"So, this is a journey, and there is no end to this journey until they close the casket." Bob bergen, voice actor - Porky Pig, Bucky the Squirrel, Gremlins, Akira
ABOUT BOB BERGEN:
The 158th episode of the podcast also happens to be the 2019 holiday episode, and there is no better guest to celebrate the season than voice actor Bob Bergen. What, you may ask, does the voice of Porky Pig have to do with the holidays? Well, Bob also used his voice talents in one of my personal favorite holiday movies, as he provided the sounds for the creatures in Gremlins! Bob talks about Porky, Gremlins, and also tells stories of working on Space Jam and The Emperor's New Groove. Plus, hear what it's like to not only work in the voice acting industry but also be a teacher as well because Bob learned from the best including the legendary Daws Butler. Relive your childhood and be inspired by Bob's infectious spirit and incredible attitude towards work and life. This episode runs long because, honestly, I never wanted "That's All Folks" to happen!
Jeff: Bob, let's start right off.
Bob Bergen: Okay.
Jeff: I want to kind of just put this out there and say that I'm so happy that we got connected through some mutual friends of ours. That's Bill Farmer and also Brock Powell. I love the entire industry that is the voice acting industry because it seems like everyone in the industry is just so accommodating.
Bob Bergen: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Jeff: You guys are a family, it's amazing.
Bob Bergen: It's actually very true. And I remember years ago I used to do on-camera, and I would go to these commercial auditions and you'd be scrutinized. And people would look you up and down like you're doing it wrong, wherein the voice over industry when I first started auditioning I would get... It was before emails, I would get phone calls or I'd see people at jobs and auditions, "Hey, did you read for so and so? I just read for it. You're perfect for it, make sure you call your agent."
Bob Bergen: That's the nature of the voice over actor, extremely generous. We're like a mutual admiration society where I will watch Bill Farmer, or Dee Bradley Baker, or Candi Milo, or Debi Derryberry, or Nancy Cartwright and go, "Holy cow, I'm just in the middle of these great, brilliant performers." And I pinch myself that I get to do it too.
Jeff: Yeah. It's amazing because you hear so many horror stories from the other side, the on-camera side. The Hollywood side of it. But so many people in the voice acting industry talk about that exact same thing where they go out on an audition, or they just might be working just a random commercial, or a job, or whatever and be like, "You know who'd be great for this is Bob." You know?
Bob Bergen: Mm-hmm (affirmative), yeah.
Jeff: And that's unheard of.
Bob Bergen: Well, it happens all the time. We recently lost an actress named Russi Taylor.
Bob Bergen: Who was the voice of Minnie Mouse for many years. She was married to the guy that did Mickey Mouse.
Bob Bergen: She led with her heart, not necessarily her talent but she was a brilliant talent. And the day I found out she passed away I started getting notes. Not from any veteran actresses, but people trying to break in the business, "Would you coach me on a Minnie Mouse?" And I'm like, "Absolutely not. Let's mourn my friend first, and when Disney finds that it's the appropriate time to hold auditions." And they did, but when they did they'll do it in the right way, a dignified way. I do believe that business has to go on, but there's a time and a place. And the people that sent me those notes are about five or six I got, and I finally posted something on Facebook and I said, "Guys, manners, tact, class. Come on, I mean a person passed away." There will be more opportunities, let it happen organically.
Bob Bergen: That happened when Daws Butler passed away back in the 80s. He was a teacher of mine and gosh, a day or two after he died my agent said, "Hey, you want to go down to audition for Yogi Bear? Hanna-Barbera is looking." I said, "Not until after the funeral."
Jeff: Yeah, geez.
Bob Bergen: But, it's rare. It is rare to see that. I understand eager, we all want a break, but you've got to look at yourself in the mirror, too. And the majority of the collective us don't do anything like that.
Jeff: It's awesome, it's so awesome.
Bob Bergen: Yeah.
Jeff: And I definitely want to talk about Daws, we'll get there.
Bob Bergen: Sure.
Jeff: But I want to walk it all the way back because you've talked about it in multiple interviews how you were a kid, you were five years old, and you wanted to be Porky Pig. Why? What was it about the character of Porky that hit such a resonant note with you?
Bob Bergen: It's a good question, it's a question I've asked myself. I think it's the same connection that Johnny Carson had to Jack Benny, that Jerry Seinfeld might have had to Richard Pryor or any other great comic that he admired. There was something about Porky Pig's personality, the writing, the comedic timing, where Mel would ad lib as he's stuttering. It touched my funny bone, and I just thought it was humorous. So I just memorized the formula to his stutter. I didn't sound like him, I was a kid, my voice hadn't changed. But there was something about that character, because I asked all the time, why not Mickey Mouse, why not Donald Duck, why not Bugs Bunny?
Jeff: Bugs, yeah.
Bob Bergen: I don't know, I mean, why does anybody connect with anything, you know? So, some actors connect with Shakespeare, some actors connect with, "I want to do a soap opera." And I wanted to be Porky Pig. So, I wish I had a better answer other than I connected with him.
Jeff: No, I think that's a great answer because, you know, growing up with Looney Tunes myself, I so thoroughly enjoyed Porky where Bugs and Daffy were always the stars. No matter the vehicle that it was happening, they were the ones who were kind of driving the action.
Bob Bergen: Right.
Jeff: And especially in the 50s Looney Tunes, Porky became the guy who would kind of either work off the straight man or be able to kind of subvert that joke in there. He'd always get the biggest laugh, and I loved that about that character.
Bob Bergen: Well, there's a wonderful clip. It's a fairly new clip on YouTube, I think it's about maybe 17, 18 minutes long. Somebody put together one second from every Looney Tunes starting from 1929 to 1969. And to watch not just the evolution, and you can do this in just a second of each clip, the evolution of how animators learned to draw better, the introduction of the characters, the evolution of the personalities. Each director had their own stamp on who they thought that character was because a Bob Clampett Porky was not a Chuck Jones Porky, which was not a Fritz Freleng Porky, which was not a Robert McKinsom Porky. And watch the characters evolve, and I'm like you, when I have a job and I'm working with a producer if they don't tell me specifically what they want from me my sweet spot for Porky is about 1953 to 1956. It's Duck Dodgers.
Bob Berger: It's Robin Hood Daffy, it's Drip-Along Daffy, it's the era you're talking about. Mel, he took over for a gentlemen who actually stuttered. Mel Blanc was not the original voice of Porky Pig, and when he took over he was trying to do his best to keep the integrity of what this gentleman had already created but he infused his own sense of acting and comedy. And over the year he perfected it. It kept evolving. And again, those 50s Looney Tunes, all of them, gosh, I remember as a kid going, "Oh, this is crazy Daffy and this is greedy Daffy."
Bob Bergen: How and why did that happen? I was just so confused, I wonder, I mean, we didn't have the internet back then. But did kids go to school on the playground going, "Did you all notice that Daffy Duck just changed?"
Bob Bergen: Because we all do and so when we do new stuff and we're scrutinized by our fans, "Hey, why did you change this, why did you change that?" Because we're doing what the original producers and directors did.
Bob Bergen: For ever and ever and ever.
Bob Bergen: It is what it is.
Jeff: That's awesome. And I know that you draw a lot, when you do Porky, you draw a lot from the different eras of Porky.
Bob Bergen: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Jeff: Do you kind of do that in the moment with each script or is it more of like you have more of a thought process before you even hit the booth?
Bob Berger: It's certainly collaborative.
Bob Bergen: They'll send us the script before the session. We're doing a series of shorts right now called Looney Tunes Cartoons.
Bob Bergen: Pete Browngardt is out showrunner. It's storyboard driven, it's gag driven, it's music driven. Which means it doesn't necessarily look like a Saturday morning script or an animated feature script. The original Looney Tunes were all storyboard-driven. And they're going back to the way they used to be done. We do have a script to read, but we're also looking at the storyboard as we perform. And each short has its own personality as if, well, this one was done by Bob Clampett, this one was done by Chuck Jones, et cetera.
