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The Homestar Runner guys have a new show. So we talked to them about it.

On their senses of humor: "[It's] family vacation inside joke humor."

Mike and Matt Chapman, also known as the Brothers Chaps, also known as the Chapman brothers, hadn't really disappeared. It just sometimes felt like they had.

The two had been web video pioneers, their animated shorts proving so popular that they landed in the pages of mainstream publications like Entertainment Weekly and got hat tips on Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Starring a wide variety of colorful, brightly designed characters, the cartoons stripped storytelling down to its most basic elements. From baseball-cap-wearing naif Homestar Runner to Mexican-wrestling-mask-clad Strong Bad (well-known for answering his email), the brothers came up with a strange, comic-strip-like world that proved enormously popular.

And then they seemingly went away.

In the long, fallow period between 2010 and 2014, their website sat dormant while the two of them wrote for kids' television. They always planned to make more Homestar cartoons. It just didn't happen.

But the past 12 months have proved incredibly productive. The two have returned to the world of Homestar, but they've also launched a series of animated shorts for DisneyXD called Two More Eggs, which allow them to experiment with new characters and ideas. (The latest of these shorts premieres today on Vox.) Between the two, there's more Chapman content than ever before, and it's a great reminder of why their whimsical riff on the weirdness of humankind caught on in the first place.

I recently talked to the Chapmans about their creative process, what's changed from the early Homestar days to the Two More Eggs days, and what working in episodic TV taught them about writing shorts for the web. This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

On what's funny: "No one else in the world gets that joke but me!"

Mike Chapman and Matt Chapman

Mike Chapman (left) and Matt Chapman make one of their new animated shorts.

Disney XD

Todd VanDerWerff

Your style of humor is very whimsical and has been, I think, pretty influential on other shows and videos. What would you define your sense of humor as?

Mike Chapman

I always think about family vacations. There were five of us kids, Matt and I were the two youngest, and we had a big van. There were no TVs or iPads or anything. We just had to entertain ourselves when we would go on 12-hour drives. Making people crack up and having these little jokes that you associate with a time and a place — for some weird reason that element of our childhood formed our humor a lot.

Matt Chapman

Inside joke humor, where if there's an element of it you get, it feels special to you even if a bunch of other people feel the same way. It's like, "Oh, that joke is for me!"

Mystery Science Theater 3000 was a thing like that. There would be these jokes in that that I was just like, "No one else in the world gets that joke but me." I feel like that's something that we really love. Either intentionally or unintentionally, that's what we're doing: family vacation, inside joke humor.

Todd VanDerWerff

What's at the core of a great animated short?

Matt Chapman

These being so short. That's what's nice. If there's one thing you come away with, it's like the hook in a song. If it's a weird way this guy says something, maybe it's an awesome gag that you end on, maybe it's a song that's in it. It's like having some little thing that afterward you might accidentally say in conversation because you heard it one of these shorts earlier. If we can get some sort of brain earworm out of it, even if it wasn't like, "That was the funniest thing I ever saw!" but it's like, "I can't stop thinking about the way that weird guy said 'continue,'" that's all we're really looking for.

Mike Chapman

Getting in and out as quickly as possible. We'd like to think it'd be hard to bore someone in 90 seconds.

Matt Chapman

You know what? Give us time.

Mike Chapman

Yeah, we can try.

Todd VanDerWerff

If you think about the great characters from animated shorts, they had certain consistent things, but their occupations or other biographical details could change wildly. Do you think pinning down that stuff is inherently hard to do with this format?

Mike Chapman

For us, it's one of those things where you could argue that we've been doing the same thing over and over and over again. We don't want to repeat ourselves too often.

Even though we've made maybe the same kinds of jokes, we don't want to do the exact the same thing over and over again. It's a way to keep it fresh, where it's like the Three Stooges. This week they're sign painters, and the next week they're delivering ice. What's consistent is those characters and how they interact.

Matt Chapman

It's hard to nail that stuff down arbitrarily early on and just decide these things. You put the character in situations, and then that stuff happens naturally. You discover the nuances of the character. Whereas when you're writing a [show] bible, when you've invented these characters, you're like, "All right, I guess this will be the guy who likes food, and maybe this will be the guy that's real nervous."

Mike Chapman

Eventually, those things get worked out by putting them in a bunch of situations to get there.

