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Billy West: The Many (Cartoon) Voices In His Head

If you've watched cartoons in the past few decades, you probably know Billy West's voice: He's played Philip J. Fry and Zapp Brannigan on Futurama, plus Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd in Space Jam (and more). West explains how he comes up with his voices -- and demonstrates a few of his favorites.

32:15

Other segments from the episode on July 15, 2010

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, July 15, 2010: Interview with Billy West; Interview with Peter Laufer.

Transcript

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Billy West: The Many (Cartoon) Voices In His Head

DAVE DAVIES, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies, in for Terry Gross.

You probably don't know what our guest, Billy West, looks like but
you've almost certainly heard his voice. West is a vocal artist who's
done everything from classic cartoon characters to celebrity
impressions, and he's now featured in the revival of the animated TV
series "Futurama."

Created by Matt Groening of "The Simpsons," "Futurama" was canceled by
Fox in 2003, but now it's back on Comedy Central, airing Thursday nights
at nine.

Besides playing several characters in "Futurama," West has been the
voices of Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd in the 1996 movie "Space Jam," and
played both Ren and Stimpy at various points in the Nickelodeon series.
West's other roles include Popeye in the recent CGI film, Zim on the
Nickelodeon show "Invader Zim," and Doug Funnie on the TV show "Doug."

From 1989 to '95, he appeared regularly on "The Howard Stern Show,"
imitating everyone from Mia Farrow and Leona Helmsley to Maury Povich
and Elton John. I spoke to Billy West earlier this week.

Well, Billy West, welcome to FRESH AIR. I thought we'd begin with a clip
from the re-emergence of "Futurama," because this features some of your
voices, and this is I think at just about at the very beginning of
Episode One. Let's give a listen here.

000
(Soundbite of television program, "Futurama")

Mr. BILLY WEST (Voice Actor): (As Philip J. Fry) Professor, my Fry-fro
is all frizzy.

Mr. West: (As Professor Farnsworth) Okay.

Mr. WEST: (As Fry) Well, that's all. Oh, also, I'm covered with severe
burns.

Mr. WEST: (As Professor) So? What of it?

Mr. WEST: (As Fry) Well, why is those things?

Mr. WEST: (As Professor) You mean you don't remember?

Mr. WEST: (As Fry) Nope, nothing. It's like when I passed out in college
except no one drew magic-marker penises on my forehead.

Mr. WEST: (As Professor) Well, I suppose it's for the best, considering
the unbearable horrors you've endured. Let's never speak of it again. It
all began a few days ago.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. WEST: (As Professor) We were interstellar fugitives on the run from
the law.

Mr. WEST: (As Captain Zapp Brannigan) Fire all weapons, and open a
hailing frequency for my victory yodel.

102
DAVIES: AND THAT'S FROM "FUTURAMA," THREE VOICES BY OUR GUEST, BILLY
WEST. ZAPP BRANNIGAN IS THE LAST.

Mr. WEST: Sometimes, there's more.

DAVIES: Oh, yeah, yeah.

Mr. WEST: You know, like a lot of times, I'll be just reading character,
one after the other, and sometimes, it'll be like, three or four pages
where I'm talking to myself.

123
DAVIES: ARE YOU DOING THAT IN REAL TIME, OR DO YOU DO IT - YOU TAPE IT
AND DO ALL OF YOUR CHARACTERS AT ONCE?

Mr. WEST: It happens mostly in real time. Like, if there's a run within
an act and there is, say, three characters involved that I do, and then
there’s some others that other people do, I'll just keep reading through
the script, you know, one character. And then if another one pops up, I
do that in real time. And we try to get a whole scene.

149
DAVIES: SO IN THAT CASE, YOU'RE GOING FROM PROFESSOR FARNSWORTH TO
PHILIP J. FRY TO ZAPP BRANNIGAN, JUST ONE AFTER THE OTHER.

Mr. WEST: Yes.

