Imagine a world where your girlfriend/boss was a sexy demon who shoots fire out of her huge boobs. Then, add in a zombie roommate who’s obsessed with chasing live tail and harbors a deep compulsion to eat your flesh, a wizard co-worker who gets hammered often and works very little, another demon superior who’s Dwayne Johnson-diesel, and an office full of creatures such as a fish-headed man and a timid koala with the body of a dude, minus any genitalia. Oh, and you’re a powerless human, by the way. Sounds pretty creepy, right?
On the contrary, it’s actually hilarious, a land where droll humor pervades and horror mythology gets turned on its head with every punchline and visual gag. It’s also the set-up behind Ugly Americans, the funniest animated show to hit Comedy Central in quite some time. With its second season premiere airing tonight at 10:30 pm EST, the half-hour genre mash-up is looking to gain a much wider fan base, coming off of a successful first season that earned the show a loyal, though not Cartman-sized, following.
Ugly Americans centers on Mark Lilly, an average Joe who lives in New York City populated largely by various monsters, all of which go about their daily lives like you or I, though with tentacles or some other kind of grotesque deformities. Mark works at the Department of Integration, where he’s tasked with helping law-breaking creatures slow their roll and become normal, unproblematic citizens.
Animated in a stark style that recalls the old EC Comics of the 1950s (Tales From The Crypt, Vault Of Horror), <em></em> it is a truly bizarre, and really damn funny, cartoon oddity. Needless to say, we’re big fans over here at Complex. We recently caught up with creator Devin Clark and executive producer Daniel Powell to talk about the show’s origins, its comic book roots, why anyone who’s ever been intimidated by in-laws or woke up with a mean hangover can relate to it, and what’s in store for the new season.
Complex: Ugly Americans doesn’t seem like an easy show to sell. Are you guys at all surprised that it’s made it to a second season?
Devin Clark: I don’t know, really. You always have to manage your expectations, and we were obviously hoping that we could come back and stick around for a while. But, you’re right, it is a unique show. We really have to thank Comedy Central for having the patience to stick with us as we find an audience. I think we’ve slowly been building equity with some fans.
Daniel Powell: For me, it was a little surprising, actually, because the show is so far out there. But, at the same time, it feels like there’s this growing emergence of appreciation for horror and this kind of “geek” culture. It’s pervading pop culture a lot more than it used to, so I felt like we were in the right place at the right time with a show like this. Everyone has an awareness of werewolves, vampires, and demons now; it seems like we’re at the perfect time to poke fun at the whole horror world. It worked out for us, and I’m psyched to keep making more episodes.
Are you both lifelong horror fans?
Devin Clark: Yeah, for sure. I grew up reading comic books—the first written stuff I ever read was comic books, even before I started reading books and what not. I was a visual kid, and I’m still a huge horror fan. This show allows me to combine three of my favorite things—animation, horror, and comedy—into one thing, and it’s kind of like a dream come true. It’s phenomenal.
Daniel Powell: I was a big collector, but it was more about superhero books, and sci-fi/fantasy stuff. That’s where my interests come from, but obviously Devin being the aesthetic voice of the show makes it more important for him to have the deeper comic book background than me. My nerdy side is just an added bonus. [Laughs.]
Devin Clark: The monsters live in my brain! [Laughs.]
Which comic books did you collect as a kid, Devin?
Devin Clark: You know, it’s funny, I never really got into the superhero stuff; I was always drawn to the weirder, more bizarre stuff. My mom was actually a comic book collector, and I found her secret stash of ’70s underground comic books when I was probably too young to be looking at them. I just got turned on by the whole R. Crumb, gritty, weird, underground stuff, and that influenced what kinds of comics I read later as an adult.
I really got into the indie titles, like the old black-and-white stuff rather than the superhero books. I was reading TMNT and Cerebus The Aardvark. A lot of the Manga that was coming in at the time, which was weird and far out, not like the stuff we’re getting now. I also really got into the old E.C. Comics horror stuff. For me, it was more about that gritty aesthetic that I was drawn to in comics.
The first season DVD has some very E.C.-inspired cover art, actually.
Daniel Powell: Yeah, it was really cool that Comedy Central let us do that, because, normally, their packaging has a very specific look. We wanted to go in a different direction and they were very cool with it.
Did the powers that be at Comedy Central jump onto the show’s concept immediately, or was it a tough project to get made?
Devin Clark: [Laughs.] I would say that it was not easy. I pitched the show to Dan, actually, when he was an executive in development at Comedy Central. I pitched it as a web show, a short-form kind of “man on the streets” interview show, and I pitched it with a comic. I had drawn all these panels, where each panel had a creature within the panel and, like, eight robots in one panel sitting around and talking about these esoteric topics.
So that alone was a tough sell. I think it took about a year to get that picked up by the head muckety-mucks at Comedy Central, even to get them to let us do a web show. Dan really did a phenomenal job of moving internally and pushing for the show. We got to do six episodes of that, which was called 5 On, through Atom Films, with a really funny crew of writers and voice actors, including Nick Kroll, John Mulaney, and Pete Holmes. That show and that idea of creatures treated as normal citizens was the seed of the Ugly Americans premise, which then took about another year after 5 On came out to work into a pilot. So, it’s been a while. [Laughs.] It’s been a four-year process.
Dan, when he first presented the idea to you, did you immediately get excited?
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The genre worlds of horror and fantasy have so many monsters and character types to choose from, and Ugly Americans has an insane amount of diverse characters. How’d you go about deciding which monsters to develop main characters from and which to only use as bit players?
Who can forget the girl from the first season with no head and eleven boobs covering her upper body?
It seems like you guys have free reign to be as wild and inventive with the show as possible. Do you make sure to keep some kind of filter on it while dreaming up the characters and bizarre set-ups?
When you guys sat down to map out this second season, did you look back at last season and find things you wanted to improve upon?
Tonight’s season premiere, “Wet Hot Demonic Summer”, gives some background about Leonard, the drunken wizard, and also my favorite character—definitely not mad at that.
And in a clever bit of timely satire, his new “kid” looks and talks a hell of a lot like Harry Potter.
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Ugly Americans has its loyal audience, but it’s still growing, in terms of establishing a bigger fan base. Are you guys happy with the growth pace so far?
Well, let’s get them excited right now—what’s in store for this new season?
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Devin ClarkInvasion Of The Body SnatchersWall Street
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