“Yo Gabba Gabba is like Coachella for pre-school kids,” says show co-creator Christian Jacobs, referencing DJ Lance Rock and YGG’s slot on this year’s massive California festival lineup. “In a weird way, it really fits, having Yo Gabba Gabba at Coachella. A lot of the bands have been on the show.”
Although departures from YGG’s studio template are necessary to facilitate the live presentation, familiar characters (Muno, Foofa, Brobee, Toodee, Plex), features (Cool Tricks, Dancey Dance, Biz’s Beat of the Day with the incomparable Biz Markie) and set elements will be integral to YGG’s stage extravaganza.
“It’s essentially like the television show, but live,” Jacobs says. “There’s more music and more interaction with the audience, obviously. It starts pretty much the same way, with Lance coming in and the characters in the boombox. Lance solicits the audience to help the boombox blow up really big so the characters are larger than life. ”
YGG’s Indie Rock genealogy is easily traceable as Jacobs and his creative partner, Scott Schultz, both front Indie bands (The Aquabats and Majestic, respectively). Nearly a decade ago, the pair was developing a show around The Aquabats (Jacobs’ costumed, cult-favorite Ska/Punk band) in a contemporary twist on a Monkees-meets-Batman/wacky-band-as-superheroes concept. Their simultaneous family growth and subsequent kids show patronage alerted them to the need for programming that was quirky, fun, musical and educational.
“The production values seemed so low, and yet they were doing really well,” Jacobs says of the other shows that were out there. “We thought, ‘Let’s put together some ideas to do a musical show based on what we like and what we think our kids would like.’ The stuff we watched with our toddlers was OK, it just didn’t seem very progressive.
"Classical music is great, but I’d see how my kids would react when we’d play dance music.
We were into ’80s Hip Hop around that time and our kids would really respond to it. But my kids loved The Ramones, too, or really simple ’50s Rock and even some newer stuff like the Pixies. The problem was subject matter — you don’t want your 3-year-old singing ‘Wave of Mutilation.’ ”
Yo Gabba Gabba ultimately resulted from a perfect storm of creative energy. Jacobs and Schultz were playing in their respective bands, putting them in constant contact with their musical peers, and they both worked in the art/marketing departments of upscale clothing companies, exposing them to cutting edge design concepts.
Unfortunately, the duo’s pitches for a kids show that blended educational values with an Indie Rock component and a fresh take on the zany atmosphere reminiscent of shows like The Banana Splits were generally met with blank stares from network executives. That’s when they had the idea that launched YGG into the stratosphere.
“We knew there was no way a network was going to pick it up,” Jacobs says. “We were trying to find the funding to make something. The idea was to independently make an episode or two ourselves, and if we couldn’t get it sold we could sell it on the Internet. Pulling the financing together took a couple of years, then we found (executive producer) Jon (Berrett), and we made two episodes ourselves, pitched them around and nobody responded.
“We put it up on the Internet, and that’s when it started clicking. People started e-mailing it around, and it made the blog circuit. Then people started calling us back, saying, ‘Hey, tell us about your show,’ and we’d be like, ‘Well, we sent you a copy two months ago, it’s probably sitting on your desk.’ It’s weird how that works.”
YGG really succeeded on a few key talent acquisitions. Schultz had met Lance Robertson earlier in the decade (Robertson did a radio show, found and loved a track by Majestic and contacted Schultz, leading to their bands eventually sharing a few bills) and immediately thought of Robertson for the show’s host. As DJ Lance Rock, Robertson is like a pre-school version of Bootsy Collins.
Another key element was bringing in Rap superstar Biz Markie. Schultz had an idea for his segment, but Biz offered the concept of teaching beatbox skills and thus was born Biz’s Beat of the Day.
“They wanted me to do the Dancey Dance and my back was hurting,” says Biz, whose profile has risen recently with his role in Yo Gabba Gabba and commercials for Radio Shack and Tune Up. “I said, ‘Why don’t you let me try ‘Biz’s Beat of the Day?’ They tried it out, and it got such an overwhelming response that they put it down for good. I love having a good time, and I love making the kids smile.”
In addition to regular appearances by Devo/soundtrack mastermind Mark Mothersbaugh (who does Mark’s Magic Pictures segment), YGG has attracted an impressive multimedia guest list, including Elijah Wood, Andy Samberg and skateboard legend Tony Hawk, plus artists as diverse as The Aggrolites, Of Montreal, Low, Sean Kingston and The Ting Tings. That trend has continued for two seasons of Yo Gabba Gabba and looks to get even crazier in the show’s soon-to-launch third season.
“It might be a generational thing, but we got a huge response from the music community,” Jacobs says. “Those types of people really gravitated and responded to the show immediately. The first season was really eye opening to see people respond to the show the way they did.
"We didn’t have any kind of formula or secret sauce. We don’t know what happened, but people really got it, and once we got that credibility, it snowballed from there.”
YO GABBA GABBA! LIVE!: THERE’S A PARTY IN MY CITY! hits the Aronoff Center Saturday with shows at 2 and 5 p.m. Get show and venue details and buy tickets here.
CHRISTIAN JACOBS and THE AQUABATS play The Mad Hatter Saturday night with Mustard Plug and Loudmouth. Get show and venue details here.