Bob Bergen: So, it's collaborative. I feed off of the producers and the writers, an actor is nowhere without the writing. We do our best if it's bad writing to make it good, but great writing acts itself. These are the truest Looney Tunes I've ever done and I'm almost 30 years playing this character. It's like I pinch myself getting to work on these. And I've seen a handful of them, I think only about 10 or 15 are done. And they screened a bunch for us a few weeks ago, and I was like in the theater going, "Oh, wow. They did it."
Bob Bergen: And the music sounds like Carl Stalling and the timing is great.
Jeff: That's awesome.
Bob Bergen: I know, it is like this is the coolest thing. I don't know if it's a long winded answer to your question. But listen, I will go in, if I see a line and I think to myself that's not very Porky-esque, I will always do what the director asks of me. And then I might say, "Can I try one for me?" I am not privy to nor is it my place to say, "I want you to print that take."
Bob Bergen: And you know, it's about a year from recording session to on the air if it's a series, and it's about two to five years if it's a feature. I will have no idea which take they used, how it's edited until I see it. But I don't see a lot of my work. I'm not a fan of watching my work, so I may not even know what they chose. But I've never had a director say, "No, we can't try it your way."
Jeff: That's awesome.
Bob Bergen: They always let me, and then after the fact I go my separate way and they do whatever they want to do in post, what they think is best for the project that we're working on.
Jeff: That's excellent. And speaking of the project that you're working on, I'm so excited for this new iteration because one of my favorite things about the payday of Looney Tunes in the 50s, let's say, is how music-driven Looney Tunes was. The music was as big a character as Bugs, or Daffy, or Porky.
Bob Bergen: Without a doubt. I can remember cartoons, specifically Chuck Jones, where Bugs or Daffy would just do an aside look to the camera and the eyebrows would go up and down, and Carl Stalling would just add that little perfect violin something.
Bob Bergen: Or they would rely on classical music for mood. I don't know if you know this but there were Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies. Merrie Melodies were produced to promote the Warner Brothers Music library. That was the only reason why they did it because Disney had Harmony something, Happy Harmony?
Jeff: Harmonies I think it was, yeah.
Bob Bergen: There we go. And it was sort of like Warner Brothers' version of that, but literally sheet music was the thing to do back then. You'd buy sheet music, you sit around with your family, and you play songs.
Bob Bergen: Like Hello My Baby, Hello My Honey, and I Haven't Got A Hat. On Porky's first cartoon was a cartoon called I Haven't Got A Hat, which was a popular Warner Brothers owned song back then. So, it was all business. There was a method to their madness, but what I do also understand is that the powers that be, the Jack Warner's of the world, they weren't looking over the producer's shoulders. They just said, "Here's your budget, make a cartoon." So they were making cartoons for themselves and for adults, not for kids. And they weren't censored. They weren't told you can't say that because you might offend somebody. And the bottom line is, every time that Coyote landed with a puff of smoke he was back in the next scene. So, I don't think anybody was damaged by seeing that sort of stuff in the cartoons.
Bob Bergen: I will say I'm very honest and happy to say our new shows, our new shorts, they've got a flavor of the old stuff. I know, right?
Jeff: I'm so excited, I'm so excited.
Bob Berger: Me too.
Jeff: So, you've been doing Porky now for decades.
Bob Berger: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Jeff: And that all goes back to five years old, realizing that you love this character. And that set you on this path to not only pursue voice acting but pursue voice acting with the goal of wanting to embody this character.
Bob Berger: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Jeff: I'm a big proponent, and I've said this a bunch on this show, of if you say something out into the universe it kind of is the seed that starts that path of that journey. When you were a kid did you get that moment? Did you say like, "I'm going to be Porky Pig someday."
Bob Bergen: Well, not really until we moved to L.A., I mean, I always had a love for animation and a love for this character and I had my little portable cassette recorder by the TV recording episodes of cartoons and memorizing them. I memorized that and I didn't memorize school. But my dad announced to the family we're moving to L.A. when I was 14. And I'm like, "Okay, that's cool."
Bob Bergen: And he didn't do it for me, he just took a job here. So I just picked up the phone book, and I figured, "Well, how do I do this?" And I didn't know there was an industry called voice over, I didn't know there was anybody else out there doing it. I figured it was Mel Blanc, June Foray, Don Messick, Daws Butler. There you go.
Jeff: Yeah, that's it.
Bob Bergen: So, I didn't know how to do it, I just did it. So I picked up the phone and I called Mel Blanc, and I crashed a recording session. And I called Hanna-Barbera and they referred to me Daws Butler, who had a weekly class. And I studied with everybody that offered a class, and I met the right people, and I rubbed elbows with the people who had the career I wanted. But wouldn't you do that if you want to be an attorney? Wouldn't you do that if you want to go into politics, if you want to be a doctor, if you want to be a teacher? Ambitious people are going to do whatever it is they need to do, to do it.
Bob Bergen: And I didn't think I was being unusual or even ballsy. I just thought this is what you do. And you know, Mel Blanc was still working and thriving when I first got into the business. But I thought, you know, I need to be in this business if opportunity knocks. And so I happened to have a great agent. In fact, I had his agent.
Bob Bergen: Yeah, my first agent happened to be representing Orson Wells, and Casey Kasem, and Mel Blanc, and June Foray. And I lucked into that. I didn't even realize I had struck gold on my first agent. It took my five years with him before I was able to make a living at this, but I was a working actor.
Bob Bergen: In fact, I had left that agent, went to another one when they held auditions at Warner Brothers for this character. And I said to my agent at the time, "If I don't book this, I think I'm going to probably just retire from voice over and find something else."
Bob Bergen: And she was like really nervous because she's like, "Well wait a minute, I'm making 10% on a lot of your work right now. Don't be hasty." And I said, "This is why I got into the business." And I was young, I was like 20... Gosh, what was I, 26? So, I was like, "I've got to find something that makes me as happy and if I don't get this I've got my whole life ahead of me, I've got to find out what that is."
Bob Bergen: And it worked out in my favor, but she was really nervous.
Jeff: Yeah, I bet. I bet. And it's inspiring to hear that you had such a focus and a drive, that, "This is what I want, this is the industry I want to go into." And you don't even know about the industry or what you're doing at 14, you just are both feet forward, let's just jump for it.
Bob Bergen: Yeah.
Jeff: And I mean, the famous story about you is that you found Mel's wife in the phone book, you called her up, you stalked him at a recording session. And one moment in that, especially going to the recording studio and lying to the receptionist and then lying to the director to watch Mel work. Not once at 14 you're like, "Maybe I'm doing something that's wrong?"
Bob Bergen: Never.
Jeff: That's awesome.
Bob Bergen: My mom was with me, I was like, "Mom, just follow my lead. Okay?" And I figured the worst case scenario, they say no, and you have to leave. But one of the things Daws taught me was that regret is far worse to deal with than failure. If you're on your deathbed at 104 and you look back and go, "Wow, what if I'd just picked up the phone and called? What if I tried to crash a recording session?" Rather than going, "Well, I tried and that receptionist wouldn't let me in."
Bob Bergen: You've got to give things a shot. The worse case scenario you get no, but you get nowhere without taking that risk. So, no, I never felt anything. But hey, want to be a baseball player? Call a baseball player. You know? You want to be an attorney, call an attorney.
Bob Bergen: But I will tell you this, I found my own voice over classes at 14, my parents did pay for it. I got lucky. I found good ones. I rubbed elbows with the people that had the career I wanted. I would work out on Saturday afternoons and mornings with the top six, seven, eight figure actors in voice over. And I just decided, you know, if I'm going to play with the big league I've got rub elbows with the big league.
Bob Bergen: And not with the people on the same boat as me, or smaller boats. And I think everybody should do that. No matter what it is you want to do in life, go to the top and emulate. If they studied here, study here. Most successful people no matter what they do will tell you, "I didn't take no for an answer. I never stop learning. And I'm working just as hard to stay where I'm at today as I did to get here."
Jeff: That's so awesome. And that is exactly the way that anybody should attack anything.
Bob Bergen: Sure.
Jeff: And speaking on after crashing Mel and meeting him, like you said, you started taking classes with Daws who is incredible. And for maybe my listeners and viewers that don't know, Daws Butler is Yogi Bear and a thousand other voices out there.
Bob Bergen: Right.
Jeff: Everything that Mel wasn't doing at the time, basically Daws was doing.
