By Daniel Kohn
By Imade Nibokun
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Meeting Christian Jacobs in person is a bit of a letdown. It's not because he isn't charismatic—because he totally is. The Aquabats lead singer and star of the upcoming television show The Aquabats! Super Show! is—not surprisingly—incredibly endearing. Underneath the drawn-on mustache and Sharpie-blackened tooth, there's a dimple on his right cheek so deep you hope for a glimpse of it every time he laughs at his own jokes.
No, it's a letdown because no matter how fantastic he is, Jacobs' Aquabats persona, MC Bat Commander, is always going to be even more so. And when you're talking to the MC Bat Commander in his uniform—the noxious blue rashguard with the A on it, the neoprene helmet and mask—you can't help but hope he'll maybe do a backflip or two, throw a random karate kick to scary monsters, or shoot fireworks out of his mouth.
And now, with The Aquabats! Super Show! about to debut on the Hub, the cable-TV kids' channel that screens everything from Transformers to The Wonder Years to new episodes of My Little Pony, that's not going to change. If anything, once America sees MC Bat Commander battling monsters on a weekly basis, the real-life Jacobs is going to be even more at a loss to live up to his audience's expectations.
Jacobs is on set at Oak Canyon Ranch in Silverado. It's dusk, the hour when everything is beautiful, when everything the sun touches—the trees, the dirt road, the grass and the valley beyond—has turned pink, then gold, then purple. It's a little chilly, but the breeze smells wonderfully fresh—except, of course, during the times when the Aquabats pile into a yellow convertible and screech off after the evil villain Cobra Man and clouds of exhaust and dust fill the air. After a couple of takes in which Jacobs and crew ham it up (with egregious Aquabats expressions—there's waggly eyebrowed shock, cross-eyed concern and curled-lip fear, plus exaggerated running movements), Jacobs turns to sorting live snakes for the next scene. The reptiles are on loan from a reptile distribution center that a friend of Jacobs' owns in Santa Ana, and they're all pretty tame and cuddly.
Apparently, the Aquabats could've used fake snakes for the shot, but they didn't. A production assistant looks on, admiringly. "You'll find that in Christian Jacobs' world," he says, "between doing something easy and okay and hard and great, he'll go for the hard and great every time."
* * *
Compared to the Aquabats mythology, the real story of the Aquabats is a little . . . mundane.
The now-40-year-old Jacobs grew up in the San Fernando Valley in a big Mormon family (his great-grandfather, LeGrand Richards, was a prominent leader of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) that pushed him toward show business. "Most of my childhood was spent going on auditions for commercials and TV shows. I didn't have an after-school, practice-with-the-team-for-state-championship childhood," he says. Every once in a while—much as on his TV show—the Fountain Valley resident and father of four will break a conversation and illustrate a point by acting out scenarios with himself animatedly. "I'd get home from school, and my parents would drive me to auditions. That's how we paid the bills: The kids were actors, and the parents were managers. . . . My childhood was pretty focused on the entertainment industry."
It was in Hollywood that Jacobs got valuable on-the-job training from working on various television sets. When he was 10, he played Sally Struthers' son on a series called Gloria, a spin-off of a spin-off of All in the Family that lasted all of a year. As a teenager, he participated in the mockumentary The History of White People of America, produced by the creators of Spinal Tap (Harry Shearer and Michael McKean), as well as landing a bit part in John Hughes' coming-of-age classic, Pretty In Pink. "Some sets I liked working on, and some sets were misery. But I got a good idea of what I would do if I were in charge," he says.
At 15, Jacobs starred in Christian Slater's skateboarding movie Gleaming the Cube. Meeting skaters such as Tony Hawk, Tommy Guerrero and Stacy Peralta—who were artists and entrepreneurs aside from being great skaters—helped him forge his own path, he says. "I was really influenced by the way [skaters] looked at things. . . . Skateboarders look at a bus bench and have a whole bunch of different things to do on that bench than just sit on it. The '80s were like a Renaissance period for skateboarding." He then dropped out of high school to skateboard all the time, admitting now that "I don't know if that was such a great idea."
While never becoming a breakout star, Jacobs was happy with acting. "I accepted that as long as I could keep working," he says. But as he got older and started auditioning for adult roles on soap operas and teen schlock such as Beverly Hills, 90210, he got fed up. "The competition as an adult actor is different from when you're a kid. People are cutthroat to get a job as an adult. It became disgusting to me, and I didn't want to act professionally anymore. So I started a band."