A Twisty History of Bop It
Dan Klitsner was good at designing toilet bowl cleaner bottles, but he wanted more.
It was the early 1990s, and Klitsner was a designer of consumer products. Those cleaners with the ergonomic necks that lean into the corners of the porcelain? That was Klitsner. It may have made bathroom cleaning duties easier, but it wasn’t creatively satisfying.
What Klitsner really wanted to do was get into the toy business. And before long, he got his wish, birthing one of the most innovative toys of the 1990s: Bop It, which fulfilled Klitsner’s desire to design a toy that controlled the kid, rather than the kid controlling the toy.
After getting out of the bowl cleaner business, Klitsner—who graduated from the ArtCenter College of Design in Pasadena, California—went to work for Discovery Toys designing preschool playthings. One day in 1993, he was sitting in his personal studio when he started thinking about ways he could make kids move from their stationary positions on the couch and thought it would be interesting to have a remote control that controlled the child. To switch channels, a person would have to smash the hammer-shaped remote. If they wanted to adjust the volume, they needed to twist a knob.
Klitsner called them Remote Out-of-Controls and developed a prototype featuring a twist, pull, and “bop” action. He showed it to toy companies but couldn’t get anyone interested. He added an LCD screen to the hammer, but that didn’t quite work, either.
Instead, Klitsner decided to do away with the connection to the television altogether. Rather than the kid using the toy to control something, the toy would manipulate the player, barking commands to twist it, pull it, or bop it—which is where Klitsner came up with the name, and which is often styled with an exclamation point.
He designed a prototype crafted out of foam and shaped like a baton. He used his own voice for commands. If a player failed to complete a task in the proper sequence, the familiar “D’oh” refrain of Homer Simpson was heard. (Klitsner knew he’d never be able to keep it in the final product; he just wanted to demonstrate how the toy could pick on players.)
Bop It was inspired in part by Simon, the electronic game introduced in 1978 that requires players to observe a light sequence on the device and then try to press buttons in the same sequence. More importantly, Bop It was not only fun to play with—it was fun to watch others attempt to play. When players stumbled, a voice heckled them. (“Fail-tastic, my man.”)
This time, toy companies were receptive. Klitsner agreed to license it to Hasbro, which released it in 1996 to strong sales. The company warned Klitsner that toys have a shelf life, and that Bop It may not be long for this world—three years at most. But Bop It defied convention by having stronger sales in the second year. Two years after that, a revised version, the pretzel-shaped Bop It Extreme, saw a 50 percent increase in units sold even though it cost $5 more. Klitsner didn't just have a successful toy—he had a franchise.
Several iterations of Bop It have since been released, including Bop It Smash (a dumbbell-shaped toy that features lights and sounds), Bop It Blast, Bop It Bounce, and tie-ins with the Bratz doll line and Tetris. A 2016 version added Sing It and Selfie It commands to better reflect the times. Most are voiced by Buddy Rubino, who took over as the vocal performer for Bop It in 2008, a performance he once compared to his natural cadence after 10 energy drinks.
And although Homer’s dialogue didn’t appear in the finished product, there was a Simpsons crossover of sorts. In a 2009 episode, Bart, Lisa, and Maggie are playing a game called Bonk It with such enthusiasm it causes Homer to veer off the road.