By Ryan Meehan
Primetime Emmy-nominated actor Bob Bergen has worked in all aspects of television: from sitcoms, to soaps, to game show host. His voice is heard in thousands of commercials, promos, animated series and specials. He has also worked on dozens of feature films, including Wreck it Ralph, The Lorax, Tangled, Tinker Bell, Spirited Away, A Bug’s Life, Iron Giant, The Emperor’s New Groove and Up. He voices Luke Skywalker in the Robot Chicken: Star Wars specials and is an Annie Award nominee for playing Cadet in the two-time Emmy-nominated series Duck Dodgers. He currently stars as Porky Pig in CN’s hit series The Looney Tunes Show. He has been an active member of the Television Academy since 1994, serving on the Performers Peer Group Executive Committee and Daytime Committee. He is on Hollywood’s SAG-AFTRA board, and is national co-chair of their voice-over committee. Since 1987 he has been a volunteer Big Brother for two boys, and was honored as Jewish Big Brother of the Year in 2007. And he’s our guest today in 5 Questions.
RM: How does one get into the voiceover field? Did you always have a knack for doing voices when you were younger? And at what point did you realize that you could make a living off of that?
BB: Well, first of all you need to be a good actor. It’s voice acting. So my advice would be to study acting and improv. Then study voiceover. Once you know in your heart you are demo ready, you make a demo and try to secure an agent. It is possible to work in voiceover without an agent, but depending on what you want out of your career, larger jobs all go through agents. So, if national commercials, series and feature animation, etc., the kind of work I do is your goal, you have to have representation. Cartoons are recorded primarily in Los Angeles, so you’d also need to live in LA. And, you’d need to be SAG-AFTRA as the majority of animation and national work is union. If you want a good example of a great demo producer, check out Chuck Duran in LA: http://www.demosthatrock.com/portfolio.html This site lists every voiceover agent in the business: http://www.voicebank.net/app/promoList.do;jsessionid=DC21ADEDF1D76D1D391249AB7E9402F0?CLR=-1 There you can surf agents in your area and research what those agents expect in the way of talent and demos. I always had a knack for voices. But, I was just the obnoxious kid in school answering teachers like Porky Pig. My goal since I was a kid was to be the voice of Porky Pig, but living in the Midwest there really weren’t many opportunities for me. My Dad moved the family to LA when I was 14, and I just picked up the phone and called anything and everything in the phone book that said “cartoons” or “animation.” I found there was a business called voiceover and began studying. I studied with everyone in LA with a voiceover workshop. I studied voiceover for 4 years. I also spent 2 years at an acting conservatory and 3 years studying improv. I got my first agent and job a week out of high school. It then took me another 5 years before I was able to quit my job as a tour guide at Universal Studios and work as a full time actor. So for me it was a 9 year journey from first acting class to working actor. As for making a living, well, if actors are honest you really never know that. So much is out of our control. I’ve been very fortunate that I’ve been able to make a good living at this for many years. But you don’t go into acting for the money. You go into it because you love it. For me, I get a high at the mic. It doesn’t matter if it’s an audition or a job. I love what I do. That’s what it’s all about. But I also know that nothing else in life would fulfill me as much as acting. I think for success as an actor you really have to love the work more than the paycheck. But to get paid for what you love is pretty awesome.
RM: I read that you have previously done some game show work, and I’m a huge fan of that television medium, but it isn’t as hip now as it once was…Why do you think it is that game shows aren’t as popular as they used to be?
