Cartoon Network’s Regular Show’s Surprising Creative Process

It all started with lollipops


Who J.G. Quintel

Age 30

Gig Creator of Regular Show

News Winner of a 2012 Primetime Emmy Award; renewed for fifth season

Regular Show is known for its off-the-wall scenarios and characters; there’s a human gumball machine, another called High-Five Ghost. Where do they come from?

I was going to California Institute for the Arts. It came through this exercise the students come up with. The idea was to throw a word into a hat. We’d draw a word out of the hat and we’d come up with an idea for it. My first word was lollipop. So I came up with Pops and a whole story about it where he went to a restaurant and paid the bill with lollipops. The next year we did it again and the word was candy. I ended up drawing a gumball machine, and that was Benson. When Cartoon Network asked me to pitch something, I put it all together.

Mordecai, one of the main characters, is also based on you in college. What’s a real-life experience that you worked into the show?

There are so many. … In San Diego, where I go every year to Comic-Con, there was a restaurant where if you can eat a 12-egg omelet and biscuits and fruit bowl and all this stuff, you’d get it for free. I tried and failed miserably. The waitress even told me, don’t do this. That became an episode, and we won an Emmy for it. And jobs. I worked at a theater. I had two managers about my age and they would mess with me. I remember one night getting a phone call, and it was creepy. It was someone saying they were in the mall watching me. It ended up being them messing with me.

That became the “Prank Callers” episode. What’s the creative process like?

We basically sit in a writing room. We throw fake titles into the hat, then we draw one out, and everybody has two minutes to write an episode based on that title. Then we’ll read it all out. We’ve done 160 episodes. We’ve thrown away probably over a thousand. When everyone laughs out loud, you know you’ve got something.

The ’80s music and technology is a hallmark of the show. Is that to appeal to adults who grew up with those things?

Ultimately, it was for my own personal enjoyment of the ’80s vibe. There were so many things that made a big impression on me. Those giant brick cell phones, the video games that looked so much better on the package than they did inside—you look back on those things and they look horrible. So it’s just kind of fun to throw those things in.

Do you think the kids watching get the references?

I think they get it on some level. What I like even more is that their parents get it and they can talk to them about it. We really do want it to be for everybody.

How do you walk the line between making the show cool without running afoul of the censors?

We don’t want to make a show where adults feel they can’t make their kids watch it. But we don’t want to cater to just kids. When we do come across things that make us really laugh, it’s just a matter of making sure it’s not over the line. There’s a lot of things that are subtextual—movies, music. … As far as cheeky kind of stuff, we’ll play with language. Like, Benson has a line where he’s getting ready to play a game like Skee-Ball. He’s explaining it and says, “When the balls drop … ,” and Mordecai and Rigby giggle. It’s these subtle things.

You’ve had actors like Ed Asner and Mark Hamill voice characters. Is there anyone you’d love to have?

I would really love to get Jack Black. He’s got a great range. If he was ever willing to do it, we would definitely come up with something that would utilize his powers.

What’s the weirdest homage a fan’s made to the show?

Early on in the show, I saw someone had a tattoo of the baby ducks. And Benson. The fact someone would like the show so much they would want to put a permanent tattoo on their body—that’s amazing.

Publish date: April 18, 2013 © 2020 Adweek, LLC. - All Rights Reserved and NOT FOR REPRINT