Guest List

‘Aqua Teen Hunger Force’ Creators Get Serious About Absurdity

The creators of the cult-hit cartoon - which follows a trio of anthropomorphic fast food items, naturally - list a few absurd bits of culture that have inspired them.

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Matt Maiellaro (L) and Dave Willis (R) attend "Adult Swim - National Terrorism Strike Force: San Diego Sport Utility Vehicle" during Comic-Con International 2012 held at the Hilton San Diego Bayfront Hotel on July 13, 2012 in San Diego, California.

David Willis and Matt Maiellero’s surreal cult cartoon, “Aqua Teen Hunger Force,” concludes its 11th and final season on Cartoon Network this week. It’s about a milkshake, a floating bag of french fries and a wad of meat who live together and have adventures. David and Matt’s list is as absurd as their show.

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Dave Willis: I’m Dave Willis. I’m co-creator of “Aqua Teen Hunger Force.”

Matt Maiellaro: And I’m Matt Maiellaro, co-creator of “Aqua Teen Hunger Force.”

Dave Willis: Yeah. A lot of people say that our show is absurd, so we’re giving you three things that we think are equally, or more absurd, or may have influenced some of our… absurdity.

Master Shake (Dana Snyder) parties his skin off in The Hairy Bus while Carl (Dave Willis) and Frylock (Carey Means) are unamused.
Master Shake (Dana Snyder) parties his skin off in The Hairy Bus while Carl (Dave Willis) and Frylock (Carey Means) are unamused.

John Lurie – “Fishing with John”

Matt Maiellaro: No. 1 is going to be John Lurie, “Fishing with John” [echoes] John, John, John.

Dave Willis: The TV show, which was hosted by this jazz musician John Lurie. Who… I think he played in the Lounge Lizards, right?

Matt Maiellaro: He did, yes. Right.

Dave Willis: Then he was in a few Jim Jarmusch movies.

Matt Maiellaro: He did the soundtrack to “Get Shorty.”

Dave Willis: Oh, I did not know that.

Matt Maiellaro: Yeah.

Dave Willis: It was a fishing show hosted by a guy who did not, apparently, know how to fish. And he would have celebrity friends of his on, like Tom Waits, and…

Matt Maiellaro: He would charter a whole boat. He had a whole bunch of gear, and he piloted and captained this fishing trip.

Dave Willis: And then Tom Waits would get seasick, and then they would go back to shore and spend the entire episode playing cards with the natives.

Dave Willis: This narrator would pop in and out out of nowhere with lines like… [cuts to clip] “The Shark Reigns Over his Underworld Kingdom. It is highest in the ocean food chain. He has no predator except… man.” [Clip ends, Dave and Matt laugh.]

Dave Willis: It’s just funny!

Matt Maiellaro: Absurdity is funny because it breaks the template of the norm, and unleashes the unexpected. Which is sort of a shock to the brain, which makes you laugh.

Don Hertzfeldt – “Rejected”

Matt Maiellaro: No. 2 would be Don Hertzfeldt, who is an animator that we both really liked and still like. Don Hertzfeldt has this one short that we really love called, “Rejected,” and it was nominated for an Oscar. His style tends to be stick figure and very crude pencil drawings of happy-looking characters that eventually find themselves in very horrific situations.


Dave Willis: And I think the first one we saw by Don Hertzfeldt was “Billy’s Balloon.”

Matt Maiellaro: Kid’s got a balloon tied around his wrist, and then the balloon picks the kid up, up in the air. And it’s sort of this magical thing, and then the balloon drops the kid [he laughs]. But then where it starts to get funny is that the balloon comes back down. It just keeps picking this kid up again and dropping him.

Dave Willis: But the boy doesn’t want to believe that this magical red balloon is trying to hurt him.

Matt Maiellaro: I think the reason why we love that so much was that, you know, it was just out of the blue. It was unexpected.

Dave Willis: Sometimes violence is funny because people deserve it, and sometimes it’s funny because they don’t. Like Billy. He didn’t deserve that! So why was it funny — I don’t know!

Steve Martin

Matt Maiellaro: Our third absurd thing has to be Steve Martin, because he’s so out there.

Dave Willis: One of our editors and producers, Ned Hasting, still says a line from, I think it’s “Let’s Get Small” [Ed. note: actually it’s from the album “A Wild And Crazy Guy”], where he just said, “One shot… goodbye.”


Dave Willis: Sometimes, when we just sort of mail something in at work, or something makes us laugh, that phrase just comes up. But it’s always like, “One take… goodbye.”

Matt Maiellaro: Absurdity just kind of, just… you know it’s like, there’s templates. There’s like normal vanilla “The Simpsons” — just jokes and funny — and we do a little bit of that. But then…

Dave Willis: … There’s the absurdi-con element. Of the ridiculum.

Matt Maiellaro: [laughs] Of the ridiculum — that obviously rearranges with the protoplasm of the ridiculum…

Dave Willis: And the proto…

Matt Maiellaro: And that’s how it works!