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Josechung's last interview was with MXC co- creator Paul Abeyta. This time he has managed to interview another member of the MXC team. This time it's with Herb Goss, the story editor/producer, and voice of "Herby the Steamy Pile" in one occasion of "Buck Off". This interview is not to be posted outside Takeshi Kingdom or Keshi Heads without permission.
Joshua: How did you get involved with the MXC project?
Herb: I was a young writer at Warner Bros. working for a Miller/Boyett Show. My writing partner and I got hired to be script coordinators for a show called Nightstand which Paul Abeyta created. During the first season Paul gave us a script to write. We wrote the script and he liked it so much that he wound up giving us six more scripts to write and that was the beginning of our relationship. Then after he created the pilot for MXC, he invited me to come on the writing staff to help him on the first episode.
Joshua: And you were credited as script coordinator, is that correct?
Herb: Correct, at the time I was already a full time writer and he didn't have the budget to give me the writing title. So he made me a deal that I would take the lower script coordinator title and he would try to bump me up as soon as the network would allow it.
Joshua: Were there any major differences when you moved from Script Coordinator to Writer?
Herb: Not on MXC. I was a script coordinator there's no doubt about that. But unlike most script coordinators who aren't allowed to pitch, I was. Everyone understood that I was taking a paycut. It was small staff and we were busting our butts to get the show done. As time went on I joined the post production team a lot more and I took over the Top Ten at the end of each show. I was very happy to be back on a television show, especially a great comedy. When Paul did bump me up to producer he was just being true to his word that he would try to do that as soon as possible. That was the beauty of Paul and Peter (Kaikko), if they made a deal with you they ultimately stuck to it.
Joshua: What did you think when you first saw Takeshi's Castle?
Herb: I had never seen it before seeing the pilot for MXC. So the first time I saw anything concerning Takeshi's Castle was that pilot and I thought "This is comedically brilliant on its own". After that the first time was watching the tapes because we had to see all of the episodes. It's a great show to watch. Beat Takeshi has a wonderfully dark sense of humour. I was sort of amazed at some of the stunts they pulled. There was one scene where they put a branch into boiling oil and shoved it into a guyís crotch. I'm thinking, "They really did that". Watching the contestants wreck themselves, all we could say was "wow". In 2003, everything was sort of pre-written in television and there were safety codes. Now there are shows like Naked and Afraid where people are willing to put themselves on the edge of death. Takeshi understood that long before we did. But again I thought it was brilliant. If you took away the audio, it's funny visually and then adding great audio just doubles the impact of hilarity. I never got sick of watching it. Although some of the stuff is a little slow. It was an hour-long show. They couldn't do wall to wall Takeshi's Castle comedy the whole way through. There was some draggy stuff like riding in bumper cars but that's the nature of any show.
Joshua: Yeah there's a lot of stuff that doesn't translate well without knowledge of Japanese Culture.
Herb: I'll agree with that 100%
Joshua: Although I will say this. Having seen the original show, you have no Idea how close MXC came to the actual Dialogue on Takeshi's Castle.
Joshua: Oh Yeah.
Herb: Well that's good to know. Working with John Cervenka, Chris Darga, Vic Wilson and Mary Sheer, Those guys are all groundlings. Even though I was never a Groundling, It was the funniest show to write and I've written on a lot of shows and worked with a lot of staff because those guys would do physical comedy in the room while we were trying to write. There was so much physicality in the voice over booth. They weren't quite throwing themselves of logs but it you could feel it in their performance.
Joshua: Did you ever do a voice for the show?
Herb: I am the voice of Herby the Steamy Pile: The big tree that we turned into a joke about a big steaming pile of poop. I would also do some of the shout outs. But for the most part those guys did all the voices. If they needed someone to do a bit character and they wanted a different sounding voice, most of us would willingly jump in and do our thing. But Darga, Cervenka and Mary they felt they were a loop group extraordinaire and in all honesty they were. We would all be in the room suggesting things, maybe try this, try that. At the end of the day when voicing over and making things up right then and right there sometimes because you want the first syllable to match the lip flap, as we called it, and you really want your last syllable to match going out. Sometimes we would build a joke around "Is he mouthing Fire truck or muffins?" and then it would be "Oh, He's a Fire truck driver who likes muffins". It's absurd and weird but once it hit the screen it would work. The object was to lengthen the words or shorten them to fit the mouth movement. In most voiceover, like animation, you can record and have them reanimate to what was. This was a whole other ballgame and we all became experts at it. I didn't do much voice over work on MXC but on Super Big Product Fun Show I did a little bit more. You can't help but do more when you're learning from the masters. You just emulate them.
Joshua: I love on the DVD behind the scenes special feature how youíre referred to as "Guy who only writes for Herby the Steamy Pile".
