"I'm a cheap device for exposition," Neil Peart says over the phone from California, establishing two things straightaway. One: he knows his function in his role in the Aqua Teen Hunger Force movie. Two: He's a comedy buff, who goes on to explain that he's quoting an old SCTV parody of Fantasy Island.
Absurd decisions typify the Aqua Teen creators - whose show does, after all, star a milkshake and packet of french fries as they quibble about disputes both mundane and cosmic. So when looking for big names to lend a voice to their show, they asked not for an animation veteran but instead for the drummer for Rush.
"We get lots of offers over the transom, of course - lots of things that someone would like us to be involved in, or to buy from them," says Peart, clearly in a lighthearted mood. But when it came to this movie, "Somebody in the office had an open mind."
Comedy has a strong role in the road life of Rush - Peart can recount scenes from Mel Brooks films like High Anxiety from memory as well as SCTV, "having seen them one million times on the tour bus." (Bandmate Geddy Lee, don't forget, assisted on Bob and Doug McKenzie's hit 1981 single "Take Off.") So the 54-year-old skin-pounder was amused by the prospect of portraying a slow-witted henchman of antagonist Walter Melon - especially since voiceover work gets close to fulfilling an old dream.
"It's always been an ambition of mine to be a voice-over guy for nature shows." To prove it, he offers up his second SCTV reference, solemnly intoning, "A terrestrial day-active animal, the woodchuck hibernates in snowy climes" - a precise quote from John Candy's dry parody of Hinterland Who's Who.
Peart, now preparing to promote Rush's new CD Snakes and Arrows, out May 1, was sold on the script when he reached the moment when "Walter Melon complains, 'Do I have to explain everything to you-' And my line is, 'Um, yes.'" But his character is no mere underling - he's a watermelon seed who plays the drums, and he gets to perform a supernatural ritual called the Drum Solo of Life.
That's a matter close to Peart's heart, he says, "given the malignant eye that's been cast on drum solos. Nobody does them any more, as though people haven't been cheering for, and dancing to, drum solos for almost a hundred years. My solo (in Rush shows) is nine minutes long, so I just gave them a bunch of 30-second clips to choose from that sounded spiritual."