Aaron McGruder: Censor The Boondocks? N*gga Please!
From the use of the N-word, to the negative portrayal of women, to the glorification of drug dealers and pimps, the spotlight is now shining on the messages, not just the music. But despite the harsh criticism and demands for accountability, few are willing to look at the root of these problems, or the bigger picture. In the midst of these controversies, a cartoonist/writer named Aaron McGruder sits on the sidelines and makes his social and political commentaries through his wildly successful strip-turned-TV show The Boondocks, which debuted Season Two on the Adult Swim Channel October 8th. McGruder recently took some time out of his busy post-production schedule to speak about the success of his show, future plans and pulling a Dave Chappelle
DX: How and when did The Boondocks come to life?
AM: I came up with the idea in 93-94. The strip started in college 96, early 97 and then it started in the newspapers in April of 1999. It ran for a while and then we started doing the show, originally for Fox in 2003. It was a pilot that didnt go, then Adult Swim picked us up I wanted to do something kind of satirical and kind of political and kind of this and kind of that. It was this thing that I had in mind that I wanted to do and I tinkered with it for a while until I got to a place where I thought somebody might want to pay for it.
DX: Comic strips are a sign of the times and social commentaries. What is the statement youre making with The Boondocks and how has it changed over the years?
AM: Without over explaining the art, its kind of always been about paying attention. The strip, the show, the jokes whatever the point is kind of depends on the actual piece, but I think overall, Ive got a certain way of looking at the world and I think that the reason why the show resonates with people is because they look at the world the same way. I think a lot of people think shits kind of crazy. And probably for a long time didnt think other people thought that. Every now and then you watch something and youre like, Oh, Im not alone. And I think thats why The Daily Show is popular. Entertainment, the media, the news its all gotten so insane... I think culturally [The Boondocks] connects with the part of people out there that are kind of frustrated and wondering whats going on and saying that things dont really make sense, or dont really add up.
DX: Many people compare your show to The Chappelle Show. What does that mean to you?
AM: Thats great! That show was a pretty big deal. Whenever people ask me if Im gonna pull a Chappelle, I go, Wait, let me see make two seasons of a show that will go down in history and get filthy rich and then retire earlyyeah, that would be horrible, wouldnt it? I wish I could pull a Chappelle. Im waiting to!
DX: I dont know, because at the same time, a part of reflecting on whats going on and how crazy things really are is that it can really get to you. Then you have to play the game.
AM: But you know what? I go through that anyway. The only thing I dont have is a zillion DVDs being sold. Its a hard job. Its hard to hit that margin and be relevant and funny and say something that hasnt been said a million times already and make people laugh. Its hard to do all that. But I think people turned on Dave really quick I dont know what the future of my show is, and its not really up to me entirely. But I feel like if we could make a good show this year and people liked it and if we could be as commercially successful as Chappelle, thatd be great. I want it to go for as long as its good. It doesnt need to go any longer than that.
DX: You were talking about going through the bullshit. What are some of the things you had to go through?
AM: Ill say this: The hardest thing about this job is that television is a brutal business in terms of its production schedules and budgets and what you can do. And when youre an artist its easy to be too attached to a thing and want it to be just right and thats bumpy in the TV world. So the kinds of battles that you end up fighting are not really the ones you think youre going to fight. They end up being different. And what it really comes down to is, to do it right, its going to take a lot out of you. And thats all there is to it. And its not the man coming down and saying, You cant say that! and you saying, Yes I can! That doesnt really happen. Ive been given tremendous freedom in terms of what we say with the show, and its really left up to me. But that doesnt mean its not an incredibly challenging thing to do something that is really goodits easy to have messages, but its difficult to make something good. It requires a lot of people; its a really complex show; the animation goes to two or three different countries sometimes There are a lot of places things can go wrong.
DX: Do you feel youve had to water yourself down or censor yourself making the transition from strip to television?
