As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve watched the first season of Hannibal and I thoroughly enjoyed it. The show is fascinating and horrifying and engaging and cinematically very well done and, dammit, the food makes me hungry sometimes (which is so, so wrong, but omigawwwd, that grape gelatin dessert. I want it! Just…without the human bits, m’kay?).
The show is also not above regular and sometimes slightly terrible puns, which is why I don’t feel the least bit guilty about the title of this column (wait for it), or about saying that although I would have loved to make it to the Hannibal panel or chat with the whole cast and crew while I was at SDCC, I was happy to get at least a taste of production insight by talking briefly with Hannibal’s original musiccomposer Brian Reitzell before BMI’s ‘The Character of Music’ panel discussion (aaaand now the title’s pun lands. Yes, I’m terrible).
We literally had just a few minutes to chat, but in that time, I managed to squeeze in several questions and learn some really neat stuff. So here’s my little amuse-bouche of a conversation with Brian!
How did you end up on the show? Were you a fan of the franchise?
Who’s not a fan? David Slade, who directed the pilot, and kind of really set the stage for everything – I had done a horror movie with him called 30 Days of Night. And that’s very much part of David’s style. I mean, music and sound design as well, you know; so he brought me in. It was his fault!
And did you know all of the Hannibal collection, or just Silence of the Lambs, or what?
I’ve only seen Silence of the Lambs. I haven’t seen the other ones. But I want to see them now; especially the Michael Mann one.
When you’re composing the music, where do you go for your inspiration? And what do you have to go on from the show?
I get the whole show. I don’t read the scripts. I like to sit down and watch the whole show, and instantly start working on it. I like to be like the audience; I don’t want to know what’s around the corner. I actually want to go there myself. So it’s very reactionary. I find that horror music is really good that way.
When you’ve got the food scenes versus the different character scenes, what is your inspiration for these different areas?
It depends on what’s going on. I love the food scenes. I used to be a chef, so I can appreciate all of the detail that goes into it.
I have to say, it makes me feel guilty, because sometimes the food scenes make me hungry.
I know! But saying that, I just keep seeing the shot of him cutting up the pig’s lungs. Those were actual pig’s lungs.
Can you tell me a quirky bit of trivia about your work on the show?
I can tell you that with the last episode, where the Will Graham character is losing his mind; David Slade had said, ‘You know, it’s like…it’s spinning out of control.’ So I thought, ‘Okay.’ And I got this thing called a bullroarer, which is – basically it’s a piece of wood on a string, that you spin around – or a bone. They’ve found one on every continent on the planet, dating back to like, 1700 B.C. And it creates this kind of whirring sound, like a Doppler. I have a few bullroarers, and I have this microphone that has four capsules on it, so it records a perfect surround sound. So what I did is, I set the microphone on the floor, and I took a bullroarer, and I spun it around my head; and it’s literally, in the show, it’s spinning, and it’s like you’re in this vortex; it sounded crazy. And we just kept upping that, so if you’ve seen it, you know, he’s in a dream, he’s in a nightmare, and then he wakes up, and he’s got blood on him, so he’s still there. The realities have completely merged.
For some reason I keep getting these jobs where people are going crazy. I’m not really a TV guy – this is my second TV thing, and the other show I did was called Boss – but in that show, the guy was losing his mind. He had this neurological disorder! And I’m always doing these psycho jobs; but that’s – I’m very proud of that.
Will there be a Hannibal soundtrack, and will it come with snacks?
Actually, there’s been demand for it, which is weird! But I’ve done soundtracks for pretty much everything. Even Boss – we did a double vinyl. And I just did The Bling Ring, so I just did a soundtrack with Def Jam, which is also weird! But yeah, there will be a soundtrack.
And what would be your preferred snack to go with that?
My preferred snack…do you know about the miracle berry? If you eat it, and then you drink lemon juice or eat a lemon, it actually tastes sweet. It takes everything sour and temporarily makes it sweet. It’s a trip. So I’d like to have a miracle berry, which is quite small, and either a lemon or something…or maybe to go even more extreme, you could do something like maybe some fish eggs. It’s Hannibal – it’s gotta be weird!