Bob Bergen: Exactly. Yeah, Google him.
Jeff: And not only are you learning from the top like you said, but you're meeting people in Daws' class that are some of now the top.
Bob Bergen: Yeah.
Jeff: Correct me if I'm wrong, in your class with Daws isn't that where you met Nancy Cartwright?
Bob Bergen: Yes. And I knew Bill Farmer because we had the same agent at the time, but Bill studied with Daws. Mona Marshall, Lucille Bliss, who was Smurfette would come by for a workout. Janet Waldo, Penny Singleton, who was Jane Jetson would come in for a workout. Corey Burton studied with Daws, Patty Paris. Oh my god. I can go on, and on, and on, and on the people that... And he had a workshop in his backyard. You know, like a guesthouse.
Bob Bergen: And you walked in, and it looked like Hannah and Barbera had vomited everywhere. It was stuffed animals and animation cells. He had the original beanie puppet from Ty from Beanie. And he wrote his own scripts. He was the only voice over teacher I ever studied with who said the A word, which is acting. And that if you physically play the character the voice will follow.
Bob Bergen: And he would demonstrate it when he would do Yogi Bear he would stick his chest out. Because that's the only way he could do it. And if he would try it like this, it didn't do the same. It didn't have the energy. But this does. I don't do a very good Daws' voices. But Huckleberry Hound, howdy this is Huckle... He would just get real kind of stone faced because that's Huckleberry Hound.
Bob Bergen: It's something I teach my students. If you physically play the character, the voice will follow. He was brilliant, and his class was a handshake or $10. Whatever you had that week.
Jeff: That's amazing. And you have an incredible recording actually on your website of meeting Daws and getting him to do a bunch of voices for you. Is that when you were taking classes from him or from before?
Bob Bergen: No, that was the day I met him. Okay, I will tell you this, when Hanna-Barbera told me that Daws taught classes I had already met him at the mall. An organization called ASIFA, it's an animation society, they don't do this anymore but in Woodland Hills, here in California, they would do a Saturday, like, a festival. And they would sell animation cells and then they would do a live reading of a classic cartoon.
Bob Bergen: They were doing Rocky and Bullwinkle, so Bill Scott was there, June Foray was there, Daws Butler was there. And as a kid who wanted to be a voice actor, I carried my portable recorder everywhere. And I saw Daws, and I just literally pushed record and said, "Would you do some voices on my tape recorder?" He said sure. And I just rattled off the names and he did the voices, and then I recorded the rehearsal and the episode that they did.
Bob Bergen: So, that's when I really got the nerve to call him up and say, "I'd like to study with you." But I studied off and on with Daws.
Bob Bergen: He lived pretty far, you know, we were in The Valley he was in Beverly Hills. I studied mostly with teachers in The Valley, again, I was 14, 15. When I started driving at 16, 17, 18 that's when I started going to Daws' a little bit more regularly.
Jeff: That's awesome. And I know you were so driven that you were just looking for as many teachers as you possibly could to learn as much as you could. And another teacher that I know that you worked with who, as a product of the 80s and 80s animation it shaped my childhood, was Michael Bell.
Bob Bergen: Oh sure, yeah.
Jeff: What were classes like with Michael? And again, for maybe my viewers and listeners who don't recognize the name, you definitely recognize him from, I don't know, The Smurfs, Transformers, G.I. Joe. I can just keep going. I would always see his names.
Bob Bergen: Thundarr.
Bob Bergen: And if you're really, really, really like my generation, for years Parkay Margarine had a campaign where somebody would say, "It's time for some Parkay Margarine." And the margarine would go, "Butter."
Jeff: That was Michael.
Bob Bergen: That was Michael Bell.
Jeff: Oh my gosh.
Bob Bergen: Yeah. I guess that was Michael Bell. My very first job in the industry which got me my SAG card was a cartoon called Spider-Man And His Amazing Friends.
Jeff: I remember that, yeah.
Bob Bergen: And I was sandwiched between Frank Welker on this side and Michael Bell on that side. And as far as I was concerned I was sandwiched in between God and Jesus.
Bob Bergen: And I was terrified. And with every line out of my mouth Frank Walker went like this... And to this day I never let him forget that, because he was such a dear sweet man. Michael, as you said, was a genius. And I studied with him. I studied with him when I was already working in the industry. Marcia Wallace was in our class. I don't know if you know who Marcia Wallace was but she was on the old Bob Newhart Show.
Jeff: The Bob Newhart Show, yeah.
Bob Bergen: Brilliant actress and a really good friend of Michael's. She was in the class and during a break she comes up to me, she goes... Can I swear on your podcast or would you like to keep it clean?
Jeff: Oh, we are fucking Death Wish Coffee. Yeah.
Bob Bergen: Rock on. So, she says, "Why the fuck are you here?" I said, "What do you mean?" She goes, "You obviously don't need this."
Bob Bergen: And I said, "I actually do. I'm learning and I'm experiencing, and I'm stealing from everybody in this room. Michael works more than I do and I'd like to work as much as he does." So I don't think... If you ever get to a point in your career where you say, "Well, I'm at the point where I can't learn anymore." You're going to [inaudible 00:23:41].
Bob Bergen: Because we always learn, we always learn.
Bob Berger: So, yeah, Michael was great. And if he's still teaching and people are watching this, study with Michael.
Jeff: That's so amazing. And you're right, you can always learn.
Bob Bergen: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Jeff: And you learned early on that it wasn't just about honing your voice in voice acting. And in fact, I'm going to throw it back to our friend Bill Farmer and also someone else that I super respect in this industry, one of my favorites, Rob Paulson; they both talk incessantly about how it is little V, small A... Or, I'm sorry. Little V, big A.
Bob Bergen: Yeah.
Jeff: The acting is the big part. And you realized that at a young age and you started not only studying voice acting but you started studying acting and improv, and that kind of thing.
Bob Bergen: Yeah. Yeah, I did three years at The Groundlings and I did two years at a Meisner Conservatory after I was already a working voice actor. You know, when I got into the business many voice actors came from radio. And when I got into the business, if you wanted to do animation there were three networks with Saturday morning, a handful of syndicated shows, Disney might have released an animated feature once every five to seven years. And today there are prime time cartoons again.
Bob Bergen: We've got 24/7 cartoon networks. A variety of them.
Bob Bergen: We've got streaming cartoons. There's more work today than there ever has been for somebody interested in doing animation. So the fact that I did break in when the odds were so against me was pretty cool, but you're right. It's acting. You know acting is... I didn't make this up, this is [inaudible 00:25:12], "Acting is being truthful under imaginary circumstances." The audience has to believe those words, the audience has to believe that even if you've rehearsed this is the first time this character's ever said it. Acting is reacting even though when you do a feature or a game your scene partners aren't with you. It's just you and the director. You have to sound like you're reacting.
Bob Bergen: I tell my students that 80% of animation is in the imagination. You have to see it and voice it, see it and react to it in your head. So, to have the acting skills whether it's a cartoon, or a commercial, or a promo in voice over, it's essential.
Bob Bergen: Google Tom Hanks on... Oh, what was the show? Some British talk show, I can't think of the name right now.
Jeff: Oh, Graham Norton.
Bob Bergen: Graham Norton. Exactly.
Jeff: Yeah, yup.
Bob Bergen: Talking about how hard it was to do Toy Story.
Bob Bergen: Where you do a take and through the glass you then have to push in the talk back button and they looked discouraged. And you're thinking, "Well they're just calling Meryl Streep to do this because they must think I suck." You know, no matter where you are in your career you've got that if you look at the bottom of your SAG actor card, it says, "Paranoid and insecure." You know?
Bob Bergen: Actors are just always thinking, am I an imposter? Are they going to ever catch that I don't realize what I'm doing? Everybody thinks that. But it is 100% acting. It's not about how many voices you can do, it's acting.
Jeff: That's so... And it's totally the truth and it's awesome. So you're learning all this stuff, you're taking all these classes, you're still working in the industry. When does it come to a point where you realize, "Oh. Oh, I can do this now as a career." Because I know you worked a lot of extra jobs to make ends meet.
Bob Bergen: Mm-hmm (affirmative), yeah.