Herb: (Laughs) In every comedy room you have to have a thick skin. The minute you leave the room, you're going to be made fun of. That's just the nature of the room. So they were writing for the game Buck Off which was where Herby first appeared and I had gone out of the room and when I came back he was Herby the Steamy Pile. I'm thinking "Oh Great, I leave the room for a second and now Iím a big fat pile of S***. Thanks guys I really appreciate it." But you eventually get back at them. We made enough curmudgeon jokes about Darga. We were always making inside jokes and bringing ourselves into the characters. Although I will say, no one does a Burping Lesbian quite as well as Mary Scheer and as far as I can tell she isn't one. Thatís great acting.
Joshua: Did she do that burp every time?
Herb: Mary can work magic with the burp. That woman is all about the funny. Our sound guy had burps but she would time the burps perfectly to the mouth movement. She held her own with some of the nastier jokes we wrote. When it came time to make the female characters, she had 20 to 30 different voices she could use. We had one shoutout where someone said "Milk, Milk, Lemonade, around the corner fudge is made". We all laughed at it because it fit the mouth movement perfectly. We made a lot of obscure references like that because we had no caveats about what we could and couldn't do, except the rule that we wouldn't make fun of Asian culture. In our minds they weren't Asian. But we made fun of everyone else as much as humanly possible. I remember one day were eating lunch somewhere and our waiter outed himself as gay and we thought "OkayÖ I don't know why you're telling us that but okay" and he said, "I'm telling you because I know you work on MXC and I just want to say it's the funniest show on TV and It's great that someone is making fun of Gay people in the way it should be done as opposed to directing jokes at Gay people. You're making jokes we all love." That was a realization where we knew we wanted to make fun of White People, Black People, Straight People, Gay People, everyone. We want to make fun of everyone but not in a racist way. We want to make fun of them in a way that is crude, silly and dumb but makes you laugh.
Joshua: Like the Harvard Lampoon adage of "If you make fun of everyone, you can't be accused of being biased".
Herb: That's what we always looked for. Honestly I don't think we were ever told no on a joke save for one time. We were doing Porn Titles and someone pitched Sophie's Moist and we all went "Oh no that's never gonna fly". We put it in and the network said "Guys, your making fun of a movie about a mother who has to choose which of her children will be murdered by Nazi's. We're not going to let you make fun of that." It was like "finally a note saying we'd gone too far".
Joshua: Ironic because I saw a segment on The Soup called "Selfie's Choice"
Herb: Really? I worked on other shows afterwards and they would have lists of dirty jokes that couldn't be used specifically because MXC brought them back into the Lexicon. I was proud of that.
Joshua: I remember it was the first time I ever heard the word "Bojaculate" on Television".
Herb: (Laughs) Yeah, Vic came up with a good one like that with a circus family and the mother had a trapeze-otamy. We just took dirty, dirty concepts and tweaked them a little bit to where it sounds dirty but technically isn't because "Hey there's no such thing as a Trapeze-otamy". God I miss that show. It was the best time of my life.
Joshua: When did you know Season 6 wasn't going to happen?
Herb: Well we started running out of footage. We took the best of each episode. It got to point where we would have to reuse footage or go in a different direction. The weird thing is we were still a hit. But Spike didn't want us to begin with. We were this weird little show that caught on. They had Stipperella with Pam Anderson and Gary the Rat with Kelsey Grammar both of whom were big stars. Spike put all this money into a bunch of shows and the only one that printed them Cash was our show. Everywhere I went people would say "oh thatís my favourite show, it's so funny, me and my Girlfriend watch it". All I had to do was say I worked on MXC and somebody would buy me a drink or kiss my ass and tell me how great I was. But I don't know that Spike wanted to be successful for that reason. They wanted to be known as The Men's Network. They wound up going with Boxing and UFC. MXC I think annoyed them but also made them incredibly rich. We would get huge numbers on our reruns. They would have MXC marathons to the point where they played the show to death. But once the show was over they just sort of let us go. We were like "wait, you guys were a small, almost broke network when got here. Don't we all deserve a production deal or something?" I always felt they were unappreciative and threw away the baby with the bathwater. Look at Wipeout. It became a worldwide juggernaut and Spike only did the one live MXC special. This was a great idea that had legs. Wipeout shouldn't have had to rip us off. We should have gone to a reality show, we shouldn't have had to go to G4, We should have had a night on Spike and let Paul Abeyta and our team create an Adult Swim type of programming block. We all had a track record of success not unlike Judd Apatow. He had some failures before his major success, but we never had failures. But for reasons unknown to me, no network wanted to take us on. Which always made me upset because you would think that success would breed success. It wasn't a fluke, we worked tirelessly to bring you the viewer the most poop jokes you could ever hear.
