After declaring bankruptcy, Vischer lost just about everything, including rights to Bob, his sidekick Larry the Cucumber and all the other “VeggieTales” characters, as well as all the songs he’d written.
“Everything fell apart because the dream I was pursuing wasn’t from God,” he told RNS. “It was about me and my insecurities.”
Even at the height of the “VeggieTales” success, he was skeptical of Christian consumer culture.
“I’ve always been looking around, saying, are we doing this right?” he said. “Is this what we are supposed to be like?”
Looking back, he has some ideas on why “VeggieTales” was so popular — which he first shared during a visit to Yale Divinity School at the invitation of theologian Miroslav Volf. The show was able to be both funny and sincere at the same time. It fit a need for parents who had grown up on David Letterman and “Beavis and Butt-Head,” where everything was a joke.
At “VeggieTales,” Vischer said, “it seemed like we were going to joke about everything.”
“Then we’d turn on a dime and tell kids that God made them special and he loved them very much,” he said. “I’ve said it was like David Letterman and Billy Graham had a love child and that was Bob the Tomato.”
Robert Vischer, Phil’s brother and dean of the University of St. Thomas law school in Minneapolis, said he’s proud of his older brother’s accomplishments. Phil, he said, is doing what he always has done: tell stories and try to make the world a better place.
“I think to be an effective storyteller, you have to have empathy,” said Robert. “You have to be able to help your audience get outside their own heads and inhabit the experience in perspective of someone else. I mean, that’s what great storytellers do. I think the way he has grown is consistent with how we all hope to grow, which is gradually widening his circle of empathy.”
Regrets from the Big Idea years, Phil Vischer said, include the fact that good people followed him as he chased his dreams and were hurt when things fell apart. “I wish there had been another way,” he said.
Like “VeggieTales” — and like the sunnily morose Vischer — the podcast mixes serious topics and humor.
A late December episode featured a wisecracking segment about honeybees using chicken manure to ward off murder hornets, followed by a discussion of the “Jericho March” in Washington, which protested the results of the 2020 presidential election.