Carl Jones and Brian Ash are two names you might recognize from Black Dynamite, The Boondocks, The Jellies, and more. Now, they’re headlining as the creators of Fuse’s first animated show, Sugar and Toys, hosted by rapper and The After Party star Kyle.
I was happy to have the opportunity to speak with Jones and Ash, animation legends in their own right, about the creation of Sugar and Toys, the mindset that went into some of the sketches, and how television has the power to affect culture.
Sugar and Toys can be viewed Sunday night s on Fuse, 11 p.m. ET.
First of all, I’m excited to talk with y’all because I’m a I’m a big animation fan, as well as a fan of the projects you’ve worked on, like The Boondocks and The Jellies. It’s cool to be able to be able to finally speak to y’all. So how did you guys come up with Sugar and Toys?
Carl Jones: So the idea for the show started after a conversation I had with an executive at Cartoon Network. We were just talking about whatever happened to Saturday morning cartoons. One of the things he said to me was, “Well, corporations can’t sell sugar and toys to kids anymore, so the cartoons went away.” It was an epiphany that I had that we only had a childhood because corporations were selling us lead-infested toys and childhood obesity through the sugar in the cereals and the candy. [laughs]
Brian and I talked about creating the show in a Saturday morning cartoon aesthetic and poking fun at society. Basically, shining a light on how the adults are asleep at the wheel and we’re products of that generation. A lot of the stuff that we were influenced by and a lot of the stuff were were inspired by during that time we decided to inject into the show with a dash of social commentary and satire and a bunch of weird, funny shit.
The Boondocks and The Jellies are two things that are particularly very Millennial and how they approach pop culture and social commentary. I mean the idea of someone screaming into the void about what is wrong with society and hoping someone listens. How do you think Sugar and Toys continues that particular vein of commentary-based entertainment?
Brian Ash: I think that our formula, and the comedy that influenced us, has one foot in asking questions and shining a light and one foot in reveling in the craziness. You kinda referred to this stuff as Millennial, but we’ve been doing this kind of stuff for quite some time, and the main thing is holding a mirror up to what’s going on out there.
One of the first things to connect to the audience is to show a reflection of what’s going on in their lives and in their consciousness. The second piece is throwing a crowbar into that and scuffing it up in a way where you invite people to look at things that they wouldn’t have done so. Sometimes that’s in the form of commenting on what we think the problem is and sometimes that’s done from turning up the volume and letting the chaos get more chaotic and see what happens.
First and foremost, we want to be entertaining. We want to be smart. Another piece of the puzzle for this show is to show a different kind of representation that isn’t always shown–absurdist humor, intellectual humor. We’re trying to filter that through contemporary youth culture and the hip-hop culture in particular.
I was watching some interviews y’all did regarding Sugar and Toys, and in one, you were talking about the sketch which featured kids playing police. One of the kids, who is Black, gets shot by the kid pretending to be police, who is White. Carl was saying in particular how it shook him up seeing that play out in like sharing the the fake bullets go off–
—So, with that said, it’s interesting how this sketches start from this childlike perspective and then quickly go into something that leaves leaves you like, “Oh my gosh, what am I watching? This is affecting me for real.”
Jones: Yeah, I mean, that’s one thing that Brian and I enjoyed doing. We like to do things that are disruptive at times. I wouldn’t say every sketch is like that–some stuff we come up with, we do just because it’s funny. There’s not really any kind of deep comedy or satirical approach to it. But in the case of [sketch]”Playing While Black,” that is one of those pieces to feel uncomfortable while watching it because the reality of the situation is very uncomfortable. Sometimes it’s hard for people to really get the full impact of what is happening in society until you find the right amount of satire to inject into it. I almost look at it like an antidote. You gotta put just enough of it in there to make people open themselves up to looking at [the problem] in a very real way, and then you slap them a little harder with the truth in an extreme way.