Jeff: You were a Universal Studios tour guide for a while. When was that moment when you finally were like, "Okay, I can actually say that I'm an actor for real and I'm going to make that my career."
Bob Bergen: Well, okay, that's deep. I know I'm an actor for real and that doesn't come with a price tag or a salary. Actors have to act, singers have to sing, painters have to paint. They don't have to get paid at it, they do have to eat.
Jeff: That's true.
Bob Bergen: So you have the odd job so you can pursue art professionally.
Jeff: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Bob Bergen: So the first five years of my career as a voice actor I was tour guide at Universal, as you said. And I lived on my Universal paycheck, and I banked my voice over income. So my last year there I had like 32 sick days because I was doing more voice over work than tram work. And I got a call into the office and they said, "We have to let you go. We can't afford to keep you, you work too much as an actor." And I panicked. I was like, "Well, what happens if the acting stops?"
Bob Bergen: And my boss just said, "Well then come back." Okay. So, I was really scared. And really... I mean, I made enough my first year as an actor to make benefits. For those of you watching this who don't know how it works, in the union you have to make X number of dollars a year to qualify for health benefits and a pension. And for my first year I qualified. Back then I think it was like $3500, today it's like $33000.
Bob Bergen: But my point is I'm leaving Universal terrified, what do I with myself. And I came home and I looked at my statements, I looked at my portfolio, and I realized, "Okay, I've saved up two years worth of living expenses. From car payments to mortgage..." I meant rather to rent, because I didn't own anything then, "To food and, sure, I've got enough to live on for two years. Okay. Thank you Universal. I'm going to give this a shot."
Bob Bergen: And that was in 1987. Mel Blanc passed away in 89. And my first Looney Tunes job, I'd been working in other things, but my first Looney Tunes job was Tiny Tunes in 1990.
Bob Bergen: So I thank Universal for firing me. But, I've got to tell you, I think the real answer is you never feel content. You never feel like, "I've made it." I've had situations where I was the voice of a Disney Channel for several years.
Bob Bergen: And I was told they were going to renew my contract so I bought a house. It was a 30 day escrow, 31 days later they changed their mind. And I'm like, they can't. I said to my agent, "They can't change their mind. I bought a house." And my agent's like, "I don't think they care."
Bob Berger: So then we had a commercial strike not long after that.
Bob Bergen: So I went, okay, I'm going to look on the bright side. I have a house I could sell, where I've got friends who are month to month in an apartment. I don't have to fill this with furniture right now. I could get roommates. I'm going to be okay. So I think you also have to be realistic, but nobody puts a gun to my head and said, "You have to be a professional actor." I just know that acting feeds my soul the way food feeds my body. I don't have to get paid.
Bob Bergen: You mentioned Rob Paulson, we were at a Christmas party a few years ago at the buffet. And I said to him, "Dude, got a question. Did you go into this for the money?" And he said, "I'm still not into it for the money. I got lucky." I said, "Me too." But the internet has brought with it generations that only go into this for the money. And they talk more about getting paid for it than they do about crafting art. Where we never talked... I mean, nobody, Daws, Michael Bell, nobody discussed how much you could make. And it was considered vulgar for a teacher to discuss income, because a class was her craft.
Bob Berger: Income was something that was a fortunate circumstance if you happened to get there. Today it is for some people around the country who study voice over, they're offended that the teacher doesn't talk about what they can get paid because they think they're missing out on a legitimate part of their education. I still think it's vulgar.
Jeff: Wow. Wow, that's incredible. And I just want to ask real quick on when you were working at Universal, you were also working as an actor in the industry. As a tram tour guide did you ever like try out anything that you were working on on these unsuspecting people?
Bob Bergen: That's an interesting question. I got written up once for being too entertaining on the tram. They said to me, "You were more entertaining that where you were taking the people." And I said, "Whose fault is that?" And then I got written up for not doing voices on the tram because at the time MCA Universal was run by a guy named Lew Wasserman. And Lew Wasserman had family on the tram. And my manager came up to me and said, "Lew's got some family on the tram, would you do some voices for them?"
Bob Bergen: My first major motion picture was a film called Gremlins, and it was shot at Universal while I was a tour guide. And I said, "You know what? I've got a really big callback this afternoon and the Gremlin voices are just a little too guttural. So, tell him I have to pass right now. But any other time." And I got suspended because I was an insubordinate.
Jeff: Wow. Wow, that's incredible. That's absolutely incredible. And that kind of brings it to present day with like the way that voice acting, like you've kind of touched upon this a little bit, the way the voice acting industry has changed, I mean, now with technology even.
Bob Berger: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Jeff: I'm sure a lot of auditions and actual recordings you probably do at home.
Bob Bergen: Almost every audition you do at home. Blessing and a curse.
Jeff: I was going to ask, do you value one or the other?
Bob Bergen: So the blessing is I don't have to put miles on my car, I don't spend my time in L.A. traffic going from audition to audition. The curse is there's nobody here to tell me what they want or direct me. So, if there's anybody watching this that is looking to get into voice over, you don't direct yourself while you're acting you direct yourself while you're editing.
Bob Bergen: So, it's listening back and directing, not while you're doing it. Because if you're directing yourself while you're doing it you're in your head, you're not thinking about the acting, and the part that you're doing. Or the commercial that you're doing. I miss people. It used to be that the first round of the cartoon audition was with a casting director. Nowadays, sometimes they'll do callbacks in your home studio.
Bob Bergen: But the other blessing is nobody's there to help you, but nobody is there to tell you what you're doing is wrong. So you can't make a wrong choice. The only wrong choice you'll make is not making a choice with your acting, but nobody can tell you you shouldn't play the character that way.
Bob Bergen: What I always do is if I take two takes the first take is honoring the writer, honoring the specs. Because it went through many layers of approval just to get to this audition for me. It could be years of development. But, take two might be what I think will get me a callback. And I might really think outside the box and take risks. If I get the callback, oftentimes they redirect me to take one. But I got in the room. All I want to do is be in the room. I miss that room for that first round.
Jeff: Yeah. Do you think it's... And this might be an existential question, but do you think it's changing the landscape of the industry? Not just voice acting but cartoons in general? Because like you said, being in a room with a director, you know, and we can talk about some of the greats like Chuck Jones or whatever, or like you said casting directors. Like the incredible Andrea Romano or these people who not only are in the room but are helping to shape the final creation that is being there. Do you think because so much of it is happening on your own it's changing the industry?
Bob Bergen: Well, it's not. No, no, the actual cartoon we are with the cast and we are with the director.
Jeff: Oh, okay.
Bob Bergen: I was just talking about the auditions.
Jeff: The auditions parts then. Okay.
Bob Bergen: I have yet to ever, ever do a job in my home studio.
Bob Bergen: I've had situations where because of scheduling I'm the only actor in the room, and I don't have my fellow actors to feed off of so they'll feed me the lines. Or I've done features, like I remember when I did The Emperor's New Groove and I was playing a squirrel. All my scenes were with Patrick Warburton but he and I never worked together. The director Mark Dindal fed me his lines. And it would look great on film because we had a good director and good editing.
Bob Bergen: But, no, actors need to be there.
Bob Bergen: And fortunately you're right, Andrea, a legend. Collette Sunderman, Charlie Adler, Susan Blue, Michael Bell. Michael Bell's a director.
Bob Bergen: I mean, I'm an actor who needs direction. I'm too busy acting to direct myself. I can't direct myself the way I direct my students because I'm too busy. Like, Jerry Lewis, you may love him or hate him, but Jerry Lewis was a director and he was directing himself. He was the one that came up with the video playback on a film set. So he could do a scene, come back and look at it, and go, "Oh, I've got to adjust that." For himself. Not for the other people, for himself. And see the whole picture how he's acting and reacting with his fellow castmates. It was brilliant.
Jeff: Wow. Wow. You kind of touched upon it a couple times, you now teach.
Bob Bergen: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Jeff: And did you just fall into that? Was that something that you always looked towards doing or was that just kind of haphazard, like, "Okay, now I'm teaching."
Bob Bergen: Had no desire.
Jeff: No desire?
