Interview With Tom and Ray(Cambridge, MA) - On the eve of the launch of their new primetime animated sitcom, Click & Clack's As the Wrench Turns, PBS conducted an animated discussion with "Click and Clack" (aka Tom and Ray Magliozzi) and asked for their thoughts on life in the cartoon lane, putting on makeup while driving and time management.
Q. What did you think about the idea of being cartoon characters when you were first approached with it?
RAY: Well, the last time we saw caricatures of ourselves was when we showed up on the FCC's "Most Wanted" list. So we approached with caution.
TOM: But then we realized how much sense it made. First of all, we could spare viewers the trauma of having to see our actual faces...
RAY: Right. We could imagine PBS viewers flipping to the Trout Gutting Channel to find something prettier.
TOM: And then we also realized that, with animation, we wouldn't have to sit in front of cameras all day. We could just record our voices in our studio and let somebody else do all the work! Is that perfect or what?
Q. With your busy schedule that includes running a garage, producing a weekly radio show and writing newspaper columns, how did you decide to utilize your time in starring in a cartoon?
RAY: You're kidding, right? If my brother came into work any later, and left any earlier, he'd pass himself on the road.
TOM: Actually, we know how difficult real television is. We just did an episode for NOVA this year, and it wasn't easy.
RAY: Yeah, they wanted my brother on the set 4 or 5 hours a day!
TOM: Yeah. Good thing most of that time was spent standing around waiting for the crew to get back from their lunch break or I would have quit.
RAY: So doing animation suits us, because we just do the voices. We go into our studio, we read the script... we screw it up a few times, the producers realize it will never get any better, and they say "OK, good enough" and they send us home. And somehow it comes out really funny and entertaining when all the talented people are done fixing it up.
Q. "Click & Clack's As the Wrench Turns" gives us an inside look into the lives of Tom and Ray Magliozzi. Or does it? How accurately does the show portray the behind-the-scenes world of your radio show and garage?
TOM: Well, in real life, we DO come up with crazy schemes so we can goof off more. But they never get past the stage of wistful musing.
RAY: The cartoon versions of us actually get to try them out and see what happens. That's what makes the stories fun.
TOM: And a lot of funny stuff DOES happen at the real garage. All kinds of weird characters always seem to be hanging around.
RAY: Yeah. I wonder what attracts them (points to Tom)?
TOM: And lots of funny stuff happens. We screw up cars. My brother comes up with crazy ideas. And usually, we end up laughing our butts off.
Q. The animated Click and Clack are always looking for an excuse to slack off. How different are the animated characters from the real Tom and Ray?
TOM: Those characters are nothing like the real Tom and Ray. Nothing like us! Who told you they were?
RAY: No, we're extremely diligent, hard-working, industrious chaps.
TOM: (spits out his coffee and laughs)
RAY: I mean, just as an example of how different we are in real life, in the real garage, there's no hammock in the oil change bay.
TOM: Right. My brother's got to curl up in a backseat of some customer's car to get a decent nap.
RAY: That's why I always love to see a Lincoln Town Car roll in.
Q. Is the animated character Beth Totenbag, who produces Click & Clack's radio show in the animated series, based on someone from the real Car Talk radio show?
RAY: You mean motivated, earnest and competent?
TOM: Uh, no. That was us indulging in a little bit of wishful fantasy.
RAY: Our real life producer is Doug Berman, who served as the head writer for Click & Clack's As the Wrench Turns. And he didn't think we needed him as an additional character in the show because, well...
TOM: He's too much like us! He's another lazy bast***! (laughs)
RAY: Hey, this is PBS. We should use words like "slothful" and "indolent." He's a slothful and indolent bast***.
TOM: Actually, Bill Kroyer, the director of animation, pushed very hard for a character who was our opposite, in terms of personality. And that's Beth.
Q. How about the animated characters Crusty, Fidel and Stash who work in Click and Clack's garage? Are they based on people from your real lives?
TOM: No, they're amalgams of lots of people we've known, along with some made-up stuff.
RAY: We don't actually have a grumpy mechanic from Coleslawvania... or a guy who insists on wearing his Armani suit while working on cars. But we've had plenty of eccentrics work with us over the years.
TOM: The 60s and 70s were the heyday of those wackos, especially in Cambridge, Massachusetts. And we did have our share of nut-jobs and crazies come through the place.
RAY: And we cherished every moment with them.
TOM: Yeah. They made us feel normal... like we belonged!
Q. The animated series covers a lot of topical and potentially hot-button topics in a light-hearted manner. Some issues include outsourcing and alternative energy. These are topics that other PBS series might take a more serious look at. What made you decide to tackle these particular issues?
RAY: Those are serious issues?
TOM: We didn't know that. Nothing's a serious issue to us. Well, vacation is serious.
RAY: And death is serious. But everything else is pretty much fair game. PBS takes all of these things very seriously. Which is why we probably won't last the season there. Although NPR has tolerated us for 20 years.
TOM: Actually, even death can be funny. For instance, if the guy's last words were, "Hey, guys, watch this!"
RAY: You see? Have we been canceled yet?
Q. Why have you made distracted driving a priority as a "wake-up call" for American drivers?
RAY: I'm sorry, what was that? I was busy texting in an order of General Gao's chicken, while my brother was busy stabilizing his hair.
TOM: Actually, NHTSA (the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) tells us that distracted driving is one of the leading causes of accidents. The fact is, you're as likely to kill someone when you're on a cell phone as you are when you're legally drunk. We don't tolerate drunk drivers; why should we tolerate morons driving while on their cell phone?
RAY: There goes PBS' cell phone company sponsors! Adios, Verizon!
TOM: Hey, not our problem!
RAY: Now have we been canceled?
Q. What's the craziest example of distracted driving you've seen or heard about?
RAY: Our NPR listeners - and we've got 4.5 million of them every week - write to us all the time with stories. The most recent one was about a woman who was flossing, gargling and brushing her teeth while driving down the highway. All while opening the window every time she needed to spit.
TOM: And then she ate her breakfast. We spent a long time trying to figure out why she didn't eat breakfast first and then brush her teeth. These are the kinds of things that bother us.
Q. Do you have a special message for teens about distracted driving?
TOM: Boy, it's tough. Teens don't think any danger applies to them. You can tell them to slow down and pay attention so they won't die, but they think they're invulnerable.
RAY: So we've found that the only thing that really works with teenage boys is the threat of imminent bodily harm. As a parent, you have to threaten to kill them - if they live through the accident, of course.
TOM: What also works are punishments that disrupt their social lives. I found, with my son, that writing "LOSER" on his forehead in permanent marker whenever I caught him using his phone in the car was somewhat effective.
RAY: Of course, he was already Tom's son, so he effectively had that on his forehead anyway!
TOM: I guess you just have to keep trying. It really is life and death. You explain to the kid that you're piloting 3,000 pounds of steel at speeds up to 65 miles an hour. You take your eye off the road for 2 seconds, and while you're reading a text message from Buffy, you've barreled almost 200 feet! With no one watching the road!
RAY: So turn the phone off while driving. There's a wonderful new invention. It's called voicemail.
TOM: Right: TMOT GTG TTFN. [Trust me on this, got to go, ta ta for now.]
RAY: For once, my brother doesn't have his HUB [head up butt].