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Animation director J.J. Sedelmaier

Animation director J.J. Sedelmaier is the animator of the TV Funhouse skits which run on Saturday Night Live. They include The Ambiguously Gay Duo, Fun with Real Audio, and The X-Presidents. Sedelmaier and his animation company work on many other projects for TV and commercials. They have worked for MTV and Nickelodeon. He also has his own Cartoon Network series, Capt. Linger.


Other segments from the episode on June 27, 2001

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, June 27, 2001: Interview with John Lithgow; Interview with J.J. Sedelmaier; Review of the music of the band “Neu!.”


TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A

Interview: John Lithgow discusses his current and past projects
involving making music, acting and writing childrens' books

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

The popular NBC series, "3rd Rock From the Sun," ended its long run this month
after six years on the air. My guest, John Lithgow, starred as an alien from
another planet who has come here to secretly investigate the customs of
earthlings while posing as university professor Dick Soloman. Now Lithgow is
the voice of the villainous Lord Farquaad, in the animated film "Shrek."

Lithgow first became known for his starring roles in such films as "Blow Out,"
"The World According to Garp," "Twilight Zone," the movie, and "Terms of
Endearment," and for his acclaimed performance in the Broadway show, "M
Butterfly." He's added a new audience to his following, kids. He's the
author of two children's books, "The Remarkable Farkle McBride," which was a
best-seller, and a new one called "Marsupial Sue," which comes out this fall.
The books grew out of concerts Lithgow's been giving for kids featuring him
singing with an orchestra. He has a new CD for kids called, "Farkle and
Friends." I asked him how his concert career got started.

Mr. JOHN LITHGOW (Actor/Author/Musician): I've been doing concerts for kids,
literally as long as I've had my own kids, which makes it 30 years now. I
used to just play the guitar, in fact I taught myself the guitar when I had a
baby, just--I love the idea of playing for him. I've always played in kid's
classrooms and assemblies and benefits. And in the last couple of years,
well, I was asked to do a CD for Sony, "Singin' in the Bathtub," and about
half the songs on that had a big band, jazz orchestra background. And it just
occurred to me that this was a wonderful--this was great stuff for a big hall,
big orchestra, concert for kids. So I just started calling people saying I
would send them my CD and offered my services. I called The New York Pops,
who played Carnegie Hall, 'cause purely out of vanity, I loved the idea of
debuting at Carnegie Hall and they said yes and I was off.

I'm not the greatest singer in the world, but I have wonderful musical backup.
And it's not something that a lot of people are doing and I remembered when I
was a kid, people did it.

GROSS: Are you an alum of the Bernstein Young Peoples' Concerts?

Mr. LITHGOW: Yes, those--but much more Danny Kaye entertaining kids.
That--he's the one I remember--I remember him clowning around for kids in a
big hall and that's kind of how I imagined myself.

GROSS: Let's play a song from your new CD, "Farkle and Friends," that shows
how you're using your voice and how you're using the orchestra. This is
called "The Band Show Right Next to the Zoo." You wrote the lyric to this.


GROSS: And Bill Elliott, the band leader, wrote the music. Tell us something
about this before we hear it.

Mr. LITHGOW: Well, we were doing a recording session for another song, and I
heard the oboe player cleaning out his reed, and it made this wild squawk,
like a peacock, and I suddenly had this notion--the animals play the
instruments. And I cooked up this story of a little boy at an outdoor concert
next to the zoo, falling asleep and dreaming that the animals break out of
their cages and play the instruments, that was the genesis of it--just that
one squawk. So often with these songs I--I try to find some oblique way of
showing off the orchestra, sort of giving them a little guide to the
orchestra, a little music education without them knowing it.

GROSS: So this is John Lithgow with Bill Elliott and his orchestra from the
CD, "Farkle and Friends," "The Band Show Right Next to The Zoo."

(Soundbite from song, John Lithgow, "The Band Show Right Next to The Zoo")

Mr. LITHGOW: (Singing) The bison played bass. And the monkey, the fiddle.
A yak played the saxophone, right in the middle. The camel played
clarinet; the parrot, the flute; while the hippo had chosen the tuba to toot.
Siberian tigers, Mongolian goats, a super abundance of ...(unintelligible) old
notes. Oh, children, now remember whatever you may do, never play music right
next to the zoo. They'll burst from their cages...

GROSS: That's John Lithgow from his new CD, "Farkle and Friends," and he
wrote the lyric to that song. Now the movie that you're in now is a movie
that's being enjoyed both by adults and children, "Shrek," the animated film,
which is--which is currently showing--I--I want you to describe your character
of Lord Farquaad, for our listeners who haven't yet seen it.

