Interview by Sean Boelman
Working closely with series creator Michael Cusack, Koala Man showrunners Dan Hernandez and Benji Samit helped to craft an immersive alternate version of the Australian suburb Dapto. We at disappointment media got the opportunity to talk with Hernandez and Samit about the writing of the show, balancing its tone, and staying true to the real-life Dapto. Check out the full interview below!
On Creating a Show That Is Silly Yet Grounded
disappointment media: So Koala Man is full of episodes that have these silly, absurd premises, but you also kind of approach them with a straight face. How did you find this balance between the goofiness and absurdity with something a bit more grounded?
Benji Samit: Yeah, that was an important guiding principle for us in crafting this show and these episodes — that we never want it to go crazy just for the sake of being crazy. Yes, we go to zany, insane places on the show. But every time it's based out of a real grounded, character thing or story thing. There’s emotion at its core. We find that, as long as you can hold on to that through-line of emotion and story, then you can go as big as you want and you can still feel connected to what you’re watching.
Dan Hernandez: And I think that also combines with, when we were developing the show, there was a question of, “Well, how crazy should it go?” There's a version of this show that could be King of the Hill that is really, very grounded and it's not supernatural. But as we developed Kevin as a character, we realized what was funny about him was the fact that he doesn't have powers or that he's not in shape, but he does have this ethos that demands that he interferes with things. It became funnier and funnier to us to put him up against real threats that he should have no business going up against, like an alien, like cannibals, like Manimals. Every time it was like, we're sending this out of shape guy with no powers against something that should kill him in a second. And that was funny to us. And so the comedic element was the more you believe Kevin as a character, in his mind, like cutting the grass one centimeter and fighting an emu that has a machine gun are basically equivalent, just a problem to be dealt with, in his mind. And that makes him endearing and sort of difficult but also hilarious in his misbehavior and shit like that.
disappointment: I think one of those emotional through-lines that you talked about that was really powerful to me was the theme of family. How did this theme really resonate with you guys in the show?
Hernandez: Benji and I both have young kids. I think that becoming a father over the process of working on this show was actually extremely useful to the writing of the show. Because you start to think about things in a slightly different way. You're not really just focused on yourself. All of a sudden, you start to think about, “What is the legacy that I'm leaving for my kids? What are the things that I dislike about myself that I don't want to pass on to my kids? How are my bad behaviors going to affect them in the future? How did my own parents' behaviors affect me?” And when you really started to delve into that, that was a very fertile territory for emotional stories. At the same time, we wanted the show to be optimistic. We made a decision early on that this was not a cynical show, that this was kind of positive in a way, life-affirming.
Samit: We wanted the family to really love each other, you know. Kevin — Koala Man — he loves his town, and he loves his family. That’s his guiding principle. But then within the whole family, Kevin and Vicky love each other, even though they have their issues with each other, and the kids have their issues, everyone in the family has their issues, like we all do. But at the end of the day, they are 100% there for each other.
Hernandez: Even Alison, on her quest, she’s almost embarrassed that she loves her dad in that episode, and that that felt real to me on some level about being a teenager and being trapped in that idea of popularity. But you’ve got this person who’s on your side no matter what: your dad. And that was very moving to me. So that’s how we approached the family element. And we realized, if we grounded the family element in real human emotion, real stakes, that let us be as crazy as we want it to be on all the other stuff, because the stakes for them were very real.
disappointment: One of my favorite things about Koala Man is that everybody could walk away from the show with a different favorite character because the subplots are so developed and lived in. Do each of you have a character that you would call your favorite?
Samit: It’s a tough one, because they're all our babies, you know. But in terms of just fun to write, Spider, he can just get the punchline. So that’s always a fun type of character to write. I think Vicky is the emotional heart of the show. So she’s obviously a favorite of ours.
Hernandez: It's so hard to pick. I really enjoyed writing the kids, honestly, because I think it was fun to go back into that teenage place and try to project down through the years of what it felt like to be an awkward teen or to be wanting people to notice you. And so I think Demi Lardner is the secret weapon of the show. I think she gives an absolutely remarkable performance. Her voice is incredible. She's so funny. And she's someone that the world, that we in America we're not as familiar with. And I think that after this, I hope that people will be because she's awesome. So Allison was a real favorite of mine to write just because to be able to be a mean girl for a minute — that was a fun thing to do.
