‘Robot Chicken’ co-creator ranks his top 10 guest stars in honor of show’s 10th season
Adult Swim’s pop culture parody, “Robot Chicken,” is more than just alive — it’s thriving.
Since its 2005 launch, the stop-motion series has become a beloved classic to critics, consumers and celebrities alike. This year, the show is celebrating not one, but two momentous milestones: its 10th season and 200th episode.
Despite its ultimate fame, the six-time Emmy Award-winning series didn’t start out as a surefire success. In fact, its entire existence was unintentional.
“The show started all by accident – I think that’s the best way to put it,” admitted Matthew Senreich, co-creator of “Robot Chicken.” “It really was just born out of a friendship that Seth [Green] and I had.”
In 1999, Green phoned his comic book comrade and asked for help. The established actor was scheduled to guest star on “Late Night with Conan O’Brien” to promote a future film. The only problem that stood between him and his late night appearance was time. He had too much of it and too little to share.
Looking for ways to kill a few minutes on air, Green came up with the idea to create a small stop-motion animation video starring an old action figure of himself and a Conan O’Brien Barbie doll. He knew he couldn’t create the short on his own and solicited Senreich to assist.
Green admired his friend’s “geek knowledge of action figures” ever since they met. The two were introduced through Senreich’s career at ToyFare magazine and quickly bonded over comic books and figurines. Senreich was the perfect person to help Green with his problem. He loved his famous friend’s idea and agreed to help Green produce the video.
“We were laughing about what we could do [with the short] and how we could make it and that spiraled into this extravaganza,” remembered Senreich. “It was something we both never expected. We both had day jobs and this was our after-hours activity.”
Over the course of many sleepless months, the duo tirelessly taught themselves
Despite its light-hearted nature, the video carried meaningful weight. The short gave the two action figure aficionados an innovative outlet to bring their creative voices to the surface.
Soon after the Conan spot aired, a company called Sony Screenblast heard about the project and paid Senreich and Green to create 12 additional shorts. They knew their silly sketches were special and wanted to do something bigger with it.
In 2001, they started shopping the stop-motion series around without much success. Soon after, Seth Green heard from one of his former colleagues, Seth McFarlane, who told him about a new network that might be a good fit for their grown-up comedy: Adult Swim.
It was in Adult Swim’s early days, when the now-beloved network was still relatively unknown.
The hopeful pair traveled to LA to meet Mike Lazzo, executive vice president – Adult Swim, to pitch their idea.
“I don’t really like stop motion,” Senreich recalled the Adult Swim executive saying, “but I think your show is funny.”
And just like that, their small stop-motion show was greenlit.
Though the comedy series began on a newly launched network, both “Robot Chicken” and Adult Swim were able to build feverish fan bases in no time.
Despite the odds they initially faced, Senreich and Green continuously created content that commanded attention. Their creative voices were given a platform to shine, thanks to Adult Swim and the supportive guidance of Lazzo. In fact, the show was able to shine so brightly that it not only grabbed the attention of audiences around the globe, but it also attracted top-notch talent. In fact, some of Hollywood’s biggest names – from George Lucas to Bryan Cranston – have guest starred on the series. In total, more than 650 guest stars have appeared on the show over the course of 10 seasons.
Suddenly, what started as two friends playing with action figures had transformed into a critically-acclaimed phenomenon, featuring some of the biggest stars in history, airing on one of the nation’s most popular networks.
Lucky for viewers, Senreich says the 10th season of “Robot Chicken” is filled with nostalgia. Though he’s excited about a lot of the new sketches this season, including their Christmas special, Senreich is most excited about the show’s 200th episode. While he can’t disclose many details about the sketch, he did share that a very eclectic and diverse group of guest stars will be making special appearances.
To help celebrate the show’s 10th season, we’re sharing creator Matthew Senreich’s 10 most memorable guest stars on the show. Check out the full list below:
1. George Lucas
As one of “Star Wars’” biggest fans, Senreich admits having George Lucas guest star on “Robot Chicken” was one of the most shocking, surreal and rewarding moments of his career.
During the show’s second season, Senreich realized the series had really hit a stride when their “Emperor Phone Call” sketch went viral. It aired in 2007 as part of the “Robot Chicken: Star Wars” special and became the first sketch from the series to spread so extensively.
In fact, the “Star Wars” short racked up millions upon millions of hits – to the point where it actually made its way to George Lucas himself.
Within days of the sketch airing, Senreich and Green got a call from Lucasfilm letting the “Robot Chicken” creators know George Lucas had not only seen their short, but he also absolutely loved it. As if his praise wasn’t enough, the legendary “Star Wars” creator invited the two to visit him at Skywalker Ranch.
“That was the moment where I was like, ‘Oh my God, this is a lot bigger than just this little show on late night cable,’” Senreich recalled. “This show is something that people are paying attention to, and it made me feel awkward and a lot more aware that what I was doing was much bigger than just playing with toys.”
Soon after, George Lucas played himself on new episodes, giving the show even more recognition than before.
“Everything “Star Wars” was my life, so to actually have the ability to bring George on, not just to do these specials but to do his voice and get to know him in that capacity, really blew my mind,” said Senreich.
2. Burt Reynolds and Dom DeLuise
Growing up, Senreich was a huge fan of the 1981 comedic classic, “Cannonball Run.” He watched the film too many times to count and loved watching the movie’s stars, Burt Reynolds and Dom DeLuise.
When the distinguished duo walked into the studio together to record an episode of “Robot Chicken,” Seinrich was stunned.
