Tagged: John DiMaggio

Emily S. Whitten: Geeks Who Drink


At last! Someone has come up with a TV trivia show that is completely Relevant to My Interests! A.K.A. Geeks Who Drink, the new geek trivia show on Syfy, hosted by actor and Nerd Machine founder Zachary Levi.

I first heard about the show at this year’s Nerd HQ, and was immediately excited to watch it. It’s not that I don’t enjoy trivia games that make me feel stupid for not knowing, e.g., the year the War of the Roses ended, or what countries border Estonia (although I actually do know that one now, thanks to a friend who hails from that location). But I much prefer feeling stupid during a trivia competition about geek facts, because: a) I’m more likely to know at least some answers and thus feel stupid for a smaller overall percentage of the competition; and b) even when I don’t know the answers it’s fun, because this is the type of trivia I most like to learn and retain. Why? I don’t know – probably because I’m just a big ol’ geek.

I got a chance to tune in for last week’s episode of Geeks Who Drink, and learned that this trivia show is more fun than most for me since along with Zac Levi doing a stellar job as the host, and all participants enjoying the drinking aspect of the show as they try to win, the episodes feature geek guests that I’m actually familiar with; including last week’s, which featured my awesome and talented buds voice actor John DiMaggio and geek fashionista Stephanie Pressman. It’s always more fun to watch when you have people you know to root for! (Although since they were on different teams, I was kind of hard-pressed to figure out which team to go with.)

The show, which grew out of the traveling pub quiz Geeks Who Drink, is set up like most trivia competitions, with teams (in this case, teams of three). Some rounds are your typical Q&A; but other rounds include fun geektastic action challenges like, e.g., arranging six game consoles in order from oldest to newest, or using the Force (and a little help from your team) to slash through balloons with lightsabers while blindfolded. And, of course, there are also other cool geeky touches like the names of the teams (DiMaggio’s team “On a Bender” was particularly appropriate for a drinking trivia game featuring the voice of Bender) and the little themed zingers and asides Levi throws out while hosting – elements which make the show feel like the kind of thing you’d find and appreciate with your Tribe (a.k.a. geek friends) during a Comic-Con.

Those elements, and Levi’s approachable nature and easygoing quick-witted hosting style add to the appeal of the show. And the way the show has taken off on Twitter with the @GeeksWhoDrinkTV folks and many fans interacting to share their cocktails, answers, and enthusiasm before and during each episode makes watching the show if you use social media feel more like participating in a fun group activity than just sitting on your couch with your favorite booze.

Another great thing is that with a show like this, you can also take that feeling one step further (as I plan to do shortly) by hosting your own Geeks Who Drink TV night at home with friends while watching the show (house party, whut whut!). Naturally if you do this, you will have to serve appropriately geeky drinks. I’m thinking for my party, I’ll break out my Captain America, Superman, and Batman ice cube trays, and serve my ever-popular recipe for Discworldian scumble.

And fortunately for me and anyone else who can’t always be home on a Thursday night at 11:00 p.m., the show’s scheduled timeslot, or who might want to air a few old episodes before the newest one when throwing a party, you can watch episodes you missed on Syfy. I definitely recommend you give this and Geeks Who Drink in general a try – because not only did I have fun cheering at the TV when I was able to answer questions like, “Which Marvel Comics character first uttered the phrase, ‘Avengers, Assemble!’?” (“Thor! Thor!”) and what movies Samuel L. Jackson has starred in (nobody got Kingsman: The Secret Service??), but I also enjoyed squirreling away new geek knowledge; and found myself smiling, laughing, clapping, or occasionally shouting at the TV (but in a good way) throughout the whole show.

So I suggest you join me and the ranks of trivia buffs who are getting their geek on by watching Geeks Who Drink on SyFy Thursday nights; and until next time, Servo Lectio!


Emily S. Whitten: “I Know That Voice” Premiere(s)!

whitten-art-131112-150x60-9439173How often does one get to go to both the West and East Coast premieres of a movie – if you’re not involved in it, that is? Probably not that often. But I just did, and that was pretty darned cool. This past week, I got to experience the world premiere of I Know That Voice at Grauman’s Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood; and then two days later, the East Coast premiere of the voice acting documentary at The National Press Club right here in D.C.

If you read my columns at all, you’ll know I’m a big fan of the talents of the voiceover industry and of this documentary. So it was a ton of fun to go to the world premiere, because literally 80% of the extensive cast was in attendance, and everyone was really happy to be there.

It was fun to watch the red carpet go by before the show, particularly since everyone was having such a great time and a lot of folks were goofing off for the photographers (and I did take some pictures, but was mostly enjoying the atmosphere). And it was a total trip to sit there and watch the documentary with all of the folks in the film – who cheered the first time each of their peers appeared on the screen, and I cheered right along with ‘em. The theater was full of the happy, positive energy of a group of people who were really excited to be featured in this one-of-a-kind film; and once the film got rolling, the room was also full of laughter, since there are a lot of great funny bits in the documentary. It was a good time all around.

After the screening, director and producer Lawrence Shapiro and producers John DiMaggio and Tommy Reid were joined at the front by Andrea Romano, Rob Paulsen, Maurice LaMarche, and Tom Kenny for a question and answer session; and that was a different kind of experience too, given that the voice actors were asking each other questions at this particular Q&A, with predictably great results. At one relevant point in the conversation, John DiMaggio also pointed out June Foray, who was in attendance sitting just a couple of rows in front of me, and the entire theater gave the accomplished thespian, still working at the age of ninety-five, a well-deserved standing ovation.

And, then, of course, there was the afterparty – where I barely ate any of the lovely food that was available, despite being super hungry, because there were so many fun conversations to be had. Rob Paulsen, always a delight, mentioned a project he’ll soon be working on for which he’s been hired primarily as a singer (Hurrah!). Carlos Alazraqui shared that although Off the Curb is no longer in production at this time, he’s working on a new independent animated project that we may hear more about shortly. Jess Harnell introduced me to his lovely fiancée, Christine (Congrats! You guys are too cute!). Bill Farmer was happy to hear that I’d enjoyed his appearance on Rob Paulsen’s live show, and was all around the warmest, nicest human being you could possibly want to talk to. And so was Fred Tatasciore, who is happily less imposing in person than one of the main voices he’s known for, The Hulk.

I discovered that Tom Kenny is a most excellent conversationalist, of the sort one could talk with for hours; and if you are lucky enough to be in conversation with both Dan Povenmire and Dee Bradley Baker, you will automatically feel more intelligent just for being there, and probably learn something, too. It was great to talk with Maurice LaMarche again, who I’d last chatted with after midnight in a diner at Dragon Con (ah, conventions), and James Arnold Taylor, looking as dapper as when we met at SDCC. And of course it was wonderful to see John DiMaggio, Larry Shapiro, and Tommy Reid enjoying the success of the project they’ve poured so much of their time and energy into.

And to top it all off, I got to meet a couple of excellent Twitter friends in person, a.k.a. Hayley, and Kristy of Voice Chasers, who became my premiere-buddy for the evening, and also took some really great photos. I really couldn’t have asked for a better night.

And then… two days later… it was time to see John and the film again for the East Coast premiere, which I was happy to have put together at The National Press Club. We had a great crowd, and it was really neat to be able to experience a fan audience reacting to the documentary and laughing in all the right places. I don’t have to speculate as to whether they enjoyed the film because, at the end, they gave John and the film a standing ovation!

But before that, he also answered questions, about topics like the process of recording your lines with a cast or by yourself; the weirdness and wonderfulness of Adventure Time; and my favorite, what a conversation between Bender and Barry White would sound like. And then he talked about the origin of Barbados Slim and sang the Bacon Pancakes song while signing autographs for the fans. Whattaguy.

I know I’ve devoted several columns to this documentary over the past few months; but that’s only because it really is worth watching – so check it out this December, when it will be available on Video On Demand, iTunes, and DVD.

And until next time, Servo Lectio!




Marc Alan Fishman: A Tale Of Two Cons

fishman-art-131102-150x151-4660005This past weekend, Unshaven Comics closed its convention year out with Detroit Fanfare. In addition to the posh amenities of Dearborn’s finest hotel, we were also graced with the duty of completing a mitzvah: schlepping John Ostrander. Now, far be it from me to pelt you goyim with so much of the Jew-speak, but I’m finding myself a little verklempt. I’d ask that you talk amongst yourselves, but that would require you to skip to the comment bar before I have a chance to say something inflammatory.

Before we get to the meat and potatoes, I want to take a brief time-out to note just how awesome it was to drive John to and from the convention. Outside the small talk all near-strangers are prone to pelt back and forth, I’d like to think that even with as little as four or five hours in cars, or sharing meals, we Unshaven Lads got to know a hero and industry legend a bit more. Aside from sharing column space with the man and trading a few e-mails back and forth, my only other real experience with Mr. Ostrander was a few years back at Unshaven’s first foray at said Fanfare. We broke bread over the breakfast table one morning, and spent the majority of that ride home still convincing ourselves we’d had a meal with someone who took up significant shelf space in our private collections.

Aside from all the Ostrandering we did, Fanfare this year did as we’d hoped: it gave us an opportunity to see a sales gain from the previous year, meet up with old fans, make new ones, and spend just a little time making with the chit-chat amongst our fellow creators. That being said, I got more than a bit Jewy on the car-ride home, after we’d dropped off John. Matt and I, starving, stopped at a McDonalds on the way back to Chicago. Over fresh-from-the-fryer McNuggets (and screw it, real chicken or not, they are damn tasty when you’re starving), I looked over the hard numbers from the year. Specifically, the cost for our table verses the actual sales numbers we pulled down. And here is where the story gets interesting.

As per my witty title, it’s apropos that I open the lid on the jar of facts and figures for Detroit. Two times this year, Unshaven Comics made the trek to the Motor City. In the spring, we attended the aptly named Motor City Comic Con. Housed in nearby Novi, Michigan, the show boasts a large open convention center floor space and a multitude of celebrity guests. The big draws this year? Norman Reedus and Stan Lee. By the power of those names alone, the show suffered from what was later dubbed a humanity bomb, where fans literally waited hours outside the convention hall to even be able to walk in the doors. As creators, our table cost us $268. This was because the show-runners decided that each artist table would cover a single badge. Unshaven Comics’ trifecta-of-triumph required the purchase of two additional badges. By the end of the show, we’d sold 189 books. In 2012, we sold a scant 94 books. The increase of 101% in book sales was certainly enough to allow us to declare a stupendous victory.

Or so it would seem.

