Interview: Kevin Shinick on 100 Episodes of “MAD”

MAD_Ep100_AEN_100th_BumperMAD, Cartoon Network’s quarter-hour mixed bag comedy series is turning 100 – 100 episodes that is! On Monday, November 11, the Warner Bros. Animation-produced series will celebrate its 100th episode with a half-hour premiere special. In anticipation of the milestone, NICK AND MORE was given the opportunity to speak with MAD’s creator, producer, writer and voice actor, Kevin Shinick. Some questions were taken from NICK AND MORE’s followers on Twitter, Facebook and through email.

NICK AND MORE: Can you walk us through the production of an 11-minute episode? How do all the segments get placed together? Are the recurring segments (like “Spy vs. Spy” or “Security Cam”) made all at once and then divided up throughout the season? Is the series completely animated in-house in the U.S.?

KEVIN SHINICK: Our show has many elements to it. Visually, I like each episode to be like a mini animated film festival, and content-wise I like to cover a lot of ground in terms of the number of formats we parody. Meaning each episode should have a movie, TV, commercial and promo parody as well as general gags and shorter bits. That being said, since we also strive to be topical there’s no point in writing all of those sketches at once because they would become quickly dated, so we’re constantly writing and updating the sketches we have. As you pointed out, however, a few segments can be done in advance, (namely the Spy vs Spys or the security cams) But even those need some planning since we know we’re most likely going to have holiday themed ones, but those are the only segments that can be put into the pipeline right off the bat. And I’m proud to say that not only do we have an awesome in-house staff, but the stuff we do farm out is done all within North America. Which is another reason I think we’re able to produce so fast and furious.

MAD_Ep100_MAD_Of_SteelNICK AND MORE: How do you find the right two pop-culture items to fit together in the main segments of each episode?

KEVIN SHINICK: It really is a case by case basis. Or more accurately, a sketch by sketch basis. Usually I let the funny come first and then decide which would be the best way to present the sketch, but sometimes the writers and I set out to purposely tell a specific gag in a particular medium. Every Halloween I know I like to make the movie parody to be a stop motion bit, so we focus on what stop motion movies deserve the MAD treatment that year. As a result we’ve come up with A KITCHEN NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS, FRANKENWINNIE and this year’s DORALINE.

NICK AND MORE: MAD is like a mini animation festival each week. Does the use of different animation styles help make each segment better, and how is it determined which segments will be animated in each style?

KEVIN SHINICK: Again, it depends on the sketch. For instance, if a joke relies heavily on a person’s appearance I probably wont do it in stop motion, but rather use a photo head or something else. Or I might want to mix mediums and put puppets into a live action type world if I think the juxtaposition of the two will be funnier.

MAD_Ep100_Worst_Show_Ever.groupNICK AND MORE: You guys have been really good at staying current, both with “MAD News” segments and other segments throughout the show. How soon is an episode complete before it airs on TV?

KEVIN SHINICK: The longest sketches to do are the movie parodies, which take between six to eight weeks, so feasibly we can get an episode on the air within two months. Then, as you’ve pointed out, we like to stay even more topical with the MAD News Anchor or the “Mad Moments You May Have Missed” segments so I usually record those about two weeks before the episode airs. So yes, we are basically writing up to the delivery of the episode which is about a week before you see it on TV.

NICK AND MORE: Any reason the “Spy vs. Spy” segments went from 2D animation to stop motion? Also, do you purposefully try and make the times White Spy or Black Spy win even?

KEVIN SHINICK: When we first started it was just random that the Spys were in Flash. But as we went on, I realized that I wanted to have even more stop motion segments, and seeing what a great job Stoopid Buddys did with them I thought it would be a great way to cement at least one recurring stop motion block per episode. And oddly enough, during our first season I wasn’t focused on who was winning until people started to write in saying how come the white spy wins more? So since then I’ve tried to balance it out, because really, I think they’re pretty evenly matched.

MAD_Ep100_Superheroes_Like_UsNICK AND MORE: Some segments share a visual similarity to the TV series “El Tigre”. Are they animated by the same people/crew?

KEVIN SHINICK: Yes! The great thing about our show is that we have so many talented and established animators working on MAD that I often compare it to an All-Star Game. In this case Jorge Gutierrez was one of the great minds behind El Tigre and I was blessed to have him contribute to MAD as well. Not to mention, Sergio Aragones, Mark Marek and a number of others who have had successful shows on their own and who now help make MAD the success that it is.

NICK AND MORE: How does the show avoid copyright infringement? Have there been attempts to force the show to stop using certain characters?

KEVIN SHINICK: For whatever reason, my career has been rich in parody. So by now I know what it takes make fun of something while also making a strong enough satirical comment so that we don’t get in trouble. Not to mention we have a great legal team here at Warner Bros. who make sure I don’t slip. And while there may have been times when I’ve had to change a look slightly or add some additional commentary, I’ve never been told I had to flat out stop using certain characters.

MAD_Ep100_AEN_and_SPYS_OpenNICK AND MORE: Are there ever complaints for spoofing/mocking TV shows that air on the network?

KEVIN SHINICK: To be honest, I’ve been looking forward to our first cease and desist letter for years now and it’s never come. To the contrary, I’ve received letters and emails from people or shows we’ve parodied saying how much they enjoyed it and how it made them feel validated. So clearly, I’m doing something wrong.

NICK AND MORE: Some of my personal favorite standout segments are “Avenger Time” and “uGlee”. What are some of your favorite segments from the show?

KEVIN SHINICK: Those are actually some of mine as well, but if I had to add to the list I would include Thomas the Unstoppable Tank Engine, Pooh Grit, Linkong and most of the musical parodies we’ve done (Like The Superfriends song, Hulk Smashed and Smallville: Turn off the Clark.)

MAD_Ep100_Snappy_Answers_To_Stupid_QuestionsNICK AND MORE: Congratulations on the 100th episode! Did you think back in 2010 that three years later you guys would have completed so many episodes? How have you tried to still keep the show fresh? What do you have planned for the show moving forward?

KEVIN SHINICK: I’ve said this often, but I still remember walking out of the edit room after delivering our first episode (Avaturd) and thinking, “Well, we have at least one funny one. Hopefully we’ll do it again.” And that’s been our attitude the whole way. We never save the best stuff for later or put in “filler” sketches. Every episode we have pushed 100% to be the best show we could be, and clearly putting in 100% has gotten us to 100 episodes. And since the show continually holds a mirror up to what’s going on in pop culture, I think the show will always be fresh because there will always be new things to parody. Plus every time I come across some sort of animation that I haven’t seen before I try and get it on MAD. As I look back over the past four seasons, some of my favorite episodes were the “specials” like the Halloween specials, the Christmas episodes and the All-Primate “Ape-isode!” So maybe more specials for the future. But right now I’m just taking in the fact that we’ve done close to two thousand sketches in just three years, so maybe the future should also include a nap.

NICK AND MORE would like to thank Kevin Shinick for taking the time to answer our questions and for Warner Bros. Animation arranging the interview. The 100th episode of MAD airs Monday, November 11 at 8:30 p.m. ET/PT for a half-hour special on Cartoon Network.

Below is a clip from the 100th episode of MAD:

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