Where do I even start with Ren & Stimpy? How do I handle the Faustian tale of its fallen creator, John Kricfalusi, without getting overly personal and acrimonious?
If you’re in your forties like myself, you clearly remember the absolute renaissance of independent animation in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s. It was a perfect storm of day-glo skateboard aesthetics, Blockbuster Video, and the mania brought on by everyday high-school boredom. The “Superstar Animator” briefly became a Big Deal again, with mostly excellent results.
Take for example Mike Judge. Animated shorts on Saturday Night Live were always rare gems (Tippy Turtle, pretty much anything ever made by Robert Smigel) that you remembered, and told your friends about on Monday. When I first saw Judge’s short “Milton”, I realized two things; one, that Judge definitely made the whole thing himself (including theme music) and two, I wanted to make animated shorts.
Mike Judge has an innate understanding of how to properly present a cartoon short, and the crucial first impression of a catchy theme. No episode of Beavis & Butthead would be complete without those splendid opening guitar notes behind the titular pair’s incessant chortling. By the way, everything you’re hearing and seeing in that intro is the product of Mike Judge. He plays every instrument, overdubbed like Stevie Wonder. It’s a consummate triumph of independent animation. It frames everything that follows as art.
Even Judge’s cherished long-running sitcom King of the Hill kicked off with a ripping rock instrumental from The Refreshments, who would probably tell you that it’s their most enduring crowd-pleaser (plus it’s legitimately terrific). Thanks to the Judge-directed deep-sleeper hit Idiocracy, one of the funniest films ever made, most of the world knows Buck Owens’s “Buckaroo”. You may not know it by name, but it’s a master class in stringed instruments if ever there was one:
So no pun intended, but I judge Mike Judge on the work he’s been putting out since I was in high school, and all of it is not only exemplary, but often goes the extra mile with sweet guitar-oriented music. This is probably why producer Prudence Fenton saw potential in his early shorts, and put them on MTV’s Liquid Television. A ton of great shit came from that show.
Tell me if these words make any sense: we used to love watching weird cartoons on MTV. There were a bunch of them. It was fun.
That’s the key to the disillusionment in a lot of us; we actually remember when TV was fun.
Before the Dark Times.
Aside from Judge’s superstar dunderheads and Matt Groening’s Simpsons, the other real titan of ’90’s cartoon shows was Ren & Stimpy. And just as you can trace Beavis back to Prudence Fenton, and Homer back to Tracey Ullman, you can trace Ren & Stimpy back to Vanessa Coffey.
“I was in the right place at the right time.”– a woman whose career defines “nothing but net”
It’s entirely possible that if you’re reading this, you could call Vanessa Coffey the Architect of Your Childhood. She started out working for Marvel Animation on shows like Transformers, GI Joe and Muppet Babies. After moving to Murakami-Wolf-Swenson (you know, the guys who did Zappa’s 200 Motels), she developed a little show called Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. With kid-focused cable network Nickelodeon, Coffey spearheaded a return to creator-driven animation, with a venerable “balanced meal”; Rugrats (Klasky-Csupo), Ren & Stimpy, and Doug (Jim Jenkins). She also worked on Rocko’s Modern Life.
That’s an astounding track record in animation, from any angle. Vanessa Coffey saw the good in the original Ren & Stimpy cartoons.
Although the visual aspect is striking and vivid, I argue that a huge amount of that intro’s appeal comes from the indelibly peppy rockabilly tune. It’s called “Dog Pound Hop”, and it was included on the best-selling soundtrack You Eediot! from 1993. In the liner notes of that disc (and the end credits of the original show, if memory serves), the song was credited to “Screamin’ Lederhosen”.
Drop that name into a search engine. Nothing come up? Strange, huh?
According to the Ren & Stimpy Wiki, “Dog Pound Hop” was performed by Chris Reccardi, Jim Smith, and Scott Huml. That’s Reccardi on bass. He died last year of a heart attack while surfing (\m/).
