When it comes to the world of voice-acting, Rob Paulsen is most certainly considered a household name. A quick look at his resume yields at least 500 credits, from the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Animaniacs to The Boondocks, Jimmy Neutron, Samurai Jack, and beyond. He’s Yakko Warner and he’s Carl Wheezer. He’s been both Raphael and Donatello. He’s been around the industry so much, it’s essentially guaranteed you’ve heard several of his roles throughout your entertainment-consuming time here on Earth.
Though Hollywood has shut down amidst the expanding coronavirus pandemic, Paulsen and his colleagues are still hard at work remotely on their various projects. In the world of animation, many things can be continued remotely, including the reading and recording of lines.
We recently had the chance to catch up with Paulsen about his current workload and some upcoming projects. Naturally, when you get someone who talks for a living on the phone, a few tangents are to be had and tangents were certainly explored. You can read our full chat with Paulsen below, from tidbits on the upcoming Animaniacs reboot to various corners of his ever-expansive career.
Finding Motivation to Stay Fresh
Looking at your credits, it’s incredible. Every time I pull up your IMDB or your resume, it’s just like, “Holy cow. This dude’s done so much.” I mean, thousands of roles, right? How do you keep yourself fresh? How do you keep innovating yourself so that no two characters are alike?
You know, that is an excellent question. Of course, now I’m an officially old person — I don’t feel like that, I think because of what I do for a living. But I have to tell you, Adam, I remember telling this to my mom years ago, because she was just, “Gosh, honey. I hope you …” You’re in Iowa, right?
My mom is from Waterloo. She used to tell me, “Well honey, you know. Some day you’re going to be a big star and all that.” I said, “Well …” Honestly, even as a kid, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t like it when people made a fuss over me. That’s why you become an actor, you know? It’s like they say, the first one’s free. But man, once you’re hooked, that’s it. I don’t care what it is. Whether it’s being an actor, a journalist, podcaster. You do it because you love it. You’re not making a whole bunch of money at this. I didn’t, for the longest time, at being an actor either.
I’ve certainly done well over the years, but it’s because I’ve put myself in a position to get lucky. Not because I’m incredibly smart or brave or anything. It was just, “Well, you’ve got to go to LA so that people can see whether or not you’re good enough.”
But for me, my idea of making it was being respected by the people whom I respect. I learned a lot by being around world class actors, many of whom are people you’d recognize, and a lot of them are gone now. But all of them, whether they were famous or not, always had a high bar for themselves. They were always creating. They were always looking for the next gig.
People ask me, “What’s your favorite job?” I say, “The next one, because it means I’m working.” I have also learned that voice acting is acting, period. It’s not just about the voice. I have my own anecdotal experience, which speaks I think exactly to what you’re asking. To keep characters fresh, and not sounding like one another.
It isn’t so much the sound, as the soul of the character. My experience with that is with Ninja Turtles. I was Raphael probably before you were born. Then, 25 years later, I got to be Donatello on a really great incarnation of the show on Nickelodeon. Anybody with ears could tell it was the same actor.
But the ultimate compliment for me is when I get fans who grew up with the first one, and the new one, and say, “Wow. You know, I knew it was you. But I totally bought the character. I mean, I heard you. But I didn’t hear you. I knew it was a human named Rob, but Donatello was completely different than Rafael”.
That makes sense if I’m doing my job. If you look at a guy, and I’m using this only for somebody who’s got a big personality, like Jack Nicholson. Jack Nicholson, we love Jack, because Jack does Jack. He’s Jack in everything. But he’s nuanced, and he tweaks it. He’s got whatever it is that makes us want to watch him. Whether it’s the Joker, or The Postman Always Rings Twice, or Easy Rider, or The Shining. That’s what makes him a star. It’s not about the fact that he sounds, often the same. But he imbues the characters with different qualities and traits that makes us want to pay attention.
It’s no different with voice acting. For me, it’s about the acting, and keeping my chops sharp. Finding nuances in characters that make it more fun, natural. Carl Wheezer from Jimmy Neutron is a great example of that. That’s just a goofy little character, that I made some specific choices for. Then the animators and the writers picked up on it, because they’re way better at their jobs than I am. They would start to write things specifically for Carl, and it works.