As noted, Detroit Fanfare is smart to wait long enough for fans to be hungry for con-goodness, some six months later. Also smart? The show opts to stay away from Detroit proper. The show takes over much of the Adoba Hotel and Suites. Far different from the Suburban Showplace, the hotel-centric con inhabits multiple ballrooms throughout the main floor. Media guests are also par for the course, with this years’ main delights including Billy West, John DiMaggio, and Tyler Mane, to name a few. Unlike Motor City, Unshaven detected no Humanity Bomb. All we really felt was a Walking Dead feeling to the fandom throughout the weekend. With multiple rooms to meander about, fans simply didn’t coagulate in waves like we’re used to in the big rooms. Instead, we simply saw a slow stream of passersby, many of whom were not in much mood to buy. That being said, we rounded out with 143 book sales, besting last year’s 126. Oh, and the table cost? $170, and that’s with the single extra badge we needed to purchase.

When I calculated the final costs of both shows – including gas, hotel, and meals – the numbers didn’t lie. The shows ended up netting Unshaven Comics nearly identical profit. Where Motor City showcased arguably larger stars and boasted a broader attendance, Fanfare’s more affordable table costs and attached hotel (with generous discount) offset a smaller audience. Motor City’s single-room show makes for better traffic flow, but Fanfare’s lower ticket price means fans more likely apt to purchase. At the end of the day, when Unshaven wants to work smarter, the devil is in the details. Fanfare occurs at the tail end of the year, when no other major shows tend to run. Motor City faces off against larger anime conventions and a few Comic Cons to boot. Now that we know we’ll end up with roughly the same amount of money from either? Well, I guess it’s just the best of times to be a lil’ indie publisher.

SUNDAY: John Ostrander

MONDAY: Mindy Newell


Emily S. Whitten: News and Fun from NYCC!

Whitten Art 131015I love visiting New York City, and New York Comic Con is one of my favorite shows. I always have a great time, and this year was no exception. One other thing that remains consistent every year I go is that it all goes by in a total whirlwind blur, and I can barely remember all the things I saw and did, or when they occurred.

But for you, my faithful readers who may not have been able to attend, I’ll try to remember some of the best parts of the weekend, and, as Inigo Montoya would say, “sum up.” So here we go! In no particular order, some of the coolest experiences I had in NYC:

I saw First Date, the Broadway musical starring Zachary Levi, and it was fantastic. I also interviewed Zac at The Nerd Machine booth during the con – so stay tuned for my review of the show and my interview, coming soon! While at the booth, I saw some cool celebrities come by to donate their time for charity pictures with fans, with all money going to benefit the excellent cause of Operation Smile. I think that whole concept is pretty awesome; and it was fun to see Seth Green (who liked my Harley Quinn dress (thanks, Seth!) and showed us his new S.H.I.E.L.D. badge), Greg Grunberg, and David Duchovny all stopping by at various times to donate their time for a good cause.

I went through Artists Alley, which remains one of my favorite parts of NYCC. There I visited with some of the fantastic creators on hand, like Greg Pak, who has a new project called Code Monkey Save World which features characters from Jonathan Coulton songs; Jeremy Dale, whose creator-owned all-ages series Skyward has really hit the stratosphere; and Reilly Brown, who’s working on a new Marvel Infinite (digital only) Deadpool series with series regular writers Gerry Duggan and Brian Posehn, to launch in January 2014. I also chatted with Mark Brooks and learned he’s the new Deadpool cover artist starting this month; and with Georges Jeanty, who will be doing the art for the upcoming Serenity: Leaves on the Wind miniseries that Zack Whedon is writing for Dark Horse (yay!).

Because I hadn’t walked enough already (eep!) I then walked the con floor, which literally took an entire day, and was, as usual, chock-full of cool merchandise I coveted. I tried to exercise restraint, but did come away with a couple of must-have Marvel exclusives (like the Skottie Young Deadpool glass and the Asgardian Periodic Table shirt) and other little collectibles (like the Littlest Lego Star Wars Rebel Pilot Ever, at 2 cm tall!). I also got some fun freebies from the Marvel booth (like Thor #1, Ultimate Spider-Man #1, an Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. poster, and Guardians of the Galaxy trading cards); snagged a couple of The Hunger Games: Catching Fire posters of Katniss and Peeta; picked up the preview issue of Dean Haspiel and Mark Waid’s new project, The Fox; swung by the Dark Horse booth and finally met long-time Twitter-friend @VictorGischler and picked up the first issue of his new series, Kiss Me, Satan, which I’ve been wanting to read; met Richard Clark and picked up the first issue of his new miniseries with Corey Taylor of Slipknot and Stone Sour, House of Gold and Bones; stopped by the Unshaven Comics booth and picked up their Samurnauts Genesis issue; and caught up with awesome Walking Dead artist Charlie Adlard.

Along with all of the cool comics stuff and people to see, some of the most stellar voice actors working today were at various booths doing signings for fans; so of course I said hello to some of the great voice actors I’ve interviewed for ComicMix, like John DiMaggio (who signed a cool Fry and Bender pic a fellow fan gave me); Billy West; and Rob Paulsen, who was at the ShiftyLook booth talking about Bravoman. Stopping by ShiftyLook was cool, because I also got to meet Shiftylook creator Dax Gordine and editor Ash Paulsen (yes, he’s Rob’s son) and chat with them about the upcoming Bravoman shows, which will also feature Jennifer Hale as new character Bravowoman, who has cool superpowers and is not being brought into the show as a love interest for Bravoman (thank goodness, because that trope is so tired).

Speaking of voice actors, pretty much all the panels I made it to this year were voice actor-related, since they’re always so much fun. I started with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles panel (and FYI, also interviewed TMNT executive producer Ciro Nieli and Michelangelo voice actor Greg Cipes, so stay tuned for that). The panel featured Nieli, Cipes, story editor Brandon Auman, Rob Paulsen (Donatello), and Hoon Lee (Master Splinter), and I was super excited when they decided to screen the entire first episode of Season 2, since of course I wasn’t near a TV to watch it on Saturday. The first episode was great, and shows a shift towards a slightly darker tone, as the Turtles accidentally loose a bunch of mutagen canisters on the city, mutate a friend, and realize their responsibility for the mess they’ve created and for fixing it. I can’t wait to see how all of that plays out. At the panel they also showed some great unfinished clips that highlighted both a few upcoming story details (like Michelangelo’s, erm, interesting cooking skills, and Master Splinter answering a cheese-wheel phone!) and the cool process involved in taking a show like TMNT from concept to full animation. And of course all of the voice actors graced us with bits of dialogue in their character voices – including Hoon Lee, who at the request of one of the other panelists, read a menu description as it has never been read before; and Greg Cipes, who sang a hilarious little song that accompanies Michelangelo’s cooking, and then a little booyakasha ditty with Rob Paulsen.

The next voice actor panel I went to was the I Know That Voice panel, about the voice acting documentary that John DiMaggio is executive producing, which comes out this December and premieres in Hollywood on November 6. I went even though I’ve already seen and reviewed the documentary, because I knew it would be a good time. The panel was fantastic, and packed to the gills. We only barely got in and had to stand in the back for the first half. NYCC definitely should have put it in a bigger room (especially considering the SDCC panel, which was packed with about 2500+ fans!). The panel featured John, Rob Paulsen, Billy West, and casting and voice director Andrea Romano, and John actually screened the first fifteen minutes of the documentary; after which he opened the floor to questions, and the usual voice actor hilarity ensued (one of my favorite moments was when John called on a Batman cosplayer standing with a Harley Quinn and commented on the pairing. The Batman quipped, “Don’t tell the Joker!” To which John responded, smooth as anything, “You just did!” Classic). John shared the moment when he first realized he wanted to be an actor, which was cool; and John and Rob shared jobs they’d like to get that they haven’t been called for yet (Rico in the upcoming Penguins of Madagascar movie; and Donnie in the new TMNT movie. Call them, movie folks!! I can’t imagine why you wouldn’t!). In the same breath John and Billy also hinted at Matt Groening’s future plans for either the continuance of Futurama, or perhaps a new Groening show on which Billy and John might work. (OMG!)

The last voice actor panel I went to was the Adventure Time panel, which was also a blast (and I have never seen so many Finns and Jakes in one place, I tell you what. The little kid Finns were the cutest). They showed some great show clips, featuring Lumpy Space Princess giving romance advice, Jake getting stuck in quicksand, and a truly harrowing fight with The Lich; and of course answered questions. John DiMaggio shared a cool story about creator Pendleton Ward’s childhood aspirations, and Ward shared some great insights about his creative process. Ward also talked about how much he identifies with Lumpy Space Princess. And then, because the panel wasn’t already awesome enough, DiMaggio sang the bacon pancakes song and had the audience sing it too; and Jeremy Shada sang the Baby Finn song. And then we all left a voicemail for Brian Posehn, because that’s how John DiMaggio rolls at panels.

Whew! So I think that about sums up my experiences at NYCC this year; and what great experiences they were. I hope you all enjoyed the recap, and if you feel like you still need more, then just check out all the cool pictures I took.

And until next time, Servo Lectio!




Emily S. Whitten: John DiMaggio’s I Know That Voice

whitten-art-130924-150x144-8383146At Dragon Con a few weeks ago, I was delighted to catch up with voice actor John DiMaggio (a.k.a. Bender from Futurama) once again. John was at the con for several voice actor and Futurama panels, and also to continue spreading the word about his new voice actor documentary, I Know That Voice, which I interviewed him and the other producers about during San Diego Comic-Con.  John was actually selling limited collector’s edition/advance copies of the documentary at the con, so not only did I check in with him on further documentary news, but I also snagged a copy of the film! Read on for our short I Know That Voice follow-up interview, and my review of the documentary!

What has the reception to the I Know That Voice documentary been at Dragon Con, and have you sold some of the advance copies?

It’s been really wonderful. People know about it; people are excited about it. I’ve been able to sell some copies; I wish I could sell more, but there are only a certain amount that we are going to sell that’ll be collectors’ items. But we’re working on a distribution deal right now, with a company called Go Digital, and another company called In Demand. This is all in negotiation; but In Demand wants to release it for a month on cable stations, to expose it, and they’ll plug it. And then we’re going to release it digitally on all the VoD (Video on Demand) platforms, like iTunes, Amazon, Hulu – everything. So that will be in December of this year. We’re getting it out there! People are going to be able to see it!

Will we be seeing any extras on the DVD?

