Koala Man Interview: Showrunners Benji Samit & Dan Hernandez on Absurd Comedy

ComingSoon Senior Editor Spencer Legacy spoke with Koala man showrunners Benji Samit and Dan Hernandez about Hulu’s Australian animated comedy. The duo discussed trusting your creative partners and exposing the world to Australian concepts. All eight episodes of Koala man now streaming on Hulu.

“It follows middle-aged father Kevin and his titular not-so-secret identity, whose only superpower is a burning passion for following rules and rooting out petty crime in the city of Dapto,” reads the synopsis. “Although it may seem like any other Australian suburb, the forces of evil, both cosmic and man-made, lie in wait to pounce on unsuspecting Daptonians. On a quest to clean up his hometown, often his frustrated family calls into his adventure, Koala Man is ready. He’ll do whatever it takes to defeat villainous masterminds, supernatural horrors, or worse: idiots who don’t take out their trash cans on the right days.”

Spencer Legacy: You’ve both worked together, you know, a few times before. What, what makes your collaboration work so well?

Benji Summit: Oh man. I mean, we’ve been writing together and producing together for a long time now. We met in college and have been working together ever since. I think it’s a few things. We have the same taste in what we enjoy, what we think is good, but we also complement each other in many different ways.

Dan Hernandez: I think Benji really nailed it, which is taste. I think there is sometimes a misconception that in a partnership each person has to be equally good at everything. I actually think that’s not necessarily the key to a good partnership. I think if everyone feels like they need to do everything all the time, then naturally you’re going to bicker over who’s going to take the first pass on a blank page or who’s going to rewrite this. I think it’s more important to have a vision for what you want the end product to be of something.

So when you can be artistically adapted, so for example something like this show where we’re like, “Well, we know we want it to be fun, of course and shocking and crazy,” but between us we wanted set ourselves the goal of actually telling a great superhero story – almost secretly. But at the end of this season, when I look back and go, “Oh, that was really a superhero story. It wasn’t just a goof, it wasn’t just a joke. Some epic things happened.” And so when you artistically align like that, you can be a little bit more egoless about who’s doing what. You can sort of focus on the things you’re good at.

Since we’ve been friends for so many years, having worked together since college, if Benji changes anything I’ve written, there’s no part of me that’s defensive at this point. And I think the other way around. Because of that, it allows us to really focus on the outcome rather than how we’re going to divide up the work and who’s going to do this and be the tension around it. A lot of the time we can’t even remember who wrote what at this point. Really. I will believe that he wrote something, and he will believe that I wrote it, and the truth will be lost. I think that’s what, for us, has made our partnership so successful – trust, frankly, more than anything else.

Benji, what about the original online Koala Man shorts made you say, “I want to do this series about Koala Man?”

Benji Summit: It was just so unique and different, and Michael Cusack’s voice — not just his literal voice, which is fun — but his perspective. His twisted views on Australia and life…they were just so funny and so refreshingly different to anything else we’ve seen. So we were so happy to just sit down with him and talk. From there, 10 minutes after we sat down with him, we knew, “We want to work on this together.” Where Dan and I have a great partnership over many, many years, it was a similar thing with Michael, where the two of us and Michael just hit it off and were on the same page. So it’s one of those rare things.

Dan, the Koala Man concept is really about taking a mundane problem and turning it into this huge crisis. So what’s the process of turning something like a forgotten jacket into a story about cannibalistic Wiggles?

Dan Hernandez: For me, as a sort of philosophy of the writers room, it all starts with what is a real human emotion or a human crisis or a human situation that every single person in the world can identify as being realistic, as opposed to over-the- top or surreal. I think when you build the foundation of a story in a realistic way, it allows you to go as crazy as you want to ultimately go into the details of how it unfolds. So for me, take his jacket for example. When you’ve been through things that are painful, some people like to talk about them, but many people don’t like to talk about those incidents. What that episode was about was Kevin being forced to confront some uncomfortable truths about his past that he prefers not to think about.

So the jacket became that mountain out of a mole hill excuse not to think about those things. It felt very real to me just on a visceral level that when someone says, “Hey, I really need to talk to you about this thing that’s extremely painful and traumatic,” you can think, “Actually, I have to to go do something else right now.” That’s where the episode came from. Once we knew that was the emotional basis of that episode, it allowed us to say that we had this idea of ​​these Australian children’s music bands and we were looking for the right delivery system for it.

So it was like, “Well, if he’s going to go out into the Outback, what’s the craziest, most screwed-up thing he could find out there? That’s how we got to Tigglies, where we were out there in Tigglies HQ eating kids. I think , it is the fusion of a real emotional story that allows you to fly into the strange sphere you want to go to.

Benji, was there ever any concern that Australian concepts like show bags might not be fully understood by international audiences? Or were you sure about that?

Benji Summit: There was never really any worry. It was actually more excitement, you know? The reality is, as many of our Australian writers pointed out to us, they all grew up watching American TV and there was American stuff in there and they just figured it out. They put it together, they [used] context clues or they looked it up. You could figure it out. So we just turned it on its head and threw some Aussie stuff at the Americans to find out.

But no, we were excited about all the Australian stuff because it’s one of those things that … we’ve been in so many writers’ rooms now on American sitcoms and animated shows where it’s just you come up with an idea and The Simpsons did it. South Park did it, you know? American ideas have been done over and over again. How many times have you done the homecoming dance or prom or this or that. But with this, anytime one of the Australian writers mentioned something uniquely Australian – there has never been a primetime adult animated Australian show. Ever. Even just in Australia. It’s just never been done.

So any Australian concept that was like, “Oh, there’s an episode there,” nobody’s ever done that before. So it was super exciting that one of the writers casually mentioned show bags and thought we knew what they were. We were like, “Wait, what? What’s a show bag?” And then they tell us, and they all get excited, and we say, “Oh, we’ve got to do something about that.” So it was just really nice how quickly we were able to come up with… [the] Great Emu War, things like that where it’s just these weird Australian things that would translate to TV. Every now and then we throw in some lines to help clarify and explain things, but for the most part I think you can just figure it out.

How is working with Michael Cusack? He’s not only the creator, but he does voices and all that. What is it like working with a creator with the more hands-on approach?

Dan Hernandez: It was a dream. Michael is a genius. He is so talented as an actor, voice actor, musician and animator. And so for us, to have someone who – especially in the animation department – has a skill that we just don’t have, to be able to pitch a character and look over and five minutes later Michael holds up a drawing of what the character is getting to look was invaluable for us to really get a sense of who these people were, what they looked like, why they were funny. From that perspective, it was a dream. We’re also big fans of his work, independent of the work we do with him. Smiling friends and YOLO are two of my very, very favorite shows. Still to this day, watch them relax. I have watched all episodes 20 million times.

So it helps to be a fan of someone’s unique voice. I think what we brought to the process was the more extensive experience of American-style storytelling. Some of our film work was helpful in the sense of “How do you do a long-form story over the course of eight episodes and unpack the bits and pieces so that by the end, the last two episodes, it all comes together [in] in a hopefully amazingly satisfying way?” He really trusted us to do it. Again, we go back to this idea of ​​trust, like we really allowed everyone to work to the best of their ability without a lot of criticism or editorial mockery, because Michael is one of the best at what he does in the world. And then we just said, ‘Make us look good!’

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