November 1, 2002
Comedy High
Clones of Ghandi, J.F.K., and Cleopatra yuk it up for their 'toon debut
By BILL BRIOUX
"What if clones of famous people went to college together?"

Chris Miller, just 24 at the time, made this wacky pitch at a deal meeting at Touchstone Television a few years ago. Great idea, said his buddy Phil Lord, but make it high school -- "more angsty."

Now these two 27-year-old Dartmouth grads are at the centre of a multi-million-dollar project called Clone High. The series, animated by Nelvana in Toronto, makes its North American debut tomorrow at 10:30 p.m. on Teletoon before launching south of the border on MTV.

As the timeslot suggests, this isn't a kids show. Clone High is part of Teletoon Unleashed, programming aimed at the 18+ crowd who are more into South Park than The Simpsons.

So who gets cloned? The main stars are teenage versions of John F. Kennedy, Gandhi, Abraham Lincoln, Joan Of Arc and Cleopatra, voiced respectively by Miller, Mad TV's Michael McDonald, Groundling comic Will Forte, Mad TV's Nicole Sullivan and Drew Carey's Christa Miller.

Lord also gets into the act, voicing Cinnamon J. Scudworth, the school's principal and the mad scientist behind the clone curriculum. "We love how ineffectual principals generally are," says Lord.

How were the big five chosen? Miller and Lord began with a list of larger-than-life personalities. "We ended up picking the people we thought would have the toughest time living up to being like their original clone parent," says Miller.

Gandhi certainly fits that bill. In Clone High, he's a kinetic little goofball. Instead of crusading for a free and harmonious India, he's a horny party dude. "Chris and I just happen to know East Indian kids in our high school who happen to come from high-achieving households," says Lord. "They get their first taste of beer and they go nuts. We thought that would be an interesting idea for our clone of Gandhi."

Curiously, all five of the historical figures were assassinated. "It seems that an untimely death makes you an even bigger mythical figure in history," says Lord.

Guest voices include Jack Black, Scrubs' Sarah Chalke, Andy Dick (as Van Gogh and Edison), Joe Flaherty, Tom Green, Marilyn Manson, John Stamos and Michael J. Fox.

Fox plays Gandhi's kidney. "It coincided with his desire to do only one line on our show," says Miller. "He got one million dollars per word," says Lord.

In fact, Fox is an old pal of Bill Lawrence, the Clone High co-executive producer who used to work on Spin City and now helms Scrubs.

"In addition to being great actors, they're all great comedians and could improvise lines," says Miller, who adds that Green in particular really stepped up to the plate. "We left a lot of space in the script for 'Tom improvises a little song here' and just let him go," says Lord.

In addition to writing, producing and supplying voices, Miller and Lord even helped design the characters and worked up some of the storyboards. "We did get our hands dirty doing some of the stuff," Miller says, "but we found that there were better artists out there who could turn our sketches into beautiful drawings."

With the series budgeted at a reported $750,000 US per episode, the two twentysomethings are already being compared to South Park 'toon titans Trey Parker and Matt Stone. "Obviously those guys make it easier for other young people who maybe haven't had that much television experience before to do their own show," says Miller.

"Plus we've been blessed with the same kind of negligence that Comedy Central has shown Matt and Trey," adds Lord.