Right now, our special con edition of the film is just that – it’s just the film, with no chapters, and no special anything to it; but yes, there are absolutely going to be extras on the final DVD. It will have all sorts of bonus features. It will have chapters; it will have extra interviews with some of the people that we interviewed – I mean, we had over 150 interviews, so we couldn’t, naturally, fit all of that into the documentary. So we’ve got extra stuff – extra clips from a whole bunch of people that we’ve interviewed. Also, we have our Comic-Con panel at San Diego, where we talked about it – which was great. So we have that on video for everybody. When I get back to Los Angeles after Dragon Con, we’re going to do a commentary reel; so Tommy Reid and Larry Shapiro, the producer and director, and I, are going to do that. There might be some outtakes, I’m not sure. Lots of stuff!

That sounds great! Any other details you’d like to share?

Well – the reason I got these special con editions done was because I personally felt that we were dangling this in front of everybody for so long; and the thing is that we only had a tenth or a twentieth of the movie done when we originally did the trailer, and that was awhile ago. We announced it, and people were like, “Okay! Well where is it?” and we were like, “Well…we’re making it. Sorry!” So now we have it, and I wanted to get it to the people that really want it; the fans.  I wanted to do it. I really felt the need to let everybody know that it’s done. And here it is!

And of course we’re still going to honor our pre-order, on our VIP list on the website. I have enough copies for them; but we’re also going to have the final DVD done within the next month and a half; so if they want to wait, they can get the first dibs on that. If they want, I have these con copies, and I can get them to them. If they are on the preorder list, they can let us know. When I get back to L.A., what we’ll probably do is send out a newsletter or set up a PayPal site or something like that, and we’ll post that on the site and on the Facebook page. But we want everybody to know. And it’s funny, because Larry was saying to me, “John, they’re going to want special features! They’re going to want all this stuff.” And yeah, they are going to want it. But what they want is the film, mostly.

Well, and I’m going to buy the final copy, too.

See that’s the thing; people will keep buying it. If they like it, they’re going to buy the final one. And either is okay. I just needed proof that this thing was done, for the fans, and for me, too. But everything is all a go for the final product to come out soon; and it’s really exciting. I’m just hoping that the fans respond; and I think that they have here, and that they will continue to. When people know about it and hear about it, they’re thrilled; and that’s all I can ask.

•     •     •     •     •

Review – I Know That Voice

Voice actors are a fascinating contradiction in the entertainment industry. They are simultaneously loved by millions and recognized by few. Whereas passing an on-screen actor on the street is cause enough for most people to snap pictures or call a friend to share who they just spotted, those same people could be standing next to one of their favorite “voices” at a grocery store and never realize it. They could have a whole conversation with voice actor John DiMaggio and not know that they were talking to one of the lead actors of their favorite animated show – unless, of course, DiMaggio suddenly told them to “Bite my shiny metal ass!” in the voice of Bender from Futurama. Then they might fall over in happy shock.

Despite the anonymity of the industry, the men and women who give voice to thousands of animated characters are some of the most talented, versatile, and hard-working  members of the entertainment industry. This is what executive producer DiMaggio, producer and director Larry Shapiro, and producer Tommy Reid wanted to showcase in their upcoming documentary, I Know That Voice. DiMaggio says, “I wanted to honor these people. I wanted to show that my peers are…an incredibly talented bunch… I wanted to show them as champions of the industry.”

To do this, the documentary’s producers interviewed over 150 voice actors, casting and voice directors, creators, producers, voice teachers, and other luminaries about their experiences in the animation industry. These interviews are used in the film to explore every aspect of the voice acting profession, including its history; starting out in the business; taking on “legacy voices” first created by other voice actors; developing new characters; and the traits that delineate voice acting from on-screen acting, such as possessing the skills of musicality, physicality, and versatility. The documentary also explores the experience of celebrity for a group of extraordinarily talented people primarily known for voices that may not even sound like their own.

It’s not often that I watch a documentary with a constant smile and a frequent sense of wonder and delight – but that is what happened while watching I Know That Voice, which runs the gamut from serious discussions to whimsical humor. In large part, this is due to the main focus of the film, the actors themselves. As a whole, the titans of this industry come across as uniformly intelligent and clever, well-spoken, hard-working, dedicated, talented, wickedly funny, and warm and humble people. In discussing their work, they show a great respect for the industry and their peers, reverence for inspirations such as Mel Blanc and Daws Butler, and appreciation for the part they get to play in bringing animated characters to life for their fans.

This attitude is mirrored by the creators and directors who are also featured, and who clearly appreciate the talent inherent in successful voice actors. Emmy-winning voice director Ginny McSwain asks in her interview, “Does anybody realize how brilliant these actors are? Because they have to get every cryptic expression that you would do on camera, on a mic. They’re storytellers. That’s their gift.” Another director opines that these people are “the best method actors” in Hollywood; and I wouldn’t disagree.

Amongst those best-of-the-best featured in this film are legends like June Foray, Stan Freberg, and Mel Blanc (via archival footage and an interview with his son, Noel Blanc). Then there are beloved voices that I first encountered during my childhood and adolescence, like Rob Paulsen, Jess Harnell, Maurice LaMarche, Nancy Cartwright, Jim Cummings, and Billy West. And voices I’ve become better acquainted with as an adult, like Grey DeLisle, John DiMaggio, and Nolan North. If those names don’t ring a bell, I could instead say: Rocky the Flying Squirrel and Natasha; Tosh the Goofy Gopher; Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Porky Pig, and a ton of other Looney Tunes characters; Yakko Warner, Pinky, and Raphael; Wakko Warner, Roger Rabbit, and Ironhide; The Brain, Calculon, and Kif Kroker; Bart Simpson, Ralph Wiggum, and Chuckie Finster; Darkwing Duck, Monterey Jack, Winnie the Pooh and Tigger, too; Ren, Stimpy, Doug Funnie, Philip J. Fry, Professor Farnsworth, and Dr. Zoidberg; Azula, Vicky, and Catwoman; Bender Bending Rodriguez, Marcus Fenix, and Jake the Dog; and Superboy, The Kraang, and Deadpool.

If that seems like a dizzying list of characters, it’s only a tiny fraction of what each of those actors has voiced; and only a small selection of the large and talented group featured in this documentary. And seeing these amazing people break down how to do the difficult voice of Porky Pig, or what elements went into creating the beloved voice of Dr. Zoidberg, is a real treat; as is getting to see the faces behind the voices we know and love. We also get to see glimpses of the industry through the eyes of the working actor in the studio, which is fascinating to witness.

I Know That Voice is highly entertaining, as well as educational. For those who are fans of the industry, the documentary offers the rare opportunity to see all of your favorite voice actors discuss their craft in a comprehensive manner and do some of their most popular voices. For those unfamiliar with this aspect of the entertainment industry, this is an excellent introduction – and if you’re not a fan of these people at the beginning of the documentary, you will be by the end. For they are indeed champions of the industry, and it’s a joy to see a documentary like this celebrating them and exploring their craft.

Until next time, Servo Lectio!




Emily S. Whitten: On The Road At Dragon Con


By the time you read this, I’ll be winging my way out of Atlanta and back home; but as I write, I am still in the thick of the exciting events of Dragon Con! I’ve had some great fun this weekend, and it’s not even over yet!

So, what the heck have I done this weekend? Seriously, guys, what did I do? It’s all kind of a blur. A really fun blur, mind you! But…let me think…

Oh yes! I interviewed Michael Rooker, Maurice LaMarche, Raphael Sbarge, Charlie Schlatter, and Jim Butcher, and checked in with John DiMaggio for more news on his awesome voice actor documentary (which I now have!) so look for those interviews and a documentary review coming your way soon!

I also had some experiences you can only have at Dragon Con—like looking over a food table with Richard Hatch and then being asked if I wanted to be part of a documentary he’s doing about geek and nerd culture. To which I naturally said, “Sure, why not,” and went and got interviewed.

I then got to chat a bit with some of the other cool guests at the con. I asked James Cosmo (Game of Thrones) how they constructed the Wall for filming, and he told me that although some of it was CGI, they actually built a 400 to 500-foot wall in Northern Ireland with a working elevator—and then Kit Harrington (Jon Snow) got stuck in it halfway up.

I learned that Natalia Tena (Harry Potter, Game of Thrones) has known how to play the accordion for five years, that she picked it up “because I already knew piano and I just wanted to learn” – and that she’s in a band with the coolest name ever, “Molotov Jukebox.” How neat is that?

Seth Gabel shared that his character, the Count, was supposed to have a bigger story arc in Arrow, but Seth could only be on set for one day, so they couldn’t use the whole story. BUT he thinks he’ll be back, so maybe we’ll see that character arc yet…

Jamie Murray was delightful, and agreed that her character on Dexter was one that people loved to hate. She also shared that filming the crazy fire scene was “a bit dodgy,” but that she really loved that scene.

Kandyse McClure of Battlestar Galactica is very down-to-earth, and we had a great chat about all the cool things she’s learning to do during home renovations – like sand and stain furniture and weld things. Go, Kandyse!

Genelle Williams of Warehouse 13 told me she’s on a new show called Bitten that’s airing soon (but not picked up yet in the US), with Laura Vandervoort of Smallville, in which Laura plays the only female werewolf in a pack, and Genelle plays a werewolf’s girlfriend. Genelle reports that the show is really fun and that Laura’s werewolf is awesome because she’s a badass who hunts with the pack and doesn’t show vulnerability.

And from the Once Upon a Time panel, we learned from Jane Espenson that we will be seeing Ariel, Eric, and Ursula in the new season, and that Ariel may be somewhere other than Storybrooke (Neverland, perhaps?). So that’ll be fun to see.

That’s all the Dragon Con news for now, but stay tuned for all the great Dragon Con interviews, and until next time, Servo Lectio!

Emily S. Whitten: Dee Bradley Baker is an Animal!

Whitten Art 130813Well, actually, he’s a lot of animals. From Perry the Platypus on Phineas and Ferb to Appa and Momo on Avatar: The Last Airbender, voice actor Dee Bradley Baker is the man behind a whole slew of animal and creature sounds you might not even guess could come from a human being. Of course, he also voices awesome speaking characters, such as all of the clones on Star Wars: The Clone Wars, and Klaus the German fish on American Dad! And then there are all of those video games he’s provided voices or sounds for, like the Halo series, Portal 2, Gears of War 1 – 3, Diablo III, Left 4 Dead 2, the Ben 10 video games, and several Marvel and DC games, including Batman: Arkham City. In fact, if you look over his ridiculously long IMDB page  (329 titles!) I think you’ll find that even if you are not a heavy consumer of entertainment, you’ve heard Dee’s voice somewhere and probably didn’t even know it. And that’s the way he likes it.

