The last time I chatted with Dan Povenmire & Jeff “Swampy” Marsh, it was when they were finishing a long run with the popular show Phineas and Ferb. As they closed one chapter of their lives they began another with Disney XD’s Milo Murphy’s Law.
Disney XD’s Milo Murphy’s Law
“Milo Murphy’s Law” is an animated comedy series that follows 13-year-old Milo Murphy, the fictional great-great-great-great grandson of the Murphy’s Law namesake. Milo is the personification of Murphy’s Law, where anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.
Interview with Dan Povenmire & Jeff “Swampy” Marsh
Dan: Well that was fun to watch with an audience. We sometimes forget, by the time we’re done with it, none of it’s funny to us anymore ’cause we’ve seen all of those jokes 30 or 40 times each so it’s always a matter of “Well, this made me laugh the first several times I heard it. I should probably leave it in,” because otherwise, you end up changing things because you’ve heard them a lot. And it’s always nice when people laugh at the things you thought were funny originally.
Jeff: It is, though.
Dan: It is, it’s nice. So, if you work in TV, you work in sort of a vacuum, and send it out into the ether. If you’re in features, you can go to an actual theater and hear people responding to it. And if you’re in a play or something like that, you get that instant gratification. We have to sort of look online to see what kids are saying about it to get a response back.
Jeff: The crew laughs. But we pay them. (He laughs)
What is it like, working with Weird Al Yankovic, and how much influence does he have on Milo?
Jeff: Well, between the temper tantrums —
Dan: He’s a wonderful, wonderful guy.
Jeff: Somebody said the weirdest thing about him is just how normal he is, so —
Dan: True. He’s super, super normal. He’s not as wacky as I think people expect him to be, except on stage or doing one of his videos. But he’s about the nicest guy that we know. That’s part of why we ended up with him, is we were looking for somebody to have this very positive voice without sounding put on.
We auditioned hundreds of people for Milo. And we auditioned kids. Seasoned voice actors. People whose work we love. But when they try to do that super-positivity thing, it always comes off “Pollyanna” and false. And we just need to find somebody who just actually has that voice because the character is modeled after a friend of ours who just sounds that way when he talks. He is just always positive.
And we needed to find somebody who has that positivity just naturally. Weird Al came in and did a voice on Gravity Falls. And Alex, who runs Gravity Falls, posted it, and I was like — oh. Weird Al. I’ve met him. I’ve seen him interviewed. He’s like, this super positive guy. What does he sound like? I had to look up an interview with him to remind myself how his voice sounded. We had him come in, and it just immediately worked.
Jeff: I was against it. We already auditioned hundreds of people literally. And I’m like, I’m just, “No.” I just couldn’t take it. We wanted to hire the guy who was a friend of ours who works on another show.
Dan: But he runs another show.
Jeff: We were told he’s busy. So when Dan said “we’re going to read one more person,” I’m like “fine, whatever, I don’t care.”
And then he sent me the audition. I got up in the morning, and it was in an e-mail. So I’m literally sitting there in bed with my wife, and I play Weird Al’s voice. She goes, “Who’s that?” I went, “It’s Weird Al. It’s really good.”
Dan: So yeah. It was a great find, and working with him is great. The fact that we get to write songs and have Weird Al sing them, it just makes my high school self just, ‘Weeee! ‘
And the funny thing is, during the course of Phineas there were several songs from the first season that were sort of popular. Then we would write our Weird Al version of song, later. Just change the lyrics, making it for that particular instance. That was always fun. We always called it our Weird Al version. Well, now, for Milo, we needed a song. We wrote something like that for Phineas.
So, I took the music from a song we wrote on Phineas, and just rewrote the lyrics, and made our Weird Al version of a song from Phineas, for Milo, and got Weird Al to sing it. (Laughing) So, we wrote our Weird Al version, and Weird Al is singing it! How bizarre is that?! So that’s fun.
Jeff: When you find somebody who works, it lets you push the character a lot more than you normally would. That’s been fun. And, also, I’d never worked with anybody that’s that prepared every day, for everything, and especially the music stuff.
Dan: Because he’s an actual musician.
Jeff: So much better than we are. (Laughing)
Dan: You know. We don’t read and write music. We can play and sing into a microphone. Then somebody else writes out the score and stuff like that from what we’ve done. And, so, he’ll come in for a song, and he’ll go, “Yeah, on bar 12 here, you’ve got a dotted quarter note. But in the demo that you guys sang, it’s a dotted half note” or something.
