Interview with Justin Roiland: Voice of Lemongrab

I recently had an opportunity to sit down with Justin Roiland shortly after finishing post on the upcoming Moral Orel special "Beforal Orel" airing on November 19th via Cartoon Network's [adultswim]. Originally we sat down to talk the potential of films made within Valve's Source Filmmaker, but I couldn't resist requesting an interview with the Earl of Lemongrab.

Update 10/27/12: Justin has just gotten confirmation that his new animated show "Rick & Morty" has been greenlit for a season by Cartoon Network. Great news!

First off, tell me a bit of your history. How did you get into the animation industry? Did you start off voice acting, writing scripts, or were you producing your own cartoons right from the get-go?

I feel like I snuck into the animation industry through a back door that someone accidentally left open. I didn't go to art school or work my way up the production ladder on an animated series or anything like that. I actually moved to L.A. in the spring of 2002 for a job as a production assistant on a show called “Ultimate Revenge” hosted by a young Ryan Seacrest.
Over the years I skipped around to many reality shows and eventually wormed my way up to segment producer. During this time, I was lucky enough to have a close friend (Sevan Najarian) who was an after effects wizard and was ready to get the hell out of Modesto. He was just as into the idea of making cartoons as I was. I let him crash at my apartment in LA and we started making stuff. At first we had no venue to show our work. This was before youtube, so our stuff just sat around and collected dust until another friends showed us
That’s when things changed quite a bit. Channel101 gave us the motivation to finish what we started as well as a place for our work to be seen. We worked out of my 1 bedroom apartment in Sherman Oaks making cartoons and kind of creating our own process. Early on I drew everything myself, but later we found Myke Chilian who joined and helped us out on stuff ever since.

Was there a moment you felt your career really took off? You've appeared several times in live action shows like The Sarah Silverman Program and you are the voice of Oscar in Disney's Fish Hooks. Did you ever have doubts throughout your career?

My involvement with Channel101 is directly responsible for the career I have today, as the work I did back then was seen by a lot of people who work in the animation industry and that helped more than anything else. (Check out because I truly believe it is an incredible way to hone your skills and get your work seen.) I did voices on my own cartoons, but honestly never thought I’d ever find myself doing voices on other people’s shows. That has all been a big surprise I couldn’t have predicted.
The Sarah Silverman involvement was a direct result of Channel101 as well, as I became good friends with Dan Harmon and Rob Schrab there and I was hanging around when they teamed up with Sarah to develop her show with her. She was awesome and we became friends during this time too.
The funny thing is, I’ve never cared about being an actor. My main focus career-wise has always been to get my own show on the air. When I worked in reality TV all I did was come up with reality TV show ideas all the time. Once I crossed over into animation/ comedy I started developing that kind of stuff. Thank god I got out of reality TV.

You have a new series Rick & Morty coming to [adult swim] & just sold another series to Cartoon Network. Congratulations! Anything you'd like to share about either show?
Rick and Morty is a collaboration with Dan Harmon and it’s really really special to me. Dan and I have been working together on stuff for many years at this point and we’ve struck a really nice collaborative balance with this show. We are currently writing more episodes and all I can think the whole time is I hope we get to make this show and I hope people get to see it. I have a really good feeling that it’s going to connect with the audience it’s intended for. The two main characters are a lot of fun and I just have this strange gut feeling that they’re going to catch on if the show gets green lit.

As for the other cartoon network show, it’s top secret. All I can say is that I haven’t felt as inspired and confident in anything since House of Cosbys. It faces a long road ahead as I just sold it 2 weeks ago, but I just have this gut feeling about it. It’s something special.

I am also currently developing a show for Fox. What a crazy ass year.

I was honored to see a weekly screening of Rick & Morty during production & found the show hilarious. What happened between the YouTube videos of Doc And Mharti and getting the show green lit that made it all possible? 

I will go into this BIG TIME if we go to series. I’m terrified of writing some long-winded story about how it all came to be, and then find out we got passed on. Yeeeeesh!

Now, about Lemongrab. How did his lemonosity come into existence & how did you approach the character?