DAVIES: LET'S TALK A LITTLE BIT ABOUT THESE CHARACTERS, SINCE SOME OF
THE AUDIENCE, IT'S BEEN A WHILE SINCE SOME PEOPLE IN THE AUDIENCE MAY
HAVE HEARD THE STORY. SOME MAY NOT BE SO FAMILIAR.

203
LET'S TALK A LITTLE BIT ABOUT THESE CHARACTERS, AND WHY DON'T YOU JUST TELL US A LITTLE BIT ABOUT THE CHARACTER AND HOW YOU CAME UP WITH THE VOICE. PHILIP J. FRY
FIRST.

211
Mr. WEST: (As Fry) Man, all this constant exposure to radiation is
making me thirsty.

Mr. WEST: His voice is basically what I sounded like when I was 25, kind
of plain vanilla. I had nothing special about my voice, really. And I
just thought: Well, you know what, I know that character so well, and if
I do this, and it is kind of what I sounded like, it's very hard to
replace that character, like, with somebody else because, you know,
somebody can imitate an exaggeration or more cartoony, but to try to do
somebody else's sort of real voice is really tough.
251
DAVIES: ALL RIGHT, SO LET'S TALK ABOUT ANOTHER ONE, PROFESSOR
FARNSWORTH. TELL US ABOUT HIS VOICE AND THE CHARACTER THAT HE IS.

Mr. WEST: (As Professor): Professor Hubert J. Farnsworth. He's a 147-
year-old. He...

Mr. WEST: You know, he kind of zones in and out.

Mr. WEST: (As Professor): Good news, everyone, bad news.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. WEST: And, you know, he's doddering, and he's a combination of lots
of different wizards and, you know, Burgess Meredith and Frank Morgan
and all those kinds of things, all kind of rolled up into one.

327
DAVIES: NOW THERE'S ZOIDBERG. TELL US WHAT ZOIDBERG LOOKS LIKE, TOO, AND
GIVE US HIS...

Mr. WEST: Zoidberg is sort of a fleshy sort of orange color, and he has
a lot of, like, tentacle things hanging from his mouth. That is his
mouth. And he's a crustacean, and he's got claws, and he wears, like,
almost doctor whites or, you know, intern whites for clothes, and he
wears sandals for some reason.

And he's poor, and he's a doctor. That's what I love the best about him,
he's poor. You know, he's always like, you know:

Mr. WEST: (As Dr. Zoidberg) Zoidberg should eat.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. WEST: (As Zoidberg) Yay, I'm popular.

Mr. WEST: That voice, you know...

DAVIES: Yeah, where did that voice come from?

Mr. WEST: (As Zoidberg) Somebody bring me a sandwich from the dumpster,
and leave the maggots on it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. WEST: It's a combination of a couple of people in show business that
I always found really funny and interesting, and they were what I used
to describe as marble-mouth guys.

DAVIES: AND WHO WERE THEY? CAN YOU TELL US?

Mr. WEST: One was from vaudeville. I don't know if anybody remembers the
word vaudeville or what it actually means, but it was theater. And there
was a performer back in those days named George Jessel.

DAVIES: Of course.

Mr. WEST: And he was the Toastmaster General of the United States, and
he would always have, you know, appropriate toasts for every occasion. I
don't know how that makes you famous or anything, but he had kind of a
marble mouth. And he used to do a routine onstage, like, talking to his
mother, you know, from show business. He's out on the road, and he's,
like:

Mr. WEST: (As George Jessel) Hello, Mommy? Yes, it's your son George
from "The Money Streak(ph)."

Mr. WEST: You know, like in other words, who? And the other guy was an
actor by the name of Lou Jacobi. He was in the movie "Arthur." And he
said – well, he's in tons of movies, but he's in the movie "Arthur," and
he said to Arthur:

Mr. WEST: (As Lou Jacobi) What's it like having all that money?

Mr. WEST: And he was in – you know, he was in "The Diary of Anne Frank,"
and I thought it was so impactive and so horrendous and everything, but
the casting, they cast Ed Wynn as the head of the household. And then
they hired Lou Jocabi to play the Uncle Butty(ph), and they're going
through this horrible thing, trying to hide from Nazis and Uncle Butty
was, like, taking more than his share of the little bit of rations they
had. So Ed Wynn had to yell at him.