We haven’t done a new episode of that show in, I don’t know, 15 years? 18 years? There are Carl memes all over the internet. People love that character, and it’s not just because it’s me.
Anyway, that’s a long, rambling explanation. But I don’t take it for granted either. I think that’s another reason. I am very cognizant, Adam, of how lucky I am. When I have this incredible opportunity to do this, for 40 years, and as far as I know I’m not done yet, that’s really unusual. That anyone gets to do something that they would do for free, for American dollars. Then people like you, nice folks like you, take the time to talk to us about it. I get how lucky I am. So all I want to do is try to make it bigger and bigger, and better and better. Hopefully, that inspires other people to do the same thing. Because I had folks do that for me.
Continuing Work in a Shutdown
ComicBook.com: So you’ve said you’re working from home and you’ve got the home studio. For the most part, with your voice roles and such, I’d assume most of these series and projects still in production.
Rob Paulsen: My, “Studio”, is very, very rudimentary. I generally just do auditions from home. I never thought it was broadcast quality. However, under the circumstances, the folks at different studios in town have tried to keep things rolling. Which is great, because it means other people can stay employed.
It kind of remains to be seen whether or not the stuff I’m recording for them is broadcast quality. At the very least, it’ll at least be a placeholder, so that the animation can be done, and then I can go in and ADR it and fix it later. But it probably is more just to keep the pipeline going because the cool thing is about my gig, is that if there’s a way to keep the projects in production, it’s just, people are at home watching this stuff. This is, you have literally a captive audience.
They’re trying to keep stuff going as much as they can, because everybody’s in front of Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, Apple, whatever. It’ll be interesting to see. I haven’t heard yet from the audio folks at the major studios, whether or not what I recorded for them works. But I really appreciate their efforts.
I don’t really like recording from home, because I want to be with the other actors. I like being in the studio. I like being surrounded by all these crazy gifted people. They’re my friends, you know? I go to work with my buddies every day. I never went out of my way to have a good home studio, because I didn’t really care about working from home. It’s an acting gig, and I’m better when I’m around the other actors. But for the time being, it’s the way it is, and I’m grateful that they’re giving it a shot.
What’s that work-from-home workflow like? Do you get, say a screener file, and you’re recording based off of that screener file? Or do you just have lines and go from there?
We just have lines. In traditional proprietary animation, all the recording, all the acting is done first. Often there’s a storyboard to give you, like you said, kind of a workflow, and then you know what’s going on. But pretty much always over the years, it’s been a script, and you record it. Preferably with other actors. Obviously not a problem to record by yourself. Then all the animation is created to fit the timing and the tempo of what the actors have done, so we’re not limited by what’s on the screen.
If you’re doing a dubbing session for another, in a different language, then you’re limited by not only what’s on the screen, but by the interpretation of whatever language it is you’re converting to English. I think I’ve maybe done, I don’t even know, very few dubbing things. Pretty much all the stuff that I do is original work, and stuff that’s created here in the US. I don’t do any anime. I know how incredibly popular it is, but I’ve never worked on any of that stuff. All my stuff is all original things, that I’ve been fortunate enough to create with other folks.
Have there ever been any aspirations to get into the dubbing world at all?
No. I’m not interested at all. It’s not because I don’t like the stuff. I mean, I’m not really a big anime fan, for no other reason than it’s just…it’s kind of like, I’m a car nut. I’m not really an old car nut. I like modern sports cars. That’s my thing. But it’s the same thing with animation. I appreciate anime, and certainly appreciate the ardent fan base. Man, they’re crazy about anime. It’s huge. It’s just not my thing.
I like Warner Brothers. Particularly, I’ve always admired … You know, I like Disney, and all the other stuff. But for me, I’m primarily a humor guy. I’ve always thought, if Disney was the happiest place on Earth, then Warner Brothers is the funniest place on Earth. There’s a lot of humor involved with Turtles. But Animaniacs, Pinky and the Brain, Freakazoid, Taz-Mania, Tiny Toons, all those things, brilliant music, and really terrific humor. That’s my thing.