I had a chance to sit down with Dee at the San Diego Comic-Con and talk about his amazing talents, examples of which you can listen to here, and his experiences as a voice actor (and for those who are interested in getting into voice acting, I recommend Dee’s site, I Want to Be a Voice Actor, as a great resource). It was an awesome interview, which you can watch in its entirety here. Or, read on for the transcript!

You’ve worked on a number of things that are being featured here at SDCC, so please tell me about those.

My first day was a panel for I Know That Voice, which the great John DiMaggio, the voice of Bender and a ton of other voices, is overseeing; and it basically chronicles the history of voice acting and who’s working in voice acting right now – most all of the A-listers – and it also speaks a lot about Comic-Con as well. He just kind of assembled some Avengers of Voice Acting on that panel, and we had a really fun panel. I also did one for Phineas and Ferb, and that went beautifully. I’m Perry the Platypus on Phineas and Ferb (demonstrates Perry). That’s a great and creative show; and I really love that show as a dad, because that’s one you can watch over and over and over again, which is what kids like to do; so that was spectacular. Yesterday we had a big panel in the gigantic hall for American Dad!, which was also a lot of fun. (In character) I’m Klaus the fish on American Dad! And I am in a little bowl.

And what was it that Rob Paulsen said about that voice on the I Know That Voice panel?

It just makes him happy. It makes him happy to hear me speak with a German accent. Or to speak in German, which I will do for him.

It was funny to see the reactions on that panel when you started doing Klaus. I think everybody loves that.

Yes; well, I have a real fondness for the German language. I speak it, and I spent a year in school there, and I studied German writers and philosophers. And it’s just kind of a forgotten language in this country basically since the 20th century, and it’s a fun little thing to pop out and show everyone.

With the German language thing; when you go in and a director says they’re looking for a German voice do you ever do German and they say, “that’s too authentic, we want something hammy”?

No; if they want me to dial down the accent, I’ll do that; but I’ve never gotten that request. I understand what you’re asking; but actually, for me, it usually works out – what’s sometimes difficult for me is if I go in to do a dog or a cat, and they want something that doesn’t sound like a dog or a cat. They want something that’s goofy; or that’s more human. So I have to make myself bend away from something that’s authentic into something that expresses it with the tone that they want.

When you’re doing that process, do you just sit there and try a bunch of noises?


Can you give an example?

Well, if you want, like, a dog bark (demonstrates different dog barks) you can humanize it. You can make it more Scooby, or more like a dog. And then you can dial in whether it’s small or big or whatever. But it’s a little different for every show, and that’s kind of what I do as a voice actor.

That’s great. Now you mentioned philosophy – did you study philosophy?

Yes, I was a philosophy major in college, with practically a minor in German.

So how did you go from philosophy and German to voice acting?

Both coexisted fine, really. I’ve done performing all of my life, and had a lot of fun doing everything from plays and operas and stand-up and children’s theater and improv, to singing telegrams, summer stock, Shakespeare-

Singing telegrams, really? Where do you even find that job?

Oh, just look in the Yellow Pages! Or whatever exists now. You can get money to do a live singing telegram.

Did you have to dance, too?

Well, it depends on the character. On what they want the character to do. Whether it’s like a nerd strip-a-gram, or…there are just various characters that they hand you, with this horrible script, and then you have to walk into a situation where either they’re delighted or they’re just completely mortified, and it’s really uncomfortable. And then you have to try to get them to pay you your money, because the company that hires you is not going to help you with that. It’s actually a fairly unpleasant job for me to do. So I didn’t do that for very long; but I did it for a while. But you know, it’s either that, or work in an office; and I don’t want to work in an office. So – I like performing, and I’m happy to try something stupid in front of people. I always have been, and that’s how I earn my living; is basically that.

And you’re fantastic at it, so that’s great! Now, I looked at your IMDB page. With voice actors, it’s impossible to even remotely cover everything, because you all are so versatile, and you do everything.

Yeah, a lot of us are very versatile, and do a lot of different kinds of voices; we do impressions; you know, I specialize in sounds; some are women who do little boy voices; some are known for the sexy; some are known for the powerful, or the evil, or the big; or maybe they can do them all. So yeah, a lot of us have a lot of different shows that we do. That’s how you earn a living as a voice actor, is to do a lot of shows; as opposed to on-camera, where you’re pretty much just doing one show at a time.

And as I was looking through your IMDB, I never actually got down to the bottom of your very first gig. I was scrolling, and I was like, “I’m never going to get there,” so I’ll just ask: what was your first gig, and also, what was your first experience performing in front of people, like as a child or whatever.

My first performing-in-front-of-people experience was I think in first grade, when they asked me to present flowers at the University of Northern Colorado homecoming queen beauty pageant, and I had to present flowers to the gal who was one of the homecoming queen candidates at the university. My second performance was the lead as Oliver in the play Oliver at my school, which was a K through 12 school in Greeley, Colorado, and that was my first really acting/performing gig, was starring in Oliver. I was in second grade, so about eight years old. My first professional gig, being paid, would be performing Oliver, again, at the Chuckwagon Dinner Playhouse in Greeley, Colorado. They paid me something like thirteen bucks a night to be Oliver. I was probably ten or eleven. I did Oliver in Greeley three times! I did it once at my school, once at the university, which was not paid, and then once for the Chuckwagon Dinner Playhouse, which was paid. And that was my first paying gig.

But when I was a kid, you know, I did ventriloquism; I did plays; they’d bring me over as the boy soprano at the university for Bernstein’s Mass or various productions. That was not paid; that was just for fun. That’s how I came to become enamored of acting and performing, was just doing it for fun.

So what was your first voice acting gig that was professional?

My first paid voice acting gig was doing a non-union commercial in Colorado Springs for Mexicana Airlines, in a horrible Spanish accent. That was my first voiceover gig, if I remember correctly. It was terrible. It was truly terrible, but I got paid to do not-my-voice in a commercial.

And it’s all experience, whether you’re paid or not. That’s the best teacher; that’s what you want. You need experience. Not necessarily classroom study, although that can be a very good thing. But you’ve got to get in front of an audience, and you’ve got to convince people to give you money to do what you like to do.

Now you were saying that you’re known for creatures, which I of course knew and appreciate-

(Dee does animal noises!)

So can I ask you, how do you do…

(Dee does crickets!)

that. How do you do the crickets? I love the crickets!

(Demonstrating) The crickets are done with the back of the tongue against the soft palate, like you’re gargling; it’s very relaxed back there. You can do it other ways too, actually. You can do it in the front of the mouth. But I do it in the back of the mouth; and then while I’m whistling, I dial in the uvula; and then I whistle with an inhale, which is a higher whistle for me; and then I just do it in reverse. So that’s what you do. But you can do that! You can practice that and you can do that. I’ve shown people how to do it.

I believe you! And I love the crickets.

Everybody loves the crickets. Except for a writer. A writer doesn’t like the crickets. Because you insert the crickets when there’s a pause or when the joke falls flat. So writers don’t like the crickets; that’s one thing I’ve learned.

That makes sense. Now you do tons and tons of creatures. Have you had any particular ones that have been really difficult to come up with, or that really stressed your voice?

Well roaring and screaming like you often do in video games can be really taxing on the voice. But I try to do it in a way that doesn’t tear up my voice. That’s done by relying on – not the voice. By relying on the throat. (demonstrates) Like that – where I’m using not just my voice but other things to make the sound or the effort. It also helps too to use it on an inhale sometimes, because that can get you a lot of sound but is not as hard on the voice. It’s taxing on the voice, but not terribly so.

When you do that in public and people smile like I’m smiling now, do you get a big kick out of that?

I don’t do it in public, and when I do they don’t smile! Well, they do here! It’s gotta be set up right, otherwise, there’s something wrong. There’s something obviously wrong, and they don’t smile.

Well, I was going to ask, also, because a lot of voice actors are known for the voices that they do, what is it like being the creature guy; being a voice actor who’s most known for animal and creature sounds?

I love that. I’m happy not to be known for anything. I don’t need to be known at all; it’s not really on my agenda. It doesn’t serve my life to be known; other than professionally, in professional circles, for people to know that I do creature and animal sounds. But that’s part of the appeal of a voice acting career, is that you’re not saddled with fame. You can live a relatively normal life and have normal relationships, and have to deal with your own human limitations in a more immediate way than you do in the sort of mediated, buffered world that a famous person has to cope with. So that’s part of why I like voice acting and was drawn to it, is that in particular.

Has that changed any for you since YouTube and having voice actors at cons and things are more prevalent now?

I can still go shopping at a grocery store and nobody knows who the heck I am, so no. But! There are a couple more people at a convention that recognize me; that’s fine. But for the most part, they don’t. And that’s okay.

Okay; now with The Clone Wars, you were saying the other day that it’s strange for you to be doing a normal voice. Can you talk about that experience?

Yes, well, when you’re establishing your career in whatever you’re doing, you kind of start with your default strength, and that for me tended to be more (in character) wacky or comedic character roles, that were more broad or cartoony. And I still have that in my wheelhouse. But when I auditioned for and got on Clone Wars, (in character) it is a straight-ahead soldier; I mean that is a normal human being that is as straight-ahead as you can imagine. There’s nothing bizarre or strange about a clone. They are a soldier, and a human, and that is what is interesting about them.

And so I would never have cast myself in doing that kind of a role at that time. That was kind of a mental limitation I had imposed upon myself, just because of what I’d been doing and what worked. But that kind of opened up for me the realization that I can do normal! That I can do normal and variations of normal; and the acting challenge of applying the gradation of character to the clones really opened up my mind in terms of what I can do and how I look at what I can do. So from that, I will occasionally get a villain character. For instance, Tarrlok, in Legend of Korra. (in character) Tarrlok, he speaks mostly as I do. But he is a character who is duplicitous, and you’re not always sure what he’s going to do; if he’s friendly, or if he’s evil…or what’s up with him. And that was another just straight-ahead character; who was kind of unsavory in a lot of ways. But again, I got to do that. Or Ra’s al Ghul in the Batman: Arkham City video game. I mean, that’s a straight-ahead villain. That’s a heavy. And I booked that, whereas I think a decade ago or so, I don’t think I would have even auditioned for it. No one would have thought to, and I wouldn’t have thought to. I would have said, “Nah, that’s not really what I do.”

You’ve worked a lot in both video games and animation. What’s the difference in experiences there? Do you prefer one?