• • • • •
I totally agree; and I look forward to eventually listening to the soundtrack, and eating my miracle berry and drinking my shot of lemon juice as I listen to the bullroarer whirl and attempt to hold onto my sanity.
Thanks to Brian Reitzell for this interview, and to BMI for setting it up!
And until next time, Servo Lectio!
FRIDAY MORNING: Martha Thomases
SATURDAY MORNING: Marc Alan Fishman… Well, actually, the woman NEXT to him…
The Board of Directors and Shareholders of Dragon Con / ACE, Inc., producer of Dragon*Con, Atlanta’s internationally known pop culture, fantasy and sci-fi convention, have agreed to merge the company into Dragon Con, Inc. (Dragon Con) in a cash-out merger.
Led by Pat Henry, David Cody and Robert Dennis, ownership of Dragon Con includes five of the six founding owners of Dragon Con / ACE (the old Dragon Con). The effective date of the merger is July 8, 2013.
Edward Kramer, who has not had any role in managing or organizing the convention since 2000, was offered cash for his shares in the old company. Financial terms of the transaction were not disclosed.
“This decision only affects the ownership of the old Dragon Con,” said Pat Henry, President and Chief Executive Officer of Dragon Con. “Our members and others who attend Dragon*Con 2013 will experience the same fantastic convention they have come to expect from us.”
Dragon Con will continue the agreements with each of the host and overflow hotels associated with the convention as well as all of the guests and performers scheduled to appear at this year’s event, either “as is” or with amendments recognizing Dragon Con as owner.
Dragon*Con is the largest pop culture convention featuring comics, film, television, costuming, art, music, and gaming. Held each Labor Day weekend in Atlanta, Dragon*Con attracted more than 52,000 attendees in 2012. For more information, please visit www.dragoncon.org.
Hopefully this will now put the major stigma of having Mr. Kramer continuing to be associated with Dragon*Con behind them.
We don’t usually cover music but then again, there are few performers who have had as much of an influence on culture as Bruce Springsteen has since his debut in 1972. As a result, we wanted to make you aware of the documentary being released next month.
Centennial, Colo. – June 17, 2013 – With more than 120 million albums sold worldwide and numerous awards, including a staggering 20 Grammy Awards®, Bruce Springsteen’s music defines a generation. In celebration of 40 years of iconic music, NCM Fathom Events and Arts Alliance Media present Springsteen and I in select U.S. movie theaters on Monday, July 22 and Tuesday, July 30 at 7:30 p.m. local time. Springsteen and I will take audiences on an emotional journey through the personal insights and reflections of their fellow Springsteen fans. Directed by Baillie Walsh and produced by Ridley Scott Associates and Mr. Wolf, Springsteen and I incorporates the efforts of more than 2,000 fans around the world who submitted personal video clips to make the ultimate collective filmmaking experience about how Springsteen and his music became the soundtrack to so many lives.
Including Springsteen performing some of his greatest hits and exclusive never-before-seen archival concert footage, the cinema event features unreleased big-screen performance highlights from the London Hard Rock Calling Wrecking Ball tour and a behind-the-scenes fan meet-and-greet with their hero.
“This beautifully crafted film provides a unique insight into the powerful bond between a recording artist and those who connect so profoundly with his music,” said Ridley Scott.
Springsteen and I will be presented in nearly 500 select movie theaters around the country through NCM’s exclusive Digital Broadcast Network. Tickets are available at participating theater box offices and online atwww.fathomevents.com. For a complete list of theater locations and prices, visit the NCM Fathom Events website (theaters and participants are subject to change).
“Springsteen and I is totally unique – audiences have never seen Bruce and his influence presented like this before,” said Dan Diamond, senior vice president of Business Development for Fathom Events. “This Fathom Event is a rare opportunity for fans to gather together in movie theaters, experience and share their love of all things ‘Bruce’ – as it was produced by the fans, for the fans.”
