ComingSoon editor Spencer Legacy spoke with Koala Man creator Michael Cusack about developing the show and juggling projects like Smiling Friends and YOLO: Crystal Fantasy. All eight episodes of Koala Man are now streaming on Hulu.
“It follows middle-aged father Kevin and his not-so-secret titular identity, whose only superpower is a burning passion for following the rules and stifling petty crime in the town of Dapto,” reads the synopsis. “Although it may look like any other Australian suburb, the forces of evil, both cosmic and man-made, are waiting to pounce on unsuspecting Daptonians. On a quest to clean up his hometown and often dragging his frustrated family on his adventures, Koala Man stands ready. He’ll do whatever it takes to defeat villainous masterminds, supernatural horrors, or worse: morons who don’t take out their trash cans on the appropriate days.
Spencer Legacy: Between Koala Man, Smiling Friends, YOLO and your Paloni Show segment, how do you juggle so many projects at once?
Michael Cusack: With a lot of help! I’m lucky to have a lot of talented facilitators and people around me who can lighten the load. Princess Bento in Australia… they do a lot of animation for these things. There are only a million talented people around me right now, helping me with all these projects. So, yes, delegation.
This one’s a deep cut, but on The Very Positive Stream in 2018 you mentioned that Koala Man was just reclaimed and that was almost five years ago. So how does it feel to watch this develop?
Was that almost five years ago?
Oh my God. Yeah. Okay. I completely forgot. Yeah, so it was picked up on the 20th, but then we had to shop it. That’s how it works in this industry. When you sell a show, it’s not the end. They also have to sell it to – if it’s in a studio, they have to sell it to a network. So it was in development hell for quite a few years, but yeah, we stuck with it and it was fine. It was getting better too. It snowballed and brought in a few more people and the showrunners and Justin [Roiland] as PE [executive producer] and it took a lot of steam. I was lucky enough to be able to work on Smiling Friends as well, on YOLO on the side, so I wasn’t just sitting there waiting for it to happen.
I was also very pleasantly surprised to see Damo and Darren show up on the show. When did you decide to include them?
It just seemed logical because for some reason…so when I did Damo and Darren all those years ago, I set it up at Dapto Station. In fact, I went to Dapto and took pictures of Dapto station, then drew them for the cartoon “Ciggy Butt Brain”. Then when I did the Koala Man short a few years later, for some reason it made sense to put Koala Man in Dapto too, because he would be annoyed by petty criminals like Damo and Darren. So yeah, it just kind of came together naturally and now, doing the Koala Man series for Hulu, it made sense to include them as well because they worked well together. They’re kind of like the Jays and Silent Bobs of this universe. Like the weird Aussie stuff I do.
Were there ever concerns about whether Australian concepts like showbags and emu warfare would be understood by international audiences? Or have you always trusted that?
In terms of those things, in the writers room, Australians were bringing up things that we thought were pretty Australian and American writers loved that and ran with it and kind of expanded it. We realized that the weird stuff that’s normal for us is kind of fun for Americans. Instead of moving away from it, it was more about focusing on it, focusing on it and making it the focal point. That was the fun part. So yes, there was no pushback. If anything the network and the executives wanted to make it more Australian and we were able to do that because at the end of the day characters always have motivations and wants and needs and stuff like that so we could we get some weird stuff out of it.
You worked again with Justin Roland on Koala Man. You did Bushworld Adventures, Paloni Show and High On Life. So what was this collaboration like over the years?
Yeah, that’s really good. I mean, Justin got my first start. When I did Bushworld Adventures – the Rick and Morty April Fool’s Day special – I was just making short films for YouTube. He messaged me out of the blue, I think it was at the height of Rick and Morty in season 2, and he said, “Did I want to do this special April Fool’s ? I just couldn’t believe how lucky I was – I was like washing dishes in a restaurant back then. So it was the best. To date, it’s been one of the most fun jobs I’ve had. Justin was so good at just saying, “Do whatever you want.” And I was like, ‘Are you sure you don’t want to look at the script before I do? “And he said, ‘No, I don’t care. You do, I’ll watch it when it comes out on TV. It’s a dream when it comes to a creative person who wants to do something like this. So yeah, he’s a great friend and someone I’m forever grateful for, for helping me in my career.
Koala Man is a bit more serialized than your other shows. Do you prefer to lean more towards the episodic format or the serialized format? Do you have a preference?
I don’t really have a preference. I see pros and cons and pros for both. Obviously Smiling Friends is episodic, you can log in anytime and you will get it. There is no overall story or arc that is good in its own sense. And then, yes, I also like serialized stuff. I love having a show that you can binge, and by the end of the binging session, you’ve gotten a whole story out of it that’s cohesive and you kind of have to watch it from start to finish. Yeah, there are pros and cons to both and [they’re] both fun to do. I am lucky to be able to do both.
You also do a lot of voice acting in Koala Man. How do you prevent them from mixing or looking too similar?
Just be as different as possible. Like when I do Maxwell, it’s as hard as an old man as I can be with my voice. You kind of have to keep a log of the characters you’ve created that are similar. I think Kevin and Maxwell are quite different and sometimes Liam can sound like Kevin and I’m always on top of that and I’m redoing Liam’s lines and I’m always trying to get him higher, because sometimes he goes a little too low.
But the ones that sound the same are things like The Great One and Tall Poppy. I realize after watching it that I do pretty much the same voice for these characters. That’s pretty much the vocals I do as Knifey in Justin’s game, High On Life. It’s like this really rocky voice, it’s like my favorite. And I’ve done that for quite a few characters. My philosophy with this stuff is that as long as you’re thinking about the character while you’re doing the voice, there’s going to be some shades that are kind of different from the others, even if they’re quite similar.
You mentioned that Koala Man had quite a long production time. When did Hugh Jackman come on the scene and what was it like?
I think it was like… oh my god, when was that? I think it was a year and a half ago, maybe. Yes, I think it was last year, I don’t remember. Our cast reached out. I was not optimistic. I came from a lot of the school of thought that I’m nobody and we’re not going to have big name actors, but I was wrong, apparently. I think the fact that it’s an Australian animated show and it’s something new has attracted people like Hugh Jackman and Sarah Snook and Hugo Weaving and… I mean, I say this all the time, but I still can’t believe we have such incredible talent on this show. I can’t process it. It does not mean anything.
It’s a pretty crazy cast.
It’s crazy. It’s crazy. And they were amazing. Sounds silly, but you’re just waiting for someone to say, “Haha, you fell for it!” It was a joke. It wasn’t really Jackman!
The long con.
Yes, but yes, they were great. There isn’t much else to say. They are all professionals and it is great to work with them.
When you were doing the dishes before Justin Roland reached out to you, did you ever think you’d do a show where Jemaine Clement would give a monologue about peeing and eating maggots? Because it’s pretty crazy.
No. I certainly didn’t. I think… it’s weird. I think about it sometimes. Like, trying to travel back in time and see the show from when I was at my lowest. I’ve always dreamed of doing an anime series like this, so I’m living that dream. It’s really amazing and I feel extremely lucky.
Your stuff has always been really great. It was really cool to see all these Newgrounds and YouTube animators starting to take off.
Yeah, I mean, if I somehow help other YouTube hosts and Newgrounds artists get their work out there and get gigs, shows, or whatever they want, then I I feel like I accomplished something. That’s really what makes it worth it. I grew up with all that so I feel like I owe them all. I’m very inspired by so many people like that. So here is. It’s good.
Michael Cusack on juggling shows and living the dream | Pretty Reel