***This interview originally appeared in the February ’23 issue of Animation Magazine (No. 327)***
Over 10 years ago, Australian animation wunderkind Michael Cusack created a short called YOLO, about two fun-loving female friends who have a weakness for partying and enjoying massive amounts of alcohol. As we enter the first month of 2023, the talented creative is launching the second season of their Adult Swim series, YOLO: Crystal Fantasy, while his other show Koala Man premieres on Hulu. His third popular series Smiling Friends (also on Adult Swim) will also be coming back later this year.
We recently had a chance to chat with the prolific guy about his amazing career and the second season of YOLO, subtitled Silver Destiny and starring Sarah Bishop (Sarah) and Todor Manojlovic (Rachel) as two ladies who are still desperately seeking “fun times, positive vibes and hot guys in the town of Wollongong!”
Animation Magazine Congrats on the new season of your show YOLO: Crystal Fantasy premiering this month on Adult Swim. Did you expect the show to have a big cult following when you started working on it a few years ago
Michael Cusack: The new season will be basically a continuation of season one, and I’d like to think it’ll be better, as I love it and am very proud of it. The same writers came back. We are basically working with the same team: Studio Monkeystack (Adelaide) and Princess Bento (Melbourne). You are a bit limited during the first season of a show, and then you get to be creative in different ways during the second one. We have a bit more of an arc through this season as we follow Rachel and Sarah, but it’s still the same old craziness. We have 10 episodes this season, two more from the first one. It’s been more of a balancing act, since I’m also working on Koala Man and Smiling Friends, but I have a great team working with me.
Were you surprised by the show’s popularity in the U.S.?
The thing I love about YOLO is that it has a cult-y feel to it. It is the dream show that I always wanted to make: It’s an Adult Swim show that has a strong niche following. The best part of it was the fact that it was Australian and it resonated with non-Australians as well. That was the most satisfying part for me.
What is your schedule now?
We are working on season two of Smiling Friends and Koala Man for Hulu is also premiering in January 2023. It was always my dream to bring Australian characters and stories to animation because I felt like it was such an untapped playground to be creative in. The fact that Koala Man and YOLO are both very Aussie and we get to make them for American networks and American audiences is just amazing. Of course, working on Smiling Friends is yet another beast and very satisfying in its own way. The fact that it has such a big audience is really fantastic. I love to see all the fan art for the show.
So, how do you manage to juggle all three shows at once so ably?
Well, now it’s got to the point where work is definitely heating up and it’s getting more hectic, but I’m very lucky to have a lot of amazing people that are even more talented than me help me do all this stuff. That’s the only way all these shows could be made. It’s such a big collaborative effort.
Can you talk a bit about the original look of YOLO?
Sure, the ethos for the whole series is supposed to be like a fun playground for animators, so the characters can go off model. It should look like drawings you may find on a pencil case in school. Sometimes I see people getting annoyed at the art style, and they think it makes it look crappy, but personally, I love that. Crappiness should add to the comedy and the strangeness of the show. I think it’s drawn better in season two, but it still has the same spirit.
Koala Man is still my style, but characters don’t go off model as much. It follows more of a Solar Opposites/Rick and Morty/The Simpsons pipeline. It’s more mainstream. It would be too chaotic if it was animated like YOLO. The concept of the show is already very strange so it needs to be more grounded in reality in its animation.
Tell us about the voicing experience.
We had the same cast. Sarah Bishop as Sarah, Todd as Rachel — my best friend from high school. I play Lucas the Magnificent and all the other characters. Todd and I would go to this church in Melbourne and record all these voices at night when it was quiet because nobody else was there. We had Flying Lotus on the show for the first season. For the second season, we had so much fun doing voices. There’s a piano and musical instruments in the other room, so whenever we wanted to, we’d go there and write a song for a scene, improv it and sing and record it right there. It was a really fun environment to do voices and music.
What makes you happiest about the show?
I love the fact that it’s set in Wollongong, where I grew up. It has a lot of elements to like. It’s very colorful and strange and Australian. It also has a lot of unique, interesting drawings. The best part is that Adult Swim lets us get away with a lot, so we have a lot of creative liberty to do anything. That’s my favorite part of animation, when you are free to explore a lot of strange ideas, both in the writing and in the art.
What were the main animated shows that made a big impact on you growing up?
I was definitely inspired by The Simpsons, South Park and Futurama a lot. Then, I discovered people like Egoraptor (Arin Hanson), David Firth and Sick Animation that made all these Flash-animated cartoons on the internet that really inspired me. That was the first time I felt like I really could do it myself.
As a guy who has three great animated shows on the air right now, what kind of tips would you give up-and-coming animation types?
Well, I would say that I’m definitely not the best, but I I think that the way that I kind of got to the level I’m at now is definitely through collaboration. It was about having a goal and a vision and then getting other people excited about that same vision, so I think that’s probably the key to getting these shows made. It’s definitely not an ego trip, but it’s really about having a big group of creative people that make it all work. It also makes it fun.
The first two episodes of YOLO: Silver Destiny will premiere back to back on Sunday, January 22 at midnight with one new episode premiering weekly thereafter. The show is produced by Laura DiMaio with line producer Paul Moran; exec producers are Cusack, Mike Cowap and Emma Fitzsimons.
Read more about Koala Man, now streaming on Hulu, in our feature story here.