Mr. LITHGOW: Lord Farquaad is--well, he suffers from something of a Napoleon
complex--he's a small man with a very grandiose self-image. And that's kind
of the central joke of his character so they--they hired a well-known tall
actor for the part. Basically I was hired for my tall voice. And he's a
completely repellent villain, I mean, he's one of the most odious, but he's
very funny, so that slightly redeems him.

GROSS: I want to play a clip from the movie in which you are torturing a
gingerbread man and dismembering him as you're torturing him, trying to get
him to talk.


GROSS: Here's the clip.

(Soundbite from movie "Shrek")

Mr. LITHGOW: (Evil laughter) Run, run, run, as fast as you can--you can't
catch me, I'm the gingerbread man!

GINGERBREAD MAN: You're a monster!

Mr. LITHGOW: I'm not a monster here, you are--you and the rest of that fairy
tale trash poisoning my perfect world. Now tell me, where are the others?


Mr. LITHGOW: I've tried to be fair to you creatures, now my patience has
reached its end! Tell me or I'll...

GINGERBREAD MAN: No! Not the buttons! Not my gumdrop buttons!

Mr. LITHGOW: All right, then! Who's hiding them?

GINGERBREAD MAN: OK, I'll tell you. Do you know the Muffin Man?

Mr. LITHGOW: The Muffin Man?


Mr. LITHGOW: Yes, I know the Muffin Man--who lives on Drury Lane?

It's our little homage to marathon man.

GROSS: Well--well--well, John Lithgow, tell me about developing the villain
voice for this.

Mr. LITHGOW: Well, it was kind of my stock in trade villain voice. I mean,
there's a lot of cliff-hanger--and, you know, it's very, kind of loose and
improvisation--the process. We sort of created the voice as we went along, in
fact, they somewhat changed the concept of Lord Farquaad over the years. You
know, we started on this like four years ago. And even as we did it we would
do every line three or four different ways to give them lots of choices to
string it all together.

GROSS: Do you have to do that because it's animated and when you're recording
the voice the animation isn't done yet.

Mr. LITHGOW: Yeah, they--the animation comes after, they animate to you. So
these recording sessions are extremely important. It must be a wonderful
process for them, it's something like acting I guess--to get all these
choices. And, you know, the actors are in separate--they record the actors
separately, too.

GROSS: So, you--you're doing your lines by yourself?

Mr. LITHGOW: Yeah. I was never with any of these actors. So they
just--they get to do the timing themselves--the comedy timing. And they're so
very good at it. And this is something that actors are accustomed to doing,
they're very proud of themselves, you know, they think this is what we do.
Well, the animators were incredibly skillful.

GROSS: Now did the--to what extent do you think the animators tried to take
inspiration from the actors' actual faces?

Mr. LITHGOW: Oh, it's very important to them. They--they had a video camera
trained on us at all times and in fact on their computer screens, there in
their studios, they could just punch up the actor speaking the lines at any
time. They know that the voice is much more than just a voice. It's the
whole face and it's even the body--the body language. So in very creepy way,
Lord Farquaad, I think, does resemble me.

GROSS: My guest is actor John Lithgow. We'll talk more after our break.
This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: John Lithgow is my guest. He's one of the stars of "Shrek," he also
has a new children's' book called "Marsupial Sue," that's coming out in
September, and a new CD called "Farkle and Friends."

Let's talk a little bit about how you started acting, which was very, very
young, because your father founded a series of original Shakespeare festivals
around the country.

Mr. LITHGOW: That's right.

GROSS: So how old were you when he started doing the Shakespeare festivals?

Mr. LITHGOW: He started his first Shakespeare festival in '51, when I was
six--five or six, at Antioch, in Yellow Springs, Ohio. And I--that ran on for
about eight years and it was like my summer camp. I would just--I, and my
sister and brother, we would just always be around--hanging around and
befriending actors, watching rehearsal. We even played, you know, the prince
in the tower, and the fairies in "Midsummer Night's Dream." It was really,
very exotic, kind of wonderful, arty, campy life. And it was all outdoors in
small town Ohio. So it was a wonderful combination of--it's kind of a cross
between Tom Sawyer and, I don't know, Dick Wittington.

GROSS: Well--well, at the age where most kids are watching Bugs Bunny
cartoons and things like that, you're involved in the Shakespearean
productions. How was, for instance, the story of Hamlet explained to you when
you were a child?

Mr. LITHGOW: I don't think anybody sat me down and explained a thing. I
just sort of got it by osmosis. They are great stories.

GROSS: Did you think of the stage as a place where stories that seemed really
interesting, but you couldn't quite understand, were enacted--because it was
Shakespearean language that was kind of out of your reach.

