10 Questions with Robert Lopez

Composer and lyricist Robert Lopez talks about how profanity, racism and Mormons led him to Winnie the Pooh

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Alexander Ho for TIME

You co-wrote the Broadway hit The Book of Mormon, which is extremely profane. How hard was it to turn around and get inside the wholesome head of Winnie the Pooh?

Pretty easy. I'm the type of guy who likes to kind of pad about and look for things to eat. I actually play the part of Pooh's tummy. I'm the uvular trill that's his tummy growl.

The Book of Mormon pokes fun at Orlando and The Lion King. Did Disney execs see the show before hiring you for Pooh?

I think [Mormon] is done with love. People see it as a gentle poke in the stomach.

The "Hakuna Matata" parody that translates as "F--- You, God" — that's a gentle poke?

People try not to think about what's going on in sub-Saharan Africa. They edit it out of their daily lives. Especially Americans. We prefer a fantasy version of Africa. What would Mormon missionaries' expectations be of going to Uganda? Their only reference for it would be The Lion King.

What are your beliefs?

I'm sort of agnostic. I grew up Catholic and switched to Episcopalian in college because I sang in churches to have money to buy pizza and french fries.

Video: A conversation with composer and lyricist Robert Lopez

You switched denominations for remunerative reasons?

Honestly, the music in the Episcopal Church is better. But that led to kind of a crisis of faith. Growing up, I'd take Communion and get this kind of shiver, like, Oh, that's God. But then going to Mass so much and singing in choir as your job, you begin to realize how much artifice is in a church, with the organ and the incense and the music. And you realize that church is a prototypical, very ancient form of musical theater.

We have two Mormons running for President. Would you vote for a Mormon?

I'd be more likely to vote for a Democrat. But I do think that Mormons approach life with a lot of rigor and a moral center. And from a strategic standpoint, I'd rather a Mormon candidate get the nomination.

Matt Stone and Trey Parker, who co-wrote Mormon with you, are one of comedy's most successful duos. What's it like working with them?

There are a lot of moments of being doubled over [with laughter]. I'd say Matt definitely has the head for business and Trey is more of the songwriting guy.

Is comedy a pressure valve for stressful issues in society?

One of the things that makes Pooh funny as well as Mormon is that they're both about things we don't talk about. In Winnie the Pooh, a lot of the characters have serious flaws: Pooh is sort of a food addict. Rabbit is OCD, and Owl is a compulsive liar.

You wrote a song called "Everyone's a Little Bit Racist." Did it come from experience?

Yeah. My dad was a very progressive '60s liberal. But his mom, who came from the Philippines — you had to close your ears at the dinner table with her and look past it toward the love. But I began to realize this is not just my grandmother. This is everybody. I think it's sort of an evolutionary trait. People are born with the ability to make judgments. And they can't help but use the information they have to divine something about the world they're in. Making categorical judgments, in large helps our society.

In Pooh, Eeyore sings about his derriere. Couldn't help yourself?

The story focuses on Eeyore's missing tail. It was hard not to mention where the tail would go if it were found.