I’m not interested in trying to fit my words into another character’s mouth, that was created for a Japanese actor. It’s not a slight on the art form. It’s just not interesting to me. I don’t know, it bores me, from my perspective, just as far as doing work. I’d much rather be on the clean sheet of paper, creating it from the ground up.
It turns out, it’s been better for me anyway. I don’t have the skill that a guy like Jim Cummings has, where he can take beloved classic characters with an incredibly deep background, and continue to bring them to life, and even add more colors to them. That’s a very specific skill. Bill Farmer does that. The people who have voiced Mickey.
When you’re able to do that, that’s a very unique skill set that I just don’t possess. I’m better off at having a clean sheet of paper, with a bunch of folks around me, trying to come up with whatever works. Sometimes it works really well. At least that way, when it does work, you’re kind of part of the whole equation of something that’s become, arguably iconic. You get to be one of the creators. I like that better.
It’s also not something I take for granted, because it’s very scattershot. You never know when you have a Pinky and the Brain, or a Ninja Turtles. Nobody knows. Or a Simpsons. You know? You just don’t know. To have more than my share is, I’m an incredibly lucky guy.
So you’ve got the lines and of course, it’s the digital age so the technology’s there. Do you have a director Skyping in or Zooming in at all?
Usually what happens is, the voice director is either behind the glass with the producers and the writers, helping to translate what producers want into actor speak, so that folks can get the job done. In this case, the director was just, we were all on a Zoom session. We had writers, and producers, and a voice director. Then yours truly doing my thing. They would say, “Slower, faster, more talent, don’t be terrible. Stop being so crappy”. That’s how it works.
But it’s just, in any way you do it, it’s the best gig in the world, man.
Carl Wheezer = G.O.A.T.
You bring up Carl Wheezer. If I had to come up with a Mount Rushmore of characters from my childhood, the four characters from my childhood that were my favorite, Carl Wheezer is most certainly on that list.
What? No kidding?
No kidding. Carl Wheezer. Probably Keith David’s Goliath, from Gargoyles.
Yeah. What a set of pipes on that guy, huh? I remember, the first time I worked with Keith. Oh god, it was years ago. I think it was probably on Gargoyles. I was sitting between he and Jeff Bennett. I knew who Keith was, but goddammit, when he opened his mouth it was just like, “Holy crap. This guy is, this is remarkable.” But thank-you.
[In Carl Wheezer voice] That’s very high praise for somebody like me. I really appreciate it. I hope I’m not making you pee your pants.
Making a Living
You mentioned your mother giving you advice. Obviously, parents are always going to look out for their children. But then you get to LA. When did you know that you had “mad it?” I mean, let’s be honest. You’re one of the voice acting greats, right? When did you realize, you know, “Not only am I making a living at this, but I’m pretty damn good at it as well”?
Well, I think, there was a wonderful actor. I shouldn’t say was. Is. He’s a dear friend. I mention him in my book. His name is Alan Oppenheimer. You guys would recognize him if you saw him on TV. He did a lot of television. But in terms of animation, he was Skeletor on, what was it? He-Man?
I started doing cartoons a lot at Hanna0Barbera. The first shows I did were GI Joe and Transformers. But I was doing a lot of stuff at Hanna0Barbera. I remember, Alan Oppenheimer said to me one day, because he saw that I was constantly calling my theatrical agent, to go out on auditions for things like Hill Street Blues and MacGyver. I’d be having conflicts with time that, as an actor, you’re always looking … It’s a great problem to have when you’re busy.
But he said, “Young man, you’re going to have to make a choice. Because you’re pretty good at this.” What he was inferring, and I understood, was that “Do I have the ego that would allow me to put that aside, in lieu of maybe more work, but a different kind of fame?” The fame was never…like I said, I’d be lying if I said I don’t like it when people make a fuss over me. But it is not what drives me. I didn’t move to LA saying, “I’m going to be rich and famous.” I came to LA saying, “I want to work. I want to be creating things.”
The fame and all of that comes as a result of doing good work, and that’s not unusual. People tell you that all the time. But this was probably in the late ’80s. I kind of found out pretty quickly, that once I made the decision, probably in the early ’90s, to jump with both feet into animation, that I’d made the right choice. I felt very comfortable in that realm because I wasn’t limited by being an average-looking Caucasian kid.