Bob Bergen: No desire. I was doing a play back in the 80s and in my bio it said something like, you know, "My day job's a voice actor." Or something like that. And this guy came to the dressing room after the show and he said, "Listen, I'm opening up an acting school, would you like to teach a cartoon class?" And I said, "No, not really. But thank you." I had no experience doing it and I wasn't qualified.
Bob Bergen: And then I got a call from The SAG Conservatory, and they said, "Your name's been bantered around by various people that you might be a cartoon voice over coach." I said, "No, by whom?" And they just said, "Offhand, I don't know, but, are you interested?" And I said, "Well, what do these students pay?" And they said it's like $10 a year. And they've got a different class every night. Everything from improv to voice over to unique scene study."
Bob Bergen: I said, "What do you pay the teachers?" And they said, "No, it's a volunteer thing." I said, "That'll do, because if I suck at it I won't have Jewish guilt about taking money." So I did that for a couple years. And I thought, "Okay, I'm pretty good at this. I'm enjoying this." I called the guy at the acting school and I said, "I'm yours if you still want me." And he said okay.
Bob Bergen: So, I did his thing for about a year, year and a half and then I went on my own and I've been teaching now for 33 years, I guess, something like that. But on my own for at least 30, and I love it. I only do it because I love it.
Jeff: That's awesome.
Bob Bergen: It's not a major chunk of my income, I only do three classes a year in Los Angeles, and weekend classes around the country every once in a while. I did a cruise this January with the commercial casting director named Mary Lynn Wissner.
Jeff: Oh wow.
Bob Bergen: We did cartoons and commercials on a ship and that was so much fun.
Jeff: Oh that's awesome. That sounds amazing. And I'm sure you draw a lot from your own experience being in classes with Daws, and Michael, and that kind of thing. So, you were drawing from that.
Bob Berger: Sure.
Jeff: So that's just that full circle of knowledge being imparted and then being pushed out into the world. And it's amazing. I've got to ask, you've been teaching now for so long, have you had instances where you've gotten to work professionally with any of your students?
Bob Bergen: Sure, yeah.
Jeff: That's awesome.
Bob Bergen: You know, I will say this, I'll be really honest it doesn't happen often. Because not everybody is... I mean, the cream floats to the top. Voice over is so competitive and animation is so competitive, if any director or casting director needs a voice all they need to call is one talent agency, Atlas, CESD, DPN, SBV, AVO, William Morris. You'll find your cast. They audition everybody from every agency because they want to see who is out there, but it is very difficult to break in.
Bob Bergen: My buddy Mark Evanier, he's the writer, producer, director for Garfield. And he only hired me for Garfield... Garfield started in the 80s, so did I.
Bob Bergen: And he only hired me for my first Garfield a few years ago because he said to me, "Bob, I've got Frank Welker, I've got Wally Wingert, I've got, oh gosh, Gregg Berger. I don't necessarily need anybody else." But he finally found a character that he was like, "Oh, I think Bob can do this and probably is the best for this part."
Bob Bergen: So, I'm long winded, forgive me, I talk about a lot of stuff.
Jeff: No, love it.
Bob Bergen: What was your original question?
Jeff: Was if you had worked with any of your students was the original question.
Bob Bergen: Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah. People have, whether it's voice over, ballet, singing, I call it the it factor. Within the first four seconds at the mic in my class my thought will be, "Matter of time." I've only thought that maybe two hands worth, two hands and fingers worth, ten, in 30-something years. Quentin Flint, from the moment he was at the mic. Max Middleman, from the moment he was the mic. Misty Leigh, the moment she was at the mic. And that's who I'm thinking of at this very moment.
Jeff: That's awesome.
Bob Bergen: But it literally is like that, "Yeah, there's that it factor." And I would never tell them that.
Bob Bergen: Because I didn't want them to get cocky or too sure of themselves. But I will tell you that when you're working with a former student, that's why we do this. It is the coolest thing on the planet. David Chen, I did a cartoon, I can't say what it was. We signed an NDA. But he took my class first in New York and I told him there after the weekend class, I said, "Buddy, you're so good. You've got to get to L.A."
Bob Bergen: Now, some will and some won't. The ones who really want it will do anything it takes to get into this business. He did.
Jeff: That's awesome.
Bob Bergen: He came out to L.A., and he took my 8-week class. And that first class, or rather session that we did together, there were two of us teachers, Me and Debi Derryberry. It was like, you know, it was a special moment. Because it was a major studio and a major release. An animated feature. So, that was really cool.
Jeff: That's so cool. And I kind of just want to touch on a couple parts of your career because as a voice actor what I love about this industry is, you know, not being on camera you can be whatever you want.
Bob Bergen: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Jeff: And you've done so many different things, not just Porky, but from the human, to the monster, to the baby, to the animal. You've done everything.
Bob Bergen: Right, right.
Jeff: And you touched upon some of this already, you mentioned that an early job that you had was working on the movie, Gremlins.
Bob Bergen: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Jeff: What's an audition process like for that? Do you go into that and they're like they have to describe to you what the hell a Gremlin is and then you have to come up with it?
Bob Berger: Yeah. Yeah, I remember going to, I think, the sound editor or supervisor, I'm not quite sure his exact title, Mark Mangini. I went to his office, they wouldn't show us a picture, they wouldn't show us anything from the film because they wanted to keep it quite. And I said, "Well, what is a Gremlin? What is the story?"
Bob Bergen: He said, "We can't tell you what the story is." But he said, "You remember the little puppet with Jabba the Hut that would cackle and laugh?" I went, "Yeah.", "That's kind of a Gremlin." I said, "Well, will these Gremlins be with people? Is it their own planet? Is it like the Gremlin from the Bugs Bunny cartoon where he's flying in an airplane? And he said, "No, no no. That's too cute. These are kind of malicious and evil, but we need to make them endearing."
Bob Bergen: So he said, "I'm going to tell you some of the scenes and I'm going to hear what you have to do." I said okay. He's like, "Can you do the sound of a Gremlin exploding in a microwave?" And I said, "Why would a Gremlin be in a microwave?" And he goes, "Please don't ask for exposition. I just want to know what a Gremlin would sound like if it exploded in a microwave." And I said okay, and I did it.
Bob Bergen: And he said, "Can you do the sound of a Gremlin on a ceiling fan that starts to twirl out of control and the Gremlin goes flying into a jukebox?" And I said, "Okay, again, why is this happening? Is there another Gremlin turning the..." And he goes, "No, don't ask me for exposition." So I did all these things, "Can you do the sound of a Gremlin who jumps into a pool and multiplies into other Gremlins?"
Bob Bergen: And I said, "Okay, now wait a minute. A Gremlin jumps into a pool and that's how they procreate?" He goes, "Yeah, don't tell anybody that." I said okay, and I did that. And I think our auditions were in like a November. I was told that day they were going to be doing callbacks in February and they were going to record... No, crap, callbacks in December and start recording in January. I never got a callback. I just got a phone call that February that I got the job.
Bob Bergen: And it was me, and it was Jim Cummings, and Michael Winslow, and Howie Mandel was there for a few days. And then we actually did it to the picture, so I was like, "Oh, there's the pool scene." And I'll tell you how we did that sound. We were laying on our backs on the stage floor and assistants were pouring Kern's Apricot Nectar into our throats, and us making Gremlin sounds, and gagling and gargling on that was the sound of the bubbling... Well, you couldn't hear us because the score was so big and the sound effects were so big.
Bob Bergen: But, it was a terribly, that was my first movie, it was a terribly fun. And just, you know, Steven Spielberg is executive producing, Joe Donte is directing. Holy cow. Holy cow.
Bob Bergen: It was special.
Jeff: That's incredible. What a cool story. Because again, for someone on the outside like me, it's just like, how do you even cast a movie like that? You know?
Bob Bergen: It's also my only credit with my real name.
Bob Bergen: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Bob Berger: Yeah, yeah. My real name is Bob Berger and somebody had my name when I joined the union, so, it's a long story I've told a million times but the person who is taking my dues money at the union changed it to Bergen. But that was the only contract that I ever signed my real name to.
Jeff: Wow. Well, I've got to say then, hopefully maybe one day you get to do a guest voice on Bob's Burgers and you can use your real name.