But they're two comic actors, and I used to sort of snicker, and I'm
going to smack myself, and I go no, you know, this is crazy. You can't –
just look at the horrible story this is. But he'd be, like:

Mr. WEST: (As Ed Wynn) Here all along, we thought it was the rats,
Butty, and it was you.

Mr. WEST: And he'd go:

Mr. WEST: (As Lou Jocabi) I stole from the children. I'm sorry that I
stole from the children.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. WEST: You know, and it just – I'm sorry, but the next time you watch
it, please don't laugh on my account.

630
DAVIES: All right. Well, we'll try and maintain some decorum for the
subject.

Mr. WEST: Horrible (unintelligible).

638
DAVIES: DO YOU COMBINE VOICES A LOT TO GET SOMETHING THAT YOU LIKE? I
MEAN, DO YOU – ARE YOU LIKE SOMEBODY IN THE LABORATORY JUST PUTTING, YOU
KNOW, I DON'T KNOW, JACKIE GLEASON AND, YOU KNOW, WHOEVER TOGETHER?

Mr. WEST: Yes, those are great things. Doing impressions is one thing,
but it's not like you bring a whole lot to it except your skill for
mimicry. But if you take certain aspects like different people in show-
biz periphery, and you fuse them together, you come up with these
amalgams of characters, and they kind of take on their own life.

You know, I've done that with a lot of things and...

712
DAVIES: CAN YOU THINK OF ANOTHER EXAMPLE OF THAT?

Mr. WEST: Another example of that? The character Zapp Brannigan was
based on a lot of disc jockeys I grew up, like, because I worked in
radio 20 years ago.

DAVIES: Right, now, let's, for the audience, I was going to get to him
next. Zapp Brannigan is...

Mr. WEST: Oh, I'm sorry.

DAVIES: He's a character in "Futurama." Just explain who he is, and then
we can hear that voice, yeah.

Mr. WEST: Oh sure. Zapp Brannigan is a character on "Futurama." He's a
starship captain, and it would be like if William Shatner ran the
Enterprise and not, you know, James T. Kirk. And he has that kind of
pompousness.

DAVIES: Right.

Mr. WEST: And he's got a voice that, you know, I listened to disc
jockeys. I used to work with them. I mean, some of them were the old-
days guys that were phasing out. And they carried their temerity in a
wheelbarrow, and they loved, far and away above anything else in the
world, the sound of their own voice.

And they'd be like, you know: Coming to the Worcester Center...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. WEST: You know, they would never let it go. It had to have this
Hamburger Helper in it, you know, just because they wanted to swing with
every pitch and fill the air with their sound.

All right, in about five minutes, it's coming up on 8:00, and five
minutes after it, it'll be 5:08 on old-time radio (unintelligible), you
know.

Those kind of guys were part of it, and then I loved the big dumb
announcers from the old days, too, who, you know, their voice sounded
like the last voice in the world, but it almost became comical.

835
DAVIES: LIKE WHAT WERE THEY LIKE, THE BIG DUMB ANNOUNCERS OF THE OLD
DAYS? WHAT DO YOU MEAN?

Mr. WEST: Well, you know, the old guys that were on the radio would come
in and go: Friends, you know what you and I need, really need? A good
cup of coffee. And that's where Kava comes in. It's got no caffeine.

You know, they would meander. And I loved that. So Zapp Brannigan was,
like:

Mr. WEST: (As Brannigan) This is Zapp Brannigan, master of time, space
and everything else in the universe, and oh yeah, winner of this year's
modesty award.

912
DAVIES: YEAH, HE IS A LOT OF FUN IN THIS, AND HE REMINDS ME OF PHIL
HARTMAN SOMEHOW. I DON'T KNOW, YEAH.

Mr. WEST: Yes. Well, you know what it was is Phil Hartman was really
supposed to do that, and they wanted him. And I met Phil Hartman before
he passed, and we did talk about – we had a commonality, which was the
love of those big, dumb announcers from the old days.

