Shadi Petosky on Creating the Amazon Cartoon Pilot “Danger and Eggs”
I still remember my mom announcing that she’d know I had grown up when I stopped watching cartoons. I guess I will never grow up. Between cartoons for adults (BoJack Horseman, Bob’s Burgers, Metalocalypse) and cartoons for kids that are still awesome for adults (Adventure Time, SpongeBob, My Little Brony), cartoons are just to good not to watch forever and ever.
I was excited to hear about Danger & Eggs, a new cartoon released as part of Amazon’s pilot season. Danger & Eggs features Aidy Bryant, who I love, as D.D. Danger, a little daredevil who is protected by her fragile best friend, an egg. The show was created by PUNY Entertainment, a MPLS and L.A.-based animation and interactive shop, which recently added The Nerdist’s Chris Hardwick as a major stakeholder. PUNY’s president, Shadi Petosky, wrote and co-created the show with Mike Owens (of Yo Gabba Gabba!), and was nice enough to share some of the wisdom she gained from this experience over email.
Make sure you watch Danger & Eggs, leave a review and share the love.
Here’s what Shadi had to say.
How did Danger & Eggs get made? The more gritty details the better.
Lang uncovers the GRITTY TRUTH ABOUT CHILDREN’S ENTERTAINMENT!
The Amazon part of it was great. We have been working and reworking this show for the past six years. Our Amazon Exec Aaron called me and asked if I had anything to pitch so I went in with this show. That “opportunity meets preparation” thing.
I had paperwork from two International studios to buy it when they called, so I was feeling fine about the pitch. It could go international, which is a mad world of tax incentives and pre-sales and would mean we’d barely get to work on it and no one here would know about it even though they’d made 100 episodes.
So Amazon called, I pitched it, and they optioned it for development. I optioned four shows last year, so that’s kind of the easiest part. Then you start a pretty traditional process of passing steps. You work on a script and art and then move to a storyboard and then they decide if they want to go to pilot. Each time you’re waiting for that pass, but this one got to pilot. It almost didn’t – we had to redo the first act to make it move faster. All of that Obstacle Run stuff was added in at the last minute to have the characters hit the ground running.
Tell us a little bit about why Danger & Eggs is awesome.
Oh wow. I am the worst person to, because I’ve seen it 1,000 times.
Aidy and Eric, the two leads, are intensely funny. I have this audio recording of Eric just telling me to order things on Amazon Prime in the voice of Phillip and I lose it. Aidy improvs “the SUGARFINGER” and we lose it in the booth. When she’s in the booth we all just stare at each other and mouth “wow.”
The characters’ world is like ours but I want to pull out stuff that’s wrong. Deconstruct systems. I want a way to practice a purely aspirational, intersectional worldview. We’re never going to have D.D. getting picked on by popular girls or anything like that. I want to tell kids real ways to deal with their feelings and their relationships without wrapping them in metaphor. Like in the pilot, D.D. gets abandoned and gets pretty upset by it.
I want to say words that you don’t say on kid’s TV – lesbian, trans, black – instead of saying “different.” Hispanic people aren’t going to be blue people. Every kids’ TV show has patted themselves on the back for having a shrouded analogy about being nice to the monster, but the monster is still a monster you know? The audience will think “OH, I GET IT” and feel smart but they only get the analogy, they’re not thinking about the subject in a different way.
I want kids to know to breathe deeply. To feel the air on their hands. That they are in their bodies. I want half the police to be women. I want to throw the cartoon tropes out the window. One review was like “Did I see a female POC Construction worker. I’m sold!” I LOVED that review but I think we all know it’s not good enough right?
I wanted to work on Transparent really badly. When I experienced that pilot through a request to send writing samples, my world was shook. What is this genre? What are the rules? I spent one day on set as an extra to check it out and felt something magical. I never got hired on the show but I LOVE that we’d be on the network where their success is helping create the ethos. I want the same comedy + realness – but you know, for kids. This is still a cartoon. Everything is bigger.