Bob Bergen: I've been trying. I've been trying so hard. I've seen the producers at various TV Academy events. I'm like, "Look, my real name is Bob Berger."
Jeff: "It's me, you need to get me."
Bob Berger: I mean, come on. Spelled with an E not a U, but come on; it's meant to be. And I don't know if they believe me.
Jeff: Oh, I'll cross my fingers for you. That's awesome. Another side of animation, and this is something that you did a lot of voices for and kind of at least for me, again, 80s kid, generational, that showed me Japanese animation was Akira. Blew my mind.
Bob Berger: Yeah.
Jeff: That was one of the first things where I was like, "Oh, wow. This is so different than the other things that I'm watching and being a part of." And working on that. And you've worked in other stuff, too, that's anime like Spirited Away and that kind of stuff. But on Akira, was that harder to kind of navigate the industry because it's being produced by a Japanese animation studio? Do you record that in America, do you have to go to Japan to record that? Or audition?
Bob Bergen: No. You actually rely on director, writer to translate.
Jeff: Oh, wow.
Bob Bergen: So, they've got the translation, what it means verbatim. And then they've got to figure out, god bless them I don't know how they do it, but they've got to figure out a way to match the lip flaps and tell the same story.
Bob Bergen: Akira was my first anime ever. I didn't know how it was done, I didn't know the process. I didn't know Speed Racer was anime when I was a kid, I just thought it was a cool show.
Jeff: Same, same.
Bob Bergen: Yeah, right?
Bob Bergen: So I always did wonder why at times Speed would talk a mile a minute and then all of the sudden he would just for no reason go, "Ha."
Bob Bergen: Because they're trying to fit in, I know now.
Bob Bergen: He had that one extra mouth flap and they filled it with, "Ha."
Bob Bergen: And Akira, and I'm going to again be honest, I only watched the scenes I was doing and I just thought, "This is trippy. This is not Disney's Bambi. This is a trippy, trippy film."
Bob Bergen: Same thing with Spirited Away. I was like, "All right, so, she goes to a place with her parents and they turn into pigs. And she goes to a bath house with ghosts. Sure."
Bob Bergen: That's a movie. But I will also say as we're talking about the voice over community as a whole, oh my god, the anime community is so awesome. The fans are so diehard. They're the nicest fans. They're more dear to me than any other genre of voice over because they care so much. And they know so much.
Bob Bergen: I went to my first anime convention, oh this is funny, my first anime convention was in Denver years ago. A friend of mine lived in Denver and I didn't tell her what I was in town for, I just said there was a convention. And she was supposed to call my cell phone when she arrived, and she called me. And she said from the parking lot, she says, "What kind of convention is this?" I said, "Why are you asking?" She said, "Because I'm the only person walking into the lobby without a tail."
Bob Berger: And I tried to explain to her what it was. And she had no idea.
Bob Bergen: Most of my friends that I grew up with have no idea kind of what I do for a living. I guess they do with social media, but I don't think they watch credits, I don't think they know. There are no credits in commercials. And I don't do as much anime as a lot of people because truthfully it doesn't pay that well. And I would love to do more because I love doing it and I love the community. I've done big stuff, Ponyo, Spirited Away.
Bob Bergen: But those were produced by Pixar.
Bob Bergen: And they paid us really well to do that because I had a relationship with Pixar. But the day to day, it's a lot of work. It should actually pay more than standard animation with the skillset it takes to read the line, watch the scene, match the sync, and act at the same time. Anime animation voice actors are some of the best actor, period, in the business.
Jeff: That's so cool, that's so cool. Another thing in your career that I don't think is talked about enough that is so awesome that you do, not only in animation but also on the video game side. A lot of different video game work. You portray Luke Skywalker.
Bob Bergen: I have, yeah. A lot.
Jeff: Multiple times.
Bob Bergen: Yeah.
Jeff: And that is a whole other aspect I feel in the voice acting community. Where you're not necessarily coming up with a new character, you're not necessarily maybe stepping into the role of another character like you did with Porky or whatever, but you are this character that already exists in a million different iterations.
Bob Bergen: Yeah.
Jeff: When you get a job like that, do you kind of like go, "Okay, I have to be like Mark Hamill." Or do you work with Mark Hamill? Or do you just kind of go at it as Bob and, "I'm going to do it the way I'm going to do it."
Bob Bergen: All right, well, I don't know if I've... I think I've told this story but I'll tell it again. My agent calls me up to audition for Luke Skywalker. And I called her up and I said, "I can't do Mark Hamill." And she says, "Well, do you want to pass?" And I said, "Yeah, and Mark Hamill should be doing Mark Hamill." I'm also, this is kind of a sidebar, but I'm a huge advocate for if they're asking somebody else to come in and take a part behind an actor's back, don't do it. Karma's a bitch.
Bob Bergen: So I said to my agent, "Why isn't Mark doing this first of all?"
Bob Bergen: And word did get back to me that he just wasn't interested. So this was I guess in the 90s, and the force had been with him. He wanted to move on with his career, okay.
Bob Bergen: So I said, "Okay, that's good to know. But I'm still going to pass. I don't do Mark Hamill." She calls the producers, she calls me back and she says, "They still want to read you." And I said okay. So I go to the audition and I say to the producers, "Guys, I can't do Mark Hamill." And they said don't do Mark Hamill, do Luke Skywalker. And I went, "Oh, I never thought of that before. It's a character I'm doing. They heard something in my natural speaking voice that was in the range of Mark's Luke Skywalker." And what I needed to educate myself on because I enjoyed the movies, I'm not a diehard fan, and lord knows I've done a lot of Star Wars projects over the years.
Bob Bergen: And when I have an audition or a job, thank god for the computers so I can do some research. But I remember going to that audition going, "Tattooine, Tattooine... What is this called and what is it? And what's a womp, womp rat?" Yeah. And they educated me on the different versions of Luke. They said there's pre-Jedi Luke, which is kind of the whiny Luke and he's just learning. And then he gets the force and he gets a little bit more subdued, "Leah, listen to me. Master Yoda."
Bob Bergen: So, I learned the personality and I didn't even thank Mark. I remember being at a Comic-Con once and Mark Evanier was the panelist. It was two rows of us voice actors, Mark Hamill's behind me and our moderator says, "So, Bob Bergen, I know you voiced Luke Skywalker many times." And Mark, "What? You what?"
Jeff: That's amazing.
Bob Bergen: I will tell you as far as I'm concerned, I borrow Luke Skywalker, he is Luke Skywalker. And I certainly don't do anything for that character that reflects the current movies. I never have. I think I might have actually done some Robot Chickens where they took some parodies from the current version.
Jeff: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Bob Bergen: But I would imagine, bless his heart, Mark is back in the game and he's doing his thing. I hope they hire him over anybody else, because he is this character.
Bob Bergen: He's also one of the nicest guys on the planet, oh my god. We were both nominated for Emmys together this year and we were trying to get together dinner to just go celebrate it. He was busy promoting a TV show. But just listen his Joker, that's genius.
Jeff: The best.
Bob Bergen: That is genius, genius actor.
Jeff: Have you ever gotten to work with him professionally as a voice actor on anything?
Bob Bergen: No, and I've got to tell you I remember going to the last Looney Tunes series that we did, which was called New Looney Tunes.
Jeff: New Looney Tunes, yup.
Bob Bergen: It gets very confusing. There's The Looney Tune Show, there's New Looney Tunes, now it's Looney Tunes cartoons. And I said to Matt Craig, our producer, "I was in the lobby the other day and you know what? I was talking to Mark Hamill, he would love to do an episode of new Looney Tunes." And I go, "Really?" So he went and wrote a character for him, but I wasn't in it. I wasn't in that episode and I was so bummed. I was so bummed.
Jeff: That's a shame, that's a shame. But that's really cool, like everything that you've been able to do as that character, as Luke [inaudible 00:54:50].
Bob Bergen: Well I will tell you what I really was hoping they would do is a Duck Dodgers short with Daffy and Cadet.
Bob Bergen: And have, I don't know, have Puke Mywalker, you know?
Bob Bergen: And have this young, you know. But, that didn't happen.
Jeff: Oh, that would be amazing. That would be amazing. Just before I get into Porky I do want to touch on, because you brought it up earlier, I want to say my favorite squirrel in the entire world is Bucky from Emperor's New Grove.