Joshua: Which reminds me did Spike TV make you do the WWE vs. TNA episode
Herb: We were forced to do that. I think we did like 5 different wrestling shows. The network knew they had something with us and they used us for cross-promotion, which is normal in the TV industry. We would do Cartoons Vs. the Porn Industry and then we would do shows like UFC vs. TNA or WWE vs. some other wrestling thing. We got annoyed because we didn't have any more wrestling jokes to do and it got old. Spike TV had weird cross promotional things. We had to promote Ren and Stempy in an episode. I loved Ren and Stempy when it was on Nickelodeon. But the thing you have to remember is Nickelodeon really reigned in on the creator John K. Spike gave him free range and the next thing you know Ren has his tongue up Stempy's ass. It was a Rim Job for the sake of having a Rim Job, it wasn't funny. Why are we trying to promote that? We'll say great things about Ren and Stempy but we don't think this piece of footage works well with our show. But in their infinite wisdom, Spike made us put it in because they thought it was funny. We weren't against promoting; I mean we had the Impact Replay which would be sponsored by Doritos or something. None of us had delusions about being commercial, we wanted to be commercial. We wanted to help Spike as much as possible, but we wanted them to understand that we had built this definable universe and stay true to that. Here's an example: We had the Babaganosh character in our universe which was this long running joke. Around the 19th episode we get a note from the network saying we had already used the name before. Itís like "Yeah we used it 19 times already, youíre just now noticing". Then other movies started using Babaganosh like in Wedding Crashers. It's a funny word but we brought it into the zeitgeist. Jokes from MXC would often be in major motion pictures which would excite us.
Joshua: I know Paul said there were talks about doing an MXC movie at some point.
Herb: Oh man wouldn't that be great. I would so love to come back and do that. I'm still friends with most of them. Vic Wilson calls every once in a while, Chris Darga and try to chat once a week; I call Paul every now and then. I made lifelong friends on that show. If we could come back for a film, I think we would all be up for it. I know I would.
Joshua: I would be curious to see how it would work.
Herb: We had a bunch of different ideas like remaking the costumes, using the big headed Vic and Kenny in brand new footage. We had so much footage and we never knew what we would do with it. One of my favourite jokes I wrote was in the episode Amusement Parks vs. Hookers. We had footage of a guy in drag with trying to pick up a surfer and we made it look like an education film. We had to work out a title and I came up with "Hookers at the Point Break". We worked on that for like two hours before the title came to us. Once we had the title, the sketch wrote itself. We also loved doing music parodies like in the Elimination Idol Segment. Darga and I wrote the lyrics to "Conjugal Visit" and Mary wrote the boob song. It was always just so much fun going through music in the catalogue and deciding who the character would be. It was a blast.
Joshua: Was there a favourite character to write for of the main four?
Herb: Kenny has all the best lines. I think Vic Wilson being a groundling and being a really funny guy made it difficult for him to be the straight man. Beat Takeshi had that pent up anger as well but you knew that he didn't want to be the straight man either. It was hard for Vic to not have the next joke. Kenny was our demographic: a twenty something stoner kid. Writing for him was always fun. Being weird and creepy with Guy was also a blast. The weird conservativism of the Captain was also interesting. Giving the characters a world view helped. Vic was this washed up drunk, Kenny was a snotty rich kid whose uncle owns the station, Guy was the Pervert and the Captain was an uptight ultra conservative. Each one had their own distinct comedic value. The writer's room was cut right down the middle with an equal amount of Liberals and Conservatives. So there were a lot of great discussions but when it came time to write the joke from one of those viewpoints, there wasn't a writer there who couldn't write the joke well. And the Female characters were interesting in that Mary could do all kinds of different characters be it sexy, uptight, disgusting and of course female version of Guy. She was a real gamer, Mary knows what's funny.
Joshua: Yeah each different Le douche relative had their own weird sex thing so each one was unique.
Herb: We wanted to differentiate them. We wanted to give this universe a realism effect. They weren't all the same.
Joshua: I compare the characters to Scared Straight. You don't want to end up like any of the characters on that show.
Herb: Yeah, if you look at the first three episodes, they're a little bit defined, but they aren't quite polished. Each actor got the persona as time went on and the writers eventually keyed into that. We weren't even sure we were going to make each episode a competition at first. We eventually landed on that: making it a hybrid sports show and it worked. The weird thing is we spent so much time on the score. We wanted it to be real but Paul had a propensity to make it tight so each episode would go into the last game with the teams tied to bring out tension to see which team would win. I would say "Paul there is no competition. We made it up". I wanted to do episodes where it was a blowout and have the score be 50-0. Paul didn't like that which I didn't understand. Regular sport shows have blowouts, it can be fun. We would move characters around in the footage to help change the score. As if people actually cared about the score.
Joshua: Were there ever debates regarding which team should win the match up?