I was essentially doing what I used to do when I was a little boy. I’d play and create stuff. I liked burying myself in these characters, with all these other actors who were doing the same thing. That’s when I found that I was doing the right gig.
In terms of making it, I definitely have gotten to the place where I’m comfortable that I’ll always be able to make a living. Some years it’s better than others, but that’s the way it is for every freelancer. I don’t really let myself get to the point where I have a laissez-faire attitude about it. Because I think that feeling of hunger, and a little bit of fear, is always a good thing for me. It’s a great motivator.
I definitely felt like I’d made it, in terms of being part of the landscape, when I won an Emmy. That was a big deal for me. I won an Emmy in 1999 for Pinky. It was a very big deal for me because I’d been nominated twice before. Often in that circumstance, there are other much more famous people who do voice work, who will get a nomination as well. That was not unusual for me. I had lost the first two years that I’d been nominated, I think to Louie Anderson, and I’ve forgotten who the other one was. But they were both famous folks.
Then the third year I was nominated, I won for Pinky. I was nominated against Louie, and Ernest Borgnine, and Jeffrey Tambor, and Dennis Franz. Really famous people, a couple of whom, Jeffrey Tambor, who you guys know from Transparent, we worked together a lot. It was a very big deal for me to win as a rank and file voice guy, against all these really famous TV and movie people.
It’s not like winning a statue changes your life. It changed my perception of myself, which was important. I didn’t start making more money. I didn’t get unlimited work. It’s not like winning an Oscar. But for me, it gave me a lot of confidence that I was able to play with people who were recognizable. That it really didn’t matter that I was not. It was about the character, and I was pretty good at it.
That’s when I felt like I was, that I felt really like I deserved to be in Hollywood, playing at a high level. Because it was also a Steven Spielberg show. Mr. Spielberg has hired me for a number of things. All of that makes me feel like I should be here.
But in terms of easing up on it, I don’t think I’ll ever do that until I decide I don’t want to work anymore. I really can’t see that happening.
You have mentioned the Turtles. You mentioned Pinky. There’s the Animaniacs. You have these A list characters. Is there one role that you can remember, that you’re particularly proud of that, I guess, didn’t get either the acclaim or the recognition of some of your bigger roles?
Yeah, a couple. I did a show with, the three main characters were Pam Adlon, Mark Hamill, and myself. We did a show called Time Squad years ago for Cartoon Network. It was only one season. It was a great show. It was created and produced by a guy named Dave Wasson, who is now, I think, producing Cuphead over at Netflix. But it was a great show. Mark and Pam and I. I’d known Pam very well. She used to be, her maiden name was Pam Segall. But I’ve known Pammy for 30-odd years.
Then I’ve known Mark because we were in the same Warner Brothers realm. He was doing Batman, while I was doing Pinky and the Brain and Animaniacs. We got to be good buddies. Then we really, really bonded over this Time Squad show. We’ve become very good friends ever since. But that was an excellent show. Great characters, terrific scripts. Just kind of got lost in the shuffle and never got the juice it deserved.
Also, at Warner Brothers, I did Taz-Mania. That was a great show. It was kind of lost in the shuffle, because that was when Steven was producing Tiny Toons, and then slid into Animaniacs and all of that. Taz-Mania was not a Spielberg show and kind of got lost in the shuffle. But it was excellent. It was Jim Cummings, Maurice [LaMarche], and myself. Dan Castellaneta, who’s Homer Simpson, was a regular on the show. Just a really, really excellent, very good show.
Then I did a stop motion show for ABC, before Disney bought them, called Bump In the Night. It was Jim Cummings and myself, played the two characters. Mr. Bumpy and a character called Squishington. My character lived under the toilet, which is often where I found my career, oddly enough. Jim played a character called Mr. Bumpy, who lived in the closet and ate socks for a living and all that. Or ate socks to survive. It was really clever.
