'Allen Gregory' Boss David A. Goodman Talks Crossed Lines, Dark Places and Finding Funny in Death
"The network wants to be sure people like him and his parents. And as comedy writers, you want to go to dark places and you like nasty jokes," he says of the titular character, voiced by Jonah Hill.
David A. Goodman has spent much of the last decade with Stewie, Cleveland and Philip J. Fry.
On Sunday, the veteran producer will add Allen Gregory, a precocious 7-year-old who is being raised by his father and his father's life partner and is being forced to attend elementary school due to the recession.
The eponymously named Allen Gregory, which was created by Jonah Hill, Jarrad Paul and Andrew Mogel, will join Fox's animation domination block at 8:30pm, sandwiched between animated heavyweights The Simpsons and Family Guy. Goodman, whose other credits include Golden Girls and Star Trek: Enterprise, is serving as the animated series' showrunner.
He caught up with The Hollywood Reporter to discuss the Allen Gregory network note he continues to struggles with, the offensive Family Guy joke that ultimately got cut and the new animated project he has in the works.
The Hollywood Reporter: You can get away with so much more in animation than you can in live action. Is there a pressure to be edgy?
David A. Goodman: One of the great things about being at Fox –and it sounds like I’m just kissing up to my bosses — is that they have The Simpsons and Family Guy. So they put something in between those two shows at 8:30 and people will see it. That has allowed Fox as a network to be more creatively daring. Allen Gregory is not edgier than Family Guy. It has plenty of edge, but nobody said you’ve got to be as edgy or more than Family Guy. They said, ‘We love your show, make your show.’
THR: Is that to say you don’t get a lot of notes?
Goodman: I didn’t say that. [Laughs]
THR: What’s the note you get most frequently?
Goodman: The issue for this show and it’s a dialogue with the network is that the character of Allen Gregory is a very obnoxious, pretentious 7 year old. You’ve got to make sure that people understand that he’s also this kid who wants to be liked and that motivates his arrogance. You’ve got to walk a fine line there because you want him to be funny, but you don’t want the audience to hate him. You don’t want to sacrifice jokes; but you also don’t want people saying, ‘Why would I watch this kid? He’s so hateful.’ The network wants to be sure people like him and his parents. And as comedy writers, you want to go to dark places and you like nasty jokes.
THR: Where is that line in animation?
Goodman: Animated characters can do really awful things to people. We sort of joked at Family Guy that pretty much every character on the show had raped someone and yet people are still tuning in. So the line is much further over in an animated show. South Park is probably the best example. Didn’t Cartman ground a kid up and eat him or something? And it’s so funny.
THR: Maybe the better question is: is there a line?
Goodman: It always comes down to is this still making me laugh? And if it’s not making me laugh, than it’s probably crossed the line. There was a joke on Family Guy where we were going to do this cut-away a Jewish person standing at a train station and he’s looking at a list of fares. And it says, London: $100. Auschwitz: $90. And he’s standing there trying to make up his mind. It wasn’t funny to me. But we animated it and we screened it internally. In the end, that joke didn’t get laughs, so we cut it. We didn’t cut it because I was offended. In comedy, you’ve always got to risk offending people.
THR: What advice did you bring to the Allen Gregory writers’ room?
Goodman: There’s nobody who comes close to understanding the form better than Seth [MacFarlane] does, and having worked with him on and off for 10 years, I learned a lot of things. One thing that I learned is that an animated character is not as interesting to look at as a live action person, so as a result the scenes need to be shorter. You’ve got to pack much more story into 20 minutes. I learned the other side of this on my first job, which was on Golden Girls. You had actresses who could just drag out these giant laughs. Bea Arthur just staring at the audience was priceless. So you didn’t have to have as much story on a show like that as you do on an episode of Family Guy. Seth would always say, ‘We’ve really got to pack this.’
THR: What else?
Goodman: The actors' voice has to carry so much more than it would on a live action show. The character on screen doesn’t have facial expressions, so there’s got to be a lot more energy in the voice.
THR: What’s the biggest challenge in all of this for you?
Goodman: I was told when I came in that Andy, Jonah and Jarrad needed a parent. So I spend a lot of time saying, "Ok, let’s get back to work." [Laughs] The tough job of this, which is I had at Family Guy too, is this is not my show. I didn’t create it, Jonah, Andy and Jarrad created it. My job has been to understand what these guys want to do and then help them execute it as well as learn how to write their show and then help teach other writers how to write the show. It’s been going very well, but it’s very much of a continuing process because the show is still new –we’ve only done seven episodes — we’re still discovering what the show is.
THR: What's next for you?
Goodman: I made a pilot for Fox called Murder Police. It’s an animated cop show that’s a comedy. The thinking behind it is that people have tried to do cop comedies for years and they almost always fail. Part of the reason is that unless it's spoof-like, it’s very difficult to be funny if there’s a dead body on the floor. But you can do that in animation. A dead body can be funny in animation. So my thought was let’s treat the cop stuff less seriously -- there will be a mystery or procedural but they’re animated characters.