Matt Chapman

When we were working on [other television pilots], Mike and I would finally come to the thing of, "All right let's put [the main characters] all in the back of a cop car." This isn't the plot of an episode. It's just asking, who are these characters? Put them all in the back of a cop car and write a scene, and that became the way we would try to find out what these characters were like. Usually that cop car scene was funnier than the pilot we were trying to write.

On their process: "We just start barfing it out"

Todd VanDerWerff

You've been making animated shorts for the internet for 15 years now. What's been the biggest change in your process in that time?

Matt Chapman

There's not a whole lot of difference, which is actually really cool. That's what's unique about the relationship we've got with Disney — what they're letting us do, or get away with, depending on how you look at it.

Mike and I come up with an idea, and then we just start barfing it out. Originally we were submitting little springboards or little synopses, and we'd say, "Hey, here's five, which one do you like?" Now they just let us have freedom: "Oh, just surprise us, let's see what you do next." We've sort of been able to let these organically grow, which is exactly how we used to do Homestar.

Mike Chapman

We write something in a day, record it the next day, and then make it in the next three or four days, and give it to Disney. That is pretty much the way we used to do things with Homestar, which is really good for us.

It's our strength. Get the lightning in the bottle. We live and die by the sword, as opposed to sitting on things and rewriting and overthinking things. Sometimes we end up losing some edge that way, so it's fortunate they're letting us do it the quick-and-dirty route.

Matt Chapman

Sometimes lightning in a bottle comes out. Sometimes something else in a bottle.

Mike Chapman

You live and die by the sword. Sometimes we die, certainly.

Todd VanDerWerff

What's been the biggest shift in your writing process? What ideas are really interesting to you now that even five years ago, you weren't as excited by?

Matt Chapman

With Homestar stuff we had these set characters, and with this we're making some recurring characters, but these can be all over the place. With Homestar, we'd do a bunch of Strong Bad Emails or stuff with set characters, and then every once in a while we'd do some other weird kind of tangential thing, only loosely related to the Homestar universe.

This is sort of the inverse, where almost all of these are these weird tangential things. Some of them loosely related to one another, but for the most part we're not really restricted. Not that Homestar was such a narrative juggernaut in terms of storytelling or anything! But even the small restrictions that that gives you, it's like we have more freedom.

So much has changed on the internet since we started. We have a series that hasn't aired yet, that's a down-on-his-luck dad trying to do YouTube videos. That will be our first foray into live action. None of those have aired yet, but that's a thing that's happened since we were back in the Homestar heyday — YouTube and people's weird "how to" and "let's play" YouTube videos. Getting to poke fun at some of the more modern stuff we see has been a fun thing.

Todd VanDerWerff

What do you see as the advantages of working and creating so quickly?

Mike Chapman

The volume helps — doing stuff quickly develops characters and develops worlds more quickly than outlines and revisions to outlines and then scripts and then revisions to script, and then an animatic and revisions to animatic. To me, doing eight two-minute shorts, at the end of that time period, you're going to be a lot further along with the characters and the world than if you had spent that same amount of time trying to perfect one nugget.

Matt Chapman

Mike and I, we've tried to develop things earlier with Disney and with other networks, and the part we were worst at was the character bible and bios for these characters that you just kind of made up. I still don't think I could write a decent character bible or bio for Homestar, and we did that for a decade. It's like an open beta. Our cartoons are an open beta, and we're slowly evolving it, and we're making you watch it. [Laughs.]

Todd VanDerWerff

A lot of your shorts — like the ones for Disney featuring Dooble — focus on weird nonsense words that are just sort of amusing in the way they sound. How do you come up with that sort of non-dialogue dialogue?

Mike Chapman

It's usually us sitting there, Matt talking. We never listen to music or anything while we're working, so usually our mouths are going. We're not really having conversations. We're just saying things.

Matt Chapman

Mike, you can be a little meaner than that. I talk constantly, and Mike sits there and lets it wash over him.

Mike Chapman

Sometimes I engage in nonsense conversations, but sometimes I do have to just let them waft over my head.

Matt Chapman

Eventually, those weird things just come out. It's been that way since we were kids. Mike is a saint for putting up with it.

Mike Chapman

I don't know about that. As little thought as you possibly think can go into stuff like that, that's what it is. It just happens.