A lot of the people who worked on that Nightmare Before Christmas, Tim Burton, Henry Selick, andpeople up in the Bay Area, did all the stop motion stuff. It was very clever. Excellent music. Those are three shows that I think were just a blast and really good that never got the juice they deserved, in my opinion. But through the magic of YouTube, I think they’re all available. I mean, I know Taz-Mania is. I know you can find Taz-Mania, and I think Bump In the Night is on YouTube. I’m not sure about Time Squad. But they were really good.
The actors are all terrific. I was really kind of outclassed on all the shows. But I was better because I got to work with those folks.
So it’s 2020. Wow.
Tell me about it, jeez.
We’re all getting old, right?
Yeah. Cry me a river, son.
You know the ins and outs of the biz at this point. Animaniacs is coming back. There will be Turtles reboots until you and I are no longer here, right?
It’s not your first rodeo, let’s put it that way. What project of yours do you feel has the most possibility of coming back say outside of Animaniacs, of course.
Yeah. You know, I think, well I’ve got to tell you, man. I go all over the world, when we don’t have the coronavirus, and people love Carl. They love Carl. I don’t think it would be a bad thing at all to reboot Jimmy Neutron. I think that’s one of those shows that a lot of people would love to see again. It was very good. Really smart. That wouldn’t surprise me.
But I don’t have any inside information. It’s owned by a couple of different people, and I have not heard … I work at Nickelodeon a lot, which is Viacom, and I’ve not heard anybody mentioning anything about it. But that certainly is one that I think could stand a reboot, and I think would do okay. I think that it’s not too dated. I think that it would be fine. The characters I think would work fine in an updated version.
Also, I did another show that was an unabashed, well, not a ripoff. But it’s deeply inspired by Turtles. I did a show called Biker Mice From Mars years ago, that I thought was really fun. The three main characters were myself, Ian Ziering, who you guys know from 90210, and Dorian Harewood. That was a pretty cool action-adventure show with some cool music. A lot of humor. There have been rumors about maybe that being rebooted, with a whole bunch of different characters.
Those are just my feelings. But man, who knows? Jeez. If I were the one that had the formula, you and I would be having this chat from my private island.
I know, it’s not a reboot, but I think Justin Roiland and Dan Harmon have a new show, and gosh, I think I’ve only done about three or four episodes of Rick and Morty. But one of them has a character that has become almost sort of mini-iconic on its own, in the short time that it’s been around.
I think it was the second episode of the series, in which I played a character called Snowball, who is a little dog. The first lines I had were, “Where are my testicles, Summer?” I thought, “Man, now you’re talking. That’s a blast.” You just never know when things are going to hit. I’ve gone to, I don’t know, 35 conventions since that particular episode, for the last number of years. I get people coming up to me all the time with their little Snowball Pop figures, from one episode. It’s crazy.
I don’t know how these things happen, or who makes the decisions. Or what is it about certain characters, that end up saying, “We love Snowball,” from one episode. Then I’ll do 100 episodes of something else, and nobody gives a shit. It’s just crazy.
I love it. I love the character, and I love the episode. It was a really smart, deep episode. It was much more than just the humor of this dog. It was a real kind of allegory, about how we treat each other. The way animals, if they could speak, would talk about feeling as indentured slaves and all that. That was an interesting thought, and a metaphor. I loved it, in the context of a comedy show. But it was one episode.
I mean, you can go to Hot Topic, or online, and punch in, “Snowball dog,” and there are a zillion little plushies, tee shirts, Pop figures. From one episode. I don’t know, it’s incredible, and I’m really grateful.
Rick & Morty
Rick and Morty just got an unprecedented order, I guess. It was seven seasons, or something like that?
Something like that. Just a really great show, yeah.
Yeah, have you been in contact with Dan and Justin at all again?
Surely you’re coming back some time.
I haven’t talked to them for a while, because they’ve become Dan and Justin. They’re so busy. But I had them both on my podcast a couple years ago. We used to do it live at The Improv here in Hollywood. They were very generous and came down. Yeah, the audience flipped out. But it was very sweet, because Justin was real straight up with all of us when we started working on the show.
