Between its ridiculous situations, zany cutaway gags, and outlandish characters, 30 Rock may as well have been a live-action cartoon. So it seems appropriate that Disney Channel’s newest cartoon stars an alum of Tina Fey’s sitcom: Jack McBrayer, a.k.a. cheery, ambiguously immortal NBC page Kenneth Ellen Parcell.
McBrayer plays the title character of Wander Over Yonder, a wide-eyed “intergalactic traveler and constant do-gooder” whose adventures take him across the universe – and constantly set him against the wicked Lord Hater, a petulant avatar of everything that’s wrong with Internet culture. Animation fans should be impressed by the series’ pedigree: Powerpuff Girls architect Craig McCracken created and executive-produces Wander, while My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic developer Lauren Faust serves as co-producer and story editor. (Faust and McCracken also happen to be married.) The show premieres Friday at 9 p.m. ET on the Disney Channel.
Which classic characters inspired McBrayer’s latest performance – and what’s the secret to his unflagging energy? Find out in our interview below.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How did you get involved with the show initially?
JACK MCBRAYER: I have been a fan of animation from way, way back, and then in more recent years I’ve been a big fan of Craig McCracken’s work. So I met with Craig and his wife, Lauren Faust – and this was a few years ago – and I basically said, “If y’all have any project sthat I could ever work with y’all on, it would be a huge deal to me.” [laughs] And lo and behold, a few short years later, here we are!
What sort of TV did you like to watch as a kid?
Well, I was a huge fan of cartoons – Saturday morning cartoons. Keep in mind, I’m of an age where Saturday morning cartoons were based on like, whatever popular kids’ cereal, or video game stuff. But then from way way back, the Looney Tunes…
I wanted to ask about that – Wander has a very clear Looney Tunes vibe.
I think so! And that was probably my earliest cartoon, the Looney Tunes stuff. I can only imagine that Craig had been inspired by those. But for me, it was Looney Tunes – which I think eventually drew me into improvisational comedy. In cartoons and in improv, anything can happen. You can be any character you want. The rules of real life don’t always apply.
Having such a strong background in improv, is it tough to be alone by yourself in a recording booth while doing voice acting – instead of onstage surrounded by people?
It is definitely a different muscle to flex, I will tell you that. With that being said, I am acting up a storm in there. I’m flailing my arms, and I’m pointing, and just gesticulating wildly.
Yeah, the show has this crazy, antic tone – how do you keep your energy up? It seems like it must be exhausting to perform this character.
[laughs] Diet. Mountain. Dew. And that is not a lie. You can ask anybody. I turn into like, a toddler who needs a nap after awhile. Sometimes I’m just like, running in place to be energetic. But for the most part, the way they write it makes it just so fun. They are very careful and considerate, and they’ll save most of my screaming stuff for the end of the [recording] session.
I’m looking forward to seeing a DVD extra of you jumping up and down and gulping Diet Mountain Dew.
Oh, yeah. Honestly, I should endorse the [stuff]. It’s ridiculous. But the good news is, it’s good for you. [laughs]
Let’s talk Wander. First of all, what is he – what kind of creature?
Honestly, I don’t know. What I have been saying is that I’m an intergalactic space traveler, and I’m just a furry little guy in a cowboy hat. And Sylvia [played by April Winchell] is my trusty steed, who – I mean, some people say she kind of looks like a dinosaur, but if all rules are off in terms of species, then I don’t even know.
I love their relationship – his crazy optimism vs. her dry, down-to-earth style.
When Craig was first trying to explain the concept to me, he kept using Bea Arthur as an example of what Sylvia would be. And I think April Winchell has done a great job.
Did he also give you a model for Wander?
Well, honestly, I was worried I was doing it too Bugs Bunny or Daffy Duck – I was hoping it didn’t come off too manic. And then I thought oh, this may be a SpongeBob kind of thing – this optimistic kind of [guy] who’s friends with everybody. But none of those were ever explicit.
Between Wander and Wreck-It Ralph and 30 Rock, you’re always playing these wide-eyed, super positive guys. Do you ever want to just play a cynical jerk?
[Laughs] Oh my gosh, what if that’s exactly what I was in real life? [Ed. note: It’s not.] You kind of know where your strengths lie, but I’d be open for anything. I just wouldn’t want to disappoint anybody who chose me for a project like that.
Do these characters reflect your personality?
Yeah, I think moreso than a Bryan Cranston in Breaking Bad or anything like that. I’m a pretty upbeat kid, and that’s okay with me!
What are you hoping that kids will take away from the show?
Well, for one thing, there is absolutely nothing wrong with being nice. There is nothing uncool about it; there’s nothing wrong with being kind. Not that kids are just being bombarded with sarcastic comedy, but I think it’s important – and I kind of lean that way myself. Also, I hope they laugh!