Mr. LITHGOW: Well, when I was in "Midsummer Night's Dream," playing
Mustardseed, one of the fairies--I guess I was about seven years old and I
remember the language just washing over me. I mean, this was just one of
these balmy Ohio nights, hearing Titania and Oberon argue about the changing

I remember--I remember rehearsing some Shakespearean comedy, or something, and
it was--rehearsing the first act, and the director saying, `Oh, this is the
part where nobody knows what's going on. Nobody understands anything.
Just--just get through it briskly, they'll understand it later. And I--that
really did stick in my mind as an important lesson. With something like
Shakespeare I think it's very important to have a nice long attention span
when it comes to really, any art--the same, certainly, for orchestral music,
you know, you've got to give things a chance to unfold and not--not panic,
`I'm not getting this, I'm not getting this.'

I remember seeing Peter Brooks great production of "Midsummer Night's Dream,"
in the white box, which was electrifying. The Demetrius, Helena, Hermia,
Lysander, the lovers who are going through all their troubles in the first
scene with Theseus--he had them simply stand in front of the audience and just
speak. Ben Kingsley was one of those, he was Demetrius. Simply, saying the
lines right out to the audience, it's like don't even pretend for this to be
real. This is where we lay out the story. And then, bit by bit, the show
took on human form. I'm not sure, you know, that can be abused. But it was a
wonderful, direct way of saying, here's the groundwork, you know, we'll go
with the story now.

GROSS: Are there any Shakespearean roles you'd particularly would like to do
as an adult?

Mr. LITHGOW: Yes. I want to play King Lear, eventually, now that I've--I'm
old enough to play it, but too old that I won't have the strength for it. So
some time in the next 10 years, I'd love to play King Lear. Curiously, I've
done almost no Shakespeare as a professional actor. I've done two, not very
good productions back in the '70s. But I was in 20 productions of Shakespeare
before I was 20 years old. But I'm kind of picky. I tend to be very
skeptical about a--I'm not a fan of bad Shakespeare and there's an awful lot
of that put on. I don't particularly want to be the best thing in it. You

GROSS: Now let me skip ahead to something that everybody knows you for now,
which is "3rd Rock," how do you feel about the series being over? Are you
sad, or is it part a relief to go on to other things?

Mr. LITHGOW: Well, it's very sad--it was intensely sad when it ended. I
mean, we shot the finally episode in January--it aired in May. And we were,
you know, you've never seen such tears and hugs. I mean, six years is the
longest job, you know, six times as long as the longest job I've done up until
then. Very close, all of us, we all loved each other, and loved working with
each other, and we were--it was an incredibly creative, fun process, doing
that sitcom. We did 138 episodes. And doing even one of those episodes is a
ball. You're just spending the whole week laughing, figuring out how to make
other people laugh. And it's, you know, very sad to see that come to an end.
I mean, the interesting about doing a sitcom is you're creating from whole
cloth and you're very much a part of the creative process.

GROSS: Oh, really? Because I thought, in a way, you get your script, you
show up, and--and you do it.

Mr. LITHGOW: Not at all. I would say "3rd Rock" changed my life because I
was so much a creative player, I was so much a part of the process. I began
to see acting in a different way.


Mr. LITHGOW: It's the collaboration with the writers, it's a--it's a medium
that's so driven by the actors and the writers, and--when they are working
happily together it all works. Because the actor's job is to give the writers
their--you know, give the writing its every chance. They give you a script,
you rehearse it full out so whatever doesn't work, they know about it right
away, and they can go rewrite it. And your job is basically a negative one.
You give it all you've got and you say, `You know what? This scene just isn't
playing. Something more has got to happen here. Something--I don't learn
anything from this moment,' or `What--you know, we have to create a crisis
here in order for it to be resolved.' You know, just asking all these basic

GROSS: When--when you were considering whether or not to take the part on
"3rd Rock," did your actor friends have advice for you about how TV would
affect your career for better or for worse?

Mr. LITHGOW: Well, the only actor I actually consulted about it was John
Mahoney, on "Frasier." And he said `You will love this process. This is
theater. It's not TV, it's not movie, this is like theater. You rehearse,
you rewrite, you have a super-charged audience. You'll just have a great
time.' And--I mean, I would say most other people were gravely skeptical, you
know? I said yes to "3rd Rock," and then it was about two years before it was
actually on the air. And during those two years early on I would say, `Yeah,
it's a fantastic series! I play this alien who's on a mission to investigate
Earth and he doesn't know what's going on, but he's ...(unintelligible).' And
they would look at me like I was--they would sort of smile and say, `Uh-huh.'
But early on I realized they thought I was nuts, so I tended to stop
overselling it.