I like video games in general because I think it’s not just an art form, but an evolution in how humans communicate, and what they do. I don’t think normal society really understands that. The sort of established, grown-up society; I don’t think they understand the profundity of what that means in terms of connecting with millions of other people in different countries and doing something together. Like, with World of Warcraft, or on Xbox or something like that, you’re literally playing against the rest of the planet, or you’re playing with them, as you play against them. It’s competitive but at the same time it’s cooperative. And I don’t know what else we’re doing as nations and countries that is like that. I think it’s a really positive and necessary thing, that has the potential to lead to kind of benevolent connections among societies; that we need, as the world seems to be falling apart. I think it’s a thing that brings large groups of people together, who don’t even necessarily speak the same language. And that’s something; that’s unique.

It also brings in a lot of different art forms in addition to writing and acting. It also puts music into the ear of young people who probably aren’t getting that; because arts and other essential education in this country are being cut, because education is not a priority in this country, sadly. Tragically. And so I like that it brings music into the mind and into the ear; as many of the projects that we have here at Comic-Con do. Whether it’s the X-Men feature film, or a Halo game, the music that you’re hearing, this sort of nineteenth century programmatic music, is really marvelous. It’s a marvelous form of expression. We should know it and appreciate it and cultivate that in our world, I think.

I agree. Now speaking of the con again, were you also doing Wolves?

Yes, I did! I was doing wolf sounds for Wolves. I don’t know what I am allowed to tell about it, but it’s David Hayter’s project, and he’s got a great werewolf-type project, and they brought me in to do some wolves. (demonstrates)

That’s fantastic. Are there any other new projects we should be keeping an eye out for?

I wish there were more that I could talk about. I continue to do a lot of stuff for Disney, and for Phineas and Ferb, and Jake and the Never Land Pirates, and lots of shows that kids really like. For Jake and the Never Land Pirates, I’m the Croc, and – I’m pretty much the animals in that; whether it’s a bee or a plant or a lizard or a bug or whatever it is, they call me in to do that.

What does it make you feel like if you’re watching a show that you’ve done, and there are people talking, and you are all of the background noises or whatever?

I like that. I mean, it’s fun! It’s fun to be in there, and I like it best if people don’t realize that that’s what that is; that there is a human doing that. The goal would be for it to sound natural and seamless and invisible, sort of like a special effect. You don’t want an audience member to think about a special effect. You want them to experience the scene more accurately to what your vision is as a creator. And that’s what I want to be as a voice actor who adds the weird or the animal or the alien, is to make it feel like this is an organic part of what the story is. Not, “Oh, who’s that guy, doing that sound?” That’s what I don’t want.

I think you succeed very well, because I would never know.

•     •     •     •     •

Dee is a such pleasure to talk with, and I had a fantastic time interviewing him! And, of course, I asked Dee to do a shout-out for ComicMix, which he was kind enough to do. Don’t miss it at the end of the video!

And until next time, Servo Lectio!

TUESDAY AFTERNOON: Michael Davis Goes Super Nigga!

WEDNESDAY MORNING: Mike Gold Gets Real Small


Emily S. Whitten: SDCC Part 2 – I Know That Voice!

Emily S. Whitten: SDCC Part 2 – I Know That Voice!

Whitten 130730 Art

Hey ComicMixers! It’s time for more news from SDCC. W00t!

While at the San Diego Comic-Con, I was happy to get to see the panel for I Know That Voice, the new documentary about voice actors that is slated to come out this fall (and don’t forget to visit that link and sign up for DVD pre-order news!). The panel was moderated by executive producer John DiMaggio, voice of Bender Bending Rodriguez on Futurama and Jake on Adventure Time (and many other voices as well!). It featured IKTV producer Tommy Reid; co-producer and director Lawrence (Larry) Shapiro; voice actors Rob Paulsen, Dee Bradley Baker, Fred Tatasciore, James Arnold Taylor, and Tom Kenny; casting director Andrea Romano; and Adventure Time creator Pendleton Ward. And it was a blast!

I’ve talked about how excited I am for this documentary before, and this panel definitely highlighted the reasons I am looking forward to it. Not only do I find the whole process of voice acting for animation fascinating, but I also think voiceover actors and those who work with them are, from my experiences so far, not only some of the most talented creators out there, but also uniformly very nice, warm, funny people who love what they do and are just as enthused about it as the fans are. And who wouldn’t want to watch a video consisting of awesomely talented and nice people talking enthusiastically about their work in a fascinating industry? I know I can’t wait to see it.

I was also really interested in what led to the making of the documentary, and the process of putting this piece of (I predict now) fried gold together. To that end, after the panel I chatted with John DiMaggio, Tommy Reid, and Larry Shapiro about all of that and what we can expect. Here’s the interview (and you can also watch it on YouTube)!

What was the genesis of the documentary, and how did you start working on it together?

John: Larry and I were in Amsterdam, working on a music festival that we’ve done a bunch of times called Jam in the ‘Dam. I was MCing it, and he was filming it; and we were just talking, and came up with the idea, and we were like, “Well let’s try something.” We worked on it for a little bit, tossed some ideas around, shot some stuff, and then we were like, “Well, you know, it’s not really coming together.” And I’ve worked with Tommy on a bunch of projects – a bunch of documentaries; and I said, “Dude, we need to bring in Tommy.” And Tommy was like, “I’m all over this, this sounds like a great project.” So that’s pretty much how it started.

Awesome. And how did you three know each other?

Larry: We’re all 15 year-old friends.

John: We all lived in the same building in Hollywood; and so that’s how we know each other.

Larry: I will add that I was doing this music festival, and then John got on board to do the MCing of it; and then one night, in Amsterdam, Johnny started doing the voice of Bender and these German tourists heard him – and they don’t even speak English, and they still recognized John’s voice, and fluttered over and couldn’t believe it was him. And I’d never seen someone get star-struck over a voice in a language they didn’t even understand. That kind of gave me a clue as to how important something like this is to cover.

What was the process for making the film, and what did you all find the most interesting or challenging about making it?

Tommy: Our process began with the genesis of the idea; then it taking shape and us saying, ‘Well how do we actually get into the system?” and setting up interviews; and then having an end date where we knew we were going to capture enough interviews of every section of the voiceover industry that we were happy with. To go after the top and the best of that part of it. And then once we compiled all the interviews together it was just literally chiseling, getting it down from three hours to two hours, and then constant notes and notes and notes, where you’re constantly figuring out what’s the best story to tell in 90 minutes or less. And that’s where the final product came about. But it’s a very long process, when you’re making a documentary, and here we are 20 months later [at Comic-Con], and we had a packed room with over 3,000 people in it.

John: It’s pretty exciting. I think the biggest problem was the logistics of the project. Just getting everybody gathered; and having that done.

How many people are featured in this documentary?

Larry: Over 150. I will say that each person was at least an hour-long interview. And we had 150 people. So if you just give one minute to each person; just one great minute, you still have an extremely long movie. So it was pretty much like trying to choose between your children, what to use and what not to use. Because these people are brilliant people, and it was basically like trying to use the best stuff that we could get to make the best movie possible.

There are a lot of people in the industry; so how did you choose your focus of which voice actors to include, and which areas, e.g. TV animation, and movies, and the like?

John: I think basically it was just like, “Alright, well we need to get talent. We need to interview people.” And I just said, “Okay, well who am I working with today?” And I just asked them: “Hey man, I’m doing this documentary about voiceover. Do you want to be involved?” And we would get them on film. And once we got the ball rolling, once we got people interested in it-

Tommy: -the floodgates opened.

John: Yeah, people started talking about it, and then we had agents calling us.

Larry: The community really helped.

John: Yeah, the community definitely helped us out.

Tommy: It was like wildfire.

John: And that’s the thing about the people I work with. They’re just the most giving, the most wonderful people. The camaraderie involved in my industry is bar none…it’s unbelievable how generous of time and talent folks are. That’s one of the reasons why we made the film, too – just to showcase that.

Larry: And that’s an actual part of it. We talk about how we’re used to, in Hollywood, how people will backstab someone for a part or whatnot. And we noticed in this industry, people actually say, “You know what? I could do this, but do you know who would be better? John. You should give the job to John.” Or someone else.

John: Or I’ll be like, “Dee Bradley Baker, he needs to do this; you need to bring him in.”

Larry: They’ll really refer them other people.

John: Yeah, and it’s for real, you know?

That’s great! Now, with the rise of the internet, and fan conventions being more commonplace, do more people know your face? Has the experience of celebrity as a voice actor changed since, say, Mel Blanc’s time, and do you think that’s helped with getting interest for this film?

John: I don’t know, it’s kind of funny, because with voiceover – only down here do you get mobbed. Only at a convention do you get mobbed, where people know specifically what you do. Anywhere else…

Larry: And in Amsterdam.

John: Yeah, in Amsterdam, with German tourists; which freaked me out. But, well, anything will freak you out in Amsterdam, really, so; you know.

Larry: It’s like a living cartoon.

John: But it doesn’t really bother me [when I’m not recognized]. I didn’t get into it to have people go, “Oh my God, it’s him!” I just love to work. This is a perk, having people be a fan of your work. I love it; I mean it’s great, and I’m honored, you know – 3,000 people in a room freaking out, it’s incredible. But all I wanted to do was just showcase everybody; and I think we did that.

Larry: I would say also that we wanted to make the point that you might think it’s gimmicky being a voice of something and all that, but I really think our film kind of shows that these people aren’t so much ‘voice actors’ as much as they’re the best character actors you’ve ever seen in your life. And it just happens to be you’ve only heard them through their voices.

John: (in character) Thanks, Larry.

Larry: No problem, buddy! Promooootion!

So obviously people who are already fans are going to want to watch this; do you think you’re going to draw in a new crowd of people as well?

John: I think word of mouth will get around, I think people will be excited about it, and I think, like I said before: people love cartoons. People love cartoons. And I think that something will happen from that.

Tommy: Well I’m like the perfect example of the audience member. So basically, I liked cartoons, growing up as a kid, and then took a hiatus from them; and then the Simpsons kind of brought me back in there, but not knowing what goes on behind the scenes. Now after actually making this movie, now I know everything that goes on behind the scenes.

So do you think the documentary is also going to be a great resource for people who want to be voice actors?

John: It’s going to be a video bible for them.

Tommy: It’s very educational and very entertaining at the same time. A lot of laughs.

Did you learn something new while making this documentary?

Tommy: Don’t move John’s furniture.