Bob Bergen: Oh, thank you.
Jeff: It's one of my favorite movies of all time. And what a cool little thing. That kind of goes back to that Gremlin thing, do you go into an audition like that as auditioning for a squirrel?
Bob Bergen: Well, first of all, I didn't audition for it. I had had relationship with the casting director, Mickey McGowan, who I'd done a billion features for. And she just called me up one day and she says, "You're going to work on this film but they're going to want you to play a squirrel." I said, okay. So I get to the session and Mark Dindal, the director, says, "So here's the script, and here's what's happening. There's a character named Kronk who speaks squirrel. And he'll say to you, 'Squeak, squeak and squeak, squeak.' And you'll jibber-jabber like a squirrel and he'll be like, 'Uh huh. Uh huh.' And he'll translate to the villain what you're saying."
Bob Bergen: And I said, "Do you want me to say, 'Squeak, squeak and squeak, squeak.'" And he said, "No, you need to create your own squirrel language that he's going to translate." I said, "Oh, well can I think about it for a few minutes?" And he says yeah.
Bob Bergen: So, the sound stage where we do voices is surrounded by grass and a park. If you ever watched Saving Mister Banks, that was Disney. You see the park benches. And I'm sitting on the park bench, I'm going, "Squeak, squeak and squeak, squeak." And nothing is coming to me. And I swear to you, a little squirrel runs down a tree, comes up to me on his hind legs, looks at me, and goes... And I went, "Thank you."
Bob Bergen: So I went into the studio and I said, "Mark, say, 'Squeak, squeak and squeak, squeak.'" And he goes, "Squeak, squeak, and squeak, squeak." I went... And he goes, "That'll work." So what I would do is I would read Kronk's translation and if Kronk's translation something like, "He said he's going down a dark dusty road and he saw a scary witch." I would be...
Bob Bergen: So that's how I created the character and that's how I tried to make the jibber sound a little bit like the content and the intent of the script.
Bob Bergen: And that one job that I was hired for one day, and it became two and three because they kept writing more stuff for him, we had a straight to video sequel.
Bob Bergen: And I did three years on a series. So, the moral of that story is, young actors, there are no small parts. Don't say no because I'm not playing the lead. It can be bigger eventually, and today's job or audition is an insurance policy for another one.
Jeff: That's so inspiring because it's so awesome. And you know, that brings it full circle to Porky, because like you had mentioned earlier, Tiny Tunes is when you first got the opportunity to portray that roll, which you had been gunning for, you had been focused on. You wanted this role, you wanted to be Porky Pig. And Porky Pig, like I had said before, is one of my favorite comedic actors in Looney Tunes because he always gets that fun joke at the end. He gets the big laugh. He has, in my mind, the second or first most iconic line in all of Looney Tunes, outside of, "What's up, Doc?" Is, "That's all, folks." 100%.
Bob Bergen: Which is also the hardest thing for me to say.
Bob Bergen: Yeah, because Mel Blanc said it once and that was in the 30s and that was for Porky's Duck Hunt, which actually, he didn't even use it in Porky's Duck Hunt. It was used in the next film where he came out of the drum and said, "That's all folks." For Porky's Duck Hunt you saw Daffy Duck dancing around what was spelled out as, "That's all folks."
Bob Bergen: Mel said it once early on before he perfected the character, and they stopped having him come out of the drum out to say it in the 40s. Mel didn't say it again until the 70s and 80s when he would do TV talk shows. And I'm always asked to do it for a Warner Brothers' project because that's his trademark. When I do it I'll say to them, "Do you want me to attempt to do what Mel Blanc did it in the 30s or the way Mel Blanc would have done it in the 50s?"
Bob Bergen: And they always look at me like, "What are you talking about? We just want Porky to say, 'That's all folks.'" And I would have them pull it up on YouTube where Mel's, "That's all, folks." Originally is not the Porky character that we know of tody.
Bob Bergen: I can't do it, actually, I can't do that Porky very well. If you look at some old interviews from the 70s and 80s, Mel is like, "That's all, folks." And the older one was, "That's all, folks." And I try to find a happy medium to please people because they always go, "It's not quite right." I'm like, "I know." That is the most challenging thing I have to do for that character.
Jeff: Wow, that's incredible. And probably one of the most iconic instances where you've been able to portray that character, which is an amalgamation of voice acting, and acting, and on-screen, and animation is, of course, Space Jam. What a lightning in a bottle type thing. It combines sports, and celebrity, and like I said on-camera and animation.
Bob Bergen: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Jeff: Was that experience... Have you ever experienced anything like that since, or before? Was that a singular experience doing Space Jam?
Bob Bergen: You know, every job is unique. Every job is different. You can't really compare this film from that film. That was... So, okay. I'm going to tell you lots of stories, do you have time?
Jeff: I have so much, I'm so happy that you still want to talk to me. This is great.
Bob Bergen: Okay, because I always get nervous because I talk a lot and if you're on a time crunch, it's okay, just say, "No, I've got to go."
Jeff: I do, too. No, love this. I love it.
Bob Bergen: I did early, early on in my Warner Brothers career they did these Nike commercials with Michael Jordan.
Jeff: I remember those, yup.
Bob Bergen: And the first one I did where Michael Jordan comes out and says, "That's all folks." And Porky comes out and goes, "I believe that's my line." Okay, so the day of that session I had laryngitis. And I literally sounded like this.
Jeff: Oh my god.
Bob Bergen: The producers at the ad agency translated as I lost the ability to do this character. So, two weeks later they hold auditions for the Porky Pig character. And I said to my agent, "What do we do?" And my agent says, "Let's have you audition under a fake name and see what happens."
Bob Bergen: So I auditioned under a fake name and got it. Walked in, and they were like, "Oh." So, that was that one. Then we did another Nike commercial and that eventually became the idea of the movie, Space Jam. Which I still had to audition for.
Bob Bergen: And I remember, I went to the audition and the waiting room was just filled with actors. And the casting director came up to me and said, "I understand you've played this character before?" I said, "Yes, I have." He goes, "How many times?" I said, "I don't know." He grabs me by the shoulders and he gets in my face, he goes, "How many times? Because it's going to give you an edge to Ivan Reitman?" Who was producing and also holding the auditions. I said, "I don't know." He goes, "Tell Ivan you've played this character multiple times." I said, okay.
Bob Bergen: So, I walk in and Ivan Reitman's look at a piece of paper, writing on something. I Said, "Mr. Reitman, my name is Bob Bergen. I've been told to tell you I've played this character multiple times." And without looking at me he says, "Well, since there's a lobby full of people trying to get that job away from you that's kind of irrelevant, isn't it?" And I was like, "Oh, this is going to be fun."
Bob Bergen: So the lines that we had, and I don't even remember if they stayed in the movie, they weren't very Porky-esque. And I would deliver a line, and I would say, "Mr. Reitman, can I do this again my way?" And he goes, "Sure, but I if I don't like it I'm going to say we're done." And I did it, and he goes, "That was good. Do more, do more, do more. You really do know this character." I said, "Yes, I do." He goes, "Can I give you a line later on in the script and you tell me how Porky would say it?" I said yeah.
Bob Bergen: So, I did, and he loved it. So I got the movie, I got the part. So did Billy West, that's where I met Billy and Bill Farmer, and Dee Bradley Baker. That's actually, I think, where I met Dee Bradley Baker.
Jeff: Oh, that's awesome.
Bob Bergen: We didn't have much of a script to work with. We had the written script but we ad libbed so much, and we did it all out of context. I didn't know what the story was, I had no idea what the story was. I just knew that we were doing these funny voices. And then the movie starts to come out, and I ask my agent to get me an invitation to the premier and they told my that, "Well, the movie premier is only just for talent." So, I wasn't invited to the premier. But eventually they invited Bugs and Daffy, so that's Billy West and Dee Bradly Baker. And Dee's lovely wife, Michelle, was sweet enough to let me use her ticket.
Bob Bergen: And Dee and I were walking into Grauman's Chinese Theater at my first movie premier. And they looked at our pass, and they said, "Oh, you guys are in the overflow theater down the street." And we're just sitting in a half empty theater with, I think, secretaries and janitors. And that's the life of a non-celebrity voice actor.