Herb: I don't really remember a debate about that. I remember there was a debate about whether or not something was scored wrong. We might debate it in order to end on a comedic sketch of some kind. In which case we would make up some faux rule for Vic to say. I think we did that a few times or occasionally we would allow a point even though the contestant didn't actually win the game. Mostly if we wanted one team to win we would just allow them to win. We mostly tried to put friends into the show and I would get calls from people saying "Oh you made me a Gay bullfighter, that was awesome." I would always try to make friends win, be good joke or get totally wrecked. We all did that, naming got real difficult.
Joshua: The reason I ask is in that TNA vs. WWE episode TNA ends up winning and I always thought that was like a Spike note that TNA had to win as TNA was their show. In that episode it seems like TNA is touted as being great and WWE is an awful bastard lovechild
Herb: Oh Yeah. That was conscious effort on Spikeís part. They were desperately trying to sell their brand of wrestling. And to play Devil's Advocate to only two shows that were making money for them were our show and Wrestling.
Joshua: Did they make you do the video game episodes as well? Because there were 3 different episodes with video game contestants.
Herb: I'm a huge gamer and after MXC I went on to write video games for Longtail studios a subsidiary of Ubisoft. I knew our audience and a video game show was one of the first pitches from my mouth. Video games are a ripe field not unlike porn titles, they can be anything. You can create a stupid title and in your mind you can visualize that game. I think we had success with it. If I remember we kind of repeated ourselves because in that last season they wanted us to be more topical which is something we didn't want to do. For example: we did a political joke about John Negroponte. Nobody remembers Negroponte. He was just one of Bush's Cronies. All the Congressmen we referenced, nobody remembers them. All those jokes are dead and dated. But everyone knows someone who works on houses, everyone knows an Olympic athlete. Some topics are evergreen but if you tell me to do Music references 10 years ago there are going to be references to Everclear and Nirvana. Half of the kids have never heard of Nirvana, Kirk Cobain Died. We didn't want to do topical humour but we also didn't want to be unemployed so we did it for that sake.
Joshua: I remember two instances like that. One where you reference Tony Snowden, which is hilarious until he dies 6 months later. The other was Anna Nicole Smith dying before the final episode was to air and wondering if the episode would be pulled.
Herb: Exactly, there's another thing. Who remembers Anna Nicole? She was a huge model/star, but fame is fleeting. That's what the network wanted and if that had happened they would have pulled it. Although later on when we pitched shows they would actually prefer us making fun of people who were near death. "If it Bleed's, it Leads." I would actually be surprised if they were to go for MXC today even if they knew it would make more money than they're already making.
Joshua: in what regard?
Herb: You would think people would be happy with just a hilarious comedy, that people love, which makes lots of money. I just don't think Spike cared though. I felt like we were taken for granted, but that may just be sour grapes for them not picking up one of our other shows afterwards. People do still talk about it and it made a lot of people laugh. We got great reviews in Entertainment weekly and New York Times wrote an article about us. They sent a guy from the New York Times down to work with us and he was a fan of the show but he had no idea that it took so much effort to create the show because we started at 9 in the morning and sometimes worked 7 days a week for several months on end. Normal 22 minute sitcoms run 22 minutes and have about 3 jokes per minute. Our show was just as long and had 8 jokes per minute verbally and then we would add visual jokes and sound effects for jokes. We were in our mind competing with The Simpsons in terms of getting as much comedic value as possible out of the show. We put an insane amount of jokes in each show and not everyone hit but a lot of them did. We were all joke writing machines. I never laughed so hard in all my life. The thing is you would think with all that joke writing that when we took a break we would stop joking, but we didn't. It took me 6 months to come down from that when it was all over. It's hard to come down from intense laughter every day for 5 years. It was almost like coming off drugs.
Joshua: I remember feeling that during the final episode: College Sports vs. the Mall of Baghdad.
Herb: That episode has my second favourite joke I ever wrote, "They donít serve Danish anymore". We made a lot of Allah jokes and Middle East jokes. I'm glad itís not now because, would people be coming after us like they did Charlie Hebdo? Maybe we weren't as mean about it though. We really wanted to go after the people in power. We did skid mark jokes in one line and a joke about geopolitical events in the next line. Some of our jokes won't pass the test of time, like Anna Nicole Smith. But some of them hopefully will stand the test of time. I just wish we could have shot the show in something other than 4:3 or figure a way to make it play better on a modern television.
Joshua: Well they tried that in the UK and it looked really awful.
Herb: Yeah, you really need to do a pan and scan in order to make that work. We were at that moment in time when everything was going HD. I think our comedy lasts in the same way that video gamers love old school games. Takeshi's Castle and MXC are like 16bit games. How fun is that? I could watch that super fat lady on log drop, slipping, bouncing and bouncing again everyday for the rest of my life and never get sick of it.
Joshua: This has been a great conversation thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me and thank you for creating the show that ruined my life.
Herb: That's comedy my friend.