LOS ANGELES, Feb. 27 (UPI) -- The notion that comedy writers are just kids who never grew up is an old Hollywood cliché. But in the case of Steve Oedekerk, who wrote and produced the Oscar-nominated "Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius" and is the writer, director and star of "Kung Pow! Enter the Fist," it seems to be true.
Callers on hold to Oedekerk's office are entertained by a male voice -- Oedekerk's, as it turns out -- running through a repertoire of squealing animal and baby noises.
And Oedekerk is so personally open to kids' ideas that when his nephew asked what Jimmy Neutron's favorite drink is -- and his daughter volunteered that it might be burping soda -- he used that notion as the movie's closing gag.
Another sign of someone who's still a kid at heart is a workspace that resembles a giant playroom. Oedekerk's suburban home has a sprawling office in the backyard decorated with goofy cow sculptures and cymbal-clapping toy monkeys.
The set-up allows Oedekerk to maximize family time with his wife, Tonie, and their two small daughters, Zoe, 6; and Isabella, 3; while putting in long hours on several projects at once.
A former stand-up comic, Oedekerk has been on the Hollywood fast track since working with Jim Carrey on "Ace Ventura: Pet Detective" and then writing and directing the sequel. Other screenwriting credits include "Patch Adams" and "The Nutty Professor."
These days Oedekerk is one of the busiest men in Hollywood, even though he's not technically IN Hollywood. His home and headquarters are in San Juan Capistrano (where the famous swallows return each year), about 1 1/2 hours south and an entire mindset away.
He enjoys being far from the Hollywood social circuit. "No one understands the entertainment industry at all here," Oedekerk says happily, recalling how when he was directing the "Ace Ventura" sequel, one of the neighbors asked in hushed, awestruck tones if he ever got to, you know, actually MEET Jim Carrey.
Reviewers often find Oedekerk's humor infuriatingly puerile. "Kung Pow!" has been generally panned -- "Enter the foot, seeking Oedekerk's ass," snapped the City Pages movie critic -- but the ultra-low-budget chopsocky satire cost $8 million and has made that back many times over.
"Jimmy Neutron," on the other hand, was well-received and just earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Animated Feature Film. This is a new category beginning this year.
The other contenders are "Monsters, Inc." and "Shrek." And Oedekerk likes to point out that "Jimmy Neutron" cost $30 million -- only about one-third of each of its two rivals -- and has already grossed more than $80 million.
He's carved out a niche making low-budget, big impact hits that turn into fountains of money. A "Jimmy Neutron" feature film sequel is already in the works. The TV series will debut on Nickelodeon this fall, in the biggest marketing campaign in the cable channel's history.
"It started off as a theory," Oedekerk described his business to Variety, "and that is to make on-the-edge live-action and animated films that can come close to grossing their budgets in the opening weekend."
Oedekerk also had an animated IMAX film, "Santa Claus vs. The Snowman," due in November. He was inspired to do this after being bitterly disappointed when he took his family to see the IMAX "Nutcracker" last year.
"I was so excited to take the kids, because I just love IMAX theaters, and man, it just blew," he recalls.
He's also created a series of "Thumbmation" spoofs available on DVD, in which digitally animated thumbs with human faces (some of them Oedekerk's) parody blockbuster films like "Titanic" and "Star Wars."
Oedekerk is dressed in typical comedy writer style (T-shirt, shorts, sneakers), but in his case the sneakers are vamped up with Jimmy Neutronish pogo-stick springs on the heels.
"Yeah, I do a lot of kid jazz," Oedekerk says, "and clearly it's Fun Guy's home around here. But I'm pretty strict too 'cause I was a nightmare growing up."
"I remember what bothered me to this day was having somebody say, 'Because I say so.' So I don't really yell or act tough. But no matter what you do, you turn into Get Off the Rocks Guy. I was the kid that played on the rocks, so the last thing I wanted to become was, 'Uh, hello? Rocks? How many times have I said ... OFF THE ROCKS!'
The Oedekerk girls know less than the typical Hollywood child about much of Hollywood's product. Zoe hasn't seen "Ace Ventura" or "The Nutty Professor," which are rated PG-13.
"We don't really do a lot of pushing that I do movies around here," Oedekerk says. "Zoe knows it, but it's still sort of a kid knowledge. Like she'll see some random film and say, 'Did you do that one Daddy?'"
Oedekerk and his sister were raised in the modest Orange County, Calif. suburb of Huntington Beach. "My dad gave us the illusion we were upper-middle-class while working at Albertson's" -- a Southern California supermarket chain -- "his whole life," Oedekerk recalls.
"My parents were absolutely the greatest humans on the planet," he adds. "They lived for us, literally. When I grew up my backyard was a third the size of this room here, and now Zoe and Isabella have all this amazing space, so I'm sure there's going to be plenty of talks down the road."
Steve and Tonie met when she was working at a department store with his older sister. They've been together 13 years, married for 9, and Tonie has been a stay-at-home mom since she became pregnant with Zoe, rarely even traveling with her husband on location.
"It was fun hanging out on sets," Tonie recalls. "But once Zoe was crawling around on this gross, dirty hotel room floor, and that's when it all changed for me."
But other than his circumstances, nothing much has changed for Oedekerk. He still enjoys that classic children's game of demanding you choose between two imaginary and entirely appalling alternatives.
"Mine are really good, they're hard to figure out," he says. "The most left-brain, stodgy businessman will immediately start going, 'Well, I don't KNOW if I'd rather have three Sumo wrestlers sit on me for an hour, or be stung by 12 bees at the back of my neck. How heavy ARE these Sumo wrestlers?'"
"Zoe just started doing it, but it's so wonderfully not honed yet," he adds. "This is a literal one from two nights ago: 'OK, Daddy, would you rather feel really, really full, or have a gorilla pound on your head for a hundred years.'"
"They're always just that easy. So I go, 'I think I'd rather be really, really full.' And she goes, 'Yeah. Me, too!'"