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THE SUNDAY CONVERSATION

... With Dave Thomas

The former 'SCTV' actor-writer hits the skits again with 'Popzilla,' an animated series on MTV that takes on celebrity culture.

October 25, 2009|Scott Collins

Dave Thomas has kept a mostly low profile since his "SCTV" days in the '80s, but now the Canadian comic is back with a new animated MTV series, "Popzilla," which spoofs celebrities in the age of Twitter. Sample: A parody of Ashton Kutcher promoting the next social-networking craze, where users will update their status simply by posting icons of a duck, clown or fern.

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You created "Popzilla" to make fun of celebrity culture. But haven't we reached the point where celebs are almost beyond parody?

That's true. And that's the challenge. I think what we can do is find another angle on it and have a little more fun with it. A lot of this stuff is really ripe for fodder. Like the earnestness of the tabloids with Jennifer Aniston seeking true love and happiness. How does somebody have that much bad luck finding a guy?

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Do you intend to go political? That's always fertile ground these days.

We have some Obama pieces. It's tricky. We were advised by MTV not to get too political, because then you're in Jay Leno CityWalk territory, where you're talking about somebody and the audience has no idea who they are. Especially the younger kid audience. Fortunately, they know who the president is.

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If you're going to stay topical, you've got to bang out that animation quickly.

And we do, which is why we designed it in that sort of low-fi way, you know? Those are jpeg heads and very simple arms and bodies and jpeg backgrounds, and the movement cycles are very simplified. We needed to be able to turn stuff around in a week, which is very fast for animation.

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Your company, Animax Entertainment in Van Nuys, does a lot of commercial work.

We do short-form, branded entertainment for companies like Carl's Jr. We do animation production services for Disney and Warner Bros, companies like that. We do advertising applications. I actually come from an advertising background. I was a copywriter at McCann Erickson before I was in show biz.

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But most people know you best from "SCTV," the '80s syndicated comedy show that also launched the careers of Eugene Levy, John Candy and others. Is "Popzilla" an "SCTV" for our times?

I'm still doing what I did back then. Back then, the language of common reference was television. So we did parodies and spoofs of television stuff: commercials, shows and celebrities. Now America has become a full-on pop culture where the celebrities are like royalty -- all over the tabloids and the television set. People don't want to be actors or dancers or singers anymore, they just want to be celebrities. There's a woman who had eight babies -- that's her talent. She's a huge celebrity!

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Your biggest hits on "SCTV" were the "Great White North" sketches you did with Rick Moranis, about two beer-swilling, regular-guy Canadians, launching catchphrases like "Take off, you hoser!" You even had a movie ["Strange Brew"] and a radio hit with "Rush" frontman Geddy Lee. Do people still come up to you humming that song?

Oh God, yeah. That became kind of a college, beer-drinking movie. So it stayed popular for way longer than Moranis and I ever thought it would.

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Any idea why?

The list of Canadian icons is a short list. Bob and Doug became Canadian icons.

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What's Geddy like?

He's a really nice guy. Very thoughtful and introspective. Rick went to school with him, which is why he appeared on that album. It was like, "We don't sing. So we need a singer for our song. So why don't we ask Geddy?"

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How often do people confuse you with Dave Thomas, the founder of Wendy's?

Not so often that it becomes irritating. And then he died of course, which cut off a lot of media.

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At 60, aren't you a little old to be spoofing today's celebrity culture?

I hire a bunch of young writers to work with me. They're way more connected with the young audience than I am, and I rely on that. I don't try to impose my sensibilities on the show. I just sit back and say, "That's funny, that's not funny, that's really funny, do another one of those."

How often do your young writers propose a skit making fun of so-and-so, and you think, "Who's that?"

All the time.

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Are you absolutely sure these kids know who the president is?

Not positive.

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scott.collins@latimes.com

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