While the long stretch between "Futurama
"'s fifth and sixth proper seasons was softened by four direct-to-video movies and the ceaseless presence of its reruns on assorted cable networks, next week Comedy Central will effectively end the show's seven years of suspended animation as a serial with the debut of two brand new episodes.
Among those celebrating the show's return is "Futurama's" own Billy West, who plays man-out-of-time Philip J. Fry, Professor Hubert Farnsworth, Dr. Zoidberg and Zapp Brannigan among others. West lent us his own voice (as well as a few others) in a conversation covering his enthusiasm for the rejuvenated series and where it fits into his storied career voicing animated icons.
"Futurama"'s Return to TV
It feels great. The fans kind of won out. The fans kept the show alive and kept the pulse going, no matter what. They're the ones that brought back the show. It feels good. "Futurama" is better on television than in another format. It's a real TV show and it's going to be on Comedy Central now and I'm just thrilled with the way the episodes are turning out. It's funnier than I ever remember it and we've recorded almost all 26 episodes.
Where "Futurama" Ranks in West's Career
I've been very lucky to get a lot of edgy projects. You know, a lot of it became cult stuff, like "Ren & Stimpy
," and I did a lot of Nickelodeon stuff years ago and a lot of those characters became iconic. The same thing goes for "Futurama" There's a lot of richness in all those characters and I come in and I just want to bat a thousand in a season.
The New Season's Recording Process
It's pretty much exactly the same. We do table reads and everyone from the show that's involved is usually there at the table reads, including the writers and the directors, and we act it out and then they tape it and hear how the flow of the show goes and then they can tweak it and make it funnier. [We do] mostly ensemble [recording] because there's an undeniable energy that you kind of walk into and that riffing back and forth when we're not recording gives you and chance to play like children and a lot of good comes from that type of frenetic energy.
Voicing Established vs. All-New Characters
I would rather be involved with creating a character and creating a voice rather than replicating them. Although, you know, I do a pretty good job of replicating characters, but there's quite a few of us out here who can do that. I've been just lucky enough to get hired for some cool projects. I did Popeye, the latest incarnation of that that was FOX. It was a lot of fun. It ripped me to shreds doing that voice, but you know, that's kind of like how you know you're alive -- when you're in pain.
Maintaining Many Voices
I can't think about it too much. I don't understand where some of the voices come from, I just know where to find them. But, you do have to have them in your head first and then your voice will fall into line. You have to have a mind that can pick things apart. Almost like a musical composer; there's a zillion details that you're listening to at once but it doesn't seem like it because you're hearing the finished product. You really gotta listen to everything: sounds, people talking ... It's like you become like a sponge for sonics ... like a highly sensitive receiver of sonic information. You've gotta embody and bring to life a lot of that stuff that's based on a character that somebody created that didn't really exist or speak until you gave it something. There are voice artists that bang their head against the wall because they never want to run out of the treasure trove. You're big fear is hitting the wall and starting to recycle stuff. Everybody I know really is a conscientious artisan. When celebrities do cartoon voices it invalidates everything we do for a living. They'll have a celebrity in mind when they're drawing a character and they'll call a celebrity and say, "OK, this character looks like you and sounds like you and acts like you. Do you think you can do it?"
Evolving Voices Over Time
If you take, like, the third episode of "The Simpsons
" and you compare it to something from even three seasons ago they sound like different people and totally different characters. Everybody drifts when they're in search of a character. Coming right out of the gates, you're a work in progress and so is that show, so the voices drift over a period of time because you've finally found what you're looking for and something to be comfortable with.
West's Most Comfortable Role
Nixon, President of Earth. Because I hated him. I could not stand this guy. I remember watching the debates on television when he was running against Kennedy and Kennedy had the buttered-toast game-show-host face and hair and Nixon looked like he was turning into a werewolf before your eyes. He was getting five o'clock shadow and he'd be sweating. He was almost like the guy that locks himself behind a door and says, "Whatever you do, whatever you hear don't let me out of this room." Like a wolfman. That's why I started doing that [AAAOOOOWW -- wolfman howl]. He always reminded me of a guy that was about to turn into a werewolf. There's something very feral about Nixon's head in the jar. You know, he was a rich character. I couldn't stand him. I was drafted in 1970 and, you know, I was like, "Ohhhhh, that Nixon!!"
Last Summer's Re-Casting Rumors
You know, "Futurama" is a special thing for me. I think it's best thing I've ever done, and I absolutely love this show. It'd be hard to be indifferent. Of course, I would've felt really bad if we didn't go back and do it.
Part of the Team
I like to lose myself in all those characters. It's very nice to believe in them. It's this whole little world, and I have to disassociate that I'm the one that did it so I can feel like a fan, which I totally am and would be even if I had nothing to do with the show. It's a wonderful thing to watch it all come together. I deliberately try to stay clear of all the visuals before I can see the show [altogether] like a fan would watch it. What makes it so good is that it's a concerted effort. There's a lot of writers and I'm in awe of those writers. I'm a writer and I like to do comedy, but these guys are on another level. It's really scary.
The one-hour return of "Futurama" premiers June 24 at 10 p.m EST on Comedy Central.