By John Benson
DJ Lance Rock simul- taneously trips out toddlers and hipsters with three simple, albeit gibberish, words: “Yo Gabba Gabba!”
For the past five years, the Nick. Jr. series has been entertaining preschoolers with a colorful cast of characters that includes the aforementioned Rock, the little green Brobee, the pink flower bubble Foofa, the red Cyclops Muno, the blue cat-dragon Toodee and the yellow robot Plex. However, what makes this award-winning, live-action television series literally different from anything else, ever, is that it also features a healthy dose of indie rock bands.
While ’90s rapper Biz Markie and Devo-founder/Akron native Mark Mothersbaugh are regulars, guest stars who have appeared on the show are Erykah Badu, Jack Black, Anthony Bourdain, The Flaming Lips, Meta World Peace (Ron Artest), Tony Hawk, The Killers, MGMT, Mos Def, The Roots, The Shins, Sarah Silverman, Weezer, Jimmy Eat World and Elijah Wood.
What’s crazy is the latter actor was actually a guest in the first full episode. Sure, it’s easy to see how the leeches in Hollywood want to be a part of a ratings winner, but for some reason celebs and indie rock elite were on board from the start.
“It’s pretty funky because when we shot the pilot, we did it independently,” said “Yo Gabba Gabba!” co-creator Christian Jacobs, calling from Costa Mesa, Calif. “We had these DVDs we’d give to people, and Elijah Wood was at a show my band [The Aquabats] was playing. We asked him if he would like to be a part of the show. He said he would check out the DVD and he emailed us the next day and said, ‘I’m in.’ It’s kind of funny. We’re like a bunch of dudes making a TV show in the garage, basically. It’s pretty incredible.”
Jacobs goes on to say he believes “Yo Gabba Gabba!” has enough of a retro vibe and a new school vibe to create its own universe, which over the past few years has added a live show to tour the country just like every other popular children’s program.
“Yo Gabba Gabba! LIVE!: Get the Sillies Out!” comes through Northeast Ohio for two shows Tuesday at the Akron Civic Theatre. Joining Markie will be all of the crazy characters and a slew of Super Music Friends and Dancey Dance guest performances, including clips by Devenda Banhart, Cold War Kids, Matt Costa, Kid Koala, Moby, DMC (Run DMC), Shaggy, Snoop Dogg, Dave Grohl, Zac Brown and the Drive By Truckers.
“The live show is a lot more movement based,” Jacobs said. “So there’s a lot more songs about singing or dancing and getting up out of their seat and going crazy. There’s not really a narrative, whereas the TV show has a story going on.”
Whether it’s the stage show or television program, “Yo Gabba Gabba!” is something truly different. While there are other kids shows that truly draw a teenage or adult audience, “SpongeBob SquarePants” comes to mind, “Yo Gabba Gabba!” is unique. People are into it for its cool factor, which, again, is odd for a show that at its core targets preschoolers.
“Yeah, teenagers like it,” Jacobs said. “It’s surprising but it makes sense if you think about it because it’s all the bands they like and it’s a very fresh vibe and very colorful and freaky. And it’s kind of weird, so as you get older you appreciate weird things more. It’s surprising but refreshing. My daughter is going to high school next year and her friends tell her, ‘Your dad’s show is cool. We watch it all the time.’ So she’s tripping out saying, ‘Are you sure? That show’s for kids.’”
The elephant in the room is whether or not Jacobs is worried his daughter is hanging out with stoners.
“Yeah, a little bit,” Jacobs laughed. “There’s always that worry.”