I read something Jenni Konner said Judd Apatow taught her: “‘What is the real version of this? What’s the hardest version? What’s the most painful version?’ Then you get to the funny stuff.” I think that painful bit is our yolk and what makes it funny and the cartoony bit is the shell. Again though, still funny, still for kids, still a cartoon! I promise.
The show lists you as the writer and supporting actor, but what was your role in the concepting and producing of the show?
TV is weird because it’s SO collaborative. Like I am the writer but plenty of stuff was improvised or network notes or a visual thing added in the storyboard phase. I feel like defining roles inherently throws people under the bus. I was a working Executive Producer, so I was responsible for everything. I negotiated the contracts, set up the corporate stuff, hired all the people, set up all the computers and figured out the systems.
On the creative side: I wrote it, but Eric Knobel contributed a ton, and oversaw it every step of the way. I was the actor’s director, except when I acted and Eric, Mike, or our Exec took over. I edited the radio play. I pitched everything to the network: treatments, scripts, jokes. I was kind of an art director, making moodboards, finding references, approving stuff. I uploaded files and was the point for the animation teams. Our line producer, Yoonie, also did these things. Director Mike did these things. Our production people, editors, the whole team wore a lot of hats. There are a lot of moving parts and so many places to jump in. I’m not GOOD at plenty of these things, but I was ultimately responsible, along with Mike, for making sure they were good.
How many false starts does it take to get something like that off the ground?
Thanks for knowing there are false starts! This goes back to gritty and concepting questions. So Mike pitched the egg character, Phillip, to me six or seven years ago I gave him an origin story and kind of a world to live in and we started making a short.
Eric and Michael, who are in the pilot, and Hannah Kuhlmann from Splendid Things came in to improv the characters/ voices. We had a producer at the time, Will Shepard, who was helping us create a Dr. Katz, Home Movies model of production, having worked for those studios. My partner at the time, Vincent Stall, and I financed an adult short that went to some festivals. Eric did such an amazing job on the voice that we could never let it die.
We kept messing with it in different formats and trying to figure out how we could keep making Phillip stuff. Then, I was at a Comic-Con and a kid’s network exec said “I want to make the egg as a kids show.” I was skeptical but he said the same thing the next day, so like every person at PUNY plus the comedians got to work on making it a kid’s show.
It took like three months as was a bit of a mess. Every story was structurally different and it was WAY weirder. Prison stories. Hot lifeguards. The network passed. I tried to pitch that show a few more times and then Mike and I kind of started over. Lots of transitions in that six years. A lot of people. If we go to series, I’m trying to figure out how to bring them all back now that we figured this out.
How can someone merge their writing talent with a love of animation?
Drawing helps. It kind of depends on if you want to do adult stuff or kid’s stuff. If you’re doing adult stuff, most of the popular shows were cartoonist/animator-created and then driven by comedy writers. Tons of comedy writers started out in animation or on kids’ shows. For kids’ shows, they’re more cartoonist driven but there are still plenty of writing gigs. Especially for treatments, story, plots and jokes or working as a freelancer on scripted shows like some of the ones you see on Netflix. Writers who perform, do voices, do stand-up often get those jobs. Writers rooms in kids’ shows are rarer because they’re expensive, but there it’s all about comedy writing. Have some good spec scripts to submit.
Nerdist Industries’ Chris Hardwick recently purchased a large stake in your animation and interactive company, PUNY. Tell us how that came to be and why it’s a fitting partnership.
I had lunch with Chris and Will Shepard when he was doing a show in Minneapolis forever ago. We kept in touch and I texted him when I landed in L.A. once and he was like “Oh hey, do you want to do this pilot with me. The person we had just dropped out.” So we did a pilot and that happened to be when Legendary was buying The Nerdist and then PUNY. (Nick Bachman and Victor Courtright mostly animated the intro to Chris’ Comedy Central special.)
