“So where the fuck is Spicoli at?”
Grinning, Carey Means observes that we are standing roughly 20 feet from Judge Reinhold, another member of the Fast Times at Ridgemont High cast. Joey Fatone and Chris Kirkpatrick of NSYNC are on the other side of the room, where handlers are politely telling a horde of women in their mid-30s to refrain from taking photos without permission. I see countless Harley Quinns, three dozen Deadpools, a duo dressed as Daft Punk and a four-person T-Rex before I have lunch. Sean Penn is nowhere to be found.
Means, Reinhold and the NSYNC contingent are all closing up shop on the first day of DragonCon’s Walk of Fame, the fan-friendly meet-and-greet attraction at the multigenre convention held annually in downtown Atlanta. It’s been almost a year to the day since Aqua Teen Hunger Force aired its finale on Adult Swim, and Means is here to capitalize on some freshly generated nostalgia for Frylock, the level-headed box of french fries with magical powers that he voiced for 15 years.
Originally conceived as a crime-solving trio that also featured Master Shake (a boorish anthropomorphic milkshake) and Meatwad (an endearingly goofy shape-shifting mass of ground chuck), Aqua Teen struck a nerve with an audience that found the show’s eccentricity and immaturity captivating. Its whodunit element waned with its increase in popularity and culminated in 2007’s Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie Film For Theaters, an almost-origin story of the group and their sweatpants-loving neighbor Carl.
Voicing Frylock was an unlikely gig for Means, who spent much of his early career as a theater actor. At the urging of his roommate at Lincoln College, Means packed everything he owned into a station wagon and moved from Missouri to Atlanta in 1993. For years, he performed in productions like Samuel Beckett’s Waiting Godot and Cole Porter’s Jubilee while singing bass in an ensemble affiliated with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra.
“My agent just so happened to have an ‘in’ at Turner. She knew a lot of people that she sent to do voiceovers over there. She set me up with the right person over there and I started doing bumps,” Means says of his initial foray into voice acting. (Showbusiness cliches aside, the “bumps” in question are 15- to 60-second spots.) The man who would become Frylock started voicing the announcer on Samurai Jack and the neighbor on The Brak Show, picking up sundry gigs during Adult Swim’s infancy. A production assistant familiar with the network urged Aqua Teen creators Dave Willis and Matt Maiellaro to give Means a shot.
In addition to attending three animation-related panels over DragonCon weekend, Means will revel in his opportunity to show off his charming personality to fans of the show. Several of them fight through the throng of Buffy the Vampire Slayer worshippers staking out James Marsters’ booth. Marsters is instantly recognizable as Buffy’s one-time love interest Spike even without vampire teeth; Means makes the connection to his character by signing illustrated prints of the Aqua Teen gang and recording voicemail messages in character for $20 a pop.
Having recently returned to Atlanta from another convention in Elmira, New York, and with another lined up in Long Island at the end of the summer, Means knows the drill at events like DragonCon. So do many Aqua Teen fans. Means tells me that a fan suffering from terminal cancer had traveled a long distance to get a rare poster signed at last year’s DragonCon. At this year’s installment, Means was given the news that the fan had passed away.
“We gave a little joy to somebody who was not long for this world,” says Means. “So many people come up to us and tell us how the show could get them through some of the roughest times in their lives—just through the laughter, just through the silliness and the chaotic nature of it.”
Somewhere around 500 con-goers show up for a panel devoted to Aqua Teen, which features Means and Dana Snyder, the voice of Master Shake, fielding questions from some of the show’s devout followers. There isn’t the extravagant cosplay during Means’ panels that you usually find while wandering around the Hyatt Regency and Marriott Marquis where the convention is held, but hundreds of fans, most of them solidly in their 30s, show up to hear Means and a slew of other voice-actors speak. Some of them refer to him formally as Mister Frylock.
On Snyder’s request (and after several questions about his favorite lines from attendees), Means raps Frylock’s lines from the show’s theme song that was featured on its final season while a cosplayer dressed as a human-sized Master Shake dances. The crowd goes wild.
“Aqua Teen was a tremendous opportunity for me, and I’m thankful for every single line I’ve read and every single con I’ve gone to. Every bit of it was nothing but fun,” Means tells me before admitting that he’d rather not revel in voice-acting obscurity forever. He tells me that he uses his time at cons to hustle for the next gig, wherever, and in whatever format, it may be.
Means is mum on specifics, but he’s using this year’s DragonCon to hype Nickelodeon’s Welcome to The Wayne, an animated web-series that will receive a proper network run in 2017 and feature Willis, Snyder and Means, effectively bringing the Hunger Force back together again in new roles aimed at children instead of stoners staring at their TVs late at night.
“It makes me starvin’ like Marvin, man. Give it to me. Bring it to me—all of it. That’s the lovely part about this: the networking.” He gestures down the row of talent that includes those who have voiced universally loved characters like Space Ghost, Batman and others from wildly popular shows like Family Guy and Spongebob Squarepants.
Means made his fair share of connections to the Japanime world at this year’s DragonCon and he plans to make calls in the weeks following the convention. Means tells me that he’ll entertain almost any job offer that comes his way. “Well, I won’t do porn,” he says with a baritone chuckle.
Means also uses DragonCon as an opportunity to deploy his girlfriend, Leah, as his handler. She’s been attending the convention for 23 years and tells me that Means swept her away from a terrible relationship after the two met at DragonCon in 2010. At the convention, she assists with getting him to his scheduled appearances and to VIP events that aren’t available to civilians. “I picked her up at DragonCon—wings and all,” Means says, directing my attention to Leah’s goth-angel costume.
On the last day of DragonCon, we sit down to talk about Aqua Teen’s cancellation last year. “It hurt, man. It really hurt,” Means tells me. He won’t go into detail as to why the show is no longer running, but he stresses that the reason Adult Swim cut the cord wasn’t over the voice-talent demanding more money or the show’s creators wanting to stop producing episodes. “I don’t have any animosity toward anybody. I just want to know what they were thinking,” Means says.
While Aqua Teen may be cancelled, Means refuses to concede defeat for his beloved character. “Frylock will never die,” he says. “That’s the way I look at it, even though they tried to kill him off several times and they finally succeeded. But, you know, Frylock still lives. As long as there’s a me, there’s a Frylock.” Means then interrupts our conversation to demand a photo with a cosplayer dressed as Buddy Christ from Dogma.
“Even I geek out sometimes,” Means tells me before the cameras flash.