GROSS: John Lithgow is my guest and now he has a new children's book which is
called "Marsupial Sue." It will be published in September. And he has a new
CD called "Farkle and Friends," in which he sings some classic kids songs and
some classic, kind of, novelty songs, and some original songs as well. Next
spring you will be starring in a new Broadway musical adaptation of the
classic film, "The Sweet Smell of Success." In the movie, Burt Lancaster
played this mean and--and kind of, bitter malicious gossip columnist named
J.J. Hunsecker, and that's the part you're taking.

Mr. LITHGOW: That's right.

GROSS: And in the movie Tony Curtis played the press agent who's always
trying to get his stories planted in Hunsecker's column and they have a, kind
of, interesting relationship.


GROSS: Tell us a little bit about this musical. The--the screenplay was by
Ernest Lehman and Clifford Oderts.

Mr. LITHGOW: Correct.

GROSS: Who's writing--who wrote the play? Who's doing the music?

Mr. LITHGOW: The book has been adapted by John Guare. The music is written
by Marvin Hamlisch, and the lyrics by a brilliant lyricist named Craig
Carnelia, and Nicholas Hytner is directing it, and Christopher Wheeldon--this
great, young New York City ballet choreographer--is choreographing it. We did
it last July in a workshop in New York, a six-week-long workshop. I mean, we
really worked in great detail and only performed it three times for 150 people
each. So I am emboldened to say it really is a great piece of work. I've
done it. It's nice to go into a project having already performed it.

GROSS: How many times had you seen the movie?

Mr. LITHGOW: I'd seen it a couple of times. And I saw it again, of course,
while we were doing it. It's similar in tone, but very different in many
ways. They'd done a brilliant job structuring it, if you remember the
film--the film sort of begins at a crisis point in the relationship between
J.J. and Sidney. Well, the play begins with J.J. and Sidney meeting. So in
a way, the musical is about the seduction and fall of Sidney Falco. You know,
you wonder, how in the world do they make a musical of this? Well, in all
sorts of extremely ingenious ways, Hunsecker is loosely based on Walter
Winchell. They went back to the interesting fact that Walter Winchell started
life as a vaudevillian, so by big number, as J.J. Hunsecker's great, old
vaudeville act, which he dusts off at a charity telethon--he sings and dances
while some horrible stuff is going on around him which he, himself, has put
into motion. It's kind of--it has the, sort of, bitter, almost Brechtian
power of Cabaret.

GROSS: Well, I wish you really good luck with "Sweet Smell of Success"...

Mr. LITHGOW: Thank you.

GROSS: ...and with all your children's concerts, and books, and CDs, and

Mr. LITHGOW: Thank you.

GROSS: Really a pleasure to have you here. Thank you so much.

Mr. LITHGOW: It was great, Terry. Thank you so much.

GROSS: John Lithgow is the voice of the villainous Lord Farquaad in "Shrek."
His new children's book, "Marsupial Sue," will be published this September.
He also has a new CD of children's songs called "Farkle and Friends."

I'm Terry Gross and this is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)


GROSS: Coming up, music from the German cult band Neu!. Three of their early
albums from the '70s have been re-released, Milo Miles has a review. Also, a
cartoon superhero who is dull, paunchy, and who punches a time clock. We talk
with animator J.J. Sedelmaier about Captain Linger and his cartoons for
"Saturday Night Live."

(Soundbite of music)

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Interview: Animator J.J. Sedelmaier discusses his work

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

You may recognize the name J.J. Sedelmaier as the animator of the Comedy
Central program "TV Funhouse" and cartoons on "Saturday Night Live," such
as The Ambiguously Gay Duo, X-Presidents and Fun With Real Audio. He's
also animated early episodes of "Beavis and Butt-head," created animated logos
for MTV, done animation for The Cartoon Network and worked on TV commercials.

Awhile back on FRESH AIR, we talked with Robert Smigel, the writer who
collaborated with Sedelmaier on "TV Funhouse" and the "Saturday Night Live"
animations. Before we talk with J.J. Sedelmaier, let's hear the first
Sedelmaier-Smigel collaboration. Their first project together was for
"Saturday Night Live" in 1992. They created an ad satirizing fast food
commercials. Their ad was for a restaurant called Cluckin' Chicken.

(Soundbite of ad)

Unidentified Singers: Something's cookin' at The Cluckin' Chicken.

CLUCKY: That's me!

Unidentified Singers: The Cluckin' Chicken.