933
DAVIES: YOU KNOW, "FUTURAMA," IT WAS ON FOX FOR I GUESS FIVE SEASONS,
RIGHT, AND THEN GONE FROM TELEVISION FOR A LONG TIME. DID YOU THINK IT
WOULD RETURN?

Mr. WEST: Yeah, I did because it was too good to not be on television.
You know, it was the most enjoyable thing I had ever been involved with,
and I would've been a fan of it even if I had nothing to do with it.

DAVIES: What's special about it?

Mr. WEST: Well, the writing is what gets me. It's just very, very
unusual. It turns humor kind of upside-down, and it comes out scrambled,
but it's really funny. Like, somebody would say to Fry: Hey Fry, I heard
beer makes you stupid. And he goes:

Mr. WEST: (As Fry) No I'm doesn't.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. WEST: You know, that's the stuff that knocks me on my rear end.

1020
DAVIES: AND I SHOULD TELL FOLKS THAT IN ONE OF THESE EPISODES, THE HEAD
OF PRESIDENT NIXON APPEARS. I ASSUME THAT'S YOUR VOICE?

Mr. WEST: (As President Richard Nixon's Head) Yes, it is.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. WEST: Yeah, he's – it's Nixon's head. He's the president of Earth in
the future, 3000. He got to be president of Earth, and he would say the
same kind of stuff he said back then, like:

Mr. WEST: (As Nixon's Head) Look out in front of the White House, all
those filthy hippies.

Mr. WEST: You know, and I would do that werewolf kind of noise like
(unintelligible) because I was a kid when Nixon was debating Kennedy on
television, and we got to watch it. And on one side, here's this GQ
model with that buttered-toast, perfect game-show hair, you know, and
then there's this sweaty mess with jowls and a 5:00 shadow that came in
at 2:00 and sweating.

You know, and so I said my mom: Mom, it looks like he's going to turn
into a werewolf, you know, because it was like Larry Talbot(ph) turning
into the werewolf, you know. You know, that's what it looked like to me.
So that's why I gave him that sort of thing. Everybody said why do you –
why does he say a-roo? Why? Why? And I said, well, it's just a thing of
my own that I threw in there.

1137
DAVIES: YOU KNOW, I WANT TO – YOU'VE BEEN DOING VOICES FOR SO LONG, AND
YOU HAVE TREMENDOUS TECHNIQUE, AND I'M WONDERING: HOW MUCH OF GETTING A
CHARACTER IS TECHNICAL, AND HOW MUCH OF IT IS JUST DOING THAT, JUST
GETTING A FEELING AND ROLLING WITH IT?

Mr. WEST: It's all of those that you just mentioned. Most of all, it's
in the head. You have to have some kind of power of observation, almost
like a trained observer. You watch people and study them the way an
alien would. I know I always did that when I was a kid, and it's not
because I'm cynical, and I'm looking to just figure everybody out. It
was – it just came so very natural to me, and then I would – you know,
it would come out of me in way or the other, whether I was singing or
just so many things that would stay in my head.

1227
I think it's also the kind of an ear a voice performer has, where
they're able to hear things in real life that other people can't hear,
and they grab hold of it and then amplify it either through another
character or a direct impression.

But the throat just kind of falls into line once you realize in your
head what it is. You got to remember the musicality of a character
you're going to do.

In other words, like Yogi Bear, I mean, the guy who did it, he did about
120 voices in some of those shows, Daws Butler, and I think with him, he
would remember the cadence, the melody of the character, like, and then
fall into Yogi Bear, not just trying to dial it up on the spot.

And would remember that the character is like: (unintelligible). Like
Art Carney or something. And then he would remember, you know, to apply
that cadence to this character...

Mr. WEST: (As Yogi Bear) And all of a sudden he could go into it.