Christopher Joseph Reccardi (November 24, 1964 – May 2, 2019) was an American cartoon director, graphic designer, animator, character designer, musician, producer, writer and storyboard artist. He worked on numerous animated television series, including The Ren & Stimpy Show, Samurai Jack, The Powerpuff Girls, and Tiny Toon Adventures, and had directing duties on Super Robot Monkey Team Hyperforce Go! and SpongeBob SquarePants. He was also the supervising producer for the first season of Regular Show and creative director for the short-lived Secret Mountain Fort Awesome.Wikipedia: What A Mess©.
The above information isn’t linked to You Eediot! in any way on Wikipedia; you have to search Reccardi’s name independently, even though the credit for the music is on his page. Jim Smith (aka Jelly-Roel, and John K.’s working partner on Mighty Mouse: The New Adventures) plays the distinctive screamin’ guitar solo. Scott Huml slaps the skins on bongos, and since I can find almost literally nothing on him, I suspect he may not be alive.
Writing credit is given to creator John Kricfalusi. “Dog Pound Hop” was written and recorded for the very first Ren & Stimpy short, Big House Blues, which was shown at several film festivals in August of 1990. Pop Quiz: Who gets rich off a song historically, the one who’s on paper having written it, or the ones who performed it?
In any case; to my knowledge, when music was written, arranged and performed for the express purpose of Ren & Stimpy cartoons, it was done so under the informal name of “Screamin’ Lederhosen”, as an in-studio gag.
The voice of “Stinky Wizzleteats” in “Happy Happy Joy Joy” was originally John K.’s, but for You Eediot! he was replaced by legendary animator Bob Camp.
MIKE: I get a check for $11 about every two months for the theme song.John K. interviews Mike Judge, July 1995
JOHN: That’s more than I get. For some reason we don’t get any money for the songs, and we wrote millions of songs.
MIKE: Oh, yeah. You wrote “Happy, Happy, Joy, Joy”. It’s on an album.
JOHN: Yeah, but that’s not the real version. They re-recorded it.
MIKE: Oh really? Just not to give you …
JOHN: I guess. I don’t know. Bob Camp re-recorded it. It’s his voice instead of my voice now.
MIKE: Really? Man, that’s cold-blooded.
The reason John K. had to be replaced is because Nickelodeon fired him from his own show for being an absolutely intolerable asshole who’d rather affect a caddish imitation of Bob Clampett than produce work in any non-glacial manner. This Canuck motherfucker thought he was the Stanley Kubrick of screams; he once made Billy (Futurama) West do so many takes of Ren shrieking, it nearly destroyed his vocal cords (aka his career). He drove background painters barking mad with his insane perfectionism over superfluous details, ripping up their work to force a do-over. And get a load of this; he’s not even the heart of the franchise.
The lion’s share of the Ren & Stimpy look comes from Canadian artist Lynne Naylor. John Kricfalusi based Ren on himself; Stimpy was based on Lynne.
Lynne Naylor also draws sexy pinup girls better than John K. ever has, and they don’t make you queasy when you look at them. She could give Bruce Timm a run for his money. She’s done alright on her own, with DreamWorks.
So, long story short, John Kricfalusi’s longtime girlfriend and collaborator Lynne Naylor left him for Chris Reccardi, and not long afterward he was fired from his own superstar cartoon. Ren & Stimpy continued without him on Nickelodeon under Bob Camp, with Bill Wray and Vincent Waller (Naylor and Reccardi were eventually rehired). Camp’s Games Animation used a title card of Stimpy as a milkman, based on a John K. denunciation of his show without him; they might as well “hand an unedited show to the milkman and have him finish it for ya”. (Here’s a good recap of Games Animation’s revenge on John K., “Reverend Jack”.)
Over the late ’90’s, John K. produced two web-only cartoon series in Flash; The Goddamn George Liquor Program and Weekend Pussy Hunt. The latter was a confusing noir experiment with interactive elements and a dog that shrieks “I’LL FIND YOU” sixteen times (recall my note about the screaming). The former was an extension of John K.’s daddy issues, arrested pubescence, and turd fixation. In one of them a cat taunts a dog by smoking cigarettes with its anus, but I can’t remember which one. Probably Weekend Pussy Hunt. I don’t feel like checking to confirm.
