I feel very old reporting that Adult Swim, the after-hours version of Cartoon Network focusing on surreal comedic and violent animated series, is now 20 years old. I still vividly remember 2001 when they launched it. Cowboy Bebop, Aqua Teen Hunger Force, old episodes of Space Ghost, Home Movies. It seems like only yesterday. But it wasn’t. If you remember, it was 20 years ago. In addition to all the weird shows they played, they also began right away with a series of oddball station idents and programming bumpers. Early on, they really played up the “public pool where kids have to get out of the water” aspect.
Here’s a collection of the earliest Adult Swim bumpers for you to enjoy.
Of course, they didn’t keep the footage of swimming-capped old people for long. In fact, they didn’t even keep the announcer guy. Eventually, they transitioned into the kind of bumper for which the mini-network is most famous. Those, of course, are the weird white captions over a black background. It’s fairly genius, actually. Get a writer to write some strange things, broadcast those things in sequence, rinse, repeat. They at once felt like cable access and like a community message board. Those bizarre interstitials were the perfect bitesize encapsulation of the kind of absurdist, surrealist anti-comedy that Williams Street Productions quickly made their own.
Here is a collection of those from 2007. You’ll notice how in only a handful of years, the kinds of programming shifted away from mostly anime with occasional 15-minute comedy toons to a lot of live-action…and the 15-minute comedy toons.
I don’t think it’s too hyperbolic to say Adult Swim changed the way people of an entire generation saw comedy. Tim Robinson, for example, has said he wouldn’t have made I Think You Should Leave had it not been for Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim. And Tim and Eric wouldn’t have become the pillars of the comedy world had they not had an outlet on Adult Swim, first with Tom Goes to the Mayor and later more famously Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job.
That entire ethos of comedy seeped through the very pores of Adult Swim. It wasn’t just the shows they showed; it’s the entire brand, the lifeblood of the channel. 20 years of Adult Swim? How about the sense of humor of an entire generation?