I’ll give you another example with that. We did [a] sketch…based on all of these viral videos where white women are calling the police on Black people at the pool, at the apartment complexes. So we did an award show for White women who called the cops on Black people. We had three different clips of the winners of the awards[“The Nosies” sketch, as seen later in this article]…there was one woman who called the police on a Black girl using the bathroom, another woman who actually called the Black cop on the Black cop that she was standing in front of. But the last one is where it takes a really weird turn; there’s a nursery in the hospital and the woman at the maternity ward is actually calling the police on a Black baby. She doesn’t know how this Black baby got in the maternity ward, but it’s making her uncomfortable. “Could you please come save me?” So it’s going that ridiculous with it, that’s a part of our formula.
Ash: And with Sugar and Toys, having the type of child perspective on our world [leads to] asking the questions of what is it that we’re communicating to our kids, or what would the assumption of children be if they were observing this. Like the piece that you pointed out, the “Playing while Black” piece–when we were little kids playing Cops and Robbers, there were certain assumptions in the gameplay about bad guys and good guys. And in the piece, putting two children in there where you’re dealing with issues of body cams or you’re dealing with issues of a police officer [thinking] he saw something in someone’s hand and that gives him the right to deadly force, the idea that in the world we live in, in 2019, those are the assumptions.
Even the first thing the kid cop says to [the boy in the sketch] is “Hey there, bad guy.” And this kid is literally innocently licking an ice cream gone, going “Bad guy? I’m not even agreeing to play this cops and robbers game that you’re trying to play with me.” That really reflects when you think about innocent folks who have fallen victim to police brutality or even police assassination in the world today. You could be literally standing in your yard and the police officer could walk up to you and say, “You’re a bad guy in your own yard, and I see something in your hand.” That piece was very specifically inspired by a real case that had happened. It’s really showing the horror of that is even amplified if kids were playing Cops and Robbers in 2019, and if we were playing by the rules, what would that look like? That’s our answer to that.
What you said about police in your backyard reminded me of Medgar Evers. I’ve been doing some research lately, and I came across Evers again. I knew how he died, but doing the research, it was reaffirmed to me how horrifyingly he died, which was literally in his driveway because someone shot him just because he was fighting for people’s rights. It’s wild how those themes keep happening in America.
Jones: The other part of it is [that] even if there is some type of perceived threat by a police officer when he’s in a certain area at a certain time and with these certain types of people, even if there’s something that is triggered inside of him that makes him feel like he’s in danger, which could happen, the bigger problem to me is the social engineering behind why he even feels that way in the beginning. There’s definitely a lack of empathy or a perception of Black people that allows him to [feel this way].
Look–I was on an airplane one time in first class, and the woman that I was sitting next to, she had her back turned towards me. She turned around because she was putting up her stuff, and she almost had a heart attack. She literally screamed. First, of all, we’re on a airplane, right? Second of all, we’re in first class. What are the chances a Black man is going to rob you on first class in an airplane? But there was something that triggered her just psychologically and emotionally, and this is where we have to really look at society as a whole.
Brian was talking about representation and how we consume content about Black people, whether it be the news or whether it be TV or film. It’s starting to shift now, but when we were growing up, a lot of what we saw programmed us to look at each other a certain way…In general, one of the things that I feel like is important for all of us to do is challenge the stereotypes, push the boundaries in terms of perception, what is good what is bad, what is appropriate. All of these psychological stigmas and observations that we’ve made growing up watching a lot of this stuff hasn’t change. So we have to change what is being projected. A lot of that is coming from what we’re consuming, through television film and media.
To switch to lighter topics, since you said that the show is based on Saturday morning cartoons, what are some of the cartoons that influenced you when creating this show?
Ash: A lot of the Hanna-Barbera stuff from our Saturday mornings were probably the dominant stuff, The Flintstones, The Herculoids, Scooby Doo, and probably my favorite Saturday morning cartoon was Looney Tunes. Nobody has done it better, and I hear they’re coming back. Those, in terms of comedy, personality, music appreciation, hilarious violence, cultural references–I learned so much about the world watching Looney Tunes. And a lot of adult animation–Carl and I have done most of our career at Adult Swim, so a lot of those shows from the beginning to now are just shows that we’ve loved and still love.
