Brad Neely can’t stop creating. Since production wrapped on his new Adult Swim series Brad Neely’s Harg Nallin’ Sclopio Peepio in early 2016, the mind behind China, IL, “Cox And Combes’ Washington,” and Wizard People, Dear Reader has penned an audio-visual ode to Totino’s Pizza Rolls, worked on a novel, and shopped around an album’s worth of non-comedy songs. The title is intentionally nonsensical (“This one just made us laugh—it was our favorite collection of syllables,” Neely says in an Adult Swim press release), but Brad Neely’s Harg Nallin’ Sclopio Peepio might be the clearest articulation of Neely’s artistic voice to date. Simultaneously cerebral and silly, it combines elements of the sacred (an abiding interest in history, a wide vocabulary, a few gags about the divine) and the profane (gleeful toilet humor, abundant allusions to 1980s cinema) into a rapid-fire cavalcade of animated sketch comedy. Prior to the show’s premiere—Sunday, July 10 at 11:45 p.m. Eastern—Neely spoke to The A.V. Club about bringing Harg Nallin’ to the air, then left us with some parting words about the king of the apes.
Brad Neely: For some reason, I didn’t sleep very well last night. I live a very standard, regular lifestyle, and I go to sleep around 10:30 or 11, and wake up every day around 7 or so. But I just laid there—not in the usual anxious way of thinking about old past things. I was just laying there very awake all night, not in a negative zone. But it has definitely got me in a strange place this morning.
The A.V. Club: Well, you did just put the full first episode of Harg Nallin’ on Vine, so that could’ve been something that was keeping you up.
Brad Neely: Someone did that. I’ve been finished with this show since January, maybe? We had originally planned to air it then, but for reasons that are beyond my paygrade, we were pushing it to now. So I’ve been twiddling my thumbs. So to see a lot of this content is like, “Oh shit, that’s right! I did that!”
AVC: What made you want to explore the sketch-comedy, short-form realm after China, IL?
BN: I think that most people in my position have designs to do a show like this. It’s a format that really lends itself to animation—to do a quick joke, get out. And I’ve always done musical bits, and we always have little bits of funny that we try to fit into a narrative. This type of show I conceived as a place to dump a bunch of ideas, and not feel beholden to anything other than just being silly. I’ve always loved Saturday Night Live and Monty Python, and I wanted to live in those waters for a bit.
AVC: The show has a Pythonesque, stream-of-consciousness flow to it. What determines which segments go together into a single episode?
BN: We initially tried to do episodes that had a logical reasoning for [the segments] to be together, but we got rid of that early on. It was too restrictive. A lot of this show’s definitions came about through the production process. And I mean that by: There’s me who’s generating content faster than we can make. Songs: I go in my little whisper room—which I am in right now, it’s the perfect place to make phone calls—and make two or three songs a day sometimes. Or we’d write a bunch of skits. It started to get where we had all of these bits—like 600 bits. With animation, we wanted to get ahead of things, so a lot of it we would get down the pipileine and storyboard—and all the other processes—by way of having me scratch the audio before we went to get our talent. So “all of those things” is a long way of answering your question. All of those things determined “we just have to keep things loose. Don’t even think about episodes until we get a big batch of them.”
And then it’s a very unromantic method of putting together an episode. This is probably the real answer—you might not even want to touch what I just said. [Laughs.] We would look at it and say, “How many songs can we have? How man dick jokes can we have? How many poop jokes can we have? How many sex jokes can we have?” And then we’re like, “Is the cast represented? Do we have enough bits for Ilana [Glazer], for Darrell [Hammond], for Affion [Crockett], for Gabourey [Sidibe]?” And then we need to put all of these things together that way. That was the math that would determine an episode. You have 11 minutes to fill up, and sometimes we’d get way down the line and we’d be like, “Oh shit: It goes ‘Dick, dick, lady humor, lady humor, dick, dick.’ We gotta swap it so it’s like ‘Dick, lady, dick, lady, dick.’”
AVC: When it came to casting the vocal talent, what were you looking for?
BN: Also this is a very unromantic answer, I think: I wanted a dedicated cast. I wanted it to be diverse. And by that I wanted two men, two women, and I didn’t want it to be all white people. So we went with that first, and we sought people who fit those little quadrants, and we got what we got. And I think it really worked out. We asked a lot of people who were either busy or not into it. [Laughs.] That’s always part of it. But a lot of these people just really wanted to do this right off the bat.
AVC: The dedicated cast, a different guest star for each episode—would you connect that back to your appreciation of Saturday Night Live?
BN: Yeah. Initially, it was a show where we had talked about just bringing on musicians, and then maybe offering to animate their music. But all the licensing stuff is intense. So then the idea of “How do we do SNL, but make it go faster and make it not be hamstrung by any of the traditions or prerequisites that show might be beholden to staying true to?” So we’re like, “Bring on a guest, and let them do two or three things, and if they want to sing they can.” So there’s no musical guest, you just all lump it all together. Then we went after casting it with SNL people [Laughs.] like Darrell Hammond. We pretty much ripped off Lorne Michaels.