Matt Chapman

The "Dooblie Doo" thing actually wasn't the first cartoon we made with that character. His name wasn't Dooble. It was going to be something else, and then he was just driving a car and sang that little song to himself.

After we recorded that line, we both were getting that little song stuck in our head and were saying it over and over and over again. Finally, we were like, "All right, let's just go record that song." One line from a cartoon turned into the song, and then became its own other cartoon.

Mike Chapman

And then became that character's name.

Matt Chapman

You could never put that into a character bible. It had to evolve on its own.

Todd VanDerWerff

You have worked in more traditional episodic television. Are there things about that you wish you could do in shorts?

Matt Chapman

You can tell much bigger stories. I went to film school and tried to write features here and there. There's a part of me that wants to tell bigger, grander stories, whereas these are tiny little nuggets of humor, of emotion or whatever. And we can make them go from our brains to them existing in a week.

I wrote on that show Gravity Falls, and there are episodes that I wrote on that won't air for months, and I worked on them two years ago. Animation's done overseas, and there's editing and revisions and all that stuff. It takes so long, but it is satisfying when I get to see those finally. It's like, "Oh wow, look, that thing finally came to life." We'd like to tell bigger stories with grander animation someday, but this seems to be what we're good at.

On the return of Homestar: "All of a sudden, 'We're really trying to!' turned into this multiyear hiatus"

Todd VanDerWerff

You brought back the Homestar Runner characters recently, after considerable clamor for a comeback. Were you surprised at how much people had missed them?

Mike Chapman

We were amazed and thankful. When we stopped doing stuff, we didn't know if we were stopping for two months, or six months, or one year, or four years. We just knew that we couldn't make a cartoon in the next couple weeks. So all of a sudden, "We're really trying to!" turned into this multiyear hiatus. Matt was moving back to Atlanta from LA, and we had over the years been talking about the characters more, and situations would come up, and we'd say, "Oh, Strong Bad should say this!" Once we decided that we had some ideas, the fact that people still cared was fantastic.

Matt Chapman

Yeah, we were very psyched. We just wanted to make a new cartoon. We had time to make one, and it sort of became this big comeback thing, when we were like, "But wait, well, we're also doing this thing with Disney that's going to take up almost all of our time!"

We didn't mean to tease anybody, but we're actually working on one of those as well now, a new Homestar cartoon. We're trying to squeeze them in as long as you still care, and we hope you have a lot of patience. We still want to make them, but it might be sort of sporadic and without warning.

Todd VanDerWerff

Was it easy for you to slip back into those voices?

Matt Chapman

The voices have changed a little bit. I take terrible care of my throat, I think. Or do the voices sound a little different just because it's been a long time? Listen to Homer Simpson in the first episode versus right now. But as far as doing them, no. It was super fun. I'm ashamed to admit it, but I would talk to my children in their younger years as Homestar kind of a lot. An easy way to baby-talk to someone is in the Homestar voice. I hadn't gone completely out of practice.

Todd VanDerWerff

Everybody has their favorite Homestar cartoons, but there must be some you feel are a little unheralded compared with everything else. What are they?

Mike Chapman

We did a little song for all the loading screens. We'd made 300-something cartoons, and most of them had different loading screens. We just made this song called "Loading Screens" and showed all the loading screens from all the different cartoons. I think that might be my favorite thing we ever did.

The other thing I like a lot, we had two fake bands: Limozeen was a fake hair-metal, '80s band, and then this band Sloshy, which was this apathetic '90s indie-rock band. We made a split 7-inch where Sloshy covered a Limozeen song and Limozeen covered a Sloshy song. I think most of my favorite things are where the process itself was a big part of it.

Matt Chapman

I feel like the best thing we've ever done and probably will ever do is Peasant's Quest, which was this old AGI-like, text-adventure-style game. I was recently at a comic convention in Charlotte, North Carolina, and I met some guys that had played through it. They'd gotten the full amount of points you can get, and I was geeking out over my own game with these guys, like, "Yeah, did you get to the part where this happened?"

I felt sort of stupid about it afterward, but I will go back and play that game. I tried to get my kids to play it the other day, and they're like, "Dad, we don't want to play Peasant's Quest again." Which is not to say I don't love all of our Homestar characters, but I feel like for us sometimes, those ones that are completely different from the rest of the body of our work is what stands out for us.

Watch more Two More Eggs videos by the Chapman brothers on Disney XD's YouTube channel.

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