Around the turn of the century Hanna-Barbera contracted John K. to produce Yogi Bear shorts for Cartoon Network. One of these shorts, “Boo Boo Runs Wild”, is so off-putting that for years Adult Swim has re-aired it as a goof, or an April Fool’s joke.
In another short, “A Day in the Life of Ranger Smith”, the appearance of the title character changes constantly, a sly dig at the original cartoon’s tendency to go off-model (glass houses and all that, John). It’s notable for being the final performance as Yogi Bear of Greg Burson, who took over the role after Daws Butler died in 1988, and holy shit-
His career came to an end in May 2004 when Burson was arrested by detectives after barricading himself inside his home in Tujunga for six hours before surrendering. Initial reports have claimed that an armed S.W.A.T. team had responded to a call from two of his female roommates that he was inebriated, armed and holding a third female roommate hostage. Burson also screamed a stream of nonsensical words at the police when they were alerted to his home. Officers had later discovered that Burson had a collection of guns in his home. One officer said, “He was so drunk, we couldn’t tell if he was trying to do one of his voices or was just slurring his words.” Officer Rudy Villarreal confirmed that all three women involved in the incident lived with Burson, but none of them were harmed.
Burson died on July 22, 2008, at the age of 59 from complications due to diabetes and arteriosclerosis. He had been struggling with alcoholism in the later part of his life from being depressed over losing voice-over work.Wikipedia
Jesus. Casts a real pall over those cartoons, does it not? Yeah, that’s gonna be a recurring motif.
In 2003 John K. was given another shot with his prized dog-and-cat duo, and for whatever reason, he embraced the most puerile and prurient aspects of the original Ren & Stimpy; the boogers, the homoerotic subtext, the bathroom humor, and went wholly overboard with them. In “Adult Party Cartoon”, a gay relationship between Ren and Stimpy isn’t just implied; we watch them bang each other. They get jizz on the bedspread and argue over who’s the “pitcher” and who’s the “catcher”. Despite this open gaiety, a later episode features the duo lathering the full breasts of a dozen nubile beach bimbos with lusty abandon. Um… huh?!?
Another APC short depicts Ren and Stimpy living in a dive bar, or more specifically, inside the bar’s spittoon, as wet-brain barflies hock gelatinous loogies from above. Which they then consume for dinner. This short actually won my respect due to the fact that at one point during its duration I ran to the toilet and vomited. It’s like the Irreversible of snot gags. And this was the first episode!
If I were a defender of John Kricfalusi, I would argue that Adult Party Cartoon is defensible as a tribute to his “underground” mentor, the oleaginous Ralph Bakshi. I would claim that “Naked Beach Frenzy” is a wonderful naughty throwback to cocktail-napkin aesthetics, and would’ve sent a younger me to the ER with friction burns. I would hail “Onward and Upward” as the absolute grossest cartoon I have ever seen.
But I’m not Kricfalusi’s defender, because on top of being a guy who pissed away a career that any cartoonist would envy through mulishness and fart-huffing self-worship, he’s a confirmed predator. His animations feature creepy innuendo with underage girls because John Kricfalusi is a creep who obsesses over underage girls. He turned a correspondence with a 13-year-old admirer into an opportunity to groom and seduce a female minor. At John K.’s “Spümcø” studio, young girls were apparently as common a sight as pencils. Almost anything he has produced in the past 25 years features in its credits someone he statutory raped.
Oh by the way, regarding Adult Party Cartoon; nobody who worked on it got paid. I know I’m not one to talk, but I also didn’t create motherfucking Ren & Stimpy.
In 2012, John K. started crowdfunding his return to the animation universe, entitled Cans Without Labels. This was a “new” “George Liquor” cartoon, using lines recorded by Michael Pataki before his death in 2010. After seven years and over $100K of funds, Kricfalusi finally sputtered out the nadir of his life’s efforts, a cartoon with worse technique and execution than those of any kid trying a Flash demo in 1997. It looks like shit, sounds like shit, and except for a brief appearance from “Donald Bastard”, it’s not funny at all.
If I told you that Cans Without Labels had at least a half-dozen girls who worked on it that were all quirky, had short hair, stylish glasses, and were really really young-looking, would you even believe me at this point?