On the World-Building of Koala Man
disappointment: Something else that really stood out to me about this show is that there are a lot of jokes and elements in the series that are very specific to Australian culture and neither of you is Australian. So I'm assuming that writing the show just as much as it will be for the viewers is this learning, immersive experience in the culture. What do you think is one of your favorite things that you got to discover about Australian culture through the show?
Samit: I mean, there's so many little quirks. It was really fun seeing the similarities to America, but also the differences. Finding out about the emu war, finding out about showbags, the tradies. Skilled laborers being at the top of the social food chain was such a foreign concept to all of the American writers, but to the Australian’s they’re just like, “Oh yeah, no. An electrician is just the coolest guy in Australia.”
Hernandez: I thought what was very interesting was sort of the directness of Australian culture. Like tall poppy syndrome is the idea that anyone that gets too big for their britches, we don't like that, you kind of do your job, you kind of plug ahead, and you keep your head down, and you live a good and fulfilling life. And that’s what you do. And it was interesting to juxtapose that with a character like Liam, who actually does have a little bit more of an artistic impulse, who is interested in things like nerdy or geeky things, and his feeling of, “Do I even belong here? Should I be in Australia?” Which, ultimately, one of the reasons he runs away to Hollywood Island and in the finale is that he's in search of something more. And there are some people that really thrive within that culture, then there are some people that feel not understood. That really does come down to sort of cultural values and what is privileged there and how it's quite different from what's privileged here, even though it seems like it should be very similar. The nuance of it is totally, totally different.
disappointment: So I want to compliment you guys on the world building of Koala Man. I really love that aspect of the show. You balance the mundane suburbia with these fantastic events. How do you kind of go about juxtaposing this world in that way?
Hernandez: I think because Dapto is a real place and it really is Michael's hometown, that there's a feeling of reality underlying all of the show that yes, we're blowing it out into the most surrealistic, crazy, over-the-top version of it. But really, it's a real thing and a real place. And these are people and places identifiable to Michael in his own life and the streets that he grew up with. We've been fortunate enough now to talk to other people who grew up in Illawarra and Dapto. And they’re like, “Yeah, that’s what it’s like.” Even though there isn't literally a plant monster rampage in the city, the other stuff is just real. That's just what it is. And so we felt like that reality wedded to some of the classic world building that shows like Simpsons, South Park, Family Guy, where you have the town as a character, and you know the denizens of the town, and how they’re going to react. You know that Randy is gonna overreact on South Park, you know that Reverend Lovejoy is gonna be sanctimonious on The Simpsons. And once you start to get to know the geography and the interpersonal geography of the people and places of the town, it's fun to start to anticipate how they're going to react. What are they going to do? What is Spider going to feel about this? What is Louise going to feel about this? And that was really important to us because it made it feel very lived in. It made it feel like this is a place that functions, whether we as a viewer are watching it or not, and we really tried to cultivate that throughout the entire process of running the show.
Koala Man is now streaming on Hulu.
Interview by Sean Boelman
Hulu’s new adult animated show, Koala Man, created by Smiling Friends creator Michael Cusack has an A-list cast led by Australian and New Zealand legends like Hugh Jackman, Sarah Snook, Miranda Otto, Jemaine Clement, and Rachel House. But fans of the show will be equally — if not more impressed — by its breakout star: Australian comedian Demi Lardner.
We at disappointment media sat down with Lardner to talk about her character in the show, why she hopes Americans will be subjected to bags of random junk, and the theoretical assassination of one of her more famous co-stars. Be sure to check out the interview below!
On Why She Loves Her Character
disappointment media: I think that the character of Alison really has one of the most interesting arcs of any character in the show. What spoke to you about this character's role and growth in the show?
Demi Lardner: I love Alison. And the thing that I love most about her is that she's a weird little psycho. And her growth is uncomfortable, which speaks to me because like, when I watch people kiss in movies and emotions and stuff I’m like [she shivers]. But obviously, it’s a good thing. And I think the amount of discomfort she has with her own goodness is very cool to me. And also, I don’t have to act much when I’m uncomfortable with it, because I just am.
disappointment: I think something that's really special about Koala Man is that the subplots are just as interesting as the main storyline. Other than your own character, of course, do you have a particular character that you found was particularly compelling or your favorite?
