ComingSoon Senior Editor Spencer Legacy spoke with Koala Man creator Michael Cusack about developing the show and juggling projects like Smiling Friends and YOLO: Crystal Fantasy. All eight episodes of Koala Man are now streaming on Hulu.
“It follows middle-aged dad Kevin and his titular not-so-secret identity, whose only superpower is a burning passion for following rules and snuffing out petty crime in the town of Dapto,” reads the synopsis. “Though it may seem like any other Australian suburb, forces of evil both cosmic and man-made lie in wait to pounce on unsuspecting Daptonians. On a quest to clean up his hometown, and often roping his frustrated family into his adventures, Koala Man stands at the ready. He’ll do whatever it takes to defeat villainous masterminds, supernatural horrors, or worse: jerks who don’t take their rubbish bins down on the proper days.”
Spencer Legacy: Between Koala Man, Smiling Friends, YOLO, and your Paloni Show segment, how do you juggle so many projects at once?
Michael Cusack: With a lot of help! I am lucky enough to have a lot of talented animators and people around me that can ease the load. Princess Bento in Australia … they’re doing a lot of the animation for these things. There’s just a million talented people around me at the moment, helping me when it comes to all these projects. So, yeah, delegation.
This one’s a deep cut, but on The Very Positive Stream in 2018, you mentioned that Koala Man just got picked up and that was almost five years ago. So what’s it like to watch that develop?
Was that nearly five years ago?
Oh my gosh. Yeah. Okay. I completely forgot. Yeah, so it got picked up by 20th, but then we had to shop it around. That’s the way it works in this industry. When you sell a show, that’s not the end of it. They’ve also got to sell it to — if it’s in a studio, they’ve got to sell it to a network. So it was in development hell for quite a few years, but yeah, we just stuck to it and it was good. It got better and better too. It snowballed and got a bit more people attached and the showrunners and Justin [Roiland] as EP [executive producer] and it gained a lot of steam. I was lucky enough where I could work on Smiling Friends too, on YOLO on the side, so I wasn’t just sitting there waiting for this to go ahead.
I was also really pleasantly surprised to see Damo and Darren show up in the series. When when did you decide to include them?
It just seemed to make sense because for some reason … so when I did Damo and Darren all those years ago, I set it at the Dapto train station. I actually went to Dapto and took pictures of the Dapto train station, then drew over them for the “Ciggy Butt Brain” cartoon. Then when I made the Koala Man shorts a few years later, for some reason it made sense to set Koala Man in Dapto too, because he’d be annoyed at petty criminals like Damo and Darren. So yeah, it kind of just naturally merged together and now, doing the Koala Man series for Hulu, it made sense to include them as well because they just kind of worked well together. They’re kind of like the Jay and Silent Bob of this universe. Like of the weird Australian stuff that I do.
Was there ever any concern about whether Australian concepts like show bags and the Emu war would be understood by an international audience audience? Or were you always confident in that?
When it comes to those things, in the writer’s room, the Australians would bring up things that we felt were quite Australian and the American writers just loved it and ran with it and kind of expanded it. We realized that the weird stuff that is normal to us is kind of funny to Americans. Instead of shying away from it, it was more focusing in on it, zeroing in on it, and making it the focus. That was the fun part. So yeah, there was no pushback. If anything, the network and the executives wanted to make it more Australian and we were able to do that because at the end of the day, the characters still have motivations and wants and needs and everything like that, so we could get away with doing weird stuff on the side.
You worked with Justin Roland again on Koala Man. You’ve done Bushworld Adventures, Paloni Show, and High On Life. So what’s that collaboration been like over the years?