He pretty much came to us, that is me, Maurice, Tress, Frank Welker. People whom he’d grown up watching, and was very kind, and right away at the sessions said, “You know what, you guys? I grew up watching Animaniacs, Ninja Turtles, Jimmy Neutron, Pinky and the Brain, etc. I said, ‘If I ever get my own show, I’m going to hire these guys.'” He did, and it was a huge compliment to us.
Then to be able to do something that people enjoy, with sort of the two generations meeting, was a very satisfying thing for me. To be able to work on something, where some young fellow whom I’d never met, was a creative young person out there, like your audience, with a dream and great ideas. Watching the shows we all worked on. Gets to Hollywood, gets his shot, seeks us out, hires us. He fulfilled his dream. He gave me a new one. It was this incredibly beautiful kind of symbiotic relationship, that I love taking time to think about.
It’s exactly what happened to me when I would walk into a room, and see Jonathan Winters, and June Foray. Famous folks that I’d go, “Oh my god. Oh my god, I get to work with Mel Blanc today. Oh my god.” It blew my mind. To be in a position where a young creator had the same experience. Only it was I whom he was thrilled to work with, or Tress, or Frank, or Peter Cullen, or Maurice. That’s huge … Or Billy West. You know? These guys are all my buddies, and it’s cool to see people make a fuss over them. It’s pretty neat because I’ve known these guys for 25 years.
Absolutely, that’s great. Animaniacs, let’s talk about that.
First and foremost, I saw that Yakko’s World hand washing video that’s —
How about that?
It’s gone viral. This many years later, that character is still very relevant. Congrats.
Isn’t that something? Well, that is a testament to Randy Rogel. Look, I’m good at my job. But the term genius gets bandied about, I think far too much. Especially in Hollywood. Where if you’re the latest YouTube sensation, people call you a genius. I think genius is something that’s earned, in my opinion, and it’s not an accident. Steven Spielberg is a genius. Jonas Salk, who devised the polio vaccine, was a genius. We can go through history and entertainment and science. The people who are creating ways to build ventilators with 3D printers right now are geniuses.
Randy Rogel, who wrote ‘Yakko’s World,’ and pretty much all the songs you guys know from Animaniacs, is a bonafide genius. He still does it, every day. He’s writing a musical now. I don’t even know how many he’s written. You know, they get produced. He gets paid. He does this all the time, every day. So yeah, I got to sing the song, and I’m incredibly lucky I did. But that is one remarkable song.
When people find out that Randy had already won an Emmy for writing on Batman: The Animated Series. Because his background is musical comedy, he heard across the hall about this new show that Steven Spielberg was doing with Tom Ruegger, called Animaniacs. He banged on the door. The folks at Warner were like, “Dude, what are you talking about? You just won an Emmy for Batman. Shut up and go to work.” He said, “No no, I can do both. I can do both. My whole background is musical comedy, etc.”
They gave him a shot, and his audition piece for Animaniacs was ‘Yakko’s World.’ That’s what he had in his back pocket. That’s what he pulled out to say, “Let me play this for you, to show you what I can do”. That’s the bar he set, and it went on from there. That’s crazy, you know?
Yes it is.
I love to tell that story, because it’ll either be inspirational, or it’ll make people go, “Oh, okay. I’ve got no business going out there.” It’s not because we don’t want people to come and follow their dreams. But you need to know that there are folks just like all of us who want to pursue our dream in Hollywood, who you’ve never met. They show up in Hollywood from wherever, with a song like that in their back pocket. That’s nuts. Here we are 25, 28 years later. You can go everywhere in the world, and people know that song. It’s remarkable.
It’s very remarkable. How far along are you guys on the new series?
We’ve gotten pretty deep into recording. I know that they’re starting to animate, and I don’t really know … I know they’re well into animation as well. I’m not really sure when the show is going to come out. As you know, it’s a totally brave new world in the way we all consume entertainment now. Traditionally, years ago, when it was Saturday morning, or even just before Netflix and Hulu and all, there would be a season. Where the Fall season, shows are coming out or whatever. You’d be beholden to advertisers to get out there, to get commercials on shows.