Lardner: So I'm extremely drawn to Liam, just always such a wonderful, little dork. But in a way, his growth is also more supernatural and strange. But they sort-of parallel each other. When she’s like “Man, I hate having feelings!” he’s like “Oh bloody hell! I’m all magical!” I find that really interesting as a person who, when I was a kid, would grab my dog and say, “Hey, if you can talk, I will NOT tell anybody.” It's kind of like that if it came true, and it’s relatable in a way.
disappointment: And you kind of mentioned the sibling dynamic that your character has with Liam in the show. It's really unique and not stereotypical. Did you find that to be particularly interesting to work with?
Lardner: So I have five sisters, and no brothers. It's like the version of when I got old enough to be friends with my sisters. And again, being uncomfortable with it and being like, “Oh man, I like you. Ugh. This is stupid.” I enjoyed playing around with that. Most of the things that made me uncomfortable were the things I enjoyed the most.
On the Universality of the Show
disappointment: The cast is full of Australian and New Zealand legends in the acting community. What was it like to be part of this extraordinary ensemble?
Lardner: It's so weird. Like one of my ex’s mom's got in touch with me to be like, “It’s like Sarah Snook, Hugh Jackman, and YOU are listed in this article. And that’s it.” And I was like, “This is crazy. You show your son. Show him now!” It's really wild. And I've been told to stop threatening the really famous people. So this is a joke, but I am going to kill Hugh Jackman.
disappointment: So the humor in the show obviously has some very Australia-centric moments, but it's also widely relatable. How did you kind of approach the humor in this series?
Lardner: I mean, I'm a comedian. To get wanky about it, it’s another language that crosses the ocean. [She makes an exaggerated vomiting noise.] It’s a good thing to relate to people with, though. So the humor, it is super Australian, but it’s also just super funny and there’s no denying that. I think it’s a really natural fit, and also you get to squeeze in the C-bomb and as much swearing as humanly possible. We are Australian, after all.
disappointment: But even though it is very foul-mouthed, it’s also very wholesome in a way.
Lardner: Yeah. And that encapsulates a lot of Australian families, honestly. At least mine.
disappointment: On that note, family is a really important part of this show. How did that theme resonate with you?
Lardner: It’s really nice. I think it’s important for shows to have that. It makes me think of Malcolm in the Middle vibes, you know, when you’d watch that and be like, “God, these guys are insane! And they hate each other!” And then you realize, actually, they love each other more than anything on planet Earth, and that is really cool. Zeroing in on that kind of makes it funnier because you know that they love each other, but you have the full range to be disgusting because you’re safe in the fact that they’re safe with each other and their feelings.
disappointment: Your character arc in specific, it starts out kind-of normal high school drama and then escalates, and by the final episode it just goes off the rails. What was it like evolving with your character?
Lardner: Extremely uncomfortable. I really enjoyed it because it made me uncomfortable. I think it was cool to have her be mad that she was feeling things. It made it easier to grow her character because she was uncomfortable. It was cool to let this little mean freak cry. Like she's so nasty and annoying and awful and then just having her completely split apart with the feelings was an interesting thing to do.
On Why America Should Appropriate Australian Culture
disappointment: I think one of the more heavily Australian elements in the show was the episode about showbags which was something that was completely foreign to me as an American. Why do you think that they remain an Australian phenomenon and why did you just cheer excitedly when I mentioned them?
Lardner: They’re so exciting! They’re trash! There's nothing in them that you actually want! But it's a bag from the show. I think it was called the “super idiot bag” that everybody wanted because you would get like a fake ass in a pair of shorts. And you'd be like, “Oh, it’s like me bum’s out! Isn’t that so cool?” It’s nothing! You're never gonna use them. You're never gonna wear them and it’s just the worst chocolate you've ever seen in your life. But it was so cool. They look so good. Oh man, I need to go to the show. It’s so exciting and trash. And then such a burden. Because you're walking around trying to go on rollercoasters and the Ferris wheel and stuff and you're like, “What am I gonna do with my bag?” Everything’s gonna drop out. The amount of awful little mood rings and Bertie Beetle candy bars that suck and everybody hates that I've seen falling from people's pockets coming out of roller coasters. It's amazing. It's so good. And the reason they will never make it anywhere else is because they are literal trash. You can do nothing with any of it.
disappointment: So apart from the show bags, is there something that you hope that international audiences and American audiences will pick up on from Australian culture from the show?
