This was a great opportunity as Big City Greens is a house favorite with every single inhabitant of our household loving the show. Each of us has seen each episode multiple times and they really hold up well to multiple viewings. We knew when we had a chance to speak with Chris and Shane Houghton we probably had enough questions to keep them busy for hours, but we had to boil it down to some of our most intriguing questions.
We get some great insight on the process of coming up with a Big City Greens episode story and other fun tidbits.
Chris starts off by explaining that they both sound similar, so they both speak to differentiate themselves. He is right and honestly we almost had to throw in the towel attributing each bit of the interview to the correct person, but they are brothers after all. Sorry Shane and Chris if I messed any of that up, but I think I did a good job. Shane then asks Chris to just talk like Cricket because that would make it easier, and we get a nice fun Cricket ad lib from Chris that starts this interview off right!
How do you guys come up with the stories for the show?
Shane: We have our wonderful writers, and we meet every Monday morning in the writers room and we usually talk about our weekend and what’s happened. Sometimes stories come out of something that has happened recently to us, but more often than not, it usually comes from someone telling a story about their childhood or remembering something or having a weird relationship or interaction with someone else. We try to pull from those real life instances and use that as a foundation for a story. In Big City Greens normally a grounded story ends up spinning off into some wild extreme, which we enjoy very much. We try to start every episode at some sort of grounded or more real feeling place.
Chris: We figure out a take on a subject, for a long time we wanted to do some sort of cult story. At one point we tried to do a karate story where Cricket and Tilly join this dojo and it turns out it is a weird cult and we couldn’t really figure it out so it was shelved. Then we started talking about YouTube one day and how some of the YouTube influencers have huge followings and the kids will do whatever they say. That is our cult story.
Shane: It is a bit like a brainwashing type of thing when they get too into something and get tunnel vision.
Chris: So we have an episode in Season 2 coming out where Remy is completely brainwashed by this influencer called “ItchaBoi” (editor: corrected name) and Cricket has to save his best friend from this lunatic influencer.
Shane: The episode is called “Bad Influencer” and I think it is in the first half hour.
I am sure you guys have stories that you can’t just get to yet. How do you wrap your head around “I have this great idea but…” I was going to ask you if there was anything, but you kind of answered that.
Chris: Some episode stories, they sit, I was going to say a shelf, but they sit on a bulletin board, and it has become a joke in the writers room. Any idea that goes on this bulletin board is basically dead and it will never come back to the show. But sometimes they do. There is a season 2 episode that from day 1 we thought we have to do an episode where Bill or Gramma becomes an Uber driver. Couldn’t really figure it out and then finally in season 2 we did an episode where Gramma becomes a driver for Swift, our form of Lyft and she becomes the getaway driver for two bank robbers. It is like, ok there is our twist, there is our take on it.
Shane: Usually those ideas, for whatever reason we can’t crack in the moment, we put them aside and then years later they’ll pop up and be like you know what, that’s a great idea now that we have found a new take on it.
Are there any characters you have that you just haven’t be able to find a story for yet, in terms of a guest character?
Shane: So every character that has made it to the show, we have always said that every character has to earn their place. We had a bible when we first were developing the show, you make a show bible and we filled it with characters and only a few of them made it to the screen. We realized that sometimes the purpose that this character served also this character served and you can kind of blend them together or dump one of them. There is one character we have always wanted to get into the show, an angry kid named “Greggly.” He is just this awful child that nobody wants to hang out with. He is fine being by himself, but he is mad all the time and it is a dynamic that nobody else in the show covers, but for whatever reason we haven’t been able to fit him into the show.
Chris interrupts with the classic “until”
Shane: Up until more recently we had an episode called “Cricket’s Tickets,” which is a little bit deeper into season 2. He’ll be popping up at some point and now he is starting to pop up more and more frequently. That doesn’t happen too often, but every once in a while there will be a new character that…this isnt quite the same thing, but in season 2 in the first episode “Car Trouble” there is a character named Gwendolyn Zapp voiced by Cheri Oteri who is kinda crazy tech genius, kind of an Elon Musk/Steve Jobs mixture. Cheri Oteri came in and she just knocked it out, and it was so funny that we started to bring her back. Every once in a while there will be a character that maybe we think will be around for one episode and for whatever reason just like click and they work with the Greens really well and it’s so funny that they start showing up more and more through out the show.
I let the brothers know that are doing the work for me as they are just leading me into the questions I want to ask.
I know you have a lot of guest voice work coming up for season 2, but so far though who would you say that your favorite person to work with has been throughout both of the seasons so far. And is there anyone that you like that you haven’t been able to get yet.
Chris: Shane and I are mouthing our answers to each other as we have different answers.
Shane: Blanket statement first all of our guest stars are so amazing to have come in and lend us their time and talent. We have been blessed with such funny guest stars and it is always a real treat to see some people come in, especially people that have never done animation before.
Chris: I was going to, for the sake of not offending anyone, slightly rewrite the question to say the most surprising person. I was going to say Cheri Oteri, we knew she would be funny, but lordy we didn’t know she’d be that funny. She just blew us away, we were like howling in the booth. It doesnt really happen like that where we are so surprised and I actually felt a little self-conscious that she might think we were humoring her. No this is just like really funny and she gave us such weird stuff and we just used it all. We just had to have her back again and again.
Shane: Also, Thomas Middleditch, who is also in the first episode of season two, he is such a force of nature when it comes to comedy. We had a hard time recording him because everyone is laughing constantly and it’s hard to get to the lines that we were supposed to be recording, he just riffs and he will just do the funniest voices and takes, he was just killing us. He shows up a couple of times in season two as different characters. He can do all sorts of things and is so so funny.
