Courtesy of Netflix

October 29, 2015

Interviewing the Cornellians Behind BoJack Horseman

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You know I’m not horsing around when I say that Cornell alums go on to do big things. But did you know that Noel Bright ’94, the executive producer of BoJack Horseman, and Keith Olbermann ’79, voice of Tom Jumbo-Grumbo on BoJack and renowned broadcaster, once walked on the very same slush-covered steps and studied in the exact dungeon-like stacks as you?

For those of you who don’t know, BoJack Horseman is arguably the best show in the world right now. A Netflix original, BoJack Horseman has been critically acclaimed for its hilarious and tragic depiction of life through the lens of its main character, a talking horse (voiced by Will Arnett). BoJack is a washed-up television star who got his start on the fictitious ’90s sitcom Horsin’ Around. Now, 15 years later, embittered and as irrelevant as Aaron Carter, he is simply trying to find his place in the world. I do not hesitate to say I am BoJack and you are BoJack: people (or horses) trying to find our ways with a lot of self-sabotage in the process.

But BoJack Horseman is more than the uproarious story of its eponymous character; it is also a critique of our current world, including our obsession with Hollywood, our glorification of celebrities and our undermining of mental illness. While I wait in endless anticipation for season three of BoJack to arrive, Noel Bright and Keith Olbermann were kind enough to provide me with some answers to tide me over.

The Sun: What exactly do your roles working on BoJack Horseman entail?
Noel Bright: I’m one of the executive producers that runs the show with other producers here [in] L.A. I’ve been with the show since the beginning, which is actually how I met Keith.
Keith Olbermann: I’m the voice of Tom Jumbo-Grumbo, who’s a news anchor at MSNBSea on the show, and what was special about this project was that for once I was not playing me […] although parts of the character do come from me. It’s my voice, but it’s not me on camera.

Sun: The executive producers of television shows often deal with legal issues. Since BoJack pokes fun at so many different celebrities and public occurrences, has the show received any threats of legal backlash so far?
N.B.: The easy answer is that there’s a difference between directing a story at a specific person and speaking on the topic. What we aim to do is speak on the topic. We’re not out to pick fights with anybody. What BoJack is able to do as a comedian is point to the absurdity in our society and challenge you as a viewer as to why you hold certain opinions. We make fun of the glorification of celebrity that might make some people uncomfortable, but we have the ability to be forgiven by not pointing to any one person specifically.

Sun: How has your time at Cornell shaped you in terms of your careers and your personal growth?
K.O.: The greatest thing about Cornell was that when I attended, the communications arts program was not really well tended to, so we had a lot of spare time. We took classes in other departments, but the spare time allowed me to spend more time at WVBR. WVBR gave me hands-on daily experience doing broadcasting where there was money on the line because we sold commercials. In terms of the Cornell community, you must learn how to budget your time to last a week, to last a day. You have to pick what you’re going to get away with not doing and learn how to cut corners. No place in my life has come close to WVBR. It made me employable and gave me the ability to do some news. Nothing that I have encountered in my career I didn’t first encounter at WVBR and Cornell.
N.B.: First of all, I’d say it taught me to open my eyes a little bit to the world mostly through the classes I took and the people around me. I was an ILR major, which taught me to look at the world through a specific lens and try to understand organizational behavior. Just because a corporation exists doesn’t mean it’s good. Cornell taught me you can do whatever you want to do. Cornell brings things together and brings the right people together in the same way. I then learned starting a TV show and starting a business were the same thing. For both, you have to put all the right people around you. Cornell taught me to be open-minded and my time there inspired me to drive out to L.A. for my first job.

Sun: Do you have any advice for Cornell students looking to get involved in media?
N.B.: The piece of advice I have for Cornell students is to decide as early as you can what you want to do and where you want to be and don’t lose sight of that. Be vocal about it if you want it badly, and you can achieve it. Secondly, be prepared to be slightly diverted. Nothing is really in your control. I think your career is a mix of your ambition, your personality and the circumstances in your life. Push as hard as you can and that will typically work out.
K.O.: If your dart hits the dartboard that’s actually a terrific accomplishment, and doable given how big the world is. My advice is that you cannot have too many diverse skills. Last time I saw Jonathan Rubinstein ’78, who basically invented the iPod, he was rebuilding headphones […] on Linden Ave. Jay Walker ’78 invented Priceline. To do things like that you have to have amazing skills that apply to mechanical changes. You have to be capable of doing more than one thing.