Ever since the show debuted, no one has been a more tireless campaigner for Futurama than Billy West.
“Since 1999,” West said from his phone. “Since it started. I’m always beating the drums for the show. I mean I’m a team player, but any time I got the chance to talk to people or do interviews I am right there. I want everybody to know about this show and it was really frustrating that half the populace didn’t know what Futurama was.”
West is no slouch in the voice field. He came into the industry as a radio man, working for the likes of Boston’s Oedipus and Howard Stern, where many of his routines are now viral gems. In 1991, he hit the animation world with a 1-2 punch as the voice of Stimpy in John Kricfalusi’s Ren & Stimpy and Doug Funnie in Doug and hasn’t looked back.
Like many of the cast members on Futurama, Fry does multiple voices, among them Philip Fry, the Professor, Doctor Zoidberg, Zapp Branigan and more. He has often used his website to impel fans to save the series each time it’s been cancelled. As one can imagine, he is feeling pretty satisfied about the show starting new episodes on Comedy Central this Thursday, June 24 at 10:00 p.m.
One of the key reasons West loves the job so much is the challenge.
“There have been times where I’ve done six characters in one scene,” he admits. “I’d do 11 pages straight of pure dialogue, and I did them in real time. The hardest part is trying to keep the consistency going, having one voice bleed into each other, especially when you are going from one character to another. It’s a lot of jumping around, but I was well trained. I mean working on Ren & Stimpy was a boot camp for me.”
Another part is who he gets to work with, among them such voice superstars as Maurice LaMarche (Kif, Nibbler), Phil LaMarr (Hermes) and John DiMaggio (Bender).
“That’s the really great part of the experience. I mean the actors-Mo, Johnny, Phil, Dave Herman and me-we’re always riffing on the lines, improvising and doing anything we can to keep the energy going, and Matt (Groening) and Dave (X.Cohen) let us do it. They’re so confident in us. They know exactly what they want us to do. Everything is so well thought out we don’t have to riff.
“At the same time, they encourage us to do it. Anything that comes to our head, whether it’s something new or deliver a line a different way, you can almost hear them telling us to go for it even when they don’t say so. Then whatever we thought up will replace what was previously written. If it gets a laugh in the room, as far as they are concerned it’s going to score.”
West, in many a ways, is really a throwback in the voice industry because his background. Many of the golden age giants of the field, such as Mel Blanc and June Foray, had the same background.
“I’ve always been excited by sound,” West admits. “My world has always been a sonic world. Even when I was a little kid in the 1950s, I would play the radio day in day out. I loved those old radio voices.
“I didn’t think about it until later, but Mel was a musician and I was a musician. Then Mel got into radio and I got into radio. Then Mel did cartoons, and look what I’m doing. It was like an identical path. The same with such greats as Don Messick, Daws Butler and June Foray. They are all my favorites.
“I mean I love working with June Foray. I’m lucky enough to be working with her all the time. We both do a lot of Looney Tunes stuff. Whenever I do I just have to grab and hug her. I would always say ‘You know what? What are you going to do if I don’t let you go?’ I want to take her home with me. I want my own June Foray! She’s such a sweetheart but also such a force to be reckoned with. She has a voice that can cut through anything.”
As for the present, West is also very pleased with how the new season of Futurama is working out.
“Based on the number of table readings we’ve done, it’s funnier than I ever remembered it,” says West. “The jokes are coming out faster and more furious than ever. At the table reads, it’s a laugh a minute. I come out of there and feel like I’m drunk or something. I’ve had so much fun.”
Another reason is he loves the episodic writing built within the series, where one episode is built on the previous.
“It’s good, because most people don’t realize there’s a consequence for every action because of TV. Look at all the people who refuse to say they’re sorry for something they did. I like the fact that there are consequences. I like that it comes right back to your face when you do stuff,” he notes.
One key element he did give out is the on-again, off-again relationship between Fry and Leela (Katey Sagal). Fry’s going to mess it up…again.
“His problem is he constantly devolves when you’re not looking,” says West. “One minute he’ll grow and then the next he’ll do something real stupid. One future episode he’ll get in trouble with Leela again, posting pictures of her on the internet. It’s really embarrassing and unflattering. So you can guess what’s going to happen there. In a way, that’s one of the great tensions of the show. If you know the ending there goes the fun.”
In the meantime, West is now working on the latest Looney Tunes series, currently being called Laff Riot. According to him, he’s voicing Elmer Fudd, although there are rumors of him also doing another legend, Bugs Bunny.
Otherwise, he’s also planning to attend this year’s San Diego Comic-Con, where he promises he’ll be stumping for even more Futurama in the very near future.