BB: Ya know, there aren’t as many traditional game shows as there used to be. But there are a slew of competition shows on the air. Most, if not all, are reality based shows. But there are contestants and prizes, so for all intents and purposes, these are current day game shows. But I do know what you mean about the lack of traditional game shows being absent from TV. Programming is based on public demand. GSN attempted to bring back Pyramid last year, and it was a damn good version. Probably the closest I’ve seen to the original, with updated rules that worked great. I wish it had lasted longer. I think one of the reasons game shows aren’t as popular is the same reason you don’t see traditional talk shows anymore. The public is used to immediate gratification. They don’t want to sit back and take it all in for 30 or 60 minutes. They want it fast and now. Many of the traditional game shows, such as Password or To Tell the Truth were slower paced. And they were personality driven. That’s what I miss. Today these shows are fast, in your face, etc. There are some that I do enjoy. But I miss the older formats. And, hosts today are not traditional game show hosts. There are some like Todd Newton who is just terrific. But more often than not they hire comedians or someone they feel the audience has a current connection with outside the realm of game shows. It’s a business strategy, but not always a smart creative strategy. Personally, I loved hosting the game show I did, which was a kid’s version of Jeopardy! called Jep!. One of the best experiences of my career.
RM: You were invited to the White House in 1991…What was that whole experience like and what did you learn from it?
BB: Surreal! I had recorded a children’s radio program playing Sylvester, Jr., which was hosted by first lady Barbara Bush. This was for her literacy charity and didn’t pay anything. In appreciation for all of the actor’s participation we were all invited to a White House reception. I took my Mom and it was a magical experience. During Mrs. Bush’s speech I was on the floor playing with Millie the dog. And I swiped dozens of hand towels from the restroom to give away to friends as gifts. I tried to be discreet, but my Mom noticed that I was a tad puffier than I was before I walked into the restroom. Every pocket was filled with hand towels and my Mom said I looked like The Michelin Man!
RM: How hard is it to put on a one-man show? If you had to put a time figure on that, how long did you spend putting that show together?
BB: Well, this all came about because I was working on a sitcom pitch. My manager at the time got the idea of presenting it as a one person show and invite producers and network execs to see this rather than send around a pitch script. As we worked on it, it began to take shape as a very autobiographical piece about “a nice Jewish boy who wanted to be Porky Pig.” I performed it for an invited audience of about 30 people in Burbank. My manager taped it and played that for his friend and fellow manager, Ken Kragen. Ken represented Kenny Rogers at the time and informed us that Kenny needed an opening act for the remainder of his West Coast tour. So within a week I went from presenting the show to an invited audience of 30 (also using 3×5 cards as I hadn’t memorized anything yet) do performing 20 minutes of it as an opening actor for Kenny Rogers for about 3500 people. After that tour I performed the show at The Ice House in Pasadena and a small theater in Sherman Oaks, California. A producer saw it in Sherman Oaks and offered to produce it professionally. That show ran for about 3 months. I’ve since performed it a few times in LA, and around the country, now acting as both the performer and producer. Producing is hard!!! I much prefer performing. But as producer I was able to have complete control. Here’s the trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T5GQ718GyJY
RM: Could you tell us a little bit about “Vox on the Rox”? What does being involved with that program mean to you?
BB: VOX on the Rocks has kinda been on hiatus for a while as I’ve just been too busy of late to organize a gathering. This all started years ago after a lengthy commercial strike and 9/11. I was at an audition and everyone in the room was rather morose. I said, “Guys, we need to laugh again!” So, I gathered about 10 or so voice actors and we got margaritas that night and had a grand old time. The next month we had about 15. The next month 30 or so. Eventually about 100 voice actors would meet up once a month to hang, laugh, network, etc. A friend of mine nicknamed it VOX on the Rocks. It’s a place for voice actors to meet other voice actors. It is NOT a place to bring your demo and beg agents and buyers for jobs. But rather a place other than auditions and jobs for voice actors to just be together. I hope to do one of these before the end of the year. Perhaps for Halloween or a Christmas party. My VOTR contact list is about 800 plus voice actors now.
RM: What’s up next for you in the remainder of 2013? Anything big that we should know about?
BB: Well, I’ll be attending The Emmy Awards this year. That’s pretty cool. The Looney Tunes Show continues to air on CN. I have a few games coming out later this year, lots of commercials, etc. And, I did a job that I cannot talk about that comes out sometime this year. It was one of the greatest privileges of my career. Not a high paying gig, just something beyond cool to be a part of!!
Official Website: http://www.bobbergen.com/
Once again thanks for visiting First Order Historians and enjoying more of the internet’s finest in user generated content. Meehan