Songwriter Randy Rogel On Writing ‘Yakko’s World’ For Animaniacs

Thirty years ago this September, the animated series Animaniacs was unleashed on the world. If there’s one segment from the show that people remember most vividly, it’s “Yakko’s World” — an extraordinary patter song listing the nations of the world, performed by voice actor Rob Paulsen.

It was also, in a sense, an audition.

Randy Rogel attended West Point and graduated with a degree in Engineering. He spent six years as a military officer in the combat arms, earned a master’s degree in International Relations from Boston University, and then went into corporate life. He was promoted several times at Procter & Gamble and then recruited to Digital Systems.

But he had always had a dream of working in film and television. “So I quit my job, drove down to Los Angeles, slept on a friend’s couch, and began writing spec scripts, submitting them to agents and studios,” he told me recently.

After one of his scripts made it up the chain at Warner Bros., Rogel was hired as a staff writer on Batman: The Animated Series. During that time, he heard about a new show that was in development from executive producer Steven Spielberg and the team behind Tiny Toon Adventures. It was called Animaniacs. “I wanted to write for that show too because I wanted to work for Steven Spielberg,” he says.

When Rogel approached Animaniacs creator Tom Ruegger, he turned him down. “He told me that Batman is a dark show while Animaniacs is a comedy.”

Rogel went away determined to prove himself.

Inspiration came from from his son, Ryan, and the globe of the world he had received for his birthday. “I was sitting with him, showing him the countries on it, saying, ‘United States, Canada, Mexico, Panama…’”

Rogel had grown up exposed to the music of Broadway: Gershwin, Irving Berlin, Rodgers and Hart/Hammerstein, and Lerner and Lowe. It occurred to him that maybe a patter song that listed the countries of the world might be funny.

Deciding to set the lyrics to the tune popularly known as the “The Mexican Hat Dance” — thinking it would stick in the head easier — Rogel went about the task, endeavoring to include as many internal rhymes as possible:

United States, Canada, Mexico, Panama, Haiti, Jamaica, Peru,

Republic Dominican, Cuba, Carribbean, Greenland, El Salvador too

Rogel crafted the lyrics to start in North America, Central America, and South America, then go to Europe, then Asia, and finally Africa, to avoid jumping back and forth all over the map. He also had to cheat in a couple of places, reversing “Dominican Republic” to “Republic Dominican” to rhyme with “Caribbean,” for example, and reworking the pronunciation of “Cayman” in order to rhyme with “Sudan.”

Ruegger approved. So did executive producer Steven Spielberg. Rogel was in.

As he was tasked to write more and more songs for the show, Rogel often found himself running home to work at my piano. Before long, an upright acoustic piano was rolled into his office with a note on it from Steven Spielberg. “He said he wanted me to be ‘My own little Gerswhin’ and start cranking out songs like Tin Pan Alley,” says Rogel.

“My office was next to [producer] Jean MacCurdy’s and she would often poke her head in while I was composing and tell me to compose softer.”

Rogel continued to contribute fun, intelligent songs to Animaniacs, refusing to write down to its audience of six-to-nine-year-olds.

“I remember, early on, a Warner Bros. executive saying to me that my songs were too hip for the room and that I should be writing more in the style of Barney. I told him that kids are a lot smarter than he thinks. Fortunately Steven Spielberg agreed with that.”

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