EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Napoleon Dynamite’s Jon Heder on new Disney show ‘Pickle and Peanut’
Most of us will recognise Jon Heder as the curly haired, glasses-wearing high school outsider who spawned the regrettable trend of ‘Vote for Pedro’ T-shirts back in 2004. Since that iconic performance in global phenomenon Napoleon Dynamite, Heder has starred in hilarious unconventional comedies such as Blades of Glory with Will Ferrell and The Benchwarmers with Rob Schneider, and provided voices for numerous animations including Surf’s Up and A Mouse Tale.
Heder now takes on an altogether new character – none other than a talking pickle – in his latest Disney XD show, Pickle and Peanut; a completely insane, imaginative comedy which blends 2D animation with live action clips. Think Nickelodeon’s Breadwinners or Cartoon Network’s Regular Show for an indication of tone. It’s essentially a crazy, madcap situational comedy about a couple of teenagers who just happen to be a pickle and a peanut, living in a largely human universe.
I spoke to Jon Heder from his home in California about what to expect from the fun new series.
“I tell people if they’ve ever seen anything on Cartoon Network, it has a little bit of that vibe. They’re half hour episodes, but with fifteen minute storylines, so they’re a little bit more brief, with smaller scale stories; they’re not trying to save the world, they’re not trying to change lives… It’s essentially the misadventures of these two teenage boys who love making up their own fun, which normally gets them into trouble that they’ve gotta get out of. That involves them trying to have fun, trying to be cool, and trying to get girls”, Heder tells me of Pickle and Peanut.
“I think the fact that it’s starring a talking pickle and a talking peanut surrounded by mostly humans gives people the sense that anything can go in this world. It’s the kind of world where we don’t have to explain a lot. We’re never going to try to explain that they’re a pickle and a peanut – they just are”, he explains of the titular characters’ unconventional appearance.
So what kinds of adventures can we expect Pickle and Peanut to get into throughout the series?
“It all starts with stuff that’s a little bit mundane. They have a job working at the local shopping mart, and they inadvertently send an old granny customer to grandma jail, so they’ve gotta bust her out of this jail that’s made only for grannies. In another one, Pickle ruins his mum’s couch, so they’ve got to go to the couch store and buy a new couch; only they don’t realise that it’s a haunted couch. Or one is just them going to take swim lessons, because Pickle doesn’t know how to swim, and he’s embarrassed by that, so they go to swim lessons. They end up having to save each other because they get washed down the drain of the swimming pool, which leads them into the sewer, and there’s all kinds of things down in the sewer”, Heder jokes.
But doesn’t a pickle spend his life floating around in brine, being a pickle and all? Surely this guy can swim.
“That’s what I’m talking about!”, Heder interjects. “They’re basically human. He looks like a pickle, but he’s never spent time in a pickle jar”.
So moving on, what the heck is the theme song to Pickle and Peanut all about?
“Are you talking about the beginning of the show, where it’s like ‘Shark, sword, lava’ etc.?” clarifies Jon. “It’s interesting, I haven’t really talked to the creators about it. I’m trying to understand it myself. I get that they’re trying to show like ‘look, there is no reasoning’. This is not an opening song that explains their story. So often you have something that says (*singing*) ‘In a tiny little town these two friends are weird, they like to get into adventures etc…’. But you know, they’re not trying to explain anything, they’re just random things, and I think that’s trying to give the feel that this is a completely random show, anything can go, there’s no rhyme or reason”.
“It’s small, suburban lifestyle humour and randomness”
“They’re trying to create their own cool; that’s kind of the vibe of the show”, continues Heder. “Every episode ends with the ‘How’s Your Mom song’, and even more so that’s like ‘Is that Pickle and Peanut singing..? Why is it about their mum?’ But it’s like the kind of song that Pickle and Peanut would make up hanging out behind the local convenience store. It’s small, suburban lifestyle humour and randomness. That’s kind of the vibe I think they’re going for”.
Okay, so Pickle and Peanut are teenagers in their final year at high school. I want to know, now that we’ve seen Jon in a few high school guises, what he was really like in school.
“I had a twin brother, so we were kind of like Pickle and Peanut – we kind of did our own thing. We weren’t hanging out with the popular crowds or the unpopular crowds. We were kind of just our own crowd, and everybody knew us, but we made our own fun. Instead of going to parties, or going to the local game and hanging out at the local spots, we did our own thing. So yeah, I think there’s a lot of stuff that I can relate to them”, he reveals.
So what’s next for Jon Heder?
“I just finished shooting a film that will probably come out next year, which is kind of a comedy horror film called Ghost Team, then there’s another movie coming out this Christmas called Christmas Eve that has an ensemble cast [Patrick Stewart, Gary Cole, Cheryl Hines – ed.], and I think that’s coming out on December first”.
Since we’ve been talking about his new Disney show, I ask about Heder’s performance as a real life Disney earlier this year, in Walt Before Mickey.
“Yeah, that came out I think a couple of months ago, a biopic on the early years of Walt Disney’s life. I play his brother, Roy Disney. Jumpin’ in with the Disney crowd!”, Heder elaborates.
Listen to my conversation with Jon on TVDaily’s brand new podcast, Telly Talk, launching this Friday (20.11.15).