Freeze Frame: An animated chat with “Rick & Steve” creator Q. Allan Brocka
The opening disclaimer for Logo’s new stop-motion animated show, “Rick & Steve: The Happiest Gay Couple in All the World,” is a perfect window into the world you are about to enter: “Warning the following program contains graphic language, violence and puppet on puppet sex. It has no role models and does not represent the opinions of the entire LGBT puppet community…yet. The show should be viewed by legally and emotionally mature adults.”
“Rick & Steve” has a bounty of I-can’t-believe-they-just-said-that-moments with its slaughtering of sacred gay cows, coupled with a rapid fire comedic pace, and all of it spills out of the mouth of animated babes.
The show follows the residents of the gay enclave known as West Lahunga Beach, there’s the titular “happiest gay couple in all the world,” their lesbian friends (and foe for Steve) Kirsten and Dana – who want Rick to supply the “axel grease” to make their baby making machinery work. Also along for the ride are HIV positive and wheelchair bound, Chuck and his twink boyfriend, Evan.
The show’s creator Q. Allan Brocka, the unofficial mayor of West Lahunga Beach, spoke with me about this all-gay animated milestone and its journey from short film to weekly television viewing pleasure. This is the second coming of “Rick & Steve,” so to speak, as the duo was an animated short that made the festival rounds and won raves back in 1999.
“Actually, I did originally think of it as TV show, but I didn’t think it would become one when I first made it,” Brocka explained. “It was originally an assignment in class; the assignment was to make a short film about relationships. I had just moved here, it was my first year in film school, I didn’t have any friends, I didn’t know anyone, so I used Lego’s and made the first ‘Rick & Steve’ short.”
For Brocka the inspiration for “Rick & Steve” was drawn from standard sitcom fare with one key exception, the short film featured a new take on an old formula by making it all gay. This tact resonated with festival audiences, who clamored for more of Brocka’s creation thanks to an inclusion on that initial short film.
“I decided to put into the title sequence, I wrote ‘episode one,’ and that’s when we said, ‘Yes! It should be its own TV show, not just an homage to them, it’s a TV show!’” Brocka said of the seeds of “Rick & Steve’s” television genesis. “Because it said that in the title sequence and as it began to show at places around the world – I went to Sundance and 200 festivals – people asked when the new episodes would be coming out. And I said, ‘as soon as I get funded.’”
But the funding and on-air date with destiny would still be years in the making, as Brocka further chronicled his show’s slow but steady march onto television screens.
“I started pitching it then,” Brocka recanted. “I had my first meeting with MTV back in 2000, long before even the idea of Logo was around. And there just wasn’t a place for them to have a totally gay animated show yet.”
For Brocka, director of such gay flicks as Eating Out and Boy Culture, training his eagle eye through the camera lens on the LGBT community in his work ends up being a mirror held up to the gay lifestyle.
And “Rick & Steve” is definitely not an exception to this rule, as it highlights the humor of the idiosyncrasies of the community at large.
“For me, it’s what I know,” Brocka explained. “I’ve been in the gay community for 18 years now, so it’s almost all I know, and I know it very well, and it makes me laugh. It’s the easiest and most fun thing for me, and it’s how I make my friends laugh. And, of course my sense of humor is really dark and dirty, I sort of put that into it as well.”
Usually gay subject matter in an animated series is dealt with on a case-by-case basis, but “Rick & Steve” has gay to spare in every episode, and then some! The show definitely rivals the shock value of a certain group of foul mouthed fourth graders who reside in Colorado, and also deals with hot button issues, as “South Park” has done.
Brocka explained why animated fare is such a good venue to tackle these issues.
“It’s just the history and nature of animation, since the very beginning of cartoons,” he stated. “The first cartoons were for adults and were political cartoons criticizing the current state of events and just talking about things that weren’t safe to talk about. Doing it through the voice of a cartoon character, can really simplify the situation and bring it down to what the issue is in its simplest form and what’s wrong with it. And a lot of times it is easier to laugh at it, because it removes it from all of the baggage that we bring with it, once you put it coming out of a human’s mouth.
“It’s nothing new, but it’s still very effective because there are still so many issues that we are still so sensitive about.”
And some of the celebrity vocal talents that Brocka has lined up to shed some light on darker subject matter include: out actors Alan Cumming and Wilson Cruz, “Queer As Folk’s” Peter Paige and Margaret Cho. A fact that makes Brocka feel “astonished and shocked” to have as his wish list of actors lending their voices to his project.
The gleefully non-politically correct road that “Rick & Steve” takes may be lined with potholes of detractors who could take offense to the portrayals being shown on the small screen each week. And, Brocka had been taken to task before the show even hit the airwaves, as he explained to us.
“I was getting slack about people saying they’re stereotypes – just wait until the stereotypes episode comes along,” Brocka said with a chuckle. “I think it will run the gamut. I think there will be, and there already are, people who think it’s so offensive that I am destroying the gay community. And there are going to be people who think, ‘those are tired old jokes, come on be offensive, you’re not even funny – who do you think you are?’ I am hoping a majority of the people will land in the middle and just like it and have fun.”
And the fact remains that the show is definitely the funniest thing to air on Logo to date, (which is Tuesdays at 10, for the record) and does beg the question: What exactly is the secret of “Rick & Steve’s” happiness as a couple?
“It’s not really supposed to be totally ironic, they are happy. But it’s a lot of work to be happy. Each episode is about what it takes to stay together in the face of everything that is against you, to be a family at the end of the day – even if you hate each other and want to kill each other. Overall, they are happy, but go through a lot of shit. ” Brocka concluded about his animated offspring.
Brocka is anxiously awaiting news of a second season of “Rick & Steve” (the first season will be coming out on DVD on August 28th), and in the meantime is busily prepping his next directorial effort, a feature length version of the TV show, “Noah’s Arc.”
This interview was first published in July 2007.