AVC: Animation is such a time-intensive process, and sketch comedy is so frequently powered by topicality and responsiveness. How topical can you be with this show? One of the early preview clips is about Donald Trump—is that indicative of what we’ll see as the show goes on?
BN: That’s about as topical as we’ll get. And if you’ve seen that, there isn’t anything that is speaking specifically to any kind of current Donald Trump headline. We made that bit early on in his announcement for presidency. And Trump, I felt like, “Well, he’s been in the news forever, so he’s not going to not be in the news by the time we get to this airing.” “Hopefully someone will not have killed him” is the only worry.
I don’t really like to make fun of people or celebrities. It’s not where I feel comfortable. So when we do a Kanye bit, or a Taylor Swift bit—which we do—those are more about my strange associations that come to mind about them then taking them down or being part of a national conversation. So, yeah, we might be talking about Kanye, but I think if anyone watches that is like, “What are they saying about Kanye?” Who knows?
AVC: It’s more about the general idea of that person, or the myth that they have projected out into the world?
BN: Yeah, but through my filter. My work can be called crazy or weird, but a lot of it is heavily scripted and down to the word and we’re very specific about what we’re after, even if it seems very random. But for this thing—for Taylor Swift, Kanye, we do one for Tyra Banks, we do one for James Bond—those are the only things that I’ve ever done that were completely ad libbed. Pretty much first takes. So I just think about Kanye and say what comes to mind. I think that’s how Kanye does it.
AVC: China, IL’s Baby Cakes make a brief appearance in one of the teasers posted by Adult Swim. Are there any other callbacks to your previous work?
BN: This might be an answer to a question that I fumbled earlier: We started this show while we were finishing China season three. And at that time, we were not aware that there would be no more China. So at the conception of Harg Nallin’, it was going to be like a weird show that could also be a satellite to the China universe. Some of the conceptions of what would be episodes one or two had China characters in them. There was a Pony bit that was way too nasty and racy and we had to cut it. Greta [Gerwig, the voice of Pony] did it and everything, but it was going to bump us up to a different rating, so we took it out. There was a Frank bit we removed. Once we knew China was over, we took out a bunch of those, and the only ones we kept were two Baby Cakes songs, because we just loved the songs. Jeffrey Tambor is a special guest on one of the episodes, and we had planned on him doing his character from China, but last minute we shuffled and were able to salvage the guest spot for him in a different way.
AVC: But from the first episode, at least, it seems like there might be a new cast of characters populating Harg Nallin’ Sclopio Peepio. Some of the segments—“Dog Dog,” or “Lil Perf”—feel introductory. Is that correct to assume?
BN: That is incorrect. I’ll probably never touch Dog Dog again, or Lil Perf. This is all about false introductions. We introduce characters, we get you to know them, and then we leave them. Much like how life is. You just get to know someone on a train ride, or on a bus, and you never seem them again. But you get kind of a good picture, and you can imagine what their living room is like. That’s what this is. There are hundreds of characters that are designed and named and turned, and we will never come back to them. That’s the kind of creator that I am. There are some people that I want to get in there and do 30 episodes about, and we know them a little bit more.
People ask me if I’m sad that China’s over, and I’m like, “Yeah, sure.” But that’s not what makes me excited. I’m just going to keep going, and make new people and new people and new people. There’s a band in Harg Nallin’ [Fruit Blood] that shows up a lot, and they’re the only ones I’m thinking, “If we do Harg Nallin’ 2, I’ll definitely do a lot more Fruit Blood songs.”
AVC: Do you think there will be a Harg Nallin’ 2? How was this process of coming up ideas that were primarily one-offs? Do you think you could do it again?
BN: It’s so easy. I don’t want to sound like an asshole, but this is what I do. [Laughs.] Some people are really good at being policemen, I guess. [Laughs.] This is what I do.
We actually have so much that we did that didn’t fit into season one that if they said, “Okay, we’re going to do season two,” we have the first episodes made. And I’ve got more coming that I’m just keeping a log of. It’s all about whether it performs well. Who knows, this could just be like a blip, and then I have to go back to writing narratives. Which is fine, I like that. But this is just being silly and trying to make [producers] Daniel Weidenfeld and Dave Newberg laugh and make it feel like we’re 14 again. That’s the mandate.
AVC: Is there anything else that you wanted to talk about that we didn’t get to?
BN: I’m wondering if anybody’s interested in that Tarzan movie. I’m so interested in Tarzan right now. I don’t know why. I want to know why we keep telling the Tarzan story.
AVC: It’s crazy that this movie exists in 2016.
BN: I know! But I find myself wanting to see it. I wonder what that’s about. It makes me think so many different things, like why we are so fascinated with Tarzan.