The creators of the new Comedy Central series Jeff and Some Aliens do their best to deliver story-based humor that’s as original and as funny as they can make it.
Sean Donnelly and Alessandro Miloni are the first to admit their new animated comedy series Jeff and Some Aliens is in any way weighty subject matter,
but they do take making the show — and making it funny — very seriously
“We don’t think of this show as a cartoon,” says Miloni. “We think of it more of like if this is a live-action drama being turned into a fun like madcap animated show. Having those two sensibilities throughout all this time has been important.”
Debuting Jan. 11 the first of 10 half-hour episodes on Comedy Central, the premise of Jeff and Some Aliens is as simple as the title: An everyday joe who works as a manager at a mall smoothie shop lives with a trio of aliens who were sent to evaluate “Earth’s most average guy” in deciding whether humans are worth saving or should all be killed.
Voiced by Brett Gelman, Jeff endures all sorts of embarrassing moments and takes on impossibly ridiculous tasks — like having to kill a human in a very specific way that involves spitting on people and pubic hair to make up for accidentally shooting the architect of galactic peace.
“I would say a lot of it is story-based humor,” says Donnelly. “A lot of shows, people come up with funny jokes and they just look for ways to drop them in,
like pop-culture references and more ‘joke’ jokes. And I feel like a lot of our jokes aren’t jokes you could just tweet or post; they only make sense if you know the story and what’s happening.”
“We spend most of our time trying to figure it out,” adds Miloni. “We have a situation where we’ve got a normal, mundane thing — which is Jeff — and then we have a magical thing — which is the aliens — and we’re mixing those things together. … I think the way the story unfolds is where the comedy lies.”
The duo came up with the idea during a brainstorming session one day in New York’s Central Park, and spent several years developing and elaborating on the idea.
Both creators are influenced by the 1990s comedy animation boom of their youth, as exemplified by, first, The Simpsons and, later, Beavis and Butt-head. As adults, their influences widened to include YouTube videos, the work of independent animators like Don Hertzfeld, graphic novels, and live-action comedy shows such as Louie and The Colbert Report. “It’s cool to mix all that together and make something that’s cool,” says Donnelly.
Getting clips on the Comedy Central anthology TripTank connected them with ShadowMachine, which is animating Jeff and Some Aliens. A writing team and a group of storyboard artists make significant contributions to the show, which Miloni and Donnelly direct themselves.
“There’s so many different sensibilities, so we need to do a pass on a lot of things,” says Donnelly. “That being said, it’s really exciting that we have so many super talented people who work with us and that smoothing process is fun.”
Donnelly says they’ve embraced the rough look of the show, which they say gives it more of a handmade feel than other animated shows.
One of the biggest challenges, Donnelly says, is simply doing something new. “It seems there’s been so much animation done at this point, it’s like, how can you do it even a little bit differently?” he says. “Even the smallest things you can do differently are exciting.”
Additionally, the challenge of producing 10 episodes on schedule instead of making a short that has no deadline was a big shift.
“It’s an interesting thing to go from making shorts and other self contained smaller content because you can change it and you have all the time in the world and there’s no deadlines,” says Donnelly. “And then you’re making 10 episodes and you’re making them all at once and one’s grabbed out of your hands and the next ones put in your hands You enter a whole other level.”