You don't always see his face, but Christian Danley keeps his hands in two varieties of hip, scruffy entertainment. As an illustrator and animator, he works on such television shows as "Frisky Dingo" (12:30 a.m. Mondays) and the now-defunct "Sealab 2021" for the Cartoon Network's Adult Swim programming bloc. As an improv performer at Dad's Garage Theatre, he specializes in off-the-cuff puppetry at the family show Uncle Grampa's Hoo-Dilly Storytime (11:30 a.m. Saturdays) and presents more grown-up versions at the theater's regular Puppet Slams (with the latest tapped for midnight, Sept. 29).
What do animation and puppetry have in common? Building characters for animation is almost the same as building puppets. Our animation is so cheap that our characters can't even rotate on screen, so they have to just flop around, and we imitate life that way. Animation is a lot more tedious; it's like being a programmer. You get more time to fine-tune it. With puppetry, it's like any live performance: There's no taking it back once you've said something.
What's your regular character as a puppeteer? My character's name is "Lil' Tamo the Robot." Officially his job is to be the snarky straight man to Phineas J. Monkey's goofy clowning. But really it's just an excuse for Lil' Tamo to make jokes specifically for the parents who bring their kids to Uncle Grampa. No child has ever laughed at a Full Metal Jacket joke. But hey, who doesn't love a sarcastic robot who makes semiobscure movie references?
You and Puppet Slam organizer Lucky Yates do the same characters at the Slams as you do for Uncle Grampa. Is there a difference between being a puppeteer for the kid shows and the late-night slams? Lucky and I do a sketch called "A Monkey and a Robot Solve the Mysteries of the Universe." Lil' Tamo and Phineas answer profound questions written down before the show by the audience. Doing puppetry for children is almost exactly the same as doing it for drunken adults. Both make up their minds within five minutes whether they like you or not, and there's no way to win them back.
How hard is it to do improv comedy with a puppet? To truly be a great improvisor, you need to be very comfortable with the people you are on stage with. A group like Dad's accomplishes this by literally always improvising together, until you develop a "hive mind." Since I haven't been improvising nearly as much as I used to, puppets are like a shortcut to the "hive mind" for me. There is a layer of comfort behind the puppet, and people on stage intrinsically want to trust the puppet. That's why a mean puppet is always so hilarious.