Emily S. Whitten: A Weekend with Rob Paulsen
I’ve been super-lucky on two different weekends in the past month to have been able to spend significant time with the inestimable Rob Paulsen, voice actor extraordinaire (and all-around nice guy). It’s been a fantastic experience.
If by some chance you don’t know who Rob is (which is something voice actors sometimes run into, since they are recognized by their characters’ voices rather than their own names or faces) just take a look at his Wikipedia and you’ll quickly figure it out. Or, see if you recognize any of the following characters: Raphael of the 1987 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles; Donatello of the current TMNT; Yakko Warner, Doctor Otto Scratch’n’sniff, and Pinky of Animaniacs and Pinky & the Brain; Carl Wheezer of Jimmy Neutron; Mark Chang of The Fairly Oddparents; Bobble of Tinker Bell; Bravoman and Alphaman of Bravoman…is it starting to click now? If not, just keep going down the list at IMDB and I guarantee it will!
The first weekend, I sat down with Rob at the San Diego Comic-Con for a really fun video chat. We covered a lot of ground – including Rob’s awesome podcast in which he talks with other great animation talents; the experience of meeting fans, and of fan reactions to his voices; what it’s like to get to work with all of your friends; the freedom that voice acting provides in comparison to on-screen acting; which characters Rob identifies with; the Pinky & the Brain episode for which he won an Emmy Award; working on Animaniacs; singing in cartoon voices; character development; and his current projects, such as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Bravoman. And of course, on the video he did some of the great voices for which he is known – and he sang, too!
You can see the whole video here, and I definitely recommend you give it a watch! Although I must warn you, I totally geek out over the voices, because I really can’t not. So be prepared for the geeking. (And please excuse the odd angle; all of the furniture in the Hard Rock Hotel is either really high or really low!)
This past weekend, I got to hang out with Rob again, when he came to do a public appearance at The National Press Club in Washington, D.C. We had a great crowd, and everyone had a fantastic time. The fans who came to see Rob delighted me by spontaneously singing along with the Animaniacs theme song and other music I’d queued up to play before Rob came out to talk; and Rob delighted everyone with his discussion of his career, answers to audience questions, and (of course) his voices and singing. And yes; yes, he did sing Yakko’s World. He then stayed to meet every fan and sign autographs for almost two-and-a-half hours! It was a great night.
The next day, I got to experience two things I’d never been a part of before, and both experiences were remarkable in very different ways. In the morning, I tagged along while Rob did something he likes to try to do when he travels for his events – which was to go to a local hospital and visit with sick kids. I don’t know that I can properly describe how heartwarming it was to see the way Rob engaged with the kids, even the ones who were the most subdued due to being in the hospital for a long time or feeling pretty sick, or how much it affected them. I watched as kids who were listless when we entered a room were smiling or laughing as we left; and was told by a hospital staff member that one boy and his mother (who were both laughing or smiling by the end of Rob’s visit) had been having a very tense and difficult time in the past few days; and by one young woman’s father that Rob’s visit was the first time she had smiled all day. What a great gift that is, to be able to brighten someone’s day like that; and what a great person Rob is, to realize that gift and give his time and energy to these kids.
My favorite part of the visit was when we walked into the dialysis room, in which about five kids were receiving treatment – and they were all watching Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles! Perfect timing! (Rob, pointing at the screen: “I’m that one.”) It was pretty surreally cool to hear one of Rob’s voices coming out of the TV as he chatted and signed pictures for the kids. All of the kids and hospital staff got a huge kick out of Rob’s visit; and there was even one teenage boy who was a big Animaniacs fan and knew just about every major character Rob did. So naturally, Rob sang Yakko’s World for him and the rest of the room. Aww.
That evening I sat in on a completely different sort of event – a private, limited admission voice acting workshop for aspiring voice actors. This was a side of Rob’s skill set that I hadn’t seen before, as the working actor took over while Rob listened carefully to each word and sound as students read scenes, and then gave advice tailored to each student’s specific performing strengths and weaknesses. As the students tried the scenes again, I could see the immediate effects of his advice in their improvement; and when he gave examples on how he’d read certain scenes, it was once again clear how skilled and polished a character actor Rob really is. He is a master of his art.
I wasn’t the only one to think so, either – as Rob demonstrated his take on a scene, one of the students in front of me actually gasped in wonder, and when she caught my eye, mouthed, “Isn’t he amazing?” He really is. My high school soccer coach, when the team was working together like clockwork and made a great play, used to say, in a phrase that encompassed the way everything had fallen perfectly into place, “It’s a beautiful thing.” And that’s the phrase that came to mind as I watched Rob working and the magic happening in that seminar room. Even as someone who’s not an actor, I could tell that this was an opportunity a student can’t get just anywhere; and also that it is different from what Rob does on the podcast or in Q&As, because it is such personal and immediate coaching. It’s a beautiful thing.
I realize I must sound pretty enthused, even for me, about how awesome Rob Paulsen is; but hey – that’s because he is totally awesome. Or, as Raphael might say, radical. I was fortunate to be able to spend some time with him and get a glimpse into his life as a voice actor, and would happily do it again any time. And that’s a fact, Jack.
Thanks for reading, and stay tuned because I’m still catching up on my SDCC coverage and there’s more to come! So Servo Lectio!
WEDNESDAY: Mike Gold
THURSDAY MORNING: Dennis O’Neil