Sonoma’s Max Simonet making big splash on Adult Swim

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See for Yourself

‘FishCenter Live’ can be caught weekdays at 1 p.m. (Pacific Time) on fishcenterlive.com. Face off with ‘Daytime Fighting League’ at daytimefightingleague.com.

“Fish are living, unscripted organisms,” remarks former Sonoman and 2007 Sonoma Valley High School graduate Maxime Simonet, now of Atlanta, Georgia.

“I enjoy the erratic, natural movement of fish,” he says. “Add a layer of dumb commentary and jarring personalities with quick, janky visuals, and it just becomes a world someone like me would obviously like to sink into.”

What Simonet has just described is “FishCenter Live,” a bizarrely simple cult-hit web-and-television show in which real fish swim about in an aquarium as four guys, including Simonet, make silly fish jokes, play silly fish-themed games, take live calls from viewers, and generally horse around.

“It’s basically just fish swimming around a tank, scoring points by swimming over superimposed cartoon coins,” he elaborates. “We talk about the fish. People call in and talk about the fish. It’s awesome.”

The program, which Simonet co-created, is a production of Adult Swim, a nighttime block of programming running on the Cartoon Network since 2001, aimed primarily at teens and young adults. One of several shows Simonet has helped develop for the network, “FishCenter Live” stands along with such stuff as “Daytime Fighting League,” in which non-professional wrestlers compete in the ring while doing outrageously stupid things – from wearing plastic animal heads to forcibly removing household items from each other’s pants.

“We once had a couple of people, handcuffed, trying to fight a sandwich in the middle of the ring,” he says. “One guy got knocked to the floor and came up with a bloody nose. It’s great, visceral stuff, presented in ways that are scary and stupid and confusing. And I art direct it to seem very ‘video-game-y,’ because that’s the generation I’m from.”

Both shows originally started out as a live daily streaming program on the Adult Swim website. “FishCenter Live” began in 2014 and soon became so popular the network elected to air tape-delayed episodes on the network proper at 4 a.m. – presumably for the benefit of fish-loving, goofy-joke-craving insomniacs.

A year later, “Daytime Fighting League” followed in its wake.

“I get to create wild, experimental, interactive low-fi stuff that’s just impulsive and weird and allows me to throw my craziest ideas out there to see what sticks,” Simonet says. “And it seems to be working, because the stuff I’ve put on at four in the morning – the fish program and the wrestling program – they totally beat the competition for views. Or so I’m told.”

Asked to describe the youthful inspirations and influences that led him to his present job, Simonet laughs.

“Well, I did a lot of acting in High School,” he says. “Then I did local theater at the Community Center. I was often encouraged to make a fool of myself – and I guess I appreciate that now. I didn’t know who I was back then, and community theater was a great way to claw at the walls and see what and who I could maybe be.”

After graduating, Simonet attended Hampshire College in Massachusetts.

“I read about it in the ‘Colleges that Change Lives’ book,” he says. “The school had no grades and no guidance, but had a fairly decent video production department, so I went there. It was all very laid-back and pointless and hippy-ish, and I had a wonderful time.”

See for Yourself

‘FishCenter Live’ can be caught weekdays at 1 p.m. (Pacific Time) on fishcenterlive.com. Face off with ‘Daytime Fighting League’ at daytimefightingleague.com.

Eventually, he moved to New York, trying his hand at stand-up comedy, and ended up with a job as a graphic artist for the Onion, the infamous satirical news company.

“I got to sit quietly at the meetings and listen to people talk about what other people had decided,” Simonet recalls. “Eventually, we’d talk about the graphic elements of each story, and then I’d go out and search for stock images to cut out. Sometimes they’d let me draw something. I remember one day, the piece I was working on had something to do with war, so I spent hours searching through pictures of dead bodies. That was the last time imagery made me sick to my stomach. Nowadays, I can handle pictures of anything.”

When the Onion relocated its offices to Chicago, Simonet found himself signing on with Adult Swim, which was forming a web team in New York, creating content to expand the company’s online presence. Simonet was initially brought in as a post-production assistant, but quickly branched out.

“Basically, I cemented my position by becoming indispensable,” he says, adding, “I know that sounds cocky, but I could do editing, motion graphics, and special effects, and I was a pretty fast worker. All of that is important in creating content for the web.”

After a few years, he was sent to the company’s headquarters in Atlanta, and “FishCenter Live” came about not long after.

“A lot of our fans remind me of me,” he says. “I’d be watching it myself if I weren’t making it.”

Simonet acknowledges that the only drawback to working with fish – many of whom become fan favorites, sea-lebrities of sorts – is their relatively short lifespans and vulnerability to fish diseases and fish-on-fish cannibalism.

“We’ve had fish funerals, we’ve frozen some of them, buried some,” he says. “Our first fish death was Dottie. It made me very sad, but I’ve become almost numb to it after the swath of deaths we had last year.”

With the success of his shows, and the freedom that comes from creating programs to be watched in the middle of the night, Simonet says he’s gradually finding more opportunities to express himself.

“I’m currently working on a cartoon show that might have a week-long run at 4 a.m., with five separate episodes,” he says. “It’s a big project, and it has lots of promise.”

As for his future, Simonet says he hopes to continue entertaining himself and others.

“Perhaps eventually reaching a bigger and bigger audience of like-minded individuals,” he adds. “People I can influence and corrupt with my unique, bizarre, privileged-idiot sensibility.”

Email david.templeton@sonomanews.com.

Watch a clip of Fish Center Live below:

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