1328
DAVIES: SO THERE'S LIKE A SONG THAT EVERYBODY CARRIES WITH THEM, RIGHT?
A MELODY AND A CADENCE? OR YOU FIND THAT?

Mr. WEST: Yeah, I would think if I think of Zapp Brannigan, I think of
(unintelligible). And the professor would be like: (unintelligible). You
know, not particularly a tune but just this cadence.

1350 - FLOATER
DAVIES: We're speaking with Billy West. He does several voices in
"Futurama," which is back on television, on Comedy Central. We'll talk
more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

DAVIES: If you're just joining us, our guest is voice specialist and
actor Billy West. He does several characters for the animated series
"Futurama."

1406
WELL, I WANTED TO TALK ABOUT SOME OF THE OTHER WORK YOU'VE DONE. YOU
KNOW, IN ADDITION TO CREATING A LOT OF CHARACTERS, YOU HAVE RE-CREATED A
LOT OF, YOU KNOW, THE FAMOUS, YOU KNOW, WARNER BROTHERS CHARACTERS, THE
MEL BLANC CHARACTERS FROM THE '40S.

Mr. WEST: Yes.

DAVIES: HOW DOES THAT COMPARE? BECAUSE I MEAN, THERE YOU'RE DEALING WITH
AN EXPECTATION THAT PEOPLE HAVE BEEN TRAINED TO, YOU KNOW, TO LISTEN TO
FOR YEARS AND YEARS. YOU GOT TO GET IT EXACTLY RIGHT.

Mr. WEST: Oh, sure. Well, like you just said, it's all about perception.
Exactly right to one person is not exactly right to another person
that's listening because you got to remember **EDIT @ 1450** there was, like, four
different Bugs Bunnys, depending on who directed the cartoons.

There was a real wise-cracker Bugs Bunny, you know, early on in the
‘40s, and then as he moved towards the '50s, he got a little cuter, and
he got more clever and was not so feral.

And then by the '60s, he spent most of his wildness just outsmarting
Daffy with words rather than antics.

1510
DAVIES: OKAY, SO WHAT'S YOUR BUGS BUNNY?

Mr. WEST: Mine was somewhere in the '50s and late '40s, and when I did
"Space Jam":

Mr. WEST: (As Bugs Bunny) I got to work with the closest thing to a
religious figure that we have, Doc, Michael Jordan.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. WEST: (As Bugs Bunny) I got paid a million bucks, a carrot at a
time.

Mr. WEST: And I also got hired to do Elmer Fudd. And recently, there was
this commercial running for Geico Insurance, and it was a Mel – not Mel
Blanc, Elmer Fudd coming, you know, into the cartoon woods with his
shotgun, and he's, like, he does his usual, you know:

Mr. WEST: (As Elmer Fudd) Shh. Be vewy, vewy quiet. I'm hunting wabbits.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. WEST: And the director comes in, he goes: Uh, Elmer, that's rabbits.

Mr. WEST: (As Elmer) Wabbits.

Mr. WEST: No, rabbits.

Mr. WEST: (As Elmer) Wabbits.

Mr. WEST: You know, and the director gives up on him, and Elmer Fudd
walks away mortified, and he goes:

Mr. WEST: (As Elmer) This diwector is starting to wub me the wong way.

(Soundbite of laughter)

1619
DAVIES: YOU ALSO DID POPEYE IN A FILM A COUPLE OF YEARS AGO, RIGHT?

Mr. WEST: Yeah, it was Fox. It was CGI animation, the first time they
ever did that with Popeye. I thought it was pretty good. But, of course,
you know, there are the die-hard Popeye people that were mortified and
wanted to die because it became CGI. But nobody had a bad thing to say
about my performance.

I loved Jack Mercer, and I got him. You know, I understood him. And what
helped me understand that Popeye voice — it's a high voice and a low
voice at the same time — because when I was a kid, we all used to try to
do that, and then they all stunk. You know, it just didn't sound right.

DAVIES: Right.