Well now, we don’t have to worry about that. Hulu or Netflix or Amazon or Apple can say, “Yeah, we’re going to do 50 episodes of whatever show.” “When is it coming out?” “I don’t know.” “This Fall?” “Yeah, maybe.” “Next Spring?” “Maybe.” “You going to let them all out at the same time so people can binge it?” “Maybe.” “10 at a time?” “Yeah, maybe.”
It’s like, “Who knows?” But on the other hand, it’s incredibly freeing. Because as much as I’m a capitalist, and look, I’ve been rich and I’ve been poor, and rich is better. But when you’re a creator, and you’re not limited to being beholden to an advertiser, or your content is only dictated by the creative input, and people say, “Here’s a bunch of money. Do your show. We’d like to see what you’re doing, but otherwise, off you go.” Oh my god. That’s fantastic. It’s just, it’s better for everybody. It’s better for the creators, and it’s better ultimately for the consumer.
We now have shows, on Netflix or Hulu, we get shows like Ozark, and The Outsider, and The Crown, and The Handmaid’s Tale, and Castlevania. Great stuff that is not, it’s just about giving the creators money, and they get out of the way. It’s incredibly freeing for all these wonderfully talented people.
Have you seen any of the new animation yet?
I have. I saw a little bit of an opening sequence, and it looks great. It’s been tweaked, as I can tell, a little bit. I don’t mean that to scare anybody. By the way, this is, when I say scare, I put that in quotes. Folks, this is a cartoon. You know where I’m going. Clearly, it’s no wonder that I speak for a living, because I haven’t shut up since you called me.
What inevitably happens, and I realize this is kind of a left-handed compliment, is when something that’s as precious to millions of people as Animaniacs and Pinky and the Brain is picked for a reboot, the first thing that happens is, people, and it happened to me when Animaniacs was coming along after we did a bunch of Tiny Toons. It was, “Oh no. They’re doing, what is this? Ani-what? Why don’t they just do more Tiny Toons? Oh my god, they’re going to ruin it. Why are they doing … They’re going to screw it up. What the hell’s wrong with them? You’d think Steven Spielberg would know better.”
Jesus, you guys. Firstly, it’s a cartoon. There are those of you out there, as much as I appreciate that it’s a big deal, and it is to me. It’s how I feed my family. But it’s a cartoon. You’re not going to lose the other ones. If you see the new ones and you don’t like them, don’t watch them. Watch the hundred of the other ones over and over. They are timeless, and I’m quite proud of them.
But I’ve got to tell you, if I were you, I wouldn’t bet against Steven Spielberg. The guy knows what he’s doing. He’s not only incredibly, you know, he’s the king of Hollywood. But he’s the nicest, most down to earth, kind human. He is a fan. He’s a huge fan. He is not at all about screwing it up. He’s about making it interesting for a new generation and understands that Animaniacs, and Pinky and the Brain in particular, have an exponentially larger audience than they did when the shows premiered.
We also know it’s a very high bar. On top of that, we also know that we have an unprecedented circumstance, in which people who are a little bit, they’ve kind of got their arms folded. They go, “Okay, let’s see what you’ve got.” Well, we’re accepting the challenge. Whenever the new episodes come out, we get that people who are a little bit bent out of shape about whether or not this is going to be any good, are going to be able to watch their favorite episode of Pinky and the Brain from 1998, and then play a brand new episode right after it.
They’re going to be able to A-B it, as if 25 years just went, “Boom,” just like that. They’re going to be able to say, “Oh, see. I was right. The new one sucks.” Or, “Wow, that’s not too bad.” That’s something that has never happened before to me, ever. I have never been in a circumstance where I’ve done a reboot, that people get to watch literally an original version of the show, and then 30 seconds later, pop on a brand new one. That has never happened.
Steven gets that, and he’s still willing to do it. Moreover, Hulu is willing to spend the money one it. As I said, I appreciate you letting me, giving the opportunity to say my piece. But trust me, nobody’s going to be … There will always be people who are going to be disappointed. But there was a man who was president, and a much greater human than I, who said, “You can’t please all the people all the time.” He said it in a much bigger context than I, but the same is true in showbiz, you know?
But man, I’m telling you. It’s going to be really good.