Unidentified Man #1: Hey, Clucky, why is The Cluckin' Chicken so

CLUCKY: Everybody knows why. It's 'cause I'm flame-broiled. Yowsy-yow-dow!
But that's not all. I'm cooked fresh! First, my head's cut off. Heads up!
Then I'm plucked and gutted. My intestines are pulled out. Trust me, you
don't want 'em. Whee! Look at me. I'm getting quartered and split, breast,
wings, the whole nine yards. Choppity-chop! Then the pieces of me get
flame-broiled. Hear that sizzle? That's me, 550 degrees. Good thing I'm
dead or yowie!

GROSS: I asked J.J. Sedelmaier about working on that mock commercial.

Mr. J.J. SEDELMAIER: I was so excited to work on that. The production
process for "Saturday Night Live" was extraordinarily arduous, because they're
not used to producing commercials outside of their realm, I don't think. I
mean, here's a case where they had to deal with a production company that is
going to take an aspect of the commercial and do an aspect of it that was
going to have to match with the live action and so forth. And the turnaround
time was very fast. And there were changes that we had to confront. And, oh,
Robert and I weren't agreeing on stuff. And frankly, after Clucky, I did not
think I'd ever work with Robert Smigel again. But the product came out
great, and then after that, we got a call from the Conan O'Brien office. The
show wasn't on the air yet. And after, we did the titles to "Conan," and then
he went on to "The Dana Carvey Show," and that's where The Ambiguously Gay Duo

GROSS: Well, The Ambiguously Gay Duo is really funny. Describe the premise
for any of our listeners who haven't seen it.

Mr. SEDELMAIER: It takes the old idea of the "Batman and Robin" and the
adult with a young boy ward living in a mansion together and the innuendo of
them being gay and pushes it further with anything from the way their costumes
being a little bit tighter than normal and certain situations that come up
with how they get themselves out of jams. And I think Robert and I both agree
that if they had to say whether they're gay or not, they're not, so it's just
everyone's preoccupation with whether they're gay or not.

GROSS: And, of course, you really have fun with the way superheroes are
dressed, you know, in the tights and the capes. Now of course, in the tights
of The Ambiguously Gay Duo, you have an extraordinarily large bulge.

Mr. SEDELMAIER: Thank you.

GROSS: How did you figure out exactly how big to make the bulge, so that it
would be funny without being overly caricature.

Mr. SEDELMAIER: We actually went into months of testing where the networks
had their standards and practices go into testing, and the testing wasn't done
in this country actually. It was done in another country, in one--no, it was
taking it as far as we could take it without being totally preoccupied with
the visual aspect of it, taking their car with a long fuselage and so forth.
And it also not only plays on that, but it puts it in the context, the style
of the cartoon is done like all the Saturday morning terrible, terrible
animation that I grew up with that were basically animated radio scripts. I
mean animation had nothing to do with animation. It was just making a radio
script move, you know.

So there were two things going on here. One was doing the play on the "Batman
and Robin" thing or the gay thing, and the other thing was doing a play on the
Saturday morning cartoon stuff. And that ultimately, too, conveniently
enough, made it easier to produce, because we didn't have to be as careful
about doing beautiful drawings and, you know, flamboyantly intricate animation
and so forth.

GROSS: What are some of the cartoons that you grew up with?

Mr. SEDELMAIER: Well, I had the cartoons I liked, and then I had the
cartoons I grew up with. The cartoons I liked were the Warner Brothers and
the MGM and so forth. And the cartoons I grew up with were the Hanna-Barbera
filmation, totally inadequate, boring Saturday morning things. I never liked
"The Flintstones." I never liked "The Fantastic Four" and "Spiderman"
cartoons. And it was very frustrating, 'cause I read comic books, and I
learned to draw from comic books, but this was all we had, so I'd watch it.
But it was always so stupid, so it was fun to be able to do a parody like

GROSS: Now you mentioned that you really loved the Warner Brothers cartoons,
you know, Daffy Duck...

Mr. SEDELMAIER: 'Cause they were funny, but...

GROSS: Yeah. Well, how'd you see them? Were they on TV then or...

Mr. SEDELMAIER: Yeah. Yeah. I grew up in Chicago, and you could see them.
They showed them on TV. They never had "Tom and Jerry" on in Chicago. I
didn't see "Tom and Jerry" until after I moved to New York. But there were
some MGM--I did get to see some Tex Avery when I was a kid, that I remember
loving. But the Disney stuff, as beau--you know, we'd always go see the
Disney stuff when it would come out in theaters, you know. And they'd divvy
it out, and you'd get to see "Pinocchio" every seven years or whatever it was.
And I used to love and get excited to go to Disney stuff, but I never laughed
at Disney cartoons. They're weren't going for the laugh. They were going for
the, you know, beauty and all that stuff. I was much more drawn to the--and
"Rocky and Bullwinkle," too. I loved "Rocky and Bullwinkle," 'cause I could
watch that with my dad, and he would laugh at that. I didn't always
understand what he was laughing at, but I knew we could laugh at it together.