Lemongrab happened because a lot of the Adventure Time guys are fans of my podcast “the grandma’s virginity podcast”. Pen actually had asked me if I could put him in touch with another person who he wanted to cast as Lemongrab. That person wasn’t able to do it, so Pen asked me if I’d be interested and I jumped at the opportunity. I love Adventure Time and to be a part of that universe was too good to be true.
It’s funny because I didn’t audition, so when I came to the record we had to find the characters voice. I feel like I jumped right into this screamy thing and Pen laughed and just said “That’s it” and we went with it. That record was wild.

Did you ever expect Adventure Time, let alone your character, to become the hit it is today?

I actually anticipated Adventure Time being a hit ever since I saw the short that Pen did for Frederator Studios way back when. I saw that and I said “Who would even hesitate to put this on TV? It’s going to be massive.” You could see that from the short. It was all there. Now, I honestly had no idea that Lemongrab would be as popular/ polarizing as he is. I went in and was thrilled to be a part of the show, but there are SO MANY amazing guests voices and side characters. Not once did I think they would be making T-shirts and the Internet would be making memes and what not. It’s all pretty insane. I want a Lemongrab toy man!!

Any comment on the open catchers mitt representing his loneliness in "You Made Me"? Some fans believe it represents him as the "bottom" to a homosexual relationship or is that just another case of fans looking too deeply into the story?

I have to admit, I was browsing 4chan/co that week. I haven’t talked to the guys about it yet, but I was laughing my ass off at the fan conspiracy theories. I honestly think the fans are reading too deeply into it. I’ll find out though. I just keep forgetting to ask about it.

How was the character's obnoxious wale written out in the script? Did you improv it or how did Pendleton conjure it out of you during the VO recordings?

Hahaha, I literally just showed up and took a crack at it. Pen was pleased and we got to work. There was a lot of specific direction for things in that first episode record session though. I can’t take all the credit. Some of the reads were directed to be odd and awkward and that is something I have been mindful of with subsequent recordings. Trying not to get too far away from that.

What are your thoughts on Bill Cosby?

Honestly, I have always been a huge Bill Cosby fan. I was bummed out when his lawyers shut us down. What a bummer. I guess we’re all going to end up old and grumpy, so I can’t blame the guy. When horrible things happen to you, it just sucks your soul out. He lost his son in the worst way and I can’t even imagine how that would change your outlook on the world. I will always seem him as the dad on the Cosby Show. That’s how I choose to think of him. Being all happy and goofy.

One day I hope to be as "overwhelmed" by projects as you. Any tips for someone like myself aspiring to be in the same position? Or am I batshit insane?

The best advice I can give you is not to wait for anyone to say go. Just go. If you have a great idea or a project you want to do, just get started. Don’t hold yourself back by waiting for money or a green light. Those things aren’t real anyway. You can be living your dream right this second making things. The best part is you won’t have people telling you to change the things you love.

As a gamer, what are your favorite titles? I know you play Minecraft occasionally, but what kind of games do you really love?

I’ve been playing video games since the NES. I’ve been obsessed ever since. Currently Minecraft is my all time favorite game. It has knocked all other games down the list. It has proven to be the ultimate game. I am also playing a lot of FTL. I absolutely love it. I want it on my ipad. I WANT FTL ON MY IPAD! I supposed I’ll be able to play it on my Samsung series 7 slate once that comes. 

Ok. Here is the completely incomplete and random break down of my favorite games. 

 Favorite games of the PS2/Xbox/Gamecube era are: 
Favorite games of the Xbox 360/ PS3/ Wii era are: 
I can’t think of any others. Boom Blox? Paper Mario and the 1,000 year door (or whatever the hell that game is called). I don’t know.

I guess I tend to love games that reward my progress with upgrades. Leveling up = upgrading somehow. New skills. New powers. Progress. I’m kind of over the twitch hand eye coordination games of the golden era. I still loved the new Rayman platformer on PS3, but that was a love letter to platformers of the past. I used to love those games as a kid. I’ve grown out of it.

Article & interview artwork by Benjamin Van Den Broeck