It premiered in ’92 or ’93, I think. Then all of a sudden, you get the call to come back. That’s got to feel pretty good, doesn’t it?
Oh man, yeah. Well you said it. It’s impossible to quantify what a compliment that is. Moreover, to be able to do that again, with Maurice, with Tress, with Jess, Yakko, Wakko, and Dot are back, and so are Pinky and the Brain. Moreover is that in this era of celebrities doing a lot of animated characters, and I get why the producers do it. I totally get it. I also know that just having a movie star do the talking chicken doesn’t mean that the show’s going to be a hit. You’ve got to have a good script, great characters, and terrific actors, whether they’re celebrities or not.
But as I said, Mr. Spielberg is a fan. He sees the fact that Randy and I have been traveling around the country, doing Animaniacs In Concert. He sees Maurice and I when we’re at a comedy festival, doing Who’s On First as Pinky and the Brain. Or doing a Q&A with 3000 people, and he’s asking me, “Pinky, are you pondering what I’m pondering?” and I say, “I think so, Brain. But me and Pippi Longstocking? What would the children look like? Narf.”
Steven sees that, and he sees people do what you’re doing. They’re screaming laughing. When the reboot happened, there was never any question with Mr. Spielberg, but that Tress MacNeille, Maurice LaMarche, and Rob Paulsen were going to be doing those characters. That’s a huge deal to a non-celebrity talent like myself. I get it’s the characters who are famous, not me. Nice people like you make a fuss over me, and so I become a little more well known. But it’s still about the characters, and I totally accept that.
However, the fact that Mr. Spielberg knows it’s about the fans, and it’s about the authenticity of the characters, it never occurred to him that he was going to have Russell Brand and Peter Dinklage do Pinky and the Brain. It was about the authenticity of the characters. For him to call us up and say, “You guys want to do this again?” Are you kidding me? That rarely happens. Especially to a non-celebrity talent.
Again, that speaks to how much of a fan Mr. Spielberg is. Because he wants it to be authentic for the fans. It’s not about taking famous people and plugging them into iconic characters. You have to respect that. He can do whatever he wants, and it’s about, ultimately, satisfying the fans. That’s why I say, don’t bet against him.
The reason I mention that [Dinklage and Brand] is that Maurice said it one day. It was very funny. Because people ask us often, years ago when there were rumors. There have been rumors about a reboot for years. We were doing a Q&A at one convention one year. Maurice said, “God, you know, I have this recurring nightmare that we’re going to get a call and say, ‘We’re so sorry, but you’re going to see that Pinky and the Brain is getting rebooted. We just want to let you know that it’s not going to be you guys. It’s going to be Peter Dinklage as the Brain, and Russell Brand as Pinky.'”
I started laughing. I said, “Oh my god, that’s just fantasti.”. But no. Listen, it would be a gas to work with those guys. But the cool things about those characters in particular is that I would wager that both Peter and Russell know Pinky and the Brain, and probably even like it. I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve met really famous people, and when they find out who I am, they go, “You’re kidding me. Are you … Oh my god.”
It happened with Jeff Goldblum. Huge fan of Jeff’s. We were at a convention together. I was there with the original Ninja Turtles. Jeff Goldblum came up. He was like, “Are you guys really the original Turtles?”.We said, “Yeah. You’re Jeff Goldblum.” “Oh my god, can I get a picture?” It was so cool. Certain iconic animated characters affect everybody in a very personal way. I’ve had, I don’t even know.
A fellow throat cancer survivor, Val Kilmer, whom I have a great deal of respect for. Just a really decent guy, who really had the hell beat out of him. But he’s a heroic fellow, confronting it. We were together at a convention. His assistant said, “I just need to ask you, are you Rob Paulsen? The guy that was Pinky? Oh my god, Val is …” This is freaking Batman, and he likes Pinky and the Brain. I said to him, “Egad, Val. Point”. He just started laughing. It’s just wonderful. It’s not about celebrity, how these characters affect you. They just make everybody happy. It’s great.
What’s your favorite voice role of Paulsen’s? Think it over and let us know your thoughts either in the comments below or by hitting me up on Twitter at @AdamBarnhardt!
Cover photo by Paras Griffin/Getty Images