Mr. WEST: So one day, I see this film — it was an independent film
called "Genghis Blues." And it was about this blind singer in San
Francisco. He wrote a hit for Steve Miller called "Big Old Jet
Airliner." His name was Paul Pena.

And he was listening to a world-band radio one night. He was blind, and
he used to just go across the continents, listening to different things,
and he heard this strange noise. And it was a program about Tuvan
singers.

And Tuvans had a way of singing where they could do, like, one and two
voices. And all of a sudden, he hears:

(Soundbite of Tuvan singing)

(Soundbite of coughing)

Mr. WEST: You know, excuse me, like Popeye.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. WEST: I have to get ready for those things. But anyway, I realized:
Oh my God, that's how this guy did it, maybe without realizing it, Jack
Mercer. He’d be like: Yoo-hoo, Olive Oyl, I brung you some flowers.

And then the other voice would be like: Yoo-hoo, Olive Oyl, I brung you
some flowers.

You know, they're like an octave apart. And then all of a sudden,
together, it would be like:

Mr. WEST: (As Popeye) Yoo-hoo, Olive Oyl, I brung you some flowers.
1808

(Soundbite of television program, "Futurama")

Mr. WEST: (As Zapp) Mr. President, what the hell?

Mr. WEST: (As Nixon's Head) At ease, Brannigan. What you're about to see
is highly classified. Rapelicus(ph), hit the thingie.

At O-zero-hundred hours, Planet X3 was attacked by a mysterious death
sphere.

Mr. WEST: (As Zapp) Magnify that death sphere. Why is it still blurry?

Mr. MAURICE LaMARCHE (As Kip Kroker) That's all the resolution we have.
Making it bigger doesn't make it clearer.

Mr. WEST: (As Zapp) It does on "CSI: Miami."

Mr. WEST: (As Nixon's Head) They fought back with advanced military
hardware, but it was like shooting BBs at (unintelligible).

Mr. WEST: (As Zapp) That poor, brave hardware.

Mr. WEST: (As Nixon's Head) The sphere then fired some kind of hellish
blackout ray. It erased that planet like 18 minutes of incriminating
tape.

(Soundbite of explosion)

Mr. WEST: (As Zapp) Oh, I just wish I understood why, why I should care.

Mr. WEST: (As Nixon's Head) Because the death sphere is no on course for
Earth.

(Soundbite of music)

DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR. I’m Dave Davies in for Terry Gross, back with
vocal artist Billy West. He plays several characters on the animated
series "Futurama," which is back with new episodes now on Comedy
Central. West is also known for his celebrity impressions on "The Howard
Stern Show," and cartoon characters from "Bugs Bunny" to "Ren and
Stimpy."

1808
YOU KNOW, IT'S HARD TO BELIEVE THAT IT'S BEEN I THINK 15 YEARS SINCE YOU
WERE ON "THE HOWARD STERN SHOW." YOU WERE A REGULAR FOR SEVERAL YEARS
AND I REMEMBER YOU ON THAT SHOW, AND A LOT OF PEOPLE DO.

Mr. WEST: Wow.

DAVIES: AND I THOUGHT WE COULD LISTEN TO JUST A LITTLE BIT OF THIS. ONE
OF THE THINGS YOU...

Mr. WEST: Oh, god, this is going to polarize people.

(Soundbite of laughter)

DAVIES: WELL, WE'LL SEE WHAT PEOPLE THINK. I MEAN ONE OF THE THINGS YOU
WOULD DO, YOU DID A LOT OF VOICES, AND SOMETIMES YOU WOULD DO A
CELEBRITY WHO WAS ACTUALLY BEING INTERVIEWED ON THE SHOW WHILE HE WAS ON
THE SHOW AND SAY THINGS THAT THE CELEBRITY WOULD NEVER SAY.

Mr. WEST: Mm-hmm.

DAVIES: AND I THOUGHT WE’D JUST LISTEN TO A LITTLE OF THIS. THIS IS WHEN
THEY WERE BEGINNING AN INTERVIEW WITH GEORGE TAKEI, WHO WAS MR. SULU
FROM "STAR TREK," THE JAPANESE-AMERICAN ACTOR.