GROSS: We were talking about The Ambiguously Gay Duo. You're doing another
superhero now, Captain Linger, which has been, I think, on The Cartoon
Network. Would you describe this character.

Mr. SEDELMAIER: Right. Captain Linger is--he's a superhero with all of the
powers and abilities of a superhero, but he's kind of clueless when it comes
to interaction with other people. He's kind of clueless when it comes to
these stereotypical obligatory sort of things that a superhero does after
they've performed the feat. He may save the library from burning, but then
after he's done that, it's like he's punched out. He's having a hotdog, and
when it comes to helping, you know, the townspeople clean up or go through the
whole task, he's like, whatever. It's not malicious. He's just kind of dim.

GROSS: And dull.

Mr. SEDELMAIER: And dull.

GROSS: Let's hear him after having put out a big fire in the town. Here he
is talking with the hotdog vendor.

(Soundbite from "Captain Linger")

Unidentified Man #1: Mister, I thought I'd seen it all, but this beats all I
ever seen.

CAPTAIN LINGER: What else have you seen?

Unidentified Man #1: Plenty.

CAPTAIN LINGER: And this beats it?

Unidentified Man #1: Well, heck, yeah.

CAPTAIN LINGER: I saw a TV show once where they showed a doctor operating on
a kneecap.

Unidentified Man #1: OK. How about a dog?

CAPTAIN LINGER: Thank you. Whew. Boy, there's a mess if I've ever seen one.

Unidentified Man #2: I figure you're talking weeks, maybe months to clean
that up.

CAPTAIN LINGER: Wow. Yes, sir, you're talking city crews with trucks,
loaders and a month of overtime to handle this business.

Unidentified Man #2: Not counting the time it would take to rebuild. All
them little kids with no story time, no books or out-of-town papers.

CAPTAIN LINGER: Hm. You know what I like to do with out-of-town papers? I
like to look at the difference it real estate prices around the country.

Unidentified Man #2: Man.

GROSS: J.J. Sedelmaier, did you draw Captain Linger so that he would look
as dull as he sounds?

Mr. SEDELMAIER: In a way, yes. And the reason I answer it that way is
because the original idea behind Captain Linger as it was proposed to me by
Cartoon--Stewart Hill, who's the one who thought of the idea at Cartoon
Network--was that it was going to have kind of like a "Rocky and Bullwinkle"
approach. In other words, the look of the character and the look of the
cartoon itself was going to be cartoony. So in terms of him being drawn dull.
I thought a comic book approach, a straight approach, something that was more
rooted in a serious or--yeah, a more serious approach, wasn't going to
telegraph that something very strange or funny was going to happen. And
that's why he's drawn the way he's drawn. There's nothing unusual about him.
He looks like he could certainly be a superhero. He's a little paunchy, but
we did that just to kind of lend, again, a little bit more reality to the
situation. And so I think that's pushed the humor a little further than it
would've gone.

GROSS: What I like about Captain Linger is I think we've all met people who
we thought would be really interesting, 'cause they do such interesting work,
and they're so dull. That's Captain Linger.

Mr. SEDELMAIER: I hope that doesn't apply to this interview.

GROSS: That's exactly what I was thinking, that you're one of those guys.

Mr. SEDELMAIER: Yes. You got very subtle, the way you do that.

GROSS: Now did you grow up with a lot of superheroes, you know, reading them
in the comics, or...

Mr. SEDELMAIER: Yes. I grew up not only reading comic books, but I grew up
reading my father's comic books. And so superheroes...

GROSS: Oh, so they were older ones?

Mr. SEDELMAIER: They were older ones. And he's kept them to this day. I...

GROSS: That's funny, 'cause it's usually the parents who throw out the

Mr. SEDELMAIER: I know. No, I grew up in a very creative artistic family,
and, no, we were not one of the ones that threw away the comic books. We were
the ones that kept the comic books. Were the ones that went through the
garbage and pulled out the ones that other people threw away. So comic books,
and especially when I was younger, "Superman" was an incredible driving force
in my life from the TV show to the comic books and anything I could get my
hands on. And I used to sit with comic books and draw constantly. And as I
got older, I think I was able to slide into anatomy classes much easier
because of learning to draw from comic books.

GROSS: My guest is animator J.J. Sedelmaier. He's animated many of the
"Saturday Night Live" cartoons, as well as the Comedy Central program "TV

We'll be back after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: Animator J.J. Sedelmaier is my guest.

