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As well as co writing MXC, John Cervenka was the voice of various characters such as Captain Tennille, Guy LeDouche and his many relatives, Danny Glands, and Your Humble Announcer. Below he talks to Josechung/Josh M about his time on the show.
Josh M: How did you get involved with MXC?
John C: Myself and some of the other cast members knew Paul Abeyta and Peter Kaikko, who later introduced us to Larry Strawther. They had found this footage and saw the potential in it. They got us together and we just started talking about it. I don't remember exactly what happened, but in that room with all those funny people, we looked at that footage and just started throwing things in and next thing you know this concept has lot of potential. The characters came together and started to take shape (Captain, Kenny, Guy, Etc..). It was a very interesting dynamic because you had the vision of Paul, Peter and Larry, and then you had all of us coming in and adding our two cents, and it just started to snowball. It made us all laugh pretty quickly, which was a good sign.
Josh M: What was your most important contribution in those first writing sessions?
John C: I would say it was really a true collaboration. I don't think one person took the idea and made it make sense. I think it was a series of moments that we all shared in. Myself, Chris Darga, Vic Wilson, Mary Scheer, we're the voices of the characters and we had all come from The Groundlings. We had all been on stage together, written sketches together, performed together which made it a natural vibe for us all to come together to write and perform the material. It was a complete Team Effort. It was the making of something really fun.
Josh M: When did you become the Captain, Guy and the Announcer?
John C: It evolved, what happens with a character is you can write out a story for a character. But it's not until you start playing with that character's voice and start writing for the character that it really comes alive. With Guy I was doing this really, really bad French accent. Part of the fun was the fact that his accent was so bad but heís this French guy who became turned on by everything. It was comical. I don't remember the steps of how it happened, but Chris and Vic were real naturals at the Vic and Kenny dynamic. Mary Scheer is brilliantly talented and incredible smart. If you look at the references, a lot of them are silly, crazy, and funny while some of them are really clever and Mary is phenomenal at that. The fact that she voiced every woman was unbelievable. We would go these recording sessions where we would have to not only voice our characters, but then do all these other voices. She never missed a beat and always kept it fun. With Guy, I brought a weird look on life to that character. Because we're all together for hours at a time, Everyone's personality comes out in the room. So if someone is politically bent then it will come out in a very friendly way. A few of us are on the conservative side and some of us aren't, which is why we decided to make the Captain this sort of right-wing bully who screams at people but has a great time doing it. We knew what we needed and added the layers as we went.
Josh M: What did you think when you first saw the Takeshi's Castle Footage?
John C: I think there was a great deal of disbelief. This show was so funny because of the conditions that the contestants were dealing with. Sometimes it was hilarious and sometimes it was like watching a Car accident where you don't want to watch but you can't look away. You see people getting hurt but then they bounce back and keep going. Sometimes you can't believe that they're still able to keep going. It was a real disconnect because here in the U.S. we could never produce a show like that because of all the liability. We were intrigued by it and then we would move it around like a puzzle. "How do we take this footage and craft it into a TV show that has legs. How can we have it have story dynamics and multiple characters?" You go from the fun of it, to the work of it, back to the fun of it.
Josh M: Was it always a rule that Guy would have all these relatives?
John C: It just made sense. As much as you try to figure out on day one, Things evolve. You can keep coming back to all these points of view. That's what we did with Guy. We also knew that Guy had a certain role in the show as a field reporter. So when we saw other people in that role, wearing pith helmets we would be like "Oh this is Guy's relative." It just made sense to us and it worked.
Josh M: Was it hard coming up with different voice for each LeDouche relative?
John C: All of the performers on the show are Groundings. Tons of people have come out of the Groundlings. One of the things that the Groundlings Attracts it's a certain type of performer. You have to write your own material and come up with characters. That translates into MXC. Every character has to have a different vibe. So that really helped us come up with unique characters and voices for the show. Sometimes there was some overlap, but half the fun of it is taking characters and voicing it and then having to give it that same voice later. With Danny Glands you have to come up with a voice and it had to have a uniqueness that was easy to replicate later when he continued to come back.
Josh M: Was it hard voice both Guy and the Captain when they would have a conversation with each other?
John C: If it was a short exchange we would go back in forth between voices, but most of the time we would break it up. I would do all of Guy's dialogue then I would go back and do the Captain's dialogue.