AM: NoI always say, theres nothing more sanitized and controlled than the Sunday paper. The freedom has been tremendous in terms of just the ideas being able to express and then just the power of animation versus those tiny three panels. The MLK [Return of the King] episode that we did is an example of something that is a piece of work that you cant hit that hard in a paper. Its opened up a lot of creative directions for me to explore, particularly this season - we kind of go to every possible place that we can go. So its a little wild.
DX: So what is your role now on a day-to-day basis in terms of drawing/writing/concepts?
AM: Right now were in post production, so I spend my days editing the show and supervising the music and animation and things like that The slips [for season two] were finished about a year ago and weve just been working on the animation for a long time I write the scripts, and I have a small writing staff but I write or co-write every script. I supervise the animation, kind of having the final creative say on everything. My day to day depends on what stage were in. But Im basically playing the same role in terms of creativeit all passes through me.
DX: How big of an element is Hip Hop in your life and in your craft?
AM: Thats my generation and I think ultimately thats still the center point of most youth Pop culture. Not only has the strip always been influenced by it, but I think as a TV show, its probably why the show did as well as it did. I think culturally all of America has shifted in that direction. Its been a while now.
DX: The climate of Hip Hop is very disheartening these days --
AM: -- I think youre right, I think its reached a point where it cant get any more stupid. I feel like everyones trying to figure out how it can go in another direction, but no ones really sure how
DX: David Banner recently expressed how he wished Al Sharpton and Oprah hadnt voiced their disapproval of rappers/Hip Hop publicly, in the media, but had instead pulled the rappers aside and had a private meeting to talk about these issuesNot every rapper takes that stand point
AM: I actually think youd be surprised regardless of what people say in sound bites, I think youd find a lot of young artists feel that way. Im a big fan of Al Sharpton. Im a big supporter. I loved when he came after me, because that showed a lot of courage I applaud his efforts! But for the most part I so hate all of this, that I cant even weigh in. I just want to do the show and step aside and not be a part of the spectacle. Theres a lot to be said, and Im glad people are saying it, but whatever hoopla comes my way over this show, Im just going to try to avoid it at all costs. Everything I have to say about all of this stuff is in the show. And I put it in the show so I dont have to run around on TV talking. Its an interesting place were in right now, in a lot of different ways.
DX: Being that you were born in Chicago, do you still feel connected to the city, or does it influence you in any way?
AM: Thats interesting. I do. I grew up in Maryland and spent most of my life there, but I always had a very nostalgic connection to Chicago, just from memories I had when I was a kid. Even when I didnt live there, I would still visit. And Ive been back a few times and done some lectures
DX: Are you following Obamas campaign at all?
AM: Yeah, from afar. Ill get the quick little updates, but Im not that guy. I dont believe enough in the system to pay that close attention to it. Especially when Im not actively making fun of it. If I were doing a strip I would probably be following it a little closer because I would need the jokes. But now I can just sit there and go, Okay, good luck bruh," and mind my own business.
DX: How much of Huey and Riley exist in you?
AM: I think their expressions of attitude and not just Huey and Riley, but also Granddad is a big part of itI think we kind of try to explore where all these different perspectives on being black and the world around us where they all intersectI think ultimately they all have to come from some place within me.
DX: You received both an NAACP Image Award and a Peabody Award. What do those mean to you?
AM: I think its cool. The Image Award was cool. It was in 2002 and it was really in recognition for what I was doing in the strip at the time, which actually was very important, because I was getting quite a bit of flack for it from a lot of different directions. It ended up being a very important recognition in terms of professionally, moving actively into television development And the Peabody was for the MLK episode of the show. That was a huge deal as well. Its obviously a very prestigious award and it was our first year, and we really didnt know what we were doing in terms of making a show like this. I think it was an uneven season some parts were better than others, but we pulled it together enough to get an award like thatit was good. And it was for the team too, because were in perpetual production. Everyone forgets about us for a long time, but weve been working on this for like three years non-stop: Season one and Season two. So it came at a really good time. The Office won, Scrubs won it was a kick to be recognized with those kinds of shows.