Just Wondering: Andre Benjamin

Andre Benjamin, better known as Andre 3000 and the snappily dressed half of the Grammy-winning hip-hop duo OutKast, is co-creator of Cartoon Network program Class of 3000, which premieres at 8 p.m. ET on Nov. 3. The hour-long program, based on Benjamin’s childhood in Atlanta, is set in a school for gifted music students, with Benjamin voicing their teacher, Sunny Bridges, a famous musician who drops out of the limelight to teach kids.
Class of 3000 is another new animated program, along with the likes of Cartoon Network’s Squirrel Boy and Comedy Central’s Freak Show, enjoying a high profile. Benjamin spoke with B&C’s Michael Malone about what he learned from taking 3000 from concept to premiere, his favorite Smurf, and the greatest shows he’s never seen.

What was the biggest lesson you learned about TV in creating the show?
That it takes time. We’ve been putting this together for about 2 ½ years, and it’s finally coming out. I know all the steps that it took to make it this far. We had so many different mock-ups of character types to get to where we are now. Being that myself and Tommy [co-creator Lynch] are new to animation process, we were learning a lot. At the same time, since we weren’t from this world, we were trying some things that were unconventional. So it just takes time to build it.

With your music and film career, how much time do you actually have to spend on the show?Actually a lot. We worked through email and digital delivery to approve things, to go through stories and character changes. It’s like you’re always at your computer.

How did you initially hook up with Cartoon Network?
[Adult Swim S.V.P.] Mike Lazzo, he’s a really cool character and supposedly he was listening to [OutKast album] Speakerboxxx and the Love Below and he was attracted to the Love Below [Benjamin’s half of the double album]. He liked the imagery and the skits and thought it could make an animated show. Tommy knows a couple music people and they reached out to my manager. They wanted to do an animated show, and I said, hey, this may be cool. It gives me a chance to do music and create characters and create a whole life. I’m 13 years in the [music] game, so I’m always looking for new things to do to keep myself excited and interested.

During Cartoon Network’s upfront, you mentioned having guest stars from the music world on the show. Who can we expect to see?
For the first season we don’t have any, because we want to make sure that it wasn’t a star-studded event where it’s all on the pull of celebrities. But being that Sunny is a superstar himself, once that character is established in the second or third season, and people know and love him and we don’t have to depend on guests, [we’ll have some]. But I don’t want it to be a fly-by-night show where entertainers come and promote their records.

What did you think of your first trip to the Television Critics Association tour this past summer?
It was cool. It was reminiscent of when we’d promote albums at press conferences. Kind of the same thing, but these people don’t know me from a can of paint, which is cool.

Why is that a good thing?
There’s no pre-judge thing going on. You’re the underdog, and it’s always good being the underdog.

While you want to attract both kids and young adults, who do you see as the main audience for 3000?
Mainly kids. Before we even started to draw, the concept was made to be on Adult Swim [Cartoon’s 11 p.m. block]. We changed characters around and changed the style and look of it, and the story started becoming more mainstream. It seemed like a bigger show, so myself and Tommy and Cartoon Network said ‘Hey, let’s make this prime time.’

What’s your next TV venture?
I do have some plans, but it’s too early to say. I’m really focusing to make sure Class of 3000 gets off the ground and hope it’s a successful show. I’d rather wait until it’s out for a few seasons before starting to thinking about other shows.

What did you watch as a kid?
Oh man, everything from Looney Tunes to Peanuts to Fat Albert to The Smurfs to the Thundercats, Transformers, GI Joe.

Who was your favorite Smurf?
Grouchy Smurf. [In Smurf voice] I hate…

What do you TiVo?
I haven’t used it yet. I hardly ever watch television, so I haven’t seen any new shows. I’ve been out of the loop for years. I’ve never seen The Sopranos, I’ve never seen American Idol, Six Feet Under, Lost…never seen all these shows that all my friends tell me about. But I have all of them on DVD. I buy them because I want to catch them, but I don’t really have time to do it.

There must be times when you’re on the tour bus, sitting in a hotel room, with nothing to do.
There’s always something to do. I’m reading scripts or looking at characters or reading the new stories for the new [3000] episodes, or trying to audition for a movie or write songs. There’s always something.

Eventually, you’ll run out of energy and you can catch up on shows you’ve missed.
Yeah. That’ll be good.