We became friends and were always figuring out how we could work together, how we could work for Nerdist, what game we’d make, and stuff like that. You’re kind of doing that all the time in L.A..
So, people have offered to buy PUNY a gazillion times. Especially before 2008. I’ve been flown out by all the big advertising conglomerates and tons of the Entertainment and Online Studios. I’ve sold minority stakes, little pieces.
When I decided to move to L.A. and do less marketing work, I asked Chris if he wanted to buy up the marketer’s shares and we did the whole books/accountants/managers thing and he said he wanted half the company. That worked out, because my partner of eight years, Vincent – my total rock in business, was thinking about moving back East.
I never would have sold that much to anyone but Chris. It’s completely fitting. With games and animation, we do the two things Chris doesn’t really do that much (outside of performing in them) but is super PASSIONATE about. He’s VERY smart. He makes me aspire to be a lot better, literally. I read his book The Nerdist Way, and got a lot out of it as a geek with an obsessive brain. On the personal side, he’s just a truly good person. I really love him and thing we’re going to make a ton of cool stuff.
You talk a lot about representation in media and I’ve learned a lot from you about how Hollywood approaches trans stories. Can you share the high level wisdom with people who’ve never had to think about this kind of thing?
Most people HAVE had to think about this kind of thing. Straight, white, cis men make up like 30% of the country but they’re benefiting from a history that has made everything about them and for them. It’s slowly changing, but in the meantime every other group is talking about representation in the media.
The straight, white cis men have stopped reading as soon as they were given adjectives two sentences ago. We’re all used to being called trans (adj) men, or black (adj) men, or lesbian (adj) woman but to them, they hear an adjective and they think they’re getting yelled at. Like when their mom yelled their middle names.
As each culture has had a civil rights movement, people in power look for fresh new stories to turn into movies and T.V.. Each civil rights movement goes through a period of exploitation, where people want to read and watch stuff about that culture but the members of that cultures aren’t known to the producers of media. So the producers make it up.
It takes years to repair the damage that this exploitation causes. Trans people are in it right now. Producers, writers, actors are making media – about us without us. Trans people are being underrepresented in their own cultural stories, meanwhile there is a total saturation of these trans stories that we aren’t even involved in. There is already backlash, people writing about how they don’t want to see trans stuff anymore, and they haven’t really experienced actual trans bodies and voices.
We’re not really even at the table yet. There is ONE trans staff writer on a show in Hollywood right now. None of that stuff you’re seeing about trans people is written by us. Most of it historically hasn’t been played by us, instead for trans women, straight, cis men play us – often mockingly. It’s never been that interesting.
And as the show Her Story says, “People don’t even question our absence from their world.” People talk about how men played all the parts in Shakespeare as if that was some kind of inspired artistic range – a choice and not just the oppression of women that women took centuries of slow liberation to escape.
Blackface is real. Indigenous people were played by Jews and Italians. Yellowface happens. Straight actors are told to stay in the closet or face financial ruin. When Trace Lysette began telling people she was trans, the film she had been in stopped production and she was subject to all kinds of abuse about “tricking them.” Trans men being completely invisible in cinema. This stuff is all still happening and many people are working on it.
People seem to have all kinds of reason that trans people can’t be represented by trans people, but it just comes down to an economic discrimination. In ten years it’ll be more clear, the straight cis made-up trans stories mostly about sad transitions will seem so weirdly inauthentic. It’s a Mickey Rooney in Breakfast af Tiffany’s thing and people can choose to shift and see it now or catch up later, but it will change because all of us keep working on it. It’s changed a ton since I moved to L.A. three years ago.
Transparent, Her Story, Orange Is The New Black, Sense8, all of Shondaland – these shows are movements and they’re winning awards and making money – so they’ll become the dominant culture soon enough.
How can people help support the show?
OH! The key thing is to share it online with the hashtag #dangerandeggs and give it a good review on Amazon.com. People should review and write about it on their sites. Fan art and efforts like that are huge too.