“Which one do you want to –?” And we’re like, “I think it’s so cute that you think we know the answer to that. ”
Jeff: I tried to sound intelligent. “Just take the dot off. It’s fine.”
Dan: Yeah. I always say, “Well, however, we sang it in the demo.”
Dan: That’s how it’s supposed to go. We don’t know what those little dots mean.
Jeff: And the other fun thing about Al, of all of the really big names that we have had come in and do voices on this show, those people geek out more about Al than anyone I know. Really famous people. Had somebody look down and go, “Al is coming — can I stay?” I’m like, “Yeah, of course.”
Dan: Can I trouble you gentlemen for an introduction to Mister Yankovic?
Jeff: Can I take a selfie?
Dan: So, I read an article online that said that Weird Al’s fame has now eclipsed all of the people that he would parody back in the day.
He’s still so relevant, and I think that that’s just a testament to his force of will that he’s able to do that. He created a job for himself, in which he could be a household name doing something that no one else in our lifetime has done for a living.
Jeff: Playing the accordion.
Dan: Playing the accordion, and making up different lyrics to existing songs. And he has made himself a household name, doing that. That’s just an amazing, you know, the force that he is.
You have mentioned that you looked online to see the feedback you got from fans after they watched the show. What are you looking for from them? What do you want them to get from watching this?
Dan: Well, a lot of times you’re looking to see what starts getting quoted. It’s like, there’s always the Monday morning gag. That’s what we’re always looking for online. The gag that kids will talk about at school.
Jeff: It’s nice to know that things that you were hoping that would connect, do connect. Also, I think I look for it to find the surprising things I didn’t expect. And that’s the joy. You think, oh, there’s this whole other thing that happened that I didn’t anticipate.
Dan: You guys laughed at something that we weren’t expecting you to laugh at, and I can’t remember what it was, but I was like, “Oh, I guess that is funny.”
You know. I hadn’t thought of it that way at all. That’s always fun when you get a laugh for something that you’re like, “Oh, that’s a surprise. Yeah.” (Laughing)
Jeff: The other thing I’m always looking for is the people out there who were me. That if I had had somebody much earlier on in my life say “you should do that,” then maybe I would have found this gig a lot earlier. I didn’t get into animation until I was like, 28. I like finding those kids that are out there, looking for somebody to say, “You know, hey, this doodling and storytelling you do? Or singing funny songs? There is a place for you out there that do that.”
Dan: We get a lot of people that follow us on Twitter that say that now that’s what they want to do is animation. That always makes me feel great.
Speaking of kids, Jeff, have your grandkids inspired any episode?
Jeff: They show up as little characters in there, too. (Laughing) Yeah, every time you’re with them there’s fun little behaviors and things you don’t think about until you see people that young, doing stuff that you think it’s funny. So yeah.
Do they recognize themselves in the character, or do you tell them?
Jeff: Oh, I tell them. You have to tell them. Otherwise, it happens, and they didn’t know, they’re really angry at you.
Dan: I have two girls, and one’s named Isabella, who I named Isabella in Phineas and Ferb after. So when I was drawing out these characters, I put a “Melissa” in there. I had it on my desk, and I went to sleep, and my oldest daughter, Isabella, had woken up before me and she left a Post-It on that said, “Daddy, this is not fair. You can’t put Melissa into this show and not have an Isabella.”
I had to call her. And say, “You realize that there’s a big hit show with a character that’s named after you?” Yes. But Isabella doesn’t look like me. And that looks like Melissa. And I go, “Oh, I can’t win. I cannot win.” It’s like, “Well, because you weren’t quite born yet. We knew we were having an Isabella; I just made it look like your cousin.” (Laughing)
Jeff: And I get things like I put my wife in a show, and she was mortified. What I thought was weird was she said, “I can’t believe you did that to a character designer. Made them design the boss’s wife. That was mean of you.” And I didn’t think — “Oh, okay, I’m sorry.”
Dan: No, what’s funny is the mom, Milo’s mom in this, looks very much like my wife. But when I drew it, it didn’t.
Dan: And then she cut her hair to that haircut. And now her family thinks that I drew that to look like her, and it’s not.
It’s a complete coincidence. (Laughing)
The Doctor Zone references were fun. Do you have any plans to do any other pop culture full-on homage?