Yeah, it’s really good. I mean, Justin got my first start. When I did Bushworld Adventures — the Rick and Morty April Fools special — I was just making shorts for YouTube. He messaged me out of the blue, I think it was at the height of Rick and Morty in Season 2, and he said, “Did I want to do this April Fool special?” I just couldn’t believe how lucky — I was like washing dishes at a restaurant at the time. So it was the best. To this day, it’s one of the funnest jobs that I got. Justin was so good at just being like, “Just do anything you want.” And I was like, “Are you sure you don’t want to look at the script before I do it? “And he said, “No, I don’t care. You make it, I’ll watch it when it goes out on TV.” That’s a dream when it comes to a creative person who wants to make something like that. So yeah, he’s a great friend and someone I’m eternally thankful for, for helping out with my career.
Koala Man’s a bit more serialized than your other shows. Do you prefer leaning more towards the episodic format or the serialized format? Do you have a preference?
I don’t actually have a preference. I see pros and cons and benefits to both. Obviously Smiling Friends is episodic, you can tune in whenever and you’re going to get it. There’s no overarching story or arc which is good in its own sense. And then, yeah, I like the serialized stuff too. I like having a show that you can binge and, at the end of the binging session, you’ve gotten a whole story out of it that is cohesive and you kind of have to watch it from start to finish. Yeah, there’s pros and cons to both and [they’re] both fun to do. I’m lucky enough to be able to do both.
You also do quite a few voices in Koala Man. How do you keep them from blending together or sounding too similar?
Just being as different as possible. Like when I do Maxwell, that is as harsh as an old man as I can go on my voice. You kind of have to keep a log of what characters you’ve done that are similar. I think Kevin and Maxwell are quite different and sometimes Liam can sound like Kevin and I’m always on top of that and redoing Liam lines and still trying to make him go higher, because he goes a bit too low sometimes.
But the ones that do sound the same are things like The Great One and Tall Poppy. I realize after watching it that I do pretty much the same voice for those characters. It’s pretty much the voices I do in as Knifey in Justin’s game, High On Life. It’s like that really gravelly voice, that’s like my go-to. And I’ve done that for a few characters quite a bit. My philosophy with that kind of stuff is as long as you’re thinking about the character as you’re doing the voice, it will kind of have nuances to it that are a little bit different than the other ones, even if they’re pretty similar.
You mentioned that Koala Man had quite a production time. When did Hugh Jackman come into the picture and what was that like?
I think that was like … oh God, when was that? I think it was a year and a half-ish, maybe, ago. Yeah, I think it was last year, I can’t remember. Our casting reached out. I was not optimistic. I was very much coming from the school of thought that, I’m a nobody and we’re not going to get any big name actors, but I was wrong, apparently. I think the fact that it’s an Australian animated show and it’s something new appealed to people like Hugh Jackman and Sarah Snook and Hugo Weaving and … I mean, I say it all the time, but I still can’t believe we got such amazing talent in this show. I can’t process it. It doesn’t make sense.
It’s a pretty crazy cast.
It’s insane. It’s insane. And they were amazing. It does sound lame, but you’re just waiting for, for someone being like, “Haha, you fell for it! That was a joke. That wasn’t really Jackman!”
The long con.
Yeah, but yeah, they were great. There’s not much else to say. They’re all professionals and they’re amazing to work with.
When you were washing the dishes before Justin Roland reached out, did you ever think you would make a show where Jemaine Clement would give a monologue about peeing and eating grubs? Because that’s pretty crazy.
No. I definitely didn’t. I think … it’s bizarre. I think about that sometimes. Like, trying to time travel back and seeing the show from when I was at my lowest. I always dreamed of doing an animated show like this, so I’m living the dream. It’s it’s truly incredible and I feel extremely lucky.
Your stuff’s always been really great. It’s been really cool to see all these Newgrounds and YouTube animators really start to take off out there.
Yeah, I mean, if I’m somehow helping other YouTube animators and Newgrounds artists get their work out there and get gigs, shows, or whatever they want, then I feel like I’ve accomplished something. That’s really what makes it worth it. I grew up with all that stuff so I feel like I owe them all something. I’m very inspired by so many people like that. So yeah. It’s great.