Josh M: I find it impressive that the Guy voice does not sound like the Captain voice, does not like Danny Glands voice, does not sound like the Announcer. It's impressive to me how distinct those 3 character voices are.
John C: Thank you so much. The idea was to give each of those characters a unique voice and sound. You really had to commit to that and not make it more complicated than it was. It was fun to immerse yourself in the character when you voiced him. But there was always a method to the madness. Our Audio guy Patrick Grandcloudon was masterful at sliding our voices in to where it would line up with the lip movement. It was really hard to match the lip movement and you could never get it perfectly synced but he came as close as anyone could. Paul Abeyta was omnipresent on the show. He was in the Writing Room, he was in the edit bay, and he was in the voiceover sessions. Doing a show like MXC is work, it's fun but you're not joking every moment of the day. Paul is one of these guys who could keep everyone's attitude up. He was able to keep it as light as possible while still meeting deadlines and keeping everyone going in the right direction. Peter and Larry are the same way.
Josh M: Had you ever worked in an environment like that before.
John C: Before MXC I had worked with Paul and Peter on a show called "Burt Luddin's Love Buffet" for the Game show network. I played the lead Burt Luddin on this hybrid comedy Game show. We did 67 half hours and we became fast friends. I created a show for Fox Family called "Random Acts of Comedy" and Peter was a producer on that show as well. So I had worked with those guys before and they're a lot of fun.
Josh M : Do you have a favorite or least favorite moment from the show?
John C: Sometimes what would happen is we would be working on an episode and it had a lot of great impacts which made it fun to do commentary and write for it. But what was equally as fun was what would go on in the writer's room. We would often go on tangents and act out the most ridiculously off the wall scenes that we could never use in the show because of how politically incorrect they were. That was the fun of it. What we put on the screen made us laugh and what we did in the writers room made us laugh. It's not fun every day; we did this for over 4 years so there are going to be days that aren't as fun as others. When we first started we had to crack the code and invent something that didn't exist before. We were able to come up with a template that worked. We would break the story, create the two teams, mine the comedy from the two teams and try to come up with a view of the two teams. Then we had to create a draft and punch it up. Then we would have to go in and record show that we had written the prior week so we would have to jump back and forth. We would write in one room, and then in another area a full recording studio had been built out. That was big deal because when we first did it, we had to go to a recording studio at Warner Bros. which was fine but it wasnít as efficient. Once we had that studio, we could fix things on much easier. So to answer the question, there were some times when we would ask ourselves "did we go too far?" We were so close that if someone did not think it was funny then we would find another joke. I might say something that I think is funny but it may rub you the wrong way. We could always find another joke to put in. We were like a family.
Josh M: Do you ever think you went too far?
John C: I think all people that are into comedy have their own barometer. If everyone has their own limit then someone is going to be offended. Thatís what comedy is, it inherently tries to push the envelope. If you're really trying to be funny, then someone is always going to say "you went too far". You could even make it the safest joke in the world but someone is going to be offended by it no matter what. At a certain point you have to say that if it's not your taste, it's not your taste. What we found with MXC was that we were an equal opportunity show in that we made fun of everything, yet we didn't necessarily have an agenda. A lot of shows have an agenda where they're only going to bash this group of people be it conservatives, liberals, it goes on and on. Other than Asian Jokes, which we decided not to do because all but one character on the show was Asian, We made jokes about everything. If someone said, "Hey that joke was offensive". Our response is "Well we're going after everyone and just having fun with it". We're certainly not approaching it that we're better than anyone.
Josh M: The Nation Lampoon adage of "If you make fun of everybody, you can't be considered biased".
John C: There you go. We would have a lot of fun exchanges in the writer's room because we didn't all come from the same point of view. Paul and Herb (Goss) are probably more liberal than Chris, Vic and myself are. We didn't have racial diversity on the show, which would have made it even better because it would have been another perspective. But what we did have was a very strong female voice with Mary. We would make stupid jokes and she would be there to rein us in. If we took it too far with a joke about women, she was there to point it out so we could come up with something better. These things kind of work themselves out.
Josh M: Why did you leave the writing staff during the 4th season?
John C: What happened was I had developed a half hour comedy that a partner and I sold to Fox Studios. For that one season I couldn't write but I still came in to do the voiceovers. That show did not get picked up but that's the reason.
Josh M: How would you describe the relationship between the show and Spike TV?
