Exclusive: Billy West Talks About His Top 5 Favorite Futurama Memories and MoreFuturama fans, rejoice! The Season 6 finale, "Reincarnation", will air Thursday, September 8th on Comedy Central. New episodes will arrive in 2012. And we talked to Billy West! Want to know what he said? Read on. By Brett Singer
When Billy West decided he was “getting a little too old for the band thing”, he put down his guitar and began using his versatile voice, creating dozens of characters on The Howard Stern Show, starring in 90′s Nickelodeon necessities Ren & Stimpy and Doug, eventually carving out a career as one of the top voice actors in the world. West is particularly fond of Futurama, the show he has starred on since 1999, now airing on Comedy Central. If you ever get a chance talk to him, say yes immediately. Here is an edited version of our interview.
Snakkle: You play so many characters on Futurama (Fry, Dr. Zoidberg, Professor Farnsworth, Richard Nixon’s head, et al.), often in the same scene. Have you ever slipped up and done the wrong voice?
Billy West: Yes. Once. At a table read. The room went silent. Everybody just looked at me. It was like the fall of the Roman Empire. I don’t want to think about that. That was painful.
Snakkle: Do you have a process for developing a new voice?
West: They’ll tell me about the personality of the character, [or] show me a drawing. I mull it over, and from my own experiences, I kind of pull a few things out of nowhere, toss those out, see what they think. Then I’ll tweak it, depending on what they want.
Snakkle: Do you ever feel like you’ve got it right, but they’re saying “no, more like this or that”?
West: Yeah, but I whittle it back to my way of doing things once I’ve got the gig. (Laughs)
Snakkle: Who are some of your favorite voice actors?
West: Daws Butler and June Foray. These were titans, these people. They could do anything. Tons of different characters, impressions, you name it. Mel Blanc of course. Jack Mercer, he was Popeye. I’m really lucky I got to work with Jackson Beck, the voice of Bluto, before he died (on a Fruit Roll-Ups commercial featuring Nickelodeon characters). [Beck] was the narrator, and I couldn’t believe that I was standing there working with him.
Snakkle: Have you ever considered doing your own series online?
West: I have thought about it. There’s a lot of people, when we get together, we start riffing and I say, why don’t we just lower a stupid microphone down here, turn on the computer, and just let it fly? But I have to really think about that, though, figure out how I’d get it in…
Snakkle: Are you constantly working?
Billy West: Yes. Lucky me. I’m knocking wood, I’m working every day. But thank God, I mean, what are the odds? That’s what I wonder. I’m very filled with gratitude that people like what I do. And I’ll keep churning it out. I want to keep working. I’m 60 years old now. Most people my age are going, “Oh Christ, what’re we gonna do?” (Laughs) I want to keep going at least ’til I’m 80. That’s what [other voice actors] did, and they lived a long time. Hopefully I can share that lineage.
Billy West’s Top 5 Favorite Futurama Memories
1) The Joke He Didn’t Get: “Somebody says to Fry, ‘I heard alcohol makes you stupid.’ And he says, ‘No I’m doesn’t.’ Stuff like that made me howl.” (“The Route of All Evil“, Season 5, Episode 3)
2) The Terrific Three: “I love the one where they were superheroes [the New Justice Team]; Superking, Captain Yesterday. They had their own [Batman-style] music, it was really cool.” (“Less Than Hero“, Season 5, Episode 6)
3) Working With Kirk and Spock: “Usually [the producers] don’t want anybody talking over anybody else. You do a line, someone else does their line, and then they’ll place the timing. But [William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy], they let them go, because they were just so good.” (“Where No Fan Has Gone Before“, Season 4, Episode 12)
4) Meeting MAD Magazine artist Sergio Aragones: “He was a head in a jar. We kept telling him what a great artist and satirist he was. And he said, ‘You people are my heroes. You guys are artists.’ To hear somebody like that say that about you, it’s surreal.” (“Lrrreconcilable Ndndifferences“, Season 7, Episode 11)
5) They Blinded Him With Science: “[The writers] really mess around with the concept of time in so many different ways. [Sometimes] it gets so complicated my brain starts to scramble. I love science and I love the idea of it, but I’m not anywhere in the league of these guys that are pulling out physics while they’re writing.” (“The Farnsworth Parabox“, Season 5, Episode 10)