John: Yeah – don’t move my furniture. Larry came into my house and started moving my furniture around during my interview.

Larry: It looked so much better, let me tell you.

John: Don’t move my goddamn furniture! Larry, get off my furniture! Goddammit!

Larry: The scratches are going to come out.

Okay, so now we know, don’t ever touch John DiMaggio’s furniture. He’s tall; he will hurt you…

John: Don’t ever touch my furniture! That shit is there for a reason. Dammit.

Can you say that like Tracy Morgan?

John: (in character) I’m tellin’ you that shit is there for a reason! You came in and moved my sculptures around, shiiiit. I’m tellin’ you right now.

What was the coolest experience each of you had making the documentary?

Tommy: Probably going to Big Bear Lake and going into Mel Blanc’s house, and interviewing his son Noel Blanc about Mel and listening to how Mel came out of a coma talking like Bugs Bunny.

John: Seeing the finished product. That was thrilling. And being here [at SDCC] and seeing everybody here for it.

Larry: Honestly I’d say all the interviews. With so many people I wouldn’t want to single anyone out; but I will say that actually going in to certain Futurama sessions, and getting to see John actually perform with some of the cast members; just getting to see that happen organically for me was probably one of the biggest treats.

That’s awesome; and thank you guys so much for your time.

Well, I hope you all enjoyed reading that as much as I enjoyed the interview! Not only were the guys awesome to talk to, but at the veeeery end, Bender even made an appearance. Shockingly, he wants everyone to read ComicMix.

And so I say unto all of you: listen to Bender and Servo Lectio!





Emily S. Whitten: Conventions Ahoy! NADWCon and SDCC

Emily S. Whitten: Conventions Ahoy! NADWCon and SDCC

Guess what, ComicMix readers? Convention season is upon us! Hurrah!

“Aw, shucks,” you say. “I can’t make it to any conventions.”

Fear not, faithful friends! I am here to save the day by attending and reporting back for you. And I am psyched about it. Yes, I’ll probably need to hibernate my con exhaustion away afterwards, but man, I love the energy and excitement of a good con. And good thing, too, because this year, I’m planning to attend The North American Discworld Convention; San Diego Comic Con; Dragon*Con; Baltimore Comic Con; the Small Press Expo; New York Comic Con; and Capclave. Whew!

NADWCon and SDCC are right around the corner, so I’m extra excited about those! Here’s what I’m looking forward to:

The North American Discworld Convention

The NADWCon is taking place in Baltimore, MD from July 5th to 8th, and memberships are still available! I highly recommend this con for any Terry Pratchett enthusiast. Anyone who knows me even a little bit knows I’m a huge Discworld fan. You may or may not also know that I actually co-founded the NADWCon, and served as Vice Chair, Webmaster, Programming Coordinator, and Guest Liaison for the 2009 NADWCon, and as Chair and co-Guest Liaison Coordinator for the 2011 NADWCon. Good times!

This year, though, I’m super excited to be going to NADWCon as just a fan. I’ll get to go to all of the panels I never saw while I was running around like a chicken with my head cut off organizing things! I’ll get to sit down for more than five minutes with my Discworld friends! I’ll possibly make it to breakfast at least once! Woo!

I’ll also, all things permitting, be continuing what is by now the tradition of interviewing some Discworld luminaries at the con. I first interviewed author Terry Pratchett himself at the UK Discworld Con for two whole hours in 2008, and what a treat that was! I interviewed Terry again, along with agent Colin Smythe, artist Bernard Pearson, and audiobook reader Stephen Briggs in 2010 (Scroll down if you’d like to hear those interviews here). The nice thing about interviews with Terry or about Terry, though, is that he’s so prolific and interesting that there’s always new ground to cover; so I’m really looking forward to catching up with the Discworld crowd!

In other exciting things, the Program Guide for the con is now up, and it looks fantastic. On Friday I might chat with Ian Mitchell and Reb Voyce, make my own Octavo or coat of arms, or watch the new Sir Terry documentary about orangutans! On Saturday I’ll actually be speaking at a panel about costuming, but I might also try my hand at scriptwriting, learn how to commit the perfect murder (oh, Pat, what would we do without you?), or revisit my fencing days with a lesson in swordplay. Sunday I am most certainly attending the Gala Banquet, but might also learn the trade tricks of the Guild of Thieves! And on Monday, if I am not exhausted yet, I may watch what I am betting will be the craziest puppet show ever (and will, among other things, feature the Neil Gaiman puppet that took the stage at Neil’s DC signing on June 21). Seriously, this con is going to be so much fun! And less than two weeks after it, I will be going to…

San Diego Comic Con

This will be my first time at SDCC, and I am preemptively preparing to be totally overwhelmed. However, I’m also overjoyed, because so many of my awesome friends will be there, and there will be mega-tons of amazing events happening all the time. Here are some things I’m especially looking forward to:

1) The preview and Q&A panel for I Know That Voice, a documentary all about voice actors that’s coming out this fall. As readers may have noticed, I find voice acting pretty darned fascinating, so I can’t wait to see this film, which features over a hundred of the best voice actors in the business discussing their craft. In fact, I’ve already signed up for the VIP email list on the IKTV website; and you can too, if you want to get VIP-only updates about the film, reserve a spot to pre-order the DVD for purchase before the general public, and be entered in a poster contest where every 100th entry wins a poster signed by voice actor John DiMaggio. Pretty cool!

FYI, the IKTV team is also running a Cartoon Voice Imitation Contest via their Facebook page, encouraging anyone who does impressions of favorite television cartoon voices to post a short video of their impression(s) (1 minute or less) to the page by July 31, 2013, at 11:59 p.m. PST. John DiMaggio and the IKTV team will review each post and on August 5 will pick the top three, who will win an autographed poster signed by some of the star cast members and an I Know That Voice DVD autographed by John DiMaggio. What a great way to be heard by the folks in Hollywood! I’d enter myself, if I did any impressions!

I’ll definitely be checking out the IKTV SDCC panel. Here’s the panel information:

“John DiMaggio (Executive Producer of IKTV, also voices Bender from Futurama, Jake The Dog from Adventure Time, IFC’s Out There and many more!) brings the cast and crew of IKTV together for an exclusive sneak peak at the most anticipated film about voice over (in animation and video games) ever made! Included in the panel will be John DiMaggio, Billy West (Futurama, Ren and Stimpy), Rob Paulsen (TMNT, Pinky and the Brain), Dee Bradley Baker (Clone Wars, Ben 10, American Dad), Fred Tatasciore (Hulk, Ben 10, Mad), Tom Kenny (Spongebob Squarepants, Brickleberry), Andrea Romano (25-time Emmy nominated, 8-time Emmy winner for Animaniacs, Pinky and the Brain, and more!), Tommy Reid (producer, IKTV), and Lawrence Shapiro (director, IKTV). You won’t want to miss this panel, especially with this bunch! You never know what’s going to come out of their mouths! July 18, 4:45-5:45 p.m. (Room 6BCF)”

I’ll also be interviewing John DiMaggio and Tommy Reid while I’m there, and maybe a few other amazing voice actors (like Rob Paulsen!) so stay tuned for that! And while we’re here, don’t forget Rob Paulsen is coming to The National Press Club in Washington, D.C. on August 1. Get your tickets now!

2) Hannibal, Hannibal, Hannibal. Yes, folks, the cast and crew of the show about Hannibal the cannibal are going to be at SDCC, and I am hungry to hear from them (sorry, I couldn’t resist). The panel, entitled “Hannibal: Feed Your Fear,” will feature Emmy-Award-winning executive producer Bryan Fuller (Pushing Daisies), director David Slade (The Twilight Saga: Eclipse), Martha De Laurentiis (Red Dragon), and star Hugh Dancy (playing Agent Will Graham). It’s listed for Thursday, July 18th from 6:45pm – 7:45 p.m. in Room 6A.

As with many things, I (affectionately) blame my friend Cleolinda for getting me into Hannibal with her excellent recaps and discussions. But the show has done a great job of keeping me fascinated all on its own. I can’t wait for the panel, and am hoping to get a few minutes with the panelists, as well!

3) Psych! Oh, man, I just love this show. Somehow it’s cleverly managed to walk the line between heartfelt and meaningful and hilarious and totally goofy for seven seasons, and there’s another one to come! The Psych panel is set for July 18 and will be moderated by Cary Elwes, and include James Roday, Dulé Hill, Corbin Bernsen, Maggie Lawson and Timothy Omundson, along with Kirsten Nelson. Also joining the panel are creator and executive producer Steve Franks, and executive producers Chris Henze and Kelly Kulchak. I’m so there! I’ve also already got my ticket to the advance screening of Psych: The Musical (airing this winter), and you can get one too, at the link. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that there will be time to check in with the cast of the show as well!

4) So many other cool panels! Who knows what I’ll be able to fit in, but I’ve got my sights set on covering at least some of the events for author Neil Gaiman’s new Sandman work; ongoing TV shows Arrow, Bones, Futurama, Supernatural, Agents of SHIELD, Once Upon A Time, Dexter, The Legend of Korra, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles; new shows Almost Human, Sleepy Hollow, and The Tomorrow People; and upcoming movies Ender’s Game, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, The Amazing Spider-Man 2, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, The World’s End, and (maybe) some Marvel movies. I’m also planning to cover The Black Panel and the Body Image & Women in Entertainment panel if I can (I’m ambitious!). And maybe more, since new events are being announced all the time. This site seems to be keeping up with them pretty well, and of course there’s the Unofficial SDCC Blog, which has tons of information.

5) A Gathering of Nerds! Although it’s not part of SDCC proper, I’m hoping to stop by at least one Nerd HQ event and see what they’re all about. Chuck actor Zachary Levi’s pet project raised $140,000 for Operation Smile last year with its Conversations for a Cause, and featured a slew of cool events and guests while doing it. I haven’t even attended yet and I’m already a fan – I like the mix of philanthropy with fun!

6) Exclusives! Oh so many exclusives! I’m going to try not to go tooooo crazy, but I must admit I’ve already pre-ordered the Marvel Minimates Deadpools Assemble set; of course I want the Deadpool Kills variant cover and the glow-in-the-dark Deadpool bobble-head; and I will elbow people out of the way with all of my elbowin’ strength for the Deadpool Corps set. I also think the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #1 variant cover by Steve Conley is adorable, not to mention it comes from my friends at Awesome Conventions! And speaking of cute, I so want Batgirl from DC’s Super Best Friends Forever. I also have to admit the Game of Thrones throw pillow and poster set are pretty nifty.

