5 Questions: Aaron Brigman of ‘Squirts the Talking Pink Eye’

Don’t let the crass humor and working class aesthetic fool you. A ton of work went into Squirts the Talking Pink Eye, the hilariously foul-mouthed slice of stop-motion directed by Racine’s Aaron Brigman. Having collaborated on comedy efforts with friend and writing partner Lucas Webb for the last five years, Brigman first started in live-action before finding more creative momentum in animated projects. The results have crystallized in Kung Fu Cartoons, a Funny or Die page and among the most amusingly bizarre selections in this year’s festival.

One of Brigman and his team’s more fully realized efforts, Squirts the Talking Pink Eye synthesizes fake liquor, arcade games and Nikola Tesla as it riffs on middling relationship sitcoms with unfiltered honesty. Sometimes, that honesty comes in the form of dirty mouths and filthy minds. Deep down though, the characters in Squirts all just want to be heard with its titular character, a literal walking and talking pink eye, at the center of it all. Squirts just wants his damn Sink Vodka back; if only his nemesis Waffle St. Margarita would come out of his one-story castle to return it — and maybe lay off the “your mom” jokes, too.

Appropriately, Squirts precedes both screenings of Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead: The Story of the National Lampoon. Ahead of his in-person appearances this weekend at the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, Aaron Brigman talked with me about the unexpected freedoms of stop-motion animation and how so much in comedy has already been done.

1. Let’s talk about the sitcom elements first: the intro card, the twists on sitcom tropes, fades in and out, etc. Is Squirts the Talking Pink Eye a part of a larger series?

When I wrote the first draft of the Squirts script, there was definitely a part of me writing for a larger audience. We kind of had the idea in our heads that this would be a pilot episode. While writing and animating we all thought it would be perfect for Adult Swim on Cartoon Network, which was only reaffirmed when we were done and a lot of the feedback we got was “That could be on Adult Swim.”

2. Being a giant freaking eye aside, Squirts seems like a genuinely nice guy who’s just had it up to here, and even Waffle St. Margarita, for all of his mother-banging tendencies, strikes me as a well-meaning castle owner deep down inside. Am I being too charitable?

Squirts is a very laid back character because things just kinda just work out for him in general. Waffle St. Margarita really just wants friends and someone to hang out with but the problem is he’s too strange for any one to handle for an extended amount of time.

3. Where did the idea for these characters come from?

About two years ago I got pink eye while I was at work. Like they had to send me home from work because my eye was pink and starting to puss up. So everyone at work knew I had pink eye and I started to panic because when I had to go back to work I thought everyone would make fun of me, so I started thinking of the insults they would say so I would have something to say back. Not too paranoid right? Anywho, while I was driving to the doctor with a fully inflamed pink eye is when I though of the character. We did a mini episode of Squirts (that might still be on on the Funny or Die page) which I think was our first animation ever. I wrote that script and Lucas came over and came up with the voice of Squirts. LayVon Tarvis was in that first mini-episode too. I think at that point he was just a drug dealer for Squirts.

The rest of the characters came about when we decided to make a 10 minute episode of Squirts. Most of the characters are just mash-ups of different people we know. Waffle St. Margarita was probably the most fun for me to write, especially when I came up with the idea that he lives in a one-story castle. I’m not sure why but that really excited me.

4. This world feels lived in without feeling familiar at all. Do you consciously smash together cultural touchstones to produce something new?

It’s very, very hard to be original nowadays with so much content being created. We try to write jokes and do things with characters we haven’t seen before which is tough when most everything has been done before. Just when you think you’ve done something new, show it to someone and they’ll say “Actually, they did that on blah blah blah.” I guess what I’m trying to say is we put a lot more thought into our material than people would think.

5. Is stop-motion animation worth all the effort that goes into it?

I love being able to get any angle I want. I love being able to make the set exactly as I want. I love the control I have with stop-motion. From start to finish, Squirts took about four months to complete. About a month and a half of writing and set building, about a month to record the voices and a month to animate.

I should also say a little about our writing style. I will generally write a first draft then Lucas, [co-writers] Rogelio Garcia, Matt Finnigan, and I will kinda work on it as a group. I would say a good half of the Squirts script ended up being improvised when we recorded the voices. This is usually where the more vulgar dialogue comes form. It’s not that we try to be vulgar, it’s just what makes us laugh the hardest when we do these things. I would say all of the hard work was more than worth it.