Tim Cahill and Julie McNally Cahill Talk About My Gym Partner’s a Monkey

Who came up with the idea for the show - and tell the truth!

Tim: I did it all!  Ha, ha. 

Julie: Wow… There were a couple different things.  One of which was a friend of ours told us a story about how he went to an alternative school as a kid.  It was a school without walls and everything was real lax.

Tim:  I’d never heard of this.  I was like, “What’s a school without walls?”  I guess they’d have classes in a larger area and kids could just wander from one little group to the next.  It seems crazy! 

Julie: And there was a monkey somewhere in the school and he’d go hang out with the monkey.  So we thought that was a funny story and sort of got us thinking in those terms.  Like, what if there was a kid whose best friend was a monkey. 

Tim: It sort of morphed into this one kid with a monkey into this whole school and him trying to just survive the experience of being in this school with wild animals.  We thought this was a funny idea, ripe with possibilities.

Julie:  So we went from there. And developed it and pitched it to Cartoon Network.  It was the first place we pitched.  We actually came in with another show idea and we took this along even though we weren’t quite finished with it yet. 

Tim: Yeah, we came in to pitch something else and after we we’re finished, the head of development said, ‘Well do you have anything else?’  We were like, ‘Well, we have this other idea but we haven’t really locked it down yet.’ And he went, ‘That’s the one we should do.’ 

Do you draw on your own childhood and school experiences for the show?

Tim: We sit down with the writers and we try to figure out common experiences everyone has in middle school and pull from that.  And we then try to figure out how animals would react to a school dance or how they would celebrate Halloween at school.  We’d come-up with the basic idea and then try to figure out the “animal” take on that.  Some of the things get ridiculous.  We have an episode where they’re trying out for the cheerleading squad.  And we think, what exactly would an animal cheerleader look like and how would that play out? So we sort of come-up with ideas taking it from that angle.

Julie: Yeah, the sort of things that every kid or adult could relate to but with an animal spin on it.  It seems like it’s ripe with possibilities because we’ve all gone through at least twelve years of school and there are all sorts of things that happen. 

Tim: Oh I remember an episode that really cashed in on this.  We wanted to do a Valentine’s Day episode but instead of the kids having a crush on another kid in school, wouldn’t it be funny if the teachers have a crush on one of the other teachers?  How would an animal react to crushes and trying to attract someone of the opposite sex?  We started looking into how animals do that in nature and it got to be really silly.  So we had this character going through everything animals do to attract one another but in a school situation and it turned out to be a really funny episode. 

Did you decide what animals you were going to use before you created the characters, or did you create the characters first, then decide what animal made the best sense?

Julie: We sort of came-up with character types first.  Tim tends to think more visually, since he’s an artist, and I’m more the word person.  I know he came up with the characters, so visually this gorilla looks good here with this small monkey or tall giraffe.  We came-up with character types.  We knew we wanted Windsor to be sort of brainy, and it doesn’t necessarily match his big physical type because you’d think the gorilla would be threatening.

Tim: And we wanted the tall girl, Ingrid the giraffe, to be the girl who over the summer became taller than all the boys in her class.  And she tries to hide that fact by sort of slouches a lot.  Slips, the python, is the laid back guy because he doesn’t really have a spine.  We tried to mix-up sizes for the group and then tried to figure out what kind of archetype can we plug in to this character to make it work as a group.

Julie: And a lot of them have evolved as we started writing the show.  Like, Lupe is a pretty strong, feisty character.  We always saw her that way, into the school gossip, but she’s become a fireball and that’s come out of writing her on the show. 

Tim: You know what’s funny, as we’ve developed stories we come-up with characters that help drive that particular episode.  And then we end up liking this character so much that we put them in the school.  A couple of characters we thought we’d use once keep showing up again and again. 

Did you research exotic animals to help you with their personalities/characteristics, or just fake it?

Tim: You think we would, but we didn’t.  Not really. We were just trying to come-up with funny situations. 

Julie: Again in the course of writing the show we’ve done some research like, Tim referenced the episode where Mr. Hornbill has a crush on Mrs. Tusk we did some research there on animal mating rituals.  We watch Animal Planet and Discovery Channel. 

Tim: We try to keep our ears open for things happening in the news about schools or animals.  And we try to use the story in an episode.  There was this story that scientists were using monkeys to operate robots. And I thought, “Wow, this is wild.”  So I told one of our writers, that we have to do an episode where Jake gets a robot arm stuck on his hand during a science project for school and then it just goes crazy.  And it turned out to be really funny. 

You're the first married couple to be co-creators of a show on Cartoon Network.  How does your work influence your relationship? Do you have a "No Gym Partner" policy at home?

Julie: Yes, it’s 24-hours non-stop, Gym Partner.  It is hard to implement any such rules.  It’s pretty much there in some form all the time.

Tim:  We say we’re not going to talk about it at home but we end up doing it anyway.

Julie:  Yeah we’ve tried it but I think we need some 12-step program. 

Tim: We’ve worked together for quite awhile.

Julie:  We’ve never not worked together, really, so it’s part of our whole relationship.  It would be weird not to work together at this point.

What kind of cartoons did you love growing up? How did they influence you?

Julie:  I’m between two brothers, so I either had to watch Johnny Quest or Speed Racers.  I watched whatever was on, Looney Tunes. 

Tim:  I was a huge Warner Bros. fan. 

Where do you think Jake ranks among the great animated primates - Magilla Gorilla, Bingo from the Banana Splits, Gleek from Superfriends, Grape Ape, and Mojo Jojo?

Julie:  He’s gonna be up there.

Tim:  He’s pretty wacky.  Tom Kenny is his voice and he contributes a lot to Jake’s wackiness.  I think he’s gonna be well-liked and kids are going to get a big kick out of him. 

Julie: It’s hard to put a ranking on him since we’re so close to him.  It doesn’t seem fair to the other primates.  I think he’ll be very likeable with both kids and children.

Adam is the only human in the school.  Will we see Adam’s parents or other humans in episodes?  Will any episodes take place outside of school- any sleepovers at Jake’s house? 

Julie:  Adam has a human girl who he has a crush on who used to go to his old school.  Her name is Kerry.  So she’s in several episodes. 

Tim:  When we were in development we talked about his parents and introducing them.  But for some reason we kept writing stories about Adam and the school.  We kept postponing introducing them.  And right now we’re finishing up writing our second season and we still haven’t taken the time to think about his parents.  Hopefully, as we start our third season, we’ll get a chance to bring them around.  Occasionally we’ll see kids from Adam’s neighborhood who think he’s weird that he’s going to this other school, especially an all-animal school. 

Julie:  There’s a sleepover episode at Adam’s house. Jake and Slips just show up and it just so happens that the next morning Adam has a date with Kerry.  So he has to wake up really early and that’s the night that Jake and Slips come over and of course all sorts of hijinx occur.  We have an episode where Adam has a birthday party at Chuck E. Cheese’s type place and his worlds collide.  The animals show-up even though Adam doesn’t want them there because he’s afraid they’ll embarrass him.  And Adam’s  human friends are there but he has to try to keep them apart from the animals. 

Source: Cartoon Network Pressroom (Now defunct)