Mr. WEST: Yeah.

DAVIES: And in this particular case, they're dialing him up. He's not in
the studio. He's I guess hooked up by satellite and you’re in the studio
with Howard Stern and his others, all prepared to do the George Takei
voice as he does. Let's just listen to how this gets started.

(Soundbite of "The Howard Stern Show")

Mr. HOWARD STERN (Host, "The Howard Stern Show"): Hello?

Mr. GEORGE TAKEI (Actor): Hello.

Mr. STERN: Ah, George, my old friend.

Mr. TAKEI: Hello. How are you, Howard?

(Soundbite of "Star Trek" sound effect)

Mr. STERN: Can you hear me okay?

Mr. TAKEI: I hear you fine. I've been listening in on you all this time
with all the buzz and beeps and squeaks. What are you doing there?

Mr. STERN: Hey, by the way, I have George Takei, Jr. here. Say hello,
George.

Mr. WEST: (as George Takei) Warp factor two...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. WEST: (as George Takei) Yeah. All those beeps and squeaks. Yeah.

Mr. TAKEI: And who is that?

Mr. STERN: That is your long lost brother.

Mr. TAKEI: My long lost brother.

Mr. WEST: (as George Takei) Yeah. Remember me?

Mr. TAKEI: You know, the next "Star Trek" movie, "Star Trek:
Generations," about the next generation. They’ve got my daughter working
on the helm.

Ms. ROBIN QUIVERS (Co-host, "The Howard Stern Show"): (Unintelligible)

Mr. TAKEI: I didn’t know about her.

Mr. WEST: (as George Takei) Yeah.

Mr. TAKEI: Someone just told me.

Mr. WEST: (as George Takei) I'm sick of rice.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. WEST: (as George Takei) Yes.

Mr. STERN: Hey George, you know, it’s funny...

Ms. QUIVERS: So you’re not in the new movie.

Mr. TAKEI: No, I'm not. My daughter is.

Mr. STERN: Hey George?

Mr. TAKEI: Yes.

Mr. WEST: (as George Takei) Yes.

Mr. STERN: Stop it because I'll never get through this interview.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. WEST: (as George Takei) I'm A.C. Takei. A.C.

Mr. STERN: All right. Take it easy.

Mr. WEST: (as George Takei) O.J.

Mr. STERN: All right. Stop it.

2022
DAVIES: AND THAT'S OUR GUEST BILLY WEST FROM HIS OLD DAYS ON "THE HOWARD
STERN SHOW." BRING BACK SOME MEMORIES?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. WEST: Yes. It just went by so fast. It was like a blur, you know,
because nothing was scripted. It was pretty much organic. And I was
facilitated by a writer that was there in the room, a stand-up comedian named Jackie Martling, who was brilliant, you know, writing stuff for
Howard. And Howard was gracious enough to loan me that nuclear weapon
when I was doing characters, with Jackie facilitating. But, yeah,
whatever was going on, you'd work off of it, you know?

2055
DAVIES: SOME OF THE OTHER CHARACTERS WE JUST GOT TO GO OVER. LARRY FINE,
THE THREE STOOGES MEMBER THAT EVERYBODY FORGETS...

Mr. WEST: Yes.

DAVIES: ...you did a lot with Larry Fine.

Mr. WEST: Well, I just thought he was so deliciously peripheral, and the
little that he did used to blow me away. He was the stooge in the
middle. He really didn’t have a whole lot to say. It was Mo and Curly
always doing a number on each other and Larry would be in the corner.
But every now and then he'd go be careful, Mo. You know...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. WEST: What’s the matter with this Christmas tree? Hey Mo, you put
too much tinsel in the Christmas tree. No, I didn’t. It’s just the
stupid stuff that he said. Hey Mo, I peed on my shoe. Hey Mo, I broke
your Passoc(ph) dishes. Why, you idiot. This is the meat. This is the
diary. (makes crashing sound) Zawcom(ph).