Lardner: Yeah, two things. Sausage rolls. You don’t know what is in them. It’s impossible to tell. You don't have a beef sausage roll or a chicken sausage roll. No, there’s just stuff in there. And that’s great. And the word c**t. I think it’s my favorite one. And it does sound different coming from Australian mounts but I would love to be able to walk around New York and say it without people you know pointing their guns at me.
Koala Man is now streaming on Hulu.
Interview by Sean Boelman
Australian animator Michael Cusack is best known for creating the series Smiling Friends and YOLO: Crystal Fantasy. His newest series, Koala Man, is now streaming on Hulu and goes all-in on the Australian humor while still delivering a story that is universally enjoyable and approachable.
We got to sit down with Cusack to discuss having sex with planets (you’ll get it when you watch the show), Australian culture, and his inspirations and challenges working on the show. Check out the full interview below!
On the Show’s Specific Humor
disappointment media: If you could have sex with any planet in our solar system, which one would it be and why?
Michael Cusack: Ooh, that’s hard. That’s a good one. Uranus is too obvious. I'm gonna go Jupiter. Because it's a gassy planet. I feel like it would be nice and sensual.
disappointment: Would you right swipe or left swipe on earth?
Cusack: Whatever the bad one is. I’ve had enough of Earth. Let's move from Earth for now. I've had 32 years of Earth.
disappointment: So this show, as an American, introduced me to the wonderful world of showbags. Why don't we have showbags in America?
Cusack: I don't know. That was something that we said in the writers room, assuming that Americans knew about it, too. And then when Americans didn't, it was a shock to us. Like, that was a staple of our childhood, going to the Easter Show and more than anything, looking forward to getting like the showbag of whatever it was — the Pokemon show bag, the Dragonball Z one, or like the Mars Bar showbag. Like everything that you love had its own show bag full of the treats and goodies and toys of that same brand. And it was the best, but super expensive and overpriced. Yeah, I think hopefully, if anything, the main goal is this show introduces showbags to America and ruins your economy with them and makes kids’ parents absolutely broke.
disappointment: So do you think that, you know, one day we could get a Koala Man themed showbag?
Cusack: That would be the dream. I’d sell them myself. We should have done that as a promotion for this season, I just realized.
disappointment: And there was the prawn-themed showbag. Is that a real thing or is that a complete fabrication?
Cusack: That's fake too. But again, something I'm going to push after this call. I'll be making some calls and some emails, because the world needs a prawn showbag.
disappointment: I noticed that in your shows you’ve made several prawn themed jokes. Where does your interest in prawns come from?
Cusack: That's an Aussie thing, because at Christmas time, we don't have turkey or chicken. It's not the same as America in that aspect. It literally is just a bowl of prawns and a little ball of water to wash your hands with after you've broken the prawns. That's Christmas dinner. I had it a few days ago for Christmas at my mom’s house. It's just kind of a staple of Australia, prawns… they feel Aussie. So yeah, I had to stuff as many prawns in there as possible.
Crafting an Aussie Show for American Audiences
disappointment: The series has a voice cast full of all of these Australian and New Zealand A-listers. What was it like assembling this cast for the show?
Cusack: Really great. Really incredible. I really didn't think we'd be able to get anyone because I've got low expectations. But the showrunners on this show, Dan and Benji, and a lot of our American staff were extremely keen on aiming for the stars. And I was like, “What, we're not going to get the likes of Hugh Jackman?” But apparently we did and we could. So I am truly just still shocked. I think it was maybe because we had an Aussie show for American TV and it felt fresh. And hopefully it's a good concept that they liked and it seemed like they did and they came on board. Sarah Snook, Hugh Jackman, Hugo Weaving, Jemaine Clement, Rachel House, all these amazing actors, I can't believe it, they were just incredible. And they were a joy to direct. And they really, really elevated the whole project to something so much better than I ever would have imagined. It was great.
disappointment: And as you kind of mentioned, there are these very specific jokes and elements that are related to Australian culture, but the show also feels very universal. How do you strike this balance between the two?