CHARLES BOECKMAN PRESENTS JOHNNY NICKLE, recently released from Pro Se Productions, is the first volume in a fantastic, already popular new imprint from the cutting edge Publisher. The imprint centers on characters created by classic Pulp Author Charles Boeckman in original stories beginningin the 1940s being written in new stories by some of today’s best authors. CBP PRESENTS JOHNNY NICKLE contains tales by Richard White and Brad Mengel and focuses on a jazz musician with a penchant for getting into trouble and mystery around every corner. Even more amazing than Boeckman’s wonderfully colorful characters is the fact that Johnny Nickle, as well as others, have their origins in a real musician. Charles Boeckman himself.
A renaissance man in many ways, Boeckman is a self-taught man of many skills. He taught himself to play his horns, about music theory, to write, and about photography and darkroom work, as well as many other talents. Knowing a great deal about music theory, Boeckman wrote all the arrangements for his own Jazz band. He used lead sheets. The real Dixie musicians didn’t need them, but he had them for all the instruments in case he had to get a substitute who needed them.
Boeckman (left) and Pete Fountain
92 year old Boeckman literally wrote the book on Jazz. “Cool, Hot and Blue’, published in 1968, is a history of Jazz aimed at young readers. Another book by Boeckman, “And the Beat Goes On,’ has been used as a text book in universities. He also wrote a novel, THE LAST JAZZ BAND, based on some wacky musicians he knew and played with on bands where he was a sideman before he started his own band..
Performing professionally since 1938, Boeckman is remembered as the founder of the 1970s tradition of Sunday evening Jazz marches down Starr Street in Corpus Christi. According to Charles’ wife, Patti Boeckman, “As a matter of fact, at its height, the Dixie band played in a smoky dive (the perfect venue for Dixieland) in downtown Corpus Christi, and during the evening, the band played The Saints, marched out the door with customers following in a long line, marched to the end of the sidewalk and back, and then finished the tune back in the dive. After a few months, the police noticed what we were doing and said we needed to get a parade permit. So Charles went to police headquarters every week for the permit, until they finally told him not to bother anymore.”
Charles Boeckman’s Band, featuring Patti Boeckman
Boeckman’s band, which Patty was a member of as a Bass player and a Charleston dancer, played in various locations in the area. According to Patti, “The band played in some of the most prestigious locations in town, the Country Club, the Town Club (for rich folks), in church, etc. We did play other kinds of music. For example, we put on two gospel concerts. We also had two locally promoted concerts with our band and the Jim Cullum band from San Antonio, well known in jazz circles, in a battle of the bands contest.”
Charles Boeckman was awarded a star on the SOUTH TEXAS MUSIC WALK OF FAME in 2009. This honor is the South Texas version of Hollywood’s Walk of Fame, but for musicians, recognizing those who were born in or have lived in Texas and who have made a lasting contribution to music in South Texas. Boeckman received over 300 nominations for his Star.
Inductees include the likes of Selena, Kris Kristofferson, Freddy Fender, and more. The star is embedded in concrete in the courtyard of a complex called Water Street Marketplace in down town Corpus Christi.
Ever since college-bound Mike Wazowski (voice of Billy Crystal) was a little monster, he has dreamed of becoming a Scarer—and he knows better than anyone that the best Scarers come from Monsters University (MU). But during his first semester at MU, Mike’s plans are derailed when he crosses paths with hotshot James P. Sullivan, “Sulley” (voice of John Goodman), a natural-born Scarer. The pair’s out-of-control competitive spirit gets them both kicked out of the University’s elite Scare Program. To make matters worse, they realize they will have to work together, along with an odd bunch of misfit monsters, if they ever hope to make things right.
Screaming with laughter and oozing with heart, Disney•Pixar’s Monsters University is directed by Dan Scanlon (Cars, Mater and the Ghostlight, Tracy), produced by Kori Rae (Up, The Incredibles, Monsters, Inc.) and features music from Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee and award-winning composer Randy Newman (Monsters, Inc., Toy Story 3). The film opens in U.S. theaters on June 21, 2013, and will be shown in 3D in select theaters.
