Me and Mel Brooks

By Jake Miller ’91 / March / April 2004
June 15th, 2007

Cartoon producer Jed Spingarn ’85 has a knack for getting laughs out of chaos. On February 7 The Adventures of Jimmy Neutron, Boy Genius, his Nickelodeon show about a science whiz with a genius for trouble, won an Annie, the animation industry’s top award for children’s TV.

BAM How did you get started in cartoons?
JS I sort of backed into it by accident. I was in New York writing magazine stuff, with the goal of eventually doing TV comedy writing. It dawned on me that if I wanted to write comedy for TV, I should be where they make television shows. So I loaded up the truck and I moved to … I’m not even going to finish that sentence. It’s too embarrassing. When I got out here [Hollywood], I had some spec scripts for live-action shows, because my intention was to write sitcoms. The first work I got was a staff job on Pinky and the Brain. I was lucky enough to win an Emmy on that show, and I’ve been toiling in that garden ever since.

I’ve written for Celebrity Deathmatch, Duckman, and The Tick. Now, on Jimmy Neutron, I’m co–executive producer. It’s the first time I’ve ever run a show, from breaking the story to the completion of it, eight months later.

BAM The Tick is about superhero losers; Pinky and the Brain is about a supergenius whose plans for world domination always go horribly wrong; and now Jimmy Neutron
JS … is the story of a boy who, while trying to solve problems with science, usually ends up making bigger problems.

BAM Is this pattern disturbing to you?
JS I’ve always been drawn to spectacular failures. No, there’s just an intrinsic comedy element to that sort of character, and especially with a cartoon, you want to see chaos ensue, because that’s where the fun visuals come in.

BAM How much science research do you do for the show?
JS We try to do just enough so that the kids don’t write in and say, “You guys are idiots.”

BAM A lot of Jimmy Neutron’s humor seems geared toward grown-ups.
JS When we’re in the room, we’re really just trying to make ourselves laugh, and we’re all college-educated … I don’t know what … sophisticates. So it’s odd that we’re also entertaining seven-year-olds, but it seems to work out.

BAM It sounds as if you’ve found your niche.
JS From when I was a kid, even, I’ve had this romantic concept of what it would be like to be in a room with the best comedy writers, working against the clock to come up with great stuff. That’s why it was so great when we had Mel Brooks come in to play Santa Claus for the Christmas special. He came with all this history, and I just sat there with my mouth open the whole time. We put in a line where he tells Jimmy at the end, “Have a merry Christmas and stay away from fried foods,” and he recognized it as a 2,000-Year-Old Man reference. And I thought at that moment, I can die happy now.

—Interview by Jake Miller ’91

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March / April 2004