7) And let us never forget the parties! I’m hearing about new ones every day, and who knows where I’ll end up, but at the very least I plan to be visiting with our very own ComicMix crowd at the Michael Davis World After-the-Eisner’s-Party – and what could be better than that?

So stay tuned in the next few weeks, when I’ll be sharing all of my convention adventures. And speaking of conventions, if you’re a D.C. local (or even if you’re not) please consider supporting the Awesome Con DC 2014 Kickstarter, which has just 4 days left to meet its goal (and through which you can get that cute TMNT variant cover I mentioned as a reward!). The Kickstarter needs less than $8,000 more in donations to succeed, and to allow the con organizers to make next year’s Awesome Con DC bigger and better than ever. This year’s con was awesome (heh), and I’d love to see them get funded.

Thanks; and until next time, Servo Lectio!

TUESDAY AFTERNOON: Michael Davis, Hell, and High Water



Emily S. Whitten: Billy West at Awesome Con DC!

imagesLooks like it is just Interview Central around here these days, folks. Because following up on last week’s column, in which I briefly recapped my Awesome Con DC experience and posted my interview with the fantastic Phil LaMarr  (go read/listen if you missed it last week! Good stuff!), I now get to share with you my Awesome Con DC interview with the excellent Billy West! Hooray!

Even if you somehow haven’t heard the name Billy West, before, I almost guarantee you’ve heard his voice. Voicing everything from classic cartoon characters like Bugs Bunny, Porky Pig, Elmer Fudd, Woody Woodpecker, and Popeye to four of the main characters on Futurama (Philip J. Fry, Professor Farnsworth, Dr. Zoidberg, and Zapp Brannigan), Billy has voiced characters on a myriad of other shows as well, including title characters for Nickelodeon’s Doug and The Ren & Stimpy Show; and is also the current voice of product mascots Red the M&M and Buzz the Honey Nut Cheerios bee. Billy was also one of the voices of The Howard Stern Show from 1989 to 1995, where he did astonishing impressions of everyone from Johnny Carson and Al Michaels to an ailing Lucille Ball. (His Jay Leno is uncanny.) As a voice actor, Billy has an amazing range – going seamlessly from one character and reaction to another; and you can see some fun examples of that here. For a good time, I also recommend the Star Wars Trilogy: The Radio Play video, shot at ECCC last year and featuring Billy and a number of other talented voice actors doing the script of Star Wars in some of their iconic voices (including, for Billy, Stimpy, Fry, Farnsworth, and Zoidberg). My absolute favorite bit is when he does Porky Pig at about 45 minutes in. Seriously. You must watch it.

But quickly! Before I get lost in YouTube again: let’s get to the interview! If you want to listen to the interview (listen to it! He does Richard Nixon’s head in a jar!) you can do so here. Or, you can read the (slightly edited) transcript below!

Hello, this is Emily Whitten for ComicMix, here with Billy West at Awesome Con in DC. Billy, thank you for being here with us – and Billy is busy, so we’re doing this while he eats.

I ain’t that busy; I can talk with a mouth full of vegan sandwich.

That’s fair! So you are such an amazingly storied voice actor, etcetera…

Aww, thank you.

There’s a lot to talk about, but I’m going to try to distill it down a little bit. Let’s start with the earlier things; so – how did you decide to get into voice acting? Because I know you also are and were a musician; so what was the career path there?

Well, I remember I was like a little freak, you know? I was always running around making noises, and doing voices. Every time I wanted to play the piano – we didn’t have one, but if we were at somebody’s house – to me that was a golden opportunity. I just wanted to hear it, touch it, and make it do something; because the sonic world that I had going on in my head would dictate that I would go over there; but the thing was: I couldn’t play. And down comes the lid: “Can you not do that?” I heard that more than any other kid, probably, in the world, “Can you not do that?” And I was always trying stuff; it was peripheral and surreal; abstract stuff, but, you know.

I had a weird childhood. My house was a horror-house, and my dad was just, like, certifiable, and a drunk and a crazy; so I was growing up kind of terrified. And I was very hyper-vigilant. I could tune in to things – like I could tell you what kind of a night I was going to have by the way the car pulled up in the driveway, or the way the key went in the door. I was so in tune with people’s behaviors – you know, out of survival mode. But it also trained me, like a cop. I was becoming an observer; an extreme observer.

So from your experiences, you were able to be observant about people and how they acted and how they behaved, and so that would help you later on?

And I loved radio. Oh, I loved radio so much, because of the voices. And there were still some radio plays going on when I was a kid. There was a radio guy named Stan Freberg that had a radio show; and he had one of my favorite voice guys on it, whose name was Daws Butler, and he did a lot of the Hanna-Barbera stuff. He was a little ball of fire, this Daws Butler; and I just came to know these people. But there was no way you could know anything about show business in those days; because there was no emphasis on it. That was for “other people.” You know, “Well who?” It was like: nobody in my town. I was such a geek, I had to hunt down the only other kid who had comic books, and he lived on the other side of town. I just set my inner GPS and found him. I just walked and walked until I found him somewhere.

So what kind of comics did you read, when you and this kid were growing up?

Silly stuff; we read the Marvel stuff – I didn’t mean that that was silly – [Marvel and] DC comics were not silly, they were exciting. But, like, Gold Key Comics were silly; there was The Fly, which was Archie Comics, and he was their superhero – and he fell by the wayside because the other machines were a little more happening and powerful. But I had the original issues of some really important comic books. I had secret origins of like, Batman and all of those. They came out around 1960; 1959, maybe 1961.

Do you still have them?

No. No, it went up my nose, heh.

Back in the day?


Well, do you still follow comics these days?

I try to. I like the revamps of stuff they’re doing. Because there’s so much time that has gone by, that these characters have been around, and eventually they’ve got to morph. You know, they’re not going to get older on us, even though they can dance in and out of timeframes, to show old Superman, like where he wound up.

Yeah; they did that, of course.

Yeah! And there are so many comic books that it’s tough to keep track of them.

Do you watch the movies?

I try to go to movies, yeah, when I can. I’m writing a lot, and I stay up late, late into the evening.

Oh, okay, what are you writing right now?

There are a couple of projects that I’ve got going with my partner that I worked with on Ren & Stimpy. His name is Jim Gomez; and we’ve put together five fully developed shows, most of them animated. We’re pitching them around town, and we’ll see what happens. I love doing what I’m doing – you know, I can be an objective fulfillment machine for the rest of my life – but at some point I do want to create or own something, and give myself the objective.

I think all creators feel that way – it just makes sense.

Yeah – I mean, but I will still always go and work for somebody else, probably doing voice-over.

Now you said that you love radio, and you’ve been on the radio – and I know when I was growing up, I heard you on K-Rock; so tell me, what was that experience like? I mean, I used to listen to that in the morning, when I was getting ready for school…

Didn’t you feel like there was subterfuge involved with that? Like you couldn’t just let everybody hear that.

Yeeeaaah; don’t tell my parents, okay? They didn’t like that show; they didn’t like Howard Stern. I had to be subtle about it.

Of course not. Of course not; but the people who listened to it got it. They understood that everything was silly. It was all about being totally silly in the face of the most horrific subjects.

And pushing boundaries.

Yes, pushing boundaries. It was very organic. We didn’t play records. And Howard was a great ringmaster; he knew, okay, when something’s enough. We’d beat it so far, that’s fine, let’s go to commercial and we’ll start something else. He’d always keep things moving.

And how did you end up working there? I know you’d worked in radio before that.

I was in radio in Boston, and I wasn’t a disc jockey. I was very creative, and showcasing the works of others for a living didn’t turn me on; because I would always feel like a curator in a museum. But these disc jockeys were really pompous about playing records, and it’s like, “Dude, you didn’t create the statues; you just dust them.” And I used to get reamed for having that type of attitude. It’s like, “You’re not allowed to unmask these icons,” and it’s like, “Screw you. You don’t do anything.” I was always surly because there was so much phoniness that used to drive me crazy. My heroes were the artists, not people who were famous for some cottage industry reason – like disc jockeys or TV show hosts. They’re not creating anything. So my heroes were never celebrities. It was always artists. And if they happened to be a celebrity that was a byproduct of their great artistic talent.

Right. So being on a show like The Howard Stern Show, where you got to interact and do your own thing, that was what you were looking for.

That was very appealing to me. And you had to be ready for anything.

So did that help you prepare in large part for the voice acting? And were you also doing voice acting some when you were on the show, or did that come later?

Well I’d already been doing voice acting in Boston, on the radio, and then when I went to New York there was just more of an opportunity to open up and to push myself to see what I was capable of. Plus, I had one of the funniest people in the universe lobbing in little lines here and there for me. But people said, “Ah, Jackie wrote everything for you.” Hey, yeah, sure: let me just talk straight, in a character, for seven minutes. A guy can’t write every bit of dialogue that you say for seven minutes. He can put in ideas, and you integrate them into your conversation. I mean, he did it for Howard all the time. But Howard was very generous; I mean, that’s like loaning somebody a nuclear weapon, that he would let Jackie Martling facilitate me.

And now when you were doing all of this, I know you also played guitar and had a band, and you’ve played guitar with Roy Orbison, Brian Wilson…

Oh, I opened up for a lot of famous guys that I knew growing up, like Roy Orbison, Chuck Berry, The Four Seasons, and Jan and Dean… And later on in life I actually got to play with Brian Wilson.

When was that happening, in comparison to the radio and the voice acting?

Radio just started happening as I was phasing out of playing music.

Okay, so that came a little bit before?

Yes, and then after a moratorium, when I did pick up again, in the future, as the years went by, I wound up playing with one of my idols, which was Brian Wilson.

So what was it like playing with Brian Wilson?

It was so strange; because the first time I played with him, we were at a little hall in Santa Monica, by the beach; and it was me and The Cars guitar player – Elliot Easton – and we were playing with Brian, and then a friend of mine was playing bass. We put together a little band; but I mean, I knew every note of the whole catalogue, I knew every harmony, I knew every chord change, because I was so into The Beach Boys. The Beatles and Jeff Beck; the English stuff was good. But The Beach Boys were our band. And it was like a dream, you know, just playing with Brian Wilson.

And then next thing, we’re at Lincoln Center. And then we played David Letterman. And it was crazy, I mean I’m playing these songs with Brian Wilson; and I still can’t get over it. You know, he did all those hot rod songs – girls, and cars, and fun – and we did 409 onstage, and he was singing 409, which is the old hot rod song, and in the chorus, “Nothing can catch her, nothing can touch my 409, 409,” I started going (hot rod revving noises), and he looked over with this happy, astonished smile, like a little child. He’s like: “What’s going on? But I love this, whatever you’re doing over there.”