Dan: We’ve been busy with Doctor Zone because that comes back into play. But what this series has that Phineas never had is the guys who are protecting the pistachios. That becomes a bigger story by midway through the season. It starts to become a big arc that goes through the whole season and culminates in a big season finale with a big climax to that story.
And we’d never really done that in Phineas, where we kept a story going through, not only several episodes but through the entire season. We wanted to introduce all of the characters first. And in the very first episodes you only see those guys in the very background of things, and then they start having lines.
Jeff: Sounds like fun when we start planning the season out. And we covered three or four rooms with Post-It notes trying to make sure everything connects and works.
Dan: Luckily, because it takes so long to do animation, sometimes we’ll be in episode 16, and we’ll go, “Oh. We’re doing this here. Be cool if we planted something earlier. What episode has not shipped overseas yet? Or what episode can we put a line in that’ll tease that?” That makes us a lot smarter than we are. “Oh, they were planning that way back then?” Well, yes and no.
Was it always planned for your guys to voice Dakota and Cavendish?
Dan: Yeah, I think — Dakota and Cavendish — that whole concept of that came out of the writer’s room. That wasn’t part of our original ideas. I think the writers were like, “We need somebody to cut away to,” because they were used to doing Phineas and Ferb, and then cutting away to Perry and Doofenshmirtz. And they pitched this idea of these time travelers, what they do and everything came out of that meeting. But when I drew it, I was drawing it with a thought of me being that guy, and you being Cavendish, so, yeah.
That’s just been a fun thing to do. And we get to be in the record room together, which we never did. Jeff was Monogram, I was Doofenshmirtz, and there were only three episodes where they even had a conversation because they were usually separated by distance.
Jeff: Now we just put two mics in the room. And we can just sit, play around and ad lib, and it’s a lot of fun.
Phineas and Ferb was the first animated show I would catch my husband watching without the kids in the room.
Jeff: You chose the right man.
Dan: Your husband is a wise individual.
How important is it for you to create a show the whole family can watch together?
Dan: That’s the best thing that we hear because when we started Phineas, it was right at the time where TV watching had gotten so segmented. There’s the Food Station, the Food Network, and Home and Garden Television, and —
Jeff: There’s a whole Bass Fishing Network.
Dan: Yeah, there is, and what the research was showing was that every age group in the house had its TV.
So, family viewing as we remembered it, from when we were kids, had disappeared. Back then it was the whole family on the couch watching TV. It was everybody watching one show, and you had to pick something that everybody liked. Since that was no longer the norm, people weren’t doing as many shows with the whole family to do. So, when we hear that, it just warms our heart that we’re bringing back family viewing.
Jeff: I was recently on a ski lift with this 18-year-old kid, and I was making jokes about my 15-year-old son. That I was up here with a bunch of 15-year-olds and blah blah blah and we were talking. And he did that “what do you do, ” and I said, “Well, I do cartoons for Disney.” Oh, what show? Said, “Well, I used to do a show called Phineas and Ferb.” And this 18-year-old went “Oh my God, dude, God, I gotta take a selfie with you.” I’d forgotten that now these kids that grew up on our show are 18, 19, 20, they’re in college.
And they have this language with their families, they have shared jokes because the show talked to everybody in the house. And I think that’s awesome. I had a guy when I was speaking at a college ask if I would call his dad and tell his dad to send him more money. As Monogram. I did it as Monogram because they shared that whole thing. “I’m here with your son. He’s doing very well in school, but he could probably use a few more bucks,” and I got a nice e-mail from him later, saying, “He sent more money. Thank you.” And it was just all of a sudden there is that shared humor, those shared jokes, those shared lines, that those families will have forever. And sometimes, it’s just singing the songs together.
What advice would you have for young kids who are into drawing and doodling?
Jeff: Throw away their erasers.
Jeff: The whole thing that I always see kids trying to create perfect or beautiful drawings. Somebody much wiser than me once said, “I think there are 10,000 bad drawings, and your job is to get them out as quickly as possible, and you only do that by doing more drawings.”
When I started in animation, I didn’t get trained in this. I think it was David Silverman, one of the first guys who kind of helped teach me for a while said, “You should just draw with a Sharpie. It’ll keep you fiddling with stuff, and it forces you just to make bold shapes.”
For a year, I didn’t draw with anything other than a Sharpie. It had a huge, positive impact. You can’t erase it. You can’t fiddle with it. And I started filling books with drawings.
More drawings, no erasing.
I was invited by Disney to the Beauty and the Beast #BeOurGuestEvent to share my experience with my readers. All opinions are my own.