So the second part of that question is if you could have anybody else that you havent been able to contact or haven’t reached out to, who would it be in terms of voice work
I believe it is Chris that shouts Kayne over the phone at this point.
Shane: We are huge fans of Jack Black and I absolutely love whenever he posts a new YouTube Video on his JablinskiGames account. More than any TV show, I look forward to the next JablinskiGames more than anything. He is just so very funny, we would love to have Jack Black on the show.
Chris: Steve-O because his voice is so gnarly and he is so funny. I feel like Steve-O playing a character, whatever he plays seems like a character Cricket would want to meet.
I talk about our interview Big City Greens Marieve Herington Talks Tilly Green – Exclusive Interview and how awesome Marieve was.
How did getting Marieve to voice Tilly Green come about?
Shane: We can’t think of anybody else doing Tilly now.
Chris: And it’s kinda a similar story to what we were just saying, every once in a while someone will come into the booth and surprise us and Marieve was definately that. Shane and I always pitched Tilly to each other with kind of a lower voice and just a very different take from what Marieve did.
Shane: More monotone and dry, and not too expressive. Her excitement was the same tonal level as her disappointment and we thought that was funny that she was just like, she’s kind of monotone. So we created these sides, actors read sides which is basically a couple lines of dialog. Marieve sent in an audition and we included direction on these sides so we got a lot of the same type of things, people doing the low monotone voice we were looking for. But then Marieve came in and she had said that once she saw the character art and read a couple of these lines this voice just came to her. She had never done this voice before, where as voice actors practice their voices, this voice just came to her and it just felt right. She sent in her audition and it stood out among all the other auditions that we had, and then once we had her in to the booth and we got to meet her and she did the voice for us live we were just dying. She was so funny and so charming and there is a lovable aspect about her voice and Tilly’s voice that just cant help but smile when you hear it.
I talk about how my daughter would have loved to have done this interview with me, but she was at school. She does like to listen to the recordings though.
How were you able to integrate Nancy Green back into the story without losing the show?
They both comment that it was nerve racking…
Shane: In season one we established a core family group. And to introduce another family member somebody with such a signicant role as being a Mom it was terrifying. What if this disrupts the core balance that we have created? Ultimately we got a little bit of a taste of that at the back ten episodes of season one, you got to see how Nancy is starting to integrate herself back into the family. Nancy’s story is really interesting to us because she kinda got this redemtion arc of being a parent who maybe wasn’t the best parent earlier on, and she went to jail. Now she is back, she’s got this second chance in the big city to bond with her family. There is still kind of this looming conflict of her and Bill’s divorce and she doesn’t live at Gramma’s house because Gramma and Nancy don’t get along well.
Chris: She is trying to make up for lost time with her kids
Shane: There are a lot more Nancy episodes in season two where we see her relationship with her kids, and with Gramma and Bill kind of develop and grow. I hope we have succeeded in not breaking our core cast and introducing a really intesresitng and new dynamic to the family.
I go on and explain while I was a bit worried about this, that they have handled it great so far and they are on the right path.
We look to shows now to have an overall arch, and you may have ruined us over at Gravity Falls with your work there. Is there an over arching story you have in your head for Big City Greens. Is there an end, I am not asking for what it is, I’m just asking is there this story you have or is it more of that 30 minute comedy?
Shane: We have always wanted the show to be extremely accessible to people, so we made a conscious effort to not write it like a Gravity Falls, where you have such heavy continuity. There is some continuity and it’s lightly based and I think for the people who have seen a lot of the show they are rewarded with these little nuggets as the continuity pops up throughout the series. We know how the series is going to end and I think we will get there at some point.
I interject that we will all be happy if you take your time getting there.
Shane: It is a little too early right now, but yes we do have a definative ending on a way we would like to end the series, but there is a lot more fun to be had before that.
Chris: There are definitely series that lend themselves more to, “hey audience come with me or we’re going to explore this world together.” We really wanted this show to be the other type of show, which is more “come hang out with us.” Spend time with the Greens, you know how they operate, you want to see their perspective on new subjects or topics or people or things and kind of go from there. We are having a blast just doing that.
We are running out of time so I can only ask one more question and while I want to ask about noses, I go with asking them what their favorite episode is. Before I let them answer though I do tell them my favorite episode is “Swimming Fool.”
Chris: Mine would have to be, I would say it is hard to pick, but currently, it is kind of a no brainer for me, we have our Christmas special coming up. A half hour Christmas special, it is a musical. Kind of going back to Nancy, introducing the Mom into the show, we are always trying ot find new ways to challenge ourselves and say, can we do this?, will this work?. We definitely did that with the Christmas special and we tried to make something that could hopefully be seen as a Classic Christmas special with really great songs, and by golly I think we pulled it off, I hope we pulled it off.
Shane: I gotta say the same episode, I have always loved the classic Christmas special. To be able to contribute to that giant collection of works, has been a real treat. I think the entire crew and all of our actors really pulled out all of the stops on this one. It is a little bit longer than a normal half hour, even though it is a two parter it’s got an extra minute of content in it. It has six or seven songs and Christopher Llyod is in the episode, which absolutely blows us away. It’s really funny, it’s really heartwarming, and I hope it brings in the holiday season in a happy spirit.
Chris is so nice and knowing that my daughter will listen to the interivew before we transcribe it talks to her in his Cricket voice.
The only questions we did not ask, why don’t they have noses. Also, our apologies if we swapped attributions or made spelling mistakes based on the audio interview we did. Hey, we tried the best we could. Thanks to both of the brothers, we had a fun time talking to them and they gave us a lot of great information about Big City Greens. Make sure to tune into Big City Greens Saturday, November 16th for the season 2 premiere on Disney Channel.