NEW PORT RICHEY — Kids might not like to eat their vegetables, but that doesn't mean they don't like to sing and dance with them. Kids and parents alike will have the opportunity to do just that when the 35-city VeggieTales Live! Happy Birthday Bob and Larry tour hits town Wednesday.
VeggieTales is an animated program featuring characters who sing silly songs and deliver heartfelt messages and Bible stories. The show was the first computer-generated imagery (CGI) video series to hit the market when it was released in 1993.
Since then, the show created by Mike Nawrocki and Phil Vischer has become a mainstay in private schools and churches, selling more than 53 million videos, in their estimation.
VeggieTales' 20th anniversary celebration brings the series' beloved characters from the small screen to the stage in an interactive surprise party for Bob and Larry's birthday. The live version of Larry the Cucumber stands at 9 feet tall and Bob the Tomato is a squat 5 feet, both with moving eyes and mouths. The duo will dance and sing with other characters, performing some of the series' most popular songs.
We spoke with Nawrocki, the man behind the cucumber, about what it's like to be a veggie. Here's a shortened version of that exchange.
Are you actually the one who created Larry the Cucumber?
Yes. Phil Vischer is the Bob the Tomato and I'm Larry the Cucumber. When we first started the show, we based those two lead characters off our own personalities. Larry is based off of me and Bob is based off of Phil and they interact like we interacted as friends.
How did you decide what you wanted a cucumber to sound like?
It's just a voice I was comfortable doing. I tried out a few voices for Larry when we were first starting the show and it was just something that was comfortable for me and that clicked in.
Have you ever been recognized in public by your voice?
I have had people tell me that when I talk to my kids, I have a little bit of Larry's voice. ... It's kind of the advantage of being an animated character that I don't really get recognized in public. There are times when people have watched the DVD extras on the show and they'll recognize me, but other than that I can go pretty incognito.
I've been a fan since I was in elementary school, and my favorite part of the show was always Silly Songs with Larry. Where did that come from?
For me, I have been a huge fan of parody music ever since I can remember. ... That's a big part of Silly Songs, just having a goofy time with the song. In the early shows, we had a lot of Monty Python influence and always loved that idea of "and now for something completely different," which is what the Silly Songs are. We'll go along in a show and we'll be telling a story and then we'll just stop and we'll do something completely different.
I remember Barbara Manatee was always one of my favorites. Where do you come up with things like that?
Just stuff that happens in life that I think is amusing. A lot of times what I'll do is I'll note a few different things and then try to combine them in a way that connects them, but in a goofy way. Like with Barbara Manatee, my wife is Hispanic and I remember back in those years, she was into a couple of telenovelas and I'd watch them with her once in a while and try to understand what was going on. So I just pictured this idea of Larry watching this telenovela of manatees and then falling in love with the lead character and all of that. It was just a goofy notion and it kind of went from there.
What's one of your favorite VeggieTales songs?
I think the BellyButton song is pretty funny. I like that one. They have a boy band called Boyz in the Sink and they sing a song called BellyButton which is an awful lot of fun. The Pirates that Don't Do Anything, The Hairbrush Song are fun ones. But my goodness, there's so many. In the live show, we highlight a lot of fan favorites throughout the years. God is Bigger than the Boogie Man, which is one of the very first songs we did, I think that's just a fun little tune and really catchy and really memorable. So I can't name just one. There's a lot that I like.
What's it like for your kids to have a father who's famous as Larry the Cucumber?
They're getting a little bit older now. My daughter's 15 and my son is 12. My son continues to use it for street cred when he meets new kids. "Hey guess what: My dad's Larry the Cucumber." When my daughter was 2 or 3 years old, I'd have a plush Larry and I could talk to her as Larry and she'd talk to the plush Larry and not realize that she was actually talking to me. So that was a lot of fun.
What's it like for you to be a part of such a huge phenomenon like VeggieTales?
It's just been amazing. Twenty years ago, we would've had no idea that it would have had the type of impact that it's had. I hear stories now from young parents who were kids when they first started watching VeggieTales and now have their own kids that they're passing the show on to. I just feel so blessed to have been part of it all these years. From the beginning, we've wanted to tell stories that could help parents pass on Biblical values to their kids and remind kids that God made them special and he loves them very much, and I just feel so blessed to have been able to be part of it all.
Samantha Fuchs can be reached at (727) 869-6235 or [email protected]