Christian Jacobs on Yo Gabba Gabba, Stage-Diving Kids and Biz Markie

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Courtesy photo
Yo Gabba Gabba's Brobee and Plex with Chromeo.
What do you do when you have kids but you can't stand any of the TV programming geared toward them? Get together with a longtime buddy and make a low-budget version of what you'd like to see on television.

That's how Christian Jacobs, lead singer of the punk band The Aquabats, and friend Scott Schultz created Yo Gabba Gabba, the kids' TV show that's equally as popular with non-kid-having adults, thanks to its retro charm and indie spirit.

This Friday, Yo Gabba Gabba Live! is coming to Verizon Wireless for two shows. Art Attack talked to Jacobs about the show's inspiration, his favorite bands and teaching little kids to stage dive.

Jacobs and Schultz, longtime friends and creative partners, first started making short films when they were teens. After each had kids, they came up with the idea for a show that appealed to both children and parents, taking cues from the things they themselves loved as children.

"That's why it has a retro influence, and a lot of things we pay homage to with the artwork. It's fun to say, 'This is just a crazier version of this show or that show.'"

Both men had always intended for music to play a large role on the show. When they were pitching the pilot, several bands showed interest.

"Myself and Scott, we're the guys still going to Coachella and going to see The Flaming Lips," he said. "A lot of indie bands around L.A. responded quickly and positively."

Musicians including the Ting Tings, DEVO and Chromeo have done segments on the Nick Jr. show. From there, the possibilities for guest appearances seemed endless, Jacobs said.

"We thought, wouldn't it be rad if Biz Markie came out and taught kids how to beat box?" Markie now has his own segment on the show, Biz's Beat of the Day. Mark Mothersbaugh of DEVO teaches kids to draw. Fashion designer Todd Oldham has done a crafting segment.

Jacobs said that getting DEVO and Mothersbaugh to perform on the show was a major coup -- the band was his favorite growing up. Now he's got his eyes set on The Pixies. Show host DJ Lance Rock happened to meet Frank Black backstage at a show Black had attended with his family. Lance invited the band to film an episode, and Black expressed interest, but the scheduling hasn't worked out yet. Other, newer bands Jacobs would like to see include Passion Pit and Foster the People.

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Jacobs said the show's characters were inspired by his and Schultz's own children. Muno is clumsy but outgoing, Foofa is girly and somewhat pushy, Brobee is often nervous but loves to dance and Toodee is independent but sometimes selfish. Plex the robot and DJ Lance Rock round out the main characters by acting as parental figures.

"We took the personality traits of our own kids and split them up. Kids at this age, they go through different moods every day and are figuring out who they are."

And Jacobs is very much about exposing kids to new things to help them figure out who they are. Last year, he caused some controversy by inviting kids at an Aquabats show onstage and helping them stage dive for the first time by tossing them into the crowd.

"People made a big deal about it, that it could be dangerous," he said. "It's not uncommon to see parents there with their kids. We just have faith in the crowd and the kids. That's something they're going to remember for the rest of their lives.

"But it's not something our insurance company encourages, so we've curbed that practice," he said.

That drive to expose kids to new experiences has also informed Yo Gabba Gabba.

"What was turning me off about children's programming was that it's so homogenized and safe. I'm creating something where there's a live experience. It's important. And essentially it's just a big party for the kids."

And hopefully a party for the adults, too.


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