Cusack: My thing is that it’s Aussie, but it’s not stereotypically Aussie. So when I say that, I mean it's not like, “Chuck another shrimp on the barbie,” kind of Aussie. Hopefully, it's not cliche. The show, at its core, our aim is still to make it character driven and plot driven. At the end of the day, there's a human kind of conflict. So ideally, it would be relatable and the Australiana is more of a garnish on top of something that is more about really the character and the story.
disappointment: One of my favorite things about the show is that I feel like anyone could watch the show and walk away with a different favorite character. I know it's kind of hard to pick, but if you had to pick one of your favorite characters, which would it be?
Cusack: I think it'd be Big Greg. I don't know. It's maybe 50% because it's always by Hugh Jackman. And also just the character I like. He's just so confident in his skin, and he has life figured out. He's a good role model to look up to. And I really like the dynamic between him and Kevin, it’s a funny back-and-forth. Because Kevin would dream to be Big Greg, and Big Greg would just kinda look down upon Kevin. That's funny. And Damo and Darren. I love Damo and Darren. And they come from the heart. They've been with me since about 2014 when I made a cartoon called Ciggy Butt Brain.
disappointment: And what was the inspiration to integrate these two characters into Koala Man?
Cusack: I always liked how Kevin Smith put Jay and Silent Bob in everything he did. I just thought that was nice glue that pulled things like Mallrats and Clerks and Chasing Amy all together. And they kind of are a bit Jay and Silent Bob-ish. And I made shorts called Damo and Darren years ago on YouTube, and that was set in Dapto. So I just thought if Koala Man is in Dapto, then Damo and Darren would be. So it’s just kind of the same world, I guess.
The Challenges of Koala Man
disappointment: So the episodes of Koala Man are longer than the episodes of Smiling Friends and YOLO. Did you find that the longer format was exciting? Scary? Challenging?
Cusack: It was scary and challenging, for sure. But I was lucky enough to have a lot of help. Dan and Benji as the showrunners, they're extremely talented and experienced in the world of TV. So they brought a lot of experience in that arena and we had a great writers room too. But yeah, it was definitely a challenge for me. It's a new learning curve to write for that length of time because, as you say, I'm used to the 11-minute format. But we did alright, I reckon.
disappointment: Obviously, this is kind-of a superhero show, but Koala Man doesn’t have any powers. Where did this more grounded superhero approach come from?
Cusack: I just thought that Australian humor is a lot based in reality — I guess, the depressing reality of natural things happening. So I just thought if there was an Australian superhero, it would make sense if it just was this middle aged guy in the suburbs that had no powers. Because that generation of men are very passionate about cleaning up the town and saying that the police aren't doing anything about it, and the government's not doing anything about it. There's just a reality to that archetype that's funny to me and fits in with the superhero mold. And what makes it even funnier to me is it's grounded and everything, and you know, he has no powers, but in this world, we do realize, he's got a nemesis and there are actual, real threats and supervillains and creatures with powers, but you have to dig a bit deeper to find them. It’s a fun world to play in.
disappointment: And the show blends those grounded elements with absurdist humor. How did you balance the two tones?
Cusack: It's really hard. Probably the hardest part about it actually was balancing those two tones because it was a little bit of having your cake and eating it too. There's a world where this show could have been like a King of the Hill, where it just was completely Koala Man with no superpowers and no one else with any powers and it was just 100% grounded. But I just felt like that was gonna get a little bit old. So offsetting that with that, it actually could have a supervillain from space just emerging felt like it could shake it up. And the way to kind of balance that is really just staying true to what the characters wants and needs are at the end of the day. If the characters have strong goals and strong motivations, then you can really get away with a lot when it comes to having fun with changing the tone. That was the big thing we kind of learned and stuck to.
Koala Man is now streaming on Hulu.