John C: It was a really interesting one because when we started there was a regime change going on at Spike. It was a little Tricky because some people were leaving the network and new ones were coming on. If MXC failed, then the new group would get the blame even though they weren't the ones who bought it. If it succeeded then the credit would go to the previous group of executives. We lucked out that it was bought and the network still stayed behind it long enough for the show to get some positive response. I think it was hard for spike to figure out what to do with us. Typically, you write a script, send it to the network, their legal department reviews it, then the network often read the scripts and give notes trying to be creative. A couple times, early on, the network would come out and meet with us. But at a certain point I think they just said, "I don't know what the hell is going on with this show". It was very non-traditional in that there was nothing like it on television. They very quickly realized that we knew what we were doing, we produced the show as professionally as possible, and so they just left us alone for the most part. Occasionally they would suggest things, but they knew that we had a grasp on the show. It wasn't like an episode of a normal sitcom where an executive would come in and say, "Well what if you had this character do this". We had so many jokes per show that I think they just didn't want to take it apart when they knew it would work.
Josh M: And they couldn't suggest things like "Wouldn't it be neat if Vic and Kenny work Chicken suits" because you already had the footage
John C: Exactly. They couldnít be like "Why not have Guy cross over and talk to that other contestant." It's like "Well that ship has sailed". Still they had every right to oversee us and give notes. They just realized that we knew what we were doing so they left us alone. In the first episode, Network Boss, we had so much fun writing it because we got to take a lot of easy shots at the network.
Josh M: Was there a reason that episode was so much different than even the pilot. It didn't follow the formula of later episodes which focused on the two teams going against each other.
John C: it was familiar ground, so when we made fun of the network it got their attention. Now the network people will watch the episode and laugh at some of the stereotypes. We did 78 episodes. A show evolves over time. The 50th episode vs. the first few episodes of a show always have character development.
Josh M: At what point did you realize the show was a hit?
John C: It just starts to happen. They keep ordering more episodes. You realize that all these other shows that Spike has spent an enormous amount of money on weren't working. Meanwhile, our show wasn't going away. Then all of the sudden we started appearing in Magazines where they started listing us as one of their favorite shows of that week. If there is any regret I have, it's that we couldn't do more episodes. I still get people who want to talk to me about MXC. It was timelessly funny. Our characters never aged. We thought it would be good to do a live version of it but Spike wasn't interested. Look at how successful Wipeout is.
Josh M: I'm surprised Spike TV didn't play up MXC more when Wipeout came on the scene.
John C: There was an article where they said something to the effect of "Wipeout is MXC, but without the funny". I think that was the biggest compliment we could get. They're doing the same games, same impacts but it's not as good as MXC. I always thought that if we wrote for Wipeout, with all due respect to the talented people who write for that show, we could have taken that show to a whole other level. I get that they were a network show so they couldn't do a lot of the jokes we did. But I saw Wipeout and they do a phenomenal job of doing that show.
Josh M: When did you realize that MXC wasn't going to come back for a sixth season?
John C: I don't remember an exact moment. You do the shows and then you wait for the pickup. Time Marches on. We weren't sitting by the phone waiting for the pickup. You do other things, you keep yourself busy and I think with any show it's nice to have a break. You really do put a lot of work into the show. But I know we all would have liked to come back and do more episodes because we never truly felt like we were done. Every episode had a new set of teams playing against each other. That helped keep the show fresh because it was like "What groups can we think of jokes for". In some shows it can feel like "Well what do we have the Olsen Twins do now". With our show it was really driven by the teams.
Josh M: With a never-ending supply of famous people who are willing to appear on the show for no apparent compensation.
John C: I know. We just looked at some of the stuff and wonder, "what the heck is going on".
Josh M: In the MXC universe, where are The Captain and Guy today?
John C: I think the Captain is probably living in a really high end retirement village surrounded by other incredibly wealthy people. He's like a local celebrity, people see him around and itís a big deal. He presented himself like a movie star. He is probably single, dating all the women there. He probably looks spectacular. Guy is a celebrity too. I imagine Guy owns a really successful restaurant in New York. People come into the restaurant hoping to see him. He is single and manages to hook up with all the customers. He genuinely loves people and in his own way is so non-threatening. He was creepy but in a harmless way.
Josh M: Thank you for doing this interview
John C: It's been a real pleasure speaking to you and reliving some of these memories.