Yo Gabba Gabba! article-fest in The Star Tribune

Nickelodeon's oddball series "Yo Gabba Gabba!" is a hit among its target audience: preschoolers. So why is it also finding fans among college kids, twentysomething tastemakers and hip parents? Featuring guest stars ranging from Snoop Dogg to Of Montreal to Sarah Silverman, the three-year-old show is eye candy for toddlers, but also doubles as a sort of pop-culture yearbook for people raised on "Wishbone" and "Reading Rainbow."

The show's success has spilled over into a national touring stage show. Host DJ Lance Rock and his crew of bright, furry friends are bringing their dance-happy hour Saturday to Target Center in Minneapolis for what "Gabba Gabba" co-creator Scott Schultz calls "your kids' first rock show."

The Yo Gabba Gabba! Live! Tour got its tagline -- "There's a party in my city!" -- from "There's a Party in My Tummy," one of the show's many infectious jams. The skit promotes healthy eating, as the unibrowed, acid-green monster Brobee finishes a plate of peas who are sad to be ignored by a hungry child.

Schultz got ideas for many of Gabba's catchy songs by watching his son, who's 9 now, during the show's development.

"I'd follow him around with a little notebook and write songs I'd want to sing for him," he said. Schultz now has three young sons and a girl on the way.

He and co-creator Christian Jacobs never imagined their show would grow to have such a wide appeal.

"We're lucky we were able to make a pilot on our own, and Nickelodeon let us make it how we wanted it," Schultz said, "We were just dads who just wanted to do a really awesome music show for our kids."

On tour with the show is hip-hop old-timer Biz Markie, whose segment is called "Biz's Beat of the Day." The beatboxing skit has spawned its own YouTube phenomenon as parents tape their bouncing babies dancing along and spitting into their hands to try to make their own beats.
Parents may recognize Markie as the singer of the 1989 song "Just a Friend," but also as one of the first hip-hop artists taken to court for using a sample without permission. The lawsuit resulted in tighter regulation of sampling. Still, Markie said, "it hasn't affected my career."

Although he doesn't have kids of his own, Markie has many nephews and nieces who like to visit his house in L.A. because he's "got every video game," as well as a ridiculously large Beanie Baby collection. The children in Markie's family are adamant fans of the show. "They love it," he said, "I'm like Barney, the new one."

Schultz declined to reveal the identity of another hoped-for Minneapolis guest star whose appearance isn't exactly set in stone. "It will be a surprise for all," he joked.

Up next for "Yo Gabba Gabba!" is a full-length film to be released in theaters. While the script is still being written, Schultz expects it to resemble "The Muppet Movie" in being packed with adventures and guest stars. And the soundtrack? "It will be the best of the best," he said.

For now, the "Yo Gabba Gabba!" crew is drawing hipster parents and stylish babies out of their hovels to dress up like monsters, improv a few beats and do the dancey-dance.

Rebecca Lang is a University of Minnesota journalism student on assignment for the Star Tribune.

The School of Square Pants

In order to reassure us that they aren't simply turning our youth's brains into gooey piles of Smucker's and Go-Gurt, most kids' shows have some kind of educational message. Here's what children might be able to learn from some of TV's best-known shows for young viewers.

"Sesame Street": Shapes, letters, numbers, an eventually exploitable interest in vampires, diversity, colors.

"Bozo the Clown": How to develop a phobia that will make you more fascinating and able to enjoy the works of Stephen King.

"Wishbone": The connection between literature and everyday life, dogs work for less than actors, the perils of time travel.

"The Magic School Bus": Thermodynamics, outer space, the disappointingly gross view from inside the human body, photosynthesis, bird migration, how to ignore a know-it-all.

"Bananas in Pajamas": Absolutely nothing.

"Dinosaurs": Eating too much sugar will make you grow a horn.

"Blue's Clues": Increasingly obsolete technology (mail), how to be patient when smarter than grown-ups.

"SpongeBob SquarePants": Caution: Encrypted messages about religion and sexuality via burger-flipping sponge and lobotomized starfish.

"Teletubbies": An elementary crash course in the modern science of gaydar, your teen brother's interest in this program is directly proportional to his use of mind-altering substances.

"Yo Gabba Gabba!": Beatboxing, indie cred Cliffs Notes, the joy of veggies, how to dancey-dance.


Minneapolis designers on the 'Gabba Gabba' trail

In a storefront studio in northeast Minneapolis, just a short walk from the Bulldog, a few animators are working away on "Yo Gabba Gabba!"

In a storefront studio in northeast Minneapolis, just a short walk from the Bulldog, a few animators are working away on "Yo Gabba Gabba!" The Los Angeles-based show contracted Minneapolis creative firm Puny Entertainment to carry out its web design (www.yogabbagabba.com) and a portion of its animation.

Puny Entertainment, formed in 2007, specializes in interactive programming and other types of design for clients ranging from Cartoon Network to the New Yorker to Cadbury. Their aesthetic is characterized by a juicy color spectrum and an inventive playfulness, which also can be seen in the kid-friendly exhibits at their neighboring gallery, the Pink Hobo (507 E. Hennepin Av.).

Designers at Puny are proud to be working with "Yo Gabba Gabba!" As owner/co-founder Shad Petosky puts it, "It's the most fun we ever have." Last summer they organized an art exhibit at the Pink Hobo called "The Art of Yo Gabba Gabba!" which featured their sketches and memorabilia from the show.

How did the Minneapolis crew score the contract to work on DJ Lance Rock and his "Gabba Gabba" crew? "We really worked to make [our animations for "Yo Gabba Gabba!"] as traditional as possible," Petosky said. "To have that level of craft, that old-school animation ... and make it look a lot more alive."

Petosky plans to take his 1-year-old son, Demitri, to the show. "That'll be his first live concert," he said.

Up next for Puny are animations for Aveda and developing their Pink Hobo space to have regular hours, more frequent shows and to sell goods by futuristic design store ROBOTlove.