(Soundbite of laughter)

2150
DAVIES: YOU’VE DONE SO MANY VOICES OVER THE YEARS, AND PEOPLE GENERALLY
DON’T KNOW WHAT YOU LOOK LIKE. I MEAN I DON’T KNOW WHAT MEL BLANK LOOKED
LIKE, REALLY. DOES THAT VISUAL ANONYMITY APPEAL TO YOU? I MEAN DO YOU
FEEL LIKE YOU DON’T QUITE GET YOUR DUE?

Mr. WEST: Yeah.

DAVIES: No?

Mr. WEST: No. I mean I – I don’t worry about that. You know, as long as
I can apply my craft, I'm happy. I have no more of an agenda than
somebody who wants to bring something to the table. You know, I mean
it's just, I'm closer to being an artist because I was always that. Even
when I was coming through school I was a loner and I used to study music
and listen to it and play it and play it, and I was in bands. And it was
more about I just wanted to do something cool.

DAVIES: You know, I wanted just to come back to your childhood again a
bit. I don’t know how much you want to talk about this, but you know,
I've read that you had a tough childhood.

Mr. WEST: Yeah.

DAVIES: I mean your dad was abusive in your early years, right?

Mr. WEST: Yes.

DAVIES: And did you do voices back then? Was it a way of escaping or
helping, you know, boost your mom's spirits?

Mr. WEST: Well, yes, I did, my mom particularly. But the problem here
was - is my dad was an overgrown kid - you know, alcoholic, abusive,
kind of crazy, really. And he had talent. He could do voices and
dialects and he could sit down at the piano, having never played one and
start playing. And whenever I would try to do something like that, I'd
get laughed out the door, you know, so it was kind of a real traumatic
thing to go through, was, you know, like trying to...

DAVIES: You mean he could do it but he didn’t want you doing it?

Mr. WEST: Well, it wasn’t like he wanted me doing it. He would be
dismissive, you know, or make it like it was nothing. And I grew up
thinking all the things I could do was nothing like a parlor trick. You
know, I never had a sense of entitlement about it. I used to kind of
keep it hid like an appendix scar. And then when I was 21, I started
drinking and I began to have a real childhood then, and I busted loose
with all the stuff that I was able to do.

DAVIES: And you eventually overcame that.

Mr. WEST: Oh, yeah. I was in, you know, bands, it was kind of part and
parcel to that situation that you would be drinking and doing drugs and
everything. But 26 years ago I just stopped everything and it’s been
fine and I've been lucky enough to get the kind of work that I get.

DAVIES: You know, you said that when you were little and you would do
these things which, and you clearly had a gift, but it was dismissed and
you didn't - it wasn’t valued. When did that change? When did you see it
as something that, you know, that had value?

Mr. WEST: Well, my mom always thought that I had something special and
she would keep reminding me of it, because I didn’t fit in in the towny
world we lived in. I couldn’t play sports. I was not anti-social; I was
just kind of smarter. But my mom did encourage stuff for the most part.
And, you know, like when I was a little kid, we went to lunch and we
were sitting in some cafeteria. It might have been like a soda fountain
or some little cafeteria, and I heard this noise coming from the corner
of the room, this like... (makes buzzing noise) ...and I was going out
of my mind. I had to find out what it was. And it was a guy who had a
Bell telephone, an artificial larynx. And I asked my mom - mom, what is
that? And she said he's got like a voice box - an electronic voice box.
Why? Because he probably had cancer and he had his voice box removed.
And the sound haunted me. And you know, so when I was a little kid, I
felt it was my duly deputized duty to find a way to reproduce stuff like
that.

(Soundbite of laughter)

DAVIES: Well, Billy West, thanks so much.

Mr. WEST: Thank you for having me on. I really appreciate it.

DAVIES: Vocal artist Billy West does several characters on "Futurama,"
which airs on Comedy Central Thursday nights at 9:00. You can hear Billy
do an expanded FRESH AIR intro and see three scenes from "Futurama" at
our website, freshair.npr.com - that's .org.

Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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