“Their interaction in the movie was very much like their interaction when they were in the voice booth together,” Senreich remembered. “They were making each other laugh, ad-libbing together, and every time Dom would mess up a line Burt would slap him jokingly.”
After Reynolds finished recording, he stuck around the studio and sat down with some of the cast and crew. Everyone around was glued to the old-time actor, listening intently as he shared stories of his past.
“It’s one of those memorable moments for me where I just didn’t want that day to end,” said Senreich. “It really was amazing and surreal.”
3. “Weird Al” Yankovic
As a self-proclaimed geek, Senreich is not ashamed to admit he used to listen to “Weird Al” Yankovic more than Michael Jackson. The young Long Island teen loved the way “Weird Al’s” songs made him laugh and played his music frequently.
Turns out, “Weird Al” and Senreich had more in common than just music; they both shared a love for animation, specifically stop-motion animation. When Yankovic first saw “Robot Chicken,” he fell in love with the series and wanted to do something similar for one of his tracks.
“He actually reached out to us about doing a music video for him called ‘Weasel Stomping Day,’” Senreich said. “He was a fan of our show, which was very flattering, and I couldn’t believe it was ending up playing in this direction.”
Suddenly, Yankovic, Senreich and Green were all storyboarding together and coming up with concepts and characters for the video. The finished product eventually aired as its own segment on season two of “Robot Chicken.”
After creating “Weasel Stomping Day” together, the trio maintained a close friendship. Yankovic even called his “Robot Chicken” companions when filming “White and Nerdy,” where Green and some of Senreich’s old action figures made a quick cameo.
4. Sam Elliott
For the season six sketch entitled, “White Wine,” the writers had a very specific narrator character in mind. They knew they needed an iconic voice that was distinguished and poised. In fact, Senreich remembers the script itself saying, “Sam Elliott-type of voice.”
Eventually, the team decided to take a leap of faith and reach out to Elliott himself to see if he was interested in playing the role. Not only did the legendary actor accept the part as narrator, but his incredible performance in the episode also won him an Emmy for Outstanding Voice-Over Performance.
“I think it was one of these sketches where we just enjoyed it but didn’t realize the gravitas of it until the Emmys came out,” Senreich admitted.
Though it’s difficult to believe an award-winning actor would take the time to be on a strange, stop-motion series, Senreich has a hypothesis that could help crack the code.
“It’s a little like SNL where it’s a sketch comedy show and people wonder who’s going to host this week,” said Senreich. “It’s like, ‘When can I end up being on this and who am I going to get to play?'”
5. Hugh Hefner
With its raunchy and adult humor, “Robot Chicken” was bound to feature a “girl next door” sketch sooner or later. The idea inevitably came to fruition during a season two sketch involving the notorious Playboy founder.
The team reached out to Hefner to see if he would be interested in playing himself in a few episodes of the series. The call oddly ended up spinning into a much larger incident than expected. Not only was the provocative publisher excited to play himself on the show, but he also ended up throwing a huge “Robot Chicken” season two DVD release party at the Playboy Mansion to help Senreich and Green celebrate their success.
6. Evan Rachel Wood
If anyone knows a thing or two about robots, it’s Evan Rachel Wood. When the famous “Westworld” actress wanted to reach Green and Senreich, she did what any ordinary fan would do: tweet about her obsession.
Senreich noticed Wood’s glowing praise for the show and decided to direct message (DM) her.
@evanrachelwood Thanks for the Robot Chicken shout out!— Matthew Senreich (@wizmatts) May 11, 2012
The quick Twitter interaction ended up being one of the easiest and most casual ways Senreich has ever brought someone in to guest star on the show. The HBO’er had “a field day” in the improv booth and absolutely loved her time recording and being a part of the show.
Even after her appearance on the series, Wood, Green and Senreich have maintained a friendship and continue to use Twitter as a cute way to communicate.
7. Jon Favreau
When Jon Favreau guest starred on the series, his son is the one who really stole the show (in Senreich’s eyes).
The famous “Iron Man” director was a huge stop-motion fan, and he passed down his interest in animation to his young son.
So when Favreau came in to voice his part, he gave his son a tour of the show’s studio. A few of the crew members even gave the youngster stop-motion animation lessons.
8. Stan Lee
Although Senreich already knew Stan Lee from his days working at ToyFare magazine, he still cherishes the times the icon starred on his show.
“When we had these specific Stan Lee sketches, reaching out to him wasn’t a difficult scenario, but it was just a matter of whether or not he thought our sketches were funny enough to come in and be a part of them,” Senreich noted.
The comic book legend fell in love with the pop culture parody and agreed to star on the show.
9. Bryan Cranston
Although he’s best known for playing Walter White on the beloved series, “Breaking Bad,” Bryan Cranston is also known for his deep desire to portray the X-Men supervillain, Mr. Sinister.
Although he made his wish publicly known, Marvel never took him up on his offer.
Since he didn’t have the opportunity to play character on the big screen, Senreich and Green came up with a way to let him play the role on “Robot Chicken” instead.
10. Pat Morita
The “Karate Kid” star was living in Las Vegas when he agreed to be a part of the series’ first season. Senreich and Green flew down to Sin City to meet and record the legendary actor.
What stuck out most to Senreich from the experience was the fact that after all his recordings, Morita himself drove both creators back to the airport.
“It was this very calming interaction,” Senreich remembered, “where it felt like this legendary actor was just a regular guy happy to play with us.”