You've done a bunch of commercials. Let's talk about one of them. One of
them is for the Episcopal New Church Center. Describe this commercial and
what you were told by the church when it approached you.

Mr. SEDELMAIER: This spot was really exciting for me, because it came to
us--it didn't come directly from the church. It came through an advertising
agency in Dallas, the Richards Group. They had already done a print campaign
of some poster that they had sent me to show me how serious they were about
doing edgy work. And the reason they were serious about doing edgy work is
they were trying to reach a group for the church that the church and most
churches, for that matter, have trouble reaching. It's, like, young
teen-agers, who see church advertising and basically go `Give me a break,' you
know. `Talk to me on my level' kind of thing.

And so they had a basic outline of what they wanted to do, and again, they're
starting out with a cartoon approach that is kind of like an early '60s kind
of, like, `a visit to the dentist' sort of approach. Something that looks
totally innocuous and harmless. And the idea is a father is talking to his
son about--he's playing catch with his son, and they're going to go to church
this weekend, and they're going to have a lot of fun doing Bible sword drills
and sing "Kum Ba Ya" and all. And the father starts going off and clapping
his hands and singing. And the son sees this and realizes that this is almost
a fate worse than death and goes and stands out in the middle of the street,
and you hear a truck horn honk, and then you cut. Well, it's really jarring.
It's really disturbing, but it's exactly the sort of thing that the pastor,
Gene Bowlin(ph)--and this is for one church in Baltimore. This is exactly
what he needed to start forming this new flock, and it's worked marvelously
for him and continues to work for him.

GROSS: The idea of the commercial was, this is what you think church is, but
our church is different.

Mr. SEDELMAIER: If you got a problem with church, come talk to us. We'll
talk to you on your level, yeah. So...

GROSS: What's the animation style that you used for this?

Mr. SEDELMAIER: Kind of like an early 1960s industrial film look. Something
almost like a filmstrip kind of look. It looks like an illustrated brochure
on--like I said a trip to the dentist or something, really, really watered
down illustration look. We even faded the color out a little bit just to make
it seem dry.

GROSS: Your father did TV commercials, including the very famous commercial,
`Where's the beef?' So when you watched TV with your father, did he have
intelligent conversations with you about the commercials and about the

Mr. SEDELMAIER: It wasn't like `Now you see that, son? That's Helvetica
type. It has no serifs.' And he didn't start clapping and singing "Kum Ba
Ya" either. We'd watch stuff together, and we liked the same kind of stuff.
He's been an incredible influence on me. But it wasn't a conscious kind of
critique we would go through. There was observance more than anything else.
And the exposure that he gave me to stuff, all sorts of stuff, whether it was
animation, whether it was motion pictures, whether it was artists,
illustrators--I mean, he was interested in being a cartoonist when he was
younger. And the fact that I was looking at, not only my comic books, but his
comic books as well, you know, it set us up for having a lot in common, and we
still do.

GROSS: Let's talk about another animation that you've done with Robert
Smigel that's been on "Saturday Night Live," Fun With Real Audio. Again,
describe the premise of this.

Mr. SEDELMAIER: The premise is you take existing audio, and you animate
scenarios, situations that sometimes relate directly to the audio, other times
have nothing to do with it. You take Larry King and Ross Perot in an
interview on the Larry King show, and it starts out like a normal interview.
But as they're talking, not losing a beat, they're hang gliding together,
they're in a bathtub together with Larry King scrubbing his back. They make a
transition to being in a restaurant under the table talking to each other and
looking under a woman's dress as they're talking. And because you're not
losing a beat in the audio, it becomes very funny, because they just appear to
be going on talking and doing their normal thing.

We did debates. When we started doing the "Saturday Night Live" stuff, it was
an election year, so there were plenty of political pieces to work off of.

GROSS: So you're drawing real people and using actual audio that's come from
interviews or from speeches...

Mr. SEDELMAIER: We're drawing the people...

GROSS: Yeah.

Mr. SEDELMAIER: We're drawing the people that are talking, but we're taking
advantage of the fantasy realm of animation to do things to the people with
the people that you couldn't possibly do with any other medium, or not have
the flexibility to do anyway.

GROSS: And, of course, all the real people you're drawing are very
caricatured. Has anyone over threatened to sue or gotten, at least, very
angry with you for the way you've depicted them?

Mr. SEDELMAIER: On the contrary, I haven't heard of anyone taking offense,
not that I would get the letters personally. But we received much more
positive response. Tom Snyder, who we did a Real Audio piece on with an
interview he did with Dolly Parton, he ended up showing the cartoon on his
show on CBS. We actually put together a piece of artwork and sent it to Al
Gore, because he wanted a drawing of himself getting hit over the head by Newt
Gingrich. I didn't hear one person being upset about anything.

