know. Both of those [live shows] had very organic [origins], as opposed to ours, which is ‘Hey, let’s go be jerks.’

I’ve done a lot of shows, and I’ve always wanted to do something like this, and we had kind of talked about it for a long time, but a couple of years ago we went and spoke at a school, like just a Q&A. And we were like, ‘Wow, we should do this once a month.’ It was really fun; we brought some clips.

And then they brought us to Australia for some convention. When we were there—you have a little panel you do—and we said, ‘Let’s write a song to start our panel off.’ Which we then did, and that was sort of how the rest of the show came in. We developed it off that.

Now we have a fellow New Jersey resident, James Wojtal has made all our puppets for us. He used to work for Jim Henson and stuff. He’s great. So we’ve got puppets, we’ve got songs, and we’ve got our surprise friend coming out.

I’m curious about the format, there are puppets, there’s Aqua Teen stuff, Squidbillies stuff, a clip screening, a Q&A…

Basically it’s kind of a variety show. It’s a variety show with all of those elements. At some point, we have a very expensive system for live via satellite. We’re going to have Carey Means, the voice of Frylock, who could not be with us, we’re having him on a satellite hookup on every show to answer questions that people in the audience may have for him.

Songs, puppets. It flows from one thing to the next. It’s a little cornucopia of awesomeness. Or terribleness, if you’re the girl who sat at the front at the New Orleans show, who decided that not only was her boyfriend an idiot but that we were idiots, and she was going to text all night until the intermission and then leave, and divorce him. Or whatever.

Have you had to deal with hecklers?

I would say yes, but we’ve only done four shows for this tour so far. And yes, everywhere we’ve gone there have been people screaming at us, but it’s sort of more how people scream at you at a rock concert. Rather than ‘You suck!’ they’re sort of ‘I don’t need no instructions to know how to rock!’ They are screaming at us but they’re fully supporting us, because they’re so excited and probably don’t get out of the house much. And they’re drunk, I also suspect.

What’s the ‘Show Us Your Meatwad’ competition?

That is a Meatwad sound-a-like contest. We’re going to bring up a number of people out of the audience who will do their best Meatwad imitation. Meatwad of course will be the judge of this. And then there is a very lucrative prize for the winner, which will usually involve them doing people’s voice mail answering machines so that we don’t have to, at the end of the show.

Is that the most popular of the characters to try to imitate?

By far. I could not tell you how many times. If we go somewhere where we’re representing Aqua Teen, if we hear an imitation of anyone, it’s got to be 99 percent, it’s Meatwad.

Not that many Carls?

I would say the order would be Meatwad, then probably Carl, then maybe Moonites, Ghost Of Christmas Future comes up more frequently than you’d think it would even though it’s totally electronic, not a lot of Shake.

Almost no Frylock I’m sure.

No. We’re both hard to imitate. Frylock’s is hard to imitate because it’s such a totally natural voice. Mine is also hard to imitate because it’s so much my own voice. I’ve heard a couple where they do the inflection, but it still doesn’t really sound like it. I’d like to say it’s because Frylock and I are way better voice actors than Dave. (chuckles)

Are you planning any subversive bomb scare terrorist attack campaign for this one?

No. We would not do that. No way. No comment. Not us (laughs). We don’t have anything to do with any of that.

You didn’t have anything to do with the marketing in Boston?

No. All the creative sides over there are very disconnected. That’d be like saying Dave decides what the billboards are going to be. It was an unfortunate incident that was mistook on many sides. We’re going to go back to Boston and make good.

You got a pretty bad review in the Boston Chronicle of the movie when it came out. They even mentioned terrorism in the review.

Of course. I do remember there was a theatre in Boston that played the movie and he said, ‘I will stop playing this movie at my theatre when I don’t sell a ticket to one of the shows.’ Meaning if one person came and said I want a ticket for the Aqua Teen movie, he was still going to play it. And I think it ended up running for six months, or something like that.

Guy probably lost a lot of money on that one.

Yeah. My in-laws are actually from Boston. I’m actually a little nervous of doing our show there just as to not offend my mother and father-in-law. I think she’s going to have a real problem when I come out with my Granny puppet and do Granny Squidbilly’s country cooking and giving out her recipe for her famous red snapper. ‘Country style.’ Absolute filth, but no dirty words. All cooking innuendo.

How did that Christmas album come about? That completely passed me.

Isn’t that interesting? I couldn’t find it on iTunes cause they didn’t have a keyword in there of ‘Aqua Teen Hunger Force.’ Or ‘ATHF.’ The only way you could find it on iTunes and I think Amazon is if you typed in ‘Have Yourself A Meaty Little Christmas.’ Not even Meatwad! Who’s going to remember that title? That was the point of it.

It all happened so quickly. Dave and Matt wanted to make a Christmas album for a very long time. But that whole album was made in basically three weeks, which is ridiculous. Normally you take six months to a year to do something like that. I remember we were writing and recording stuff—there’s a song on there called ‘Jingle Bells Deep.’ Two takes. Done. Next.

‘Maybe we can use this song from the Turner Song Library Production Music reels.’ ‘What if we speed it up?’ ‘Okay. And then we’ll sing this.’ ‘Okay, great.’ Done. Next.

So no Jersey Shore play? Nothing?

Maybe. We’re thinking the bus will probably break down on our way to New York, and then boom. It’s all you.

How is life on the road?

I’ll you what; today is going to be a big day, because today we have everybody who is going to be on the tour. Let’s just say one of New Jersey’s finest residents is finally going to be with us for the start of our official tour.

I’m guessing it’s not going to be Danzig.

No, this is very show specific, but not Glenn Danzig.

Danzig was on the show once.

Yes he was. Not only was he on the show, but he had approval of his character and he kept sending it back saying, ‘I’m way more ripped than that.’ And then they’d draw him again, and finally at one point, the animator who was doing his design had told Dave, ‘I literally can’t draw more muscles. Otherwise, he’s going to look like a monster. I can not draw him more ripped than what he is right now.’

Then they finally sent it to him and then he looked at it and said, ‘Well, I’m way taller than this.’ He was looking at a piece of paper with his character and nothing else on it. It’s not like he had a chair coming up to his shoulder.

Another Jersey resident is Zakk Wylde, who was also on your show.

That’s very true. He’s done a couple of things.

You guys have a pretty big catalogue or rather body of work by this point.

Let’s not use fancy words. A shitload. A crapload. A crap-bag full. We’ve got the hundredth episode coming up. That should be good. Which means we’ve really only done 50, since it’s half the length.

For some shows that run 22-23 minutes, you probably have more in 11-12. If you could measure absurdity.

That’s true. We don’t fluff it all up with all these other things. Like b-stories. We got one story, that’s it. None of this, ‘Oh, but what about little Tommy’s job at the store?’ The distracting story.

Aqua Teen Hunger Force Plus Some Squidbillies Stuff Live comes to the Nokia Theatre on May 11.