Mike Wazowski’s (voice of Billy Crystal) lifelong dreams of becoming a Scarer are derailed during his first semester at Monsters University when he crosses paths with hotshot James P. Sullivan, “Sulley” (voice of John Goodman), and their out-of-control competitive spirit gets them both kicked out of the University’s elite Scare Program.l 2013.
Looks 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 TheRen & 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 Frebergthat 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 Chaneyslowly 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.
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.
• • • • •
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!
UNIVERSAL CITY, CA – Celebrate 30 years of dancing your cares away with the Fraggle Rock gang when Jim Henson’s imaginative series commemorates three decades of music, magic and mayhem with the Fraggle Rock: 30th Anniversary Collection, singing its way to DVD May 14 from The Jim Henson Company and Gaiam Vivendi Entertainment. Headlined by the iconic characters, Gobo, Red, Boober, Wembly, Mokey and the adventurous Travelling Matt, the groundbreaking series from the legendary Jim Henson originally aired from 1983 to 1987, and continues to capture the imaginations of adults and children of all ages today through recurring airings on The Hub. Teaching valuable lessons on tolerance, spirituality, personal identity, environment and social conflict, the 30th anniversary collectionwill give parents who grew up watching the innovative television classic the chance to share the wonderful world of Fraggle Rock with their children.
The colorful and exciting world of Fraggle Rock is an underground universe behind the baseboard of Inventor Doc’s workshop, populated by upbeat Fraggles, the industrious Doozers and the giant Gorgs. Through the different communities, the pioneering children’s series encourages tolerance, diversity, empathy and peace by modeling how these characters learn toto live in peace by working together to achieve common goals.
The Fraggle Rock: 30th Anniversary Collection DVD, including all four seasons of the celebrated series, along with behind the scenes interviews recently discovered in the archives of The Jim Henson Company, a collectible Red plush keychain, and an all new exclusive Fraggle Rock graphic novel featuring a parent-friendly activity guide, will be available for the suggested retail price of $129.99. Additionally, the new collection Fraggle Rock: Meet The Fraggles, featuring the pilot, as well as five acclaimed episodes highlighting each of the beloved main characters, available for the suggested retail price of $14.93 will be available to introduce Jim Henson’s world-renowned series to a new generation of fans.
Synopsis: Dance your cares away as you return to the magic of Fraggle Rock in this 30th Anniversary Collectors Set! Inventor Doc and his dog Sprocket spend their days in a workshop..and a hole in the baseboard of that workshop leads to the underground universe populated by the upbeat Fraggles, the industrious Doozers and the giant Gorgs. Get ready for music, magic and mayhem from the iconic Jim Henson in this beloved series that continues to capture the imaginations of adults and children alike.
The end of the 1970s and beginning of the 1980s saw fans confronted with two completely different visions for what Flash Gordon could be.
It began in the late Seventies when producers Norm Prescott and Lou Scheimer wanted to make a full-blown, live-action Flash Gordon movie, probably for television but possibly for theatrical release. They commissioned a script that turned out to be, in their description, extremely close to the original pulp source material and potentially amazing as a film–but also far, far too expensive to produce.
Instead they decided to create an animated version of the movie using essentially the same script. They did so, complete with references to Hitler and the Nazis working with Ming the Merciless, but then decided to revamp the concept into a weekly animated series. That’s how we ended up with the show as it now exists–known at the time simply as FLASH GORDON but today called “The New Adventures of Flash Gordon” to distinguish it from other versions of the property.
Needing extra money to be able to complete the project, they hooked up with film producer Dino de Laurentiis (he of “Orca” and 1976 “King Kong” fame) to help fund the show in conjunction with the production of a live-action movie. This, of course, would result in the Sam Jones/Max von Sydow 1980 “Flash Gordon” film. De Laurentiis saw the animated series as perhaps raising public awareness of the property in the months leading up to his big-budget movie’s release.
As it turned out, the movie was about what one would’ve (or should have) expected from De Laurentiis–an over-the-top camp-fest, best remembered today mainly for its fantastic Queen music score.