GROSS: In the title card on the "TV Funhouse" stuff that you do with Robert
Smigel, where there's a guy and a dog, and the dog is chasing a towel or

Mr. SEDELMAIER: The dog tears down the show--the photograph of whoever's
hosting, and then Lorne--that's Lorne Michaels--is chasing after the dog,
saying `Give me back my show.' The cartoon is...

GROSS: Oh, how do you like that?

Mr. SEDELMAIER: The cartoon is supposed to be taking over the show.

GROSS: I see.

Mr. SEDELMAIER: And that's why he gets in the tussle with the dog at the
very end, too.

GROSS: I never got that.

Mr. SEDELMAIER: Oh, boy.

GROSS: So was that your invention, that...

Mr. SEDELMAIER: No, that was Robert's idea. That was Robert's idea.

GROSS: I see.

Mr. SEDELMAIER: And we had to show that to Lorne in pencil test for him
before the first show. And he seemed to enjoy it enough.

GROSS: Well, J.J. Sedelmaier, thank you very much for talking with us.

Mr. SEDELMAIER: Thank you.

GROSS: J.J. Sedelmaier animated the pilot for the new series "Harvey
Birdman: Attorney at Law," which premieres on The Cartoon Network this fall.

Coming up the recordings of a German band with a cult following finally come
to America. This is FRESH AIR.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Review: Neu! re-releases first three albums

After many years of delays, the mysterious German band Neu! has finally
released its first three albums in the United States, albums recorded in the
'70s. Music critic Milo Miles says this is one cult group that deserves its
reputation for playing music way ahead of its time.

(Soundbite of music)

MILO MILES reporting:

It was the early '70s, and what rock would sound like in the future was
culturally and economically important. The rock of tomorrow would show
millions how to be cool heads and thousands how to make the big bucks. But
there were mixed signals. James Taylor was on the cover of Time magazine, but
huge drum kits, masses of keyboards and endless guitar solos had never been so
prevalent. Everybody was certain that the rock of the future would be
introspective and literary or else florid and symphonic. Wrong! It would be
dance music, and it would be avant-garde German, and nobody in America was
listening when it was first being played.

Michael Rother and Klaus Dinger were two musicians from Dusseldorf who
played a lot of instruments, but Rother was mostly a guitarist, and Dinger was
mostly a drummer. They met during a brief period in 1970 when they played in
Kraftwerk, which to this day is the most famous example of what is
affectionately called Kraut rock.

Kraftwerk is famous, because in one of the great inversions of pop music, the
super-robotic Kraftwerk sound was turned into the foundation of modern
electronic dance music. Rother and Dinger broke with Kraftwerk, because they
had their own ideas about the music of the future. In 1971, they became the
group Neu!, N-E-U exclamation mark, which means `new' as in `new, improved.'
Neu! has always struck me as being more of a rock band than Kraftwerk. This
is partly because Rother's vapor trail guitar playing is so prominent, but
also, it's rockers that have praised Neu!, including David Bowie, Brian Eno,
Sonic Youth, Radiohead, and particularly the group Stereolab, who derived
their sounds straight from Neu! numbers like "Hallo Gallo."

(Soundbite of "Hallo Gallo")

MILES: Neu! also seems like a rock band, because even though there are very
few lyrics, the group is powered by the uneasy interaction of its two members'
personalities. Both were urban technophiles, but Rother was dreamy, a Utopian
underneath it all. Dinger was sullen, a dystopian at heart. Theirs was an
unstable partnership, but neurotic tension is what drives the tunes. Rother
and Dinger were united against the hostile environment of 1970s Germany, a
country with a dark, sealed-off past, and a present split between drab
communism and drab consumerism. The best Neu! tunes made "Alien Nation" into
a thrill. You could imagine Rother and Dinger on a double date with the robot
woman from the classic German sci-fi film "Metropolis."

(Soundbite of music)

MILES: Neu!'s music has been notoriously hard to find. All the important
material is on the first three albums, "Neu!," "Neu!2," and "Neu! '75," but
they were never released in the United States. An endless series of wrangles
between Neu! and their German record company and between Rother and Dinger
themselves has kept the stuff out of circulation for decades.

The albums aren't perfect. For example, there's blatant filler on the second
record, because Rother and Dinger ran out of money during the recording
sessions. But those with curious ears should pick up the new debut called
"Neu!" and visit a world a lyrical paranoia. Hard to imagine how futuristic
Neu! sounded in 1972. Strange thing is, they still do.

GROSS: Milo Miles lives in Cambridge. The three Neu! albums are available
on the Astralwerks label.

(Soundbite of music; credits given)

GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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