“We’ll offend everybody, we don’t give a fuck. But we try to make sure we offend equally.”
Jamal, Grover, and Milk may be stuck riding the pine courtside at Michael Clarke Duncan High School, but in their minds, the three freshmen are bona fide legends, dropping buckets, living the high life, and scoring with the ladies. That’s the premise of Comedy Central’s new animated series Legends of Chamberlain Heights, premiering at 10:30 p.m. EST on Thursday, September 14. Legends is the brainchild of Quinn Hawking and Josiah Johnson, two former UCLA basketball players who drew on their own experiences warming the bench to develop the concept for the series.
There is a plenty of buzz about Legends, a raunchy, coming-of-age comedy in an urban setting that toys with racial and social stereotypes. Comedy Central already renewed the show for a second season, and the first episode hasn’t even aired.
“We’ve had a tremendous amount of support from Comedy Central. From the first table read we did, everybody was excited, everybody was laughing,” Johnson said in an interview with The Interrobang. “The network really got on board and supported it, and they respected our voice and our creative vision. So, I think, in their mind, it was either ‘Let’s do this first season and wait for the numbers to come back and stall production and risk losing the rhythm, or keep this going and roll right into the next season.’ We’re extremely thankful to them for that opportunity and we want to make sure we deliver the best product possible.”
Johnson provides the voice of Grover (a short, fat, black kid who says “Heads’ up, Massa comin’” when their basketball coach comes near their end of the bench) and Milk (a proud “wigger” who takes a slap to the face every time he attempts to greet his pals as “My nigs.”) Hawking voices Jamal, the lovelorn leader of the trio with a crush on the team captain’s girlfriend.
Episode one finds the heroes channeling their inner Walter White to cook up drugs (named Jamallies) that will grant them access to the party of the year in a Superbad-style quest. The second episode tests their parental skills as the students are paired up and given a robot baby to care for in a health class project.
The themes are universal, and that’s by design, Johnson said. “We just want to go out there and make a great show that we – and the whole team at Comedy Central – can be proud of, something that can appeal to the masses and be as relatable as possible.”
Friends since college, Johnson and Hawking began collaborating several years back, making videos on YouTube. “We took the Nike commercials they were doing that had Kobe Bryant and LeBron James puppets talking to each other,” Hawking said. “We took those videos and re-voiced them, and put in a bunch more R-rated and raunchy dialogue. We put those on up YouTube and they drew a bunch of traffic.”
Hawking and Johnson connected with producer Mike Clements and animator Brad Ableson, and began to develop a show. Both Hawking and Johnson were working in television production jobs, with Quinn with Fox Sports and Johnson with the NFL Network. They began posting comedy collaborations on www.jerseychaser.com, helping develop their comedy chops in anonymity while they worked their day jobs.
“We brought on Michael Starrbury, who had a script in with Comedy Central and was getting hot. He came in and helped us out, wrote the pilot script for us. Now, here we are, seven years later, with a show that’s about to go on the air,” Johnson said. With a raunchy, boundary-pushing animated series centered around a group of adolescent boys, Johnson and Quinn said they expect there will be comparisons between Legends of Chamberlain Heights and South Park. However, the two are very different shows, they said.
“We love and respect South Park. Trey (Parker) and Matt (Stone) are some of our heroes, our mentors in the animation game. They’ve done something we can only dream to accomplish,” Johnson said. “But we don’t really feel any pressure to be like them or anything. We’re two different shows. We’re able to talk about a lot of stuff in the urban community that South Park doesn’t really touch.
“We’re afforded the luxury of myself being African-American and Quinn being white,” Johnson said. “We want to talk about a lot of different things and touch on a lot of different subjects. Quinn voices a black character. I voice a black character and a white character. It gives us a little more creative license and leeway. We’re strong believers that if it’s funny, that’s the most important thing. And we’re equal opportunity offenders on the show. We’ll offend everybody, we don’t give a fuck. But we try to make sure we offend equally.”
Johnson said the writers keep their fingers of the pulse of current events and they try to stay socially conscious of the events in the world around them so they can be as topical as possible. Though there is a production time of about six months to create an episode, they managed to work in a “Black Lives Matter” reference into the premiere episode, demonstrating a social awareness that takes the show out of Chamberlain Heights and into the real world.
Hawking said the main goal is simply to be funny. “We don’t put any boundaries on ourselves in the writers’ room,” Quinn said. “There’s a lot of things that we’ve written that will never make it on air. We just go with what we think is funny. Sometimes we have to rely on the adults like Comedy Central and (show runner) Devon Shepard to rein us in from time to time.”
Legends of Chamberlain Heights is set to premiere its ten episode 1st season directly after South Park in September. With music by platinum-selling artist Erykah Badu and animation by The Simpsons’ Brad Ableson, The Legends may be poised to make Comedy Central history.