Oh, that’s fantastic. So now obviously your voice acting is a large part of your career, and Futurama is a huge part of that – and you developed Philip Fry, well Philip J. Fry, if I’m doing the whole name —

— Well that’s because most cartoon characters’ middle initial is J. Rocket J. Squirrel; Homer J. Simpson; Stimpson J. Cat.

Yes. So when you were developing that character; you’ve said that Fry is similar to you at twenty-five; so when they had you in auditioning for Futurama, did they ask you to develop that character; did you come in saying “this is something I have,” or what?

They showed me the pictures when I went in, and there was some dialogue they wanted me to read; and…you know what it’s like – something, you look at it and it just gives you an impression, and depending on your experience, or your talent, or your intuition, you’re hoping that you’ll come up with what they’re looking for. And all of them were pretty much very close to what I gave them. They described Fry, and I said, “You know what? I don’t do this very often, but I’m going to just use my own voice, like when I was twenty-five.” I remember, I was very whinyyy, and complainyyy, and I just know I had a plain vanilla voice. I had no idea I had this wild animal in my throat somewhere; this big clumsy beast that could do anything. You know, I really didn’t know back in those days. Because I was singing and playing. But I would go in and do voices on stage like when we blew up an amp, or a string snapped, or whatever. Out of embarrassment, I would just keep going and entertaining. Might not have been the music or anything, but people loved it. Launching into characters that I would make up, and imitate, or whatever.

Right. And now, on Futurama, you do a lot of the voices. How did that come about?

They would just keep showing me pictures, and I auditioned for everybody, including Bender. I played him as a construction worker, and John DiMaggio came in and mopped the floor with that audition. He played him as kind of a punch-drunk fighter.

Yes, Bender is a great voice.

Oh, it’s beautiful. And it developed into what it is. In the beginning, none of us sounded like who we were. I mean, that’s who we thought we were, at the time, but voices morph. You listen to an episode #10 from The Simpsons, and you listen to the 200th episode, and it’s like, “Huh?” Well, Homer Simpson was like (voice impression), and then later on he developed all of these other facets that make the character so interesting and believable.

Yes. Now in Futurama, or your other roles, what are your favorite characters to play or have played? And what were the most difficult?

I love doing all the characters, and I love them equally; so I can’t pick out a favorite. Because I just try to bring so much imagination to it. I was always trying to do something nobody had done, and that served me well. I didn’t want to mimic people. I could do it – I’ve held up franchises. I did four years of Woody Woodpecker; and Popeye…the works, you know? But you only make your mark for real if you start creating and it catches on. And you have faith that you’re just as good as those impressions that you relied on; that were your little power base.

Right, well because they were starting out once, and they made up those voices, and so why not you? And so what was the most difficult voice to do?

I don’t know; I know that I had become fearless; totally fearless. I’m not afraid of anything, and I’m willing to try anything. I’m willing to fail. I was like that in comedy clubs. Because it didn’t make sense to me – why should I memorize twelve minutes worth of material and then go out and pretend every night that I’d just thought of it? I needed stakes. I needed real things at stake like dying or bombing [on stage]. I really did, and I wasn’t afraid to.

Did you do a lot of stand-up?

Not a lot. A little bit, and then I got into radio, and that was it. Stand-up is very, very hard. There are guys that are just so, so amazing at it and everything. But my forte was not stage performance, doing stand-up. My forte was radio; and that was a bigger playground. You could dodge in and out of characters, and you didn’t even have to have written material; you could ad-lib while you’ve got these crazy voices going back and forth.

In your voice work, how much do they want you to or let you ad-lib?

They want to get what they want to get; ideally, what they had in mind. And then after you do that and they’re happy with it, they ask you if you thought of anything, or you want to add or bring something; and a lot of times I would, and a lot of times it made it in. A lot of it just winds up – they want more rather than less. Because that way they have options; they can play with stuff they didn’t think would work and all of a sudden, oh my God, it works beautifully.

Right. Because sometimes improvisation is the best part of life.

Yeah; but it’s also this constant wonderment of discovery – whether something’s going to work or not. That’s exploration. It’s like, you try to control every aspect of everything as much as you can, but when serendipitous things happen, like, “What was that thing you just did?” “Oh, you mean this?” and they’d say, “Yeah, what if he just goes right into that?”

Like when I did Nixon – I’m old enough to remember when Nixon was running for President, and John F. Kennedy, and they did the debate on TV. And I was astonished at how perfect Kennedy looked – like a game show host, with his perfect teeth, and his buttered-toast hair. He was made for TV. Nixon was made for wanted posters. He looked like a stolen car. And he was (in character) “shifty-eyed, and he was nervous and…ar-rar-rar.” And he was sweating. While the interview was continuing, he was getting worse, and his beard was coming in; you could practically see the bottom half of his face get darker and darker. And I said to my mom, “Mom, he’s going to turn into a werewolf!” Because I loved horror movies, like with Lon Chaney slowly turning into the werewolf. Nixon was kind of almost there – lycanthropic. So he was just doing his thing, and I said, “That’s awful; he’s almost unwatchable.”

And then years later, I get the chance to do Nixon, as a head in a jar, and I would say something like, (in character) “You filthy hippies, get off the grass outside this White House,” and then all of a sudden I would go: (werewolf noises). Like I was changing. You know, just replacing words with noises and stuff.

Hah, wow. I know it’s hard work, but it just sounds like so much fun.

Well, you gotta keep coming up with new bags of tricks, and keep expanding them and everything. That’s how you keep working.

Now you were saying earlier that you have essentially had conversations with yourself. Some examples of that are Farnsworth introducing Fry to Zoidberg [in Futurama], and then Doug and his arch-nemesis. How do you deal with that; how does that work in your head? Because that seems to be even a double challenge over consistently trying to sound a certain way.

It’s like I had my boot camp training in Boston doing consecutive voices. Because I got a job as a producer; and there’s no producer school you can go to. I had to learn how to splice tape, and I had to learn how to write and create my own characters and bits; and then put it together so it could be air-able; with sound effects, and music, and everything. I didn’t quite know what I was doing, but I just did it.

And it works for you!

Yeah, I mean, I’m very strange in that way; like I still, to this day, can’t tie my shoes properly, I just can’t. And a necktie, I have problems with. I can’t do anything practical; but if you ask me to do something only like, four or five other people in the world can do, I have no problem.

So now as a voice actor, what’s the experience of celebrity? How do you experience that as someone who’s mostly known by different voices, so someone might not actually know, talking to you, that yours was the voice they’ve heard on shows?

Well, celebrities were never my heroes. Never. To this day, I don’t give a dismal damn, really, whether Kim’s having problems with her pregnancy, or whatever. It’s like, “Fuck you.” You know what? Anybody who can fart the national anthem can become a celebrity. Any stupid-looking bald guy can throw on an earring and a goatee and a leather jacket, and now he’s Pawn Stars. And they pose these guys like rappers, like album covers; they’re all big, bad, and bald – and they’re basically lucky imbeciles, because show business ain’t what it was anymore, now it’s supposed to be “reality.” These guys just have to be who and what they are. And then they learn how to act; because they go, “I like this ride very much;” and they know it’s going to be over, and they want to stay in that business. They don’t want to go back to oblivion.

Yes. So how do you interact with fans? And do some people just know your whole oeuvre? What is that experience like?

There’s people that know more about me than I do. Because I can’t remember every little fiddle-faddle, you know? But I’m just grateful; I’m so grateful – I mean, what are the odds that there would be people in this world that would put aside time in their life to know what you do, and to follow it? It’s mind-blowing to me; it’s surreal – and it still is, to this day.

Well that’s a great and very humble attitude.

Well, I mean, I know. I know the drill, I know the deal. You have to somehow connect in one way or another with people who admire you; and hopefully you’ll keep up the same standard of work that turned them on in the first place. So I always try to – whatever new thing comes along, I just try to come in like gangbusters; you know, get some attention. Like, I like to turn tables over, bash chairs. You know, when I first went to New York I was like a Terminator. I got all skinny because I knew I was going to be walking everywhere, and auditioning; and I used to listen to bagpipe music.

Bagpipe music?

Yeah, because I’m half Irish; and when I hear bagpipe music, it makes this Celtic side of me boil, and prepares you to go into battle. I’d be galvanized, like I was marching into a glen with my compatriots, and we’re all going to get stabbed and shot; but it’s okay, because we’re doing it for the right reason. And I used to listen to all these bagpipes, going up 2nd Avenue, 3rd Avenue, to work, and I would get to the audition, and I’d feel like a Terminator.

Like you were ready. That’s fantastic. Speaking of getting ready for new things; what are you working on currently that we should be looking forward to?

I’m doing some kids’ stuff. I never used to get hired by Disney; because I wasn’t their kind of guy, you know what I mean? The stuff I did was very Gothic and dark-ish, like screaming and yelling and very dramatic. But I got this show called The 7D; and I’m playing Bashful, because the 7D are the seven dwarves. (Singing) “We’re The Seven D,” and they get a beautiful, cute song and everything. And I love it; I love it to pieces.

And is that out now, or coming out?

It’s coming out. And I was doing some voice work for Avengers Assemble. There’s a character called Rocket Raccoon. So I’m doing him. (In character) “Yeah, he’s got kind of like a Joe Pesci. And like, Steve Buscemi.” “Blood has been spilled, Jerry. I’m through fuckin’ around wit’ you, Jerry.” But somehow he has that voice. I thought it would be perfect to just tweak it; and it’s not a dead-on impression – I could care less about that. What it is, is: “Is it funny? Is it interesting? Does it fit?” I did a bunch of hours of recording the other day. And then I have my projects going. That keeps me busy because I’m always writing. I stay up all hours and stuff, but it’s a labor of love, so you feel energized somehow.

Yeah! Well I hope that we see some of that from you soon.

I hope you do, too.

And thank you so much for this interview.

My pleasure.

•     •     •     •     •

Nope, it was totally my pleasure, Billy. You’re delightful.

Big thanks to Billy West for the interview, and big thanks to the ever-helpful Kevin O’Shea, producer for Made of Fail Productions, for cleaning up the audio file for me. (And as ever, check out the Made of Fail podcasts for fun geek-tastic discussions, in which I have actually appeared a couple of times.)

That’s all for now, and until next week, when I’ll be sharing my interview with the talented cartoonist Nick Galifianakis, Servo Lectio!