The animated series, however, lives on as a mostly very-good-to-excellent example of late Seventies animation (with rotoscoping of human movement, interesting back-lighting effects, and pioneering use of scale models for spacecraft animation). It’s also just a flat-out great planetary adventure pulp story, with Flash first confronting (as foes) and then gathering to his side the leaders of the various other kingdoms of Mongo, in common cause against their evil ruler, Ming.
As a side note, not only was the animation cutting-edge, the music is excellent (an orchestral score–for a Saturday morning cartoon!) and the women… well, let’s just say you can tell this project was conceived as a movie for grown-ups and retrofitted into being a kids’ cartoon! Wow!
The series is available on DVD and, with the ability to fast-forward through some of the repetitive parts necessitated by the serialized format of a weekly half-hour show and budget constraints, it is well worth your time.
(Addendum: The voice of Ming the Merciless is performed by Allen Oppenheimer, later known as the voice of Skeletor in Filmation’s “He-Man” and “She-Ra” series. This might prove distracting to some, as the voice is quite distinct.)
When I was in the eighth grade I began to notice that all things were not created equal. Up until then the sneakers I wore were generic sneakers. No brand name that I can recall everyone just called them Skips.
One day some other kids started making fun of my sneakers. They were all wearing Pro Keds or Converse. That’s the moment I realized things were not created equal. Back in the day you wore either Pro Keds or Converse or you were not cool.
Back then I thought being cool was important. Well, it was for me, my Junior High experience sucked and anything I could do to ease my lame ass rep I was willing to try.
So I asked my mother for some new sneakers…
Me: I need new sneakers.
Mom: I just brought you new sneakers.
Me: (having thought this out beforehand, I was ready for that) those were for everyday. I need new sneakers for Gym.
Mom: Let Jim get his own sneakers.
Needless to say I didn’t get any new sneakers and my mother kept insisting that gym was Jim and simply kept me on the defensive. The kids in my school were ruthless about my Skips.
Peer pressure where I lived was no joke. I lived in the hood. Not the play hood you see on television the real hood. Not being part of the cool kids could be a health hazard. I’d make a joke that most of the kids that teased me are now dead or in jail but it wouldn’t be funny because it’s true.
I was into the status thing for a long time. When I started making money I brought only designer this or brand name that. If I hadn’t heard of it I didn’t even look at it no matter how cool I thought it was.
The last pair of brand name sneakers I purchased were Reebok’s some 20 years ago (When I was 5, Jean) and a pair of Converses a year or so ago which I have yet to wear. I’m glad to say I have no and I mean no interest in buying or doing anything because of a preconceived status.
There is one exception to that rule. I’ve been a real snob when it’s come to movies and comics. When I write I listen to music in my office but in my studio I watch movies and unless I’ve heard of the movie I simply won’t watch it.
That is, until now.
Over the last few weeks I’ve had a serious case of insomnia fueled no doubt by a serious case of stress. One particular sleep deprived day I was in my studio working (or trying too) and watching movies on Netflix, AT&T U-verse, Amazon Prime, On Demand and a few outlets on the net. You name a way to get movies and I’m pretty sure I have access to it.
Out of the blue I decided to watch something I’d never heard of with the full expectation that after a few minutes of sucking I’d watch something else.
It was great.
I then watched four straight movies I had never heard of and all were great or pretty damn good.
That got me thinking about comics and my reading habits. Like movies unless I’ve heard of the book or really like the creative team I’ve been hesitant to give certain comics a look.
I’ll admit, I was not as bad with comics as I have been with movies but I wonder why I will pick up a novel read the back for an overview and rather I’ve heard of it or not if it’s interesting to me I’ll buy it.
That’s exactly how I came to read The Amazing Adventures Of Kavalier & Clay, one of the best books I’ve ever read – and I’ve read thousands. I was looking for something to read on a flight and purchased the book at an airport bookstore.
If by some chance you have never heard of The Amazing Adventures Of Kavalier & Clay, do your self a favor and get that book yesterday.
I still have insomnia (still stressed) but I was wondering if any ComicMix readers would be so kind as to suggest movies or comics that are off the beaten path that you loved and think I may enjoy.
I’ll really appreciate it. Please send them in anytime. I’ll be up.