Jones: Like Brian said, I would definitely say the style of Sugar and Toys was heavily influenced by Hanna-Barbera. In terms of stuff I just like and am inspired by, it’s a wide range of stuff. I love a lot real cartoony stuff. Like, I’ma really big fan of Chuck Jones and Bill Plympton is one of my favorite animators of all time. I also love John K.’s stuff, Ren and Stimpy, Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids, Bruce Smith with The Proud Family and Bébé’s Kids is really great. I also like a lot of anime, like Fooly Cooly and I’m a Takeshi Koike fan, so I like Redline and a lot of the things he’s done. Cowboy Bebop, Samurai Champloo [both directed by Shinichirō Watanabe], and I like a lot of French cartoons, too. I’m a big animation head.
I know Kyle is a part of the show a big part of the show–how did he become the show’s host?
Ash: Fuse actually brought us Kyle. From the beginning, when we were first putting the show together, we wanted to do something a little more experimental. Because if you look at Saturday morning cartoons format, we would think about things like Sesame Street or Romper Room or Captain Kangaroo and we always had this idea that there should be a live action component.
Jones: Originally, it was going to be M.F. Doom. That’s who we wanted originally. That was the very first person we thought of as the host. I don’t know if he would have made the best host, but it was weird and funny to us.
Ash: There was definitely a version of the show where it was M.F. Doom and his best friend, his imaginary friend, was a six-year-old white boy. So it was going to be Doom and this kid hanging out, eating cereal and talking about philosophy and shit. It ended up being a little different than that [laughs].
Once we got Kyle on board and Fuse on board, we started thinking about the demographics. The original iteration of the show was really even more fixated on Saturday morning cartoon aesthetic like He-Man and other stuff that’s specific to cartoons. But Fuse, which is a Millenial-targeted channel with a strong DNA in music, we ended up adapting the show to that direction. Kyle coming on board took it more in that direction. Kyle, being a young dude and having these other aesthetic considerations, we started thinking more about 1990s Nickelodeon aesthetics and Cartoon Network and what is popular in hip-hop now anyways–the look, the vibe of hip-hop now just felt like a perfect fit for that.
We got to know Kyle a little bit, we watched his movie The After Party and then started writing towards what we think he’d be good at. He has this incredible, likable quality. He’s almost Will Smith meets Ferris Bueller–he has this likable, sweet quality. When Carl and I started writing, we realized we could use Kyle’s likability as a way of offsetting some of the more edgy, grimier, disturbing cartoon content. It would be fun to see Kyle’s pieces, which are lighter and more fluffier and more happy-go-lucky. It almost gives us license to go even harder [with the cartoons]. It turned out to be a nice balance.
What do you hope viewers take away from the show?
Jones: We’ve gotten this question in interviews before, and the thing that we would want people to take away from it is to stop listening to people who tell you want they want you to take away from it. You know what I mean? At the end of the day, we want to put something out there and let them digest it however they want to–like it or dislike it, hate it or love it.
Do we want to inspire people to thing? Yeah, but what to think? That’s up to the person. There’s times where we do stuff that’s smart and socially responsible, but then there are times that we do shit that’s socially irresponsible [laughs]. We are part of the generation that’s watching it, critiquing it, and loving it. There’s some stuff that we like, and there’s some stuff that we look back at and don’t like. It’s one of those things where we don’t focus so much on the takeaway or what we want people to think or feel, because I feel like that hampers the honesty and integrity of what we create.
Ash: I think maybe boldness is the thing. Something we’ve talked about with a couple other people as well is that we’re in this funny moment right now where, particularly in the hip hop community, [where] there are artists we’re getting to interact with who grew up watching some stuff we did earlier in our careers. Continuing to be in the conversation and give a platform [means to]to reflect the culture as it is, ask some questions, show stuff that maybe isn’t being shown, give people who aren’t being seen an opportunity to be seen. Really, the thing they use to say about TV is that the medium is the message. It just being on TV is the message. Showing people who think, look and act like the people in our show on TV is the message.