Jeff: That's ridiculous to me. And you know, because if someone like me, again, I grew up on cartoons. And voice actors are my heroes. I feel like Hollywood up until very recently had that, I don't know, temperature towards the voice acting community and the voice actors. Like, "Oh you just..."
Bob Bergen: Kind of. Kind of. I mean, I think the internet helped us with recognition, certainly Comic-Con did.
Bob Bergen: I mean, you know. I remember the first time I was at Comic-Con. That was years ago, that was probably 25 years ago. And I'm walking through the exhibit hall, and people are looking at me like they know who I am. I'm like, nobody knows who I am. And it's surreal because for four days, you're The Beatles.
Bob Bergen: And that doesn't happen when you go to Kroger or Starbucks, but man. It's one of the things I do also like about being a voice actor, is that I can go to a restaurant.
Bob Bergen: I did a sizzle reel, [inaudible 01:05:26] trailer, but it's a thing to sell a product.
Bob Bergen: So they'll produce like a 15, 20 minute sizzle reel. And it was written and produced by Paul McCartney. And I got to meet him.
Bob Bergen: And he was directing me. And there was a break and we're waiting to go back to work and I'm trying to make small talk with him. And I said, "Do you ever regret that it happened?" And he goes, "What it?" I said, "It, The Beatles, Wings. Do you ever wake up going, 'Damn, I wish that had never happened.'"
Bob Bergen: And he goes, "Every once in a while in a men's room." I said, "Not restaurants?" He goes, "Nope. I don't mind putting my fork down and saying, 'Hello, nice to meet you.' But there are certain times when standing there, unzipped, where now is not the time my friend. Now is not the time."
Jeff: Oh, wow. That's incredible. That actually brings me to the whole theme of this show. It's all about putting things out into the world and being passionate about it. The idea is that we're all fueled by death, we want to leave this world a little different before we inevitably leave it for good. And you've put so much into this world, and you continue to do that. What fuels you to keep doing that? What fuels your passion to keep working, and teaching, and doing all of these things?
Bob Bergen: Same thing we talked about earlier, I love what I do. The microphone is my happy place. Everybody wakes up, "I don't want to go to work today I'm not feeling it, whatever." But I drive on Warner Brothers, Disney, Sony, Fox. I'm like, really? Me? Seriously, still? Wow. I never take it for granted. When you're a freelance voice actor, today you're doing a game tomorrow you're doing a commercial. It's never boring. I'm just blessed. I'm lucky to do what I love. And like I said Daws said, failure is not nearly as bad as regret.
Bob Bergen: So go out there and try, and the worst case scenario you had fun in the pursuit. So, I just get to have fun every day.
Jeff: That's incredible. That's so inspiring. I put a lot of that same ethos into my own life. And like I said earlier in this interview, I'm a big proponent of saying it out into the universe and hopefully that will be something that will happen. I'm going to tell you a very short story of actually how this all is culminating to being able to talk with you.
Jeff: Last year one of my favorite podcasts that doesn't exist anymore was Rob's podcast, Talking Tunes.
Bob Bergen: Loved it. Wasn't it great?
Jeff: It was amazing. I hope he starts it up again.
Bob Bergen: Me too.
Jeff: And one of my favorite episodes is your episode. And when you were on that episode you were telling the story about your origin with Mel and all that stuff. And then you told the story about how later in life you and Bill Farmer went and met Mel Blanc at a book signing.
Bob Bergen: Yeah.
Jeff: And you did an impersonation of Bill Farmer on that episode. I pulled my car off to the side of the road right as I was listening to that and I called Brock Powell. And I said, "Brock, did you hear the new episode of Talking Tunes? And Bob Bergen, he literally did an impersonation of Bill Farmer." He's like, "I know, I just heard it. I just called Bill and told him to listen to it."
Bob Bergen: Funny.
Jeff: And we were laughing about it, and that's when I said out into the universe I would love to talk with you someday. I hope that someday I get the chance to talk with Bob about voice acting and everything else. And Brock was the one who said, "I bet we can make that happen."
Bob Bergen: Oh, well, first of all I adore Billy Farmer.
Jeff: God, me too.
Bob Bergen: Bill Farmer in our starving actor days would sit in his apartment, the Oakwood Apartments. He'd just moved from Dallas to hang out there and hope. We would just sit there and his wife, Jennifer, would make us dinner. We'd be fantasizing about what it would be like to work in this business consistently and make 30 grand a year. Wouldn't that be exciting? We were working at Disney one day and there was a group of us working on a film, I don't even know what film it was. And I walked up to the mic to do something and I said something like, "You know I think I'll just do my Bill Farmer for this one." And Bill goes like this, "Don't do that."
Jeff: That's adorable. That's so amazing. And again, it all hearkens back to how incredible this industry is. You guys are all just the best people and you all look out for each other. It's just amazing, it really is. And it's been so inspiring talking with you. I finally want to just talk about at the very end here, I know we said you've got so many projects in the works and a lot of them are secret because that is the nature of the business.
Bob Bergen: Yeah. Right.
Jeff: I do know one thing that maybe you can about because I've heard about it in other interviews you've done, is that you are working on a book, correct?
Bob Bergen: Oh, that. Yes, that I can talk about. And it's going to be a long process because I work that in between everything else I'm doing. I've got a co-writer, I'm not a writer, I have a co-writer who I tell stories and she formats it.
Bob Bergen: But it's called Porky dishes. And it's not salacious, and it's not telling any dirt.
Bob Bergen: It literally is kind of what we're talking about here, my journey in the business, anecdotes. But every few chapters has a fabulous pork recipe.
Jeff: Oh wow. This is amazing.
Bob Bergen: Because I am a nice Jewish boy who voices a pig and there's nothing better than crispy bacon.
Jeff: I love that. I love that so much. Well, I can't wait for that to come out. I'm sure as it gets closer to being completed you'll be talking about it. What is the best way for our viewers and listeners to follow your journey? Do you social media or is it just bobbergen.com? What's the best way to follow you?
Bob Bergen: I would say, you know, Instagram, Bergen.bob. I don't know, they're all different handles. I'm @bobbergen on Twitter. I'm on Facebook. My website, I answer every email my self.
Jeff: Oh wow.
Bob Bergen: If anybody out there is interested in this business and just wants... Did you notice I'm still creeping into Bill Farmer a little bit and I don't mean to?
Jeff: A little bit.
Bob Bergen: It's just kind of stuck there a little bit. Email me. If you've got a demo just know I'm going to be honest. And it's only my opinion. Don't take my word as gospel, I kind of know what I'm talking about. But when I was studying, looking to get into the business I didn't have a machine called the internet to reach people. I picked up the phone and stalked them. So, invite people, get in touch with me but just know I'm going to give you my perspective and I treat everybody as if they were me looking to be at the top of the game. So, if that's not what you're looking for and you're not looking for honesty, then please don't get in touch with me. But if you're interested, I'm available.
Jeff: That's absolutely incredible. And I really have to say one last time, it was truly inspiring talking to you because you've been in this business for so long and you're still so passionate about what you do and the love that you have for, like you said, the mic is your happy place.
Bob Bergen: Yeah.
Jeff: And we need more of that in the world.
Bob Bergen: I agree.
Jeff: And I'm so thankful for everything that you create and you put into this world.
Bob Bergen: Thank you. And I agree with you, I think we have to verbalize, we have to put it out there. I think everything happens for a reason. Even when you're going through shit.
Bob Bergen: And we've all gone through shit. We've had shows canceled, we've been replaced, we've had strikes. Stuff happens, you've got to step outside your ego and go, "How can I make this not happen again? Why did this happen? How can I learn from this, and how can I either guarantee it never happens again or when it does happen again handle it better?" So, this is a journey, and there is no end to this journey until they close the casket. And I have a feeling it goes beyond that, too, and now we're going to get into something... But seriously, this is the thing called life that we all have to do. Put it out there, if you really want it badly enough don't keep it to yourself. Put it out there and risk somebody saying, "Sure, let me see what I can do."
Jeff: That's so awesome. Well, once again, thank you Bob so much for talking with me on the show.