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The Many (Cartoon) Faces Of Actor Billy West

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.


Other segments from the episode on December 28, 2010

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, December 28, 2010: Interview with Jon Stewart; Interview with Aziz Ansari; Interview with Billy West.


Fresh Air
12:00-13:00 PM
Jon Stewart: America's Ruling King Of Fake News


This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

This week, we're featuring some of our most entertaining interviews of the
year. So obviously, we're including the interview with Jon Stewart that we
recorded onstage at the 92nd Street Y in New York before an audience of about
1,000 people.

The occasion for the interview was the publication of the book by Stewart and
the writers of "The Daily Show," called "Earth: A Visitor's Guide to the Human
Race." We recorded our interview in late September, a month before his Rally to
Restore Sanity, which was held on the National Mall.

Stewart is the executive producer of "The Daily Show" and has been the host
since 1999, when Craig Kilborn left.

Now you made "The Daily Show" a much more political show than it was before you

Mr. JON STEWART (Executive Producer, Host, "The Daily Show"): Right.

GROSS: Because it was - it pre-existed you, but you completely changed the
show. And before I ask you about how doing the show changed you, I want to play
you a short clip of what Stephen Colbert said, when Stephen Colbert was on our
show the first time a few years ago...

Mr. STEWART: How did you get access to him, because I call over there all the

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. STEWART: Very busy man.

GROSS: So this is what Stephen Colbert said about...

Mr. STEWART: All right.

GROSS: ...being on your show, working with you and becoming more political.
Here it is.

Mr. STEPHEN COLBERT ("The Colbert Report"): When I got to "The Daily Show,"
they asked me to have a political opinion, or rather Jon did. Jon asked me to
have a political opinion, and it turned out that I had one. But I didn't
realize quite how liberal I was...

(Soundbite of Stewart laughing)

Mr. COLBERT: Until I was asked to make passionate comedic choices, as opposed
to necessarily successful comedic choices.

(Soundbite of Stewart laughing)

GROSS: So he feels that he became more political because you pushed him to make
passionate political choices in humor. Did doing the show make you more
political than you ever expected to be, more politically aware, more
politically engaged?

Mr. STEWART: I think it made me less political and more emotional. The closer
you spend time with the political and the media process, the less political you
become and the more viscerally upset you become at corruption. So it's - I
don't consider it political because political I always sort of denote as a
partisan endeavor.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Mr. STEWART: But we have - I have become increasingly unnerved by just the
depth of corruption that exists at many different levels. I'm less upset about
politicians than the media. I feel like politicians, there is a certain,
inherent - you know, the way I always explain it is, when you go to the zoo and
a monkey throws its feces, it's a monkey.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. STEWART: But, when the zookeeper is standing right there, and he doesn't
say bad monkey...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. STEWART: Somebody's got to be the zookeeper. And that's - so I tend to feel
much more strongly about the abdication of responsibility by the media than by
political advocates.

(Soundbite of applause)

Mr. STEWART: They're representing a constituency. And the media, you know, our
culture is just a series of checks and balances. That's why I'm never - you
know, the whole idea that we're in a - suddenly a battle for, between tyranny
and freedom; it's a series of pendulum swings. And the swings have become less
drastic over time.

That's why I feel sort of - not sanguine, but at least a little bit less
frightful in that our pendulum swings have become less and less. But what has
changed is, I think, the media's sense of their ability to be responsible
arbiters, or I think they feel fearful.

I think there is this whole idea now that there's a liberal media conspiracy.
And so if they feel like they express any moral authority or judgment, which is
what you would imagine is editorial control, that they will be vilified. Or
there's, you know, I honestly don't know what it is.

GROSS: Now, one of the things that "The Daily Show" is incredible for is what
I've come to think of as the hypocrisy videos - most recently, like, the
Boehner versus Boehner one, where you have John Boehner presenting the new
ideas of the Republican Party, and you juxtaposed him saying exactly the same
thing in - I think it was 1993, to what he'd said just a few days ago.

Mr. STEWART: That's right.

GROSS: And you did that, like, with Glenn Beck, for example. You had him
saying, you know, the government should never tell us what to do. And then you
had videos of Glenn Beck telling us what to do.

And you do that all the time with politicians, and the videos go back a long
way. How do the people on your staff find those old videos?

Mr. STEWART: Well, you can search on LexisNexis if you have an idea of what you
want. And, you know, if the idea is - when you see the pledge, so your obvious
first thought is, okay, the pledge is the same as the Contract for America. So
let's go back and look at the Contract for America.

It's all about just making connections and then looking into it and using
search words. It's learning...

GROSS: It's journalism. It's called journalism.

Mr. STEWART: I don't think so.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: I don't know.

Mr. STEWART: I think it's called Googling. I think we Google. We tend to

GROSS: No, but I often feel like how come I had to find out about this on your
show, on a comedy show?

Mr. STEWART: That's funny because we often feel that way as well.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. STEWART: But it's not - the reason why I don't think it's journalism, the
reason why I think it's analysis, is we don't do anything but make the
connections. We're just going off our own instinct of what are the connections
to this that might make sense?

And this really is true: We don't fact-check, and we don't look at context
because of any journalistic criterion that we feel has to be met. We do that
because jokes don't work when they're lies.

So we fact-check so that when we tell a joke, it hits you at sort of a guttural
level, as opposed to - it's not because we have a journalistic integrity.
Hopefully, we have a comedic integrity that we don't want to violate.

GROSS: after "South Park" did its Prophet Muhammad sequence over the summer...

Mr. STEWART: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: And the whole idea was that, you know, the Prophet Muhammad was, like,
hiding in a truck, I think - like under a shroud or something.

Mr. STEWART: Bear suit.

GROSS: And - bear suit, right. And you're not supposed to depict the Prophet
Muhammad visually.

Mr. STEWART: Especially in a bear suit.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: But it turned out, it was really Santa Claus. It wasn't the Prophet

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: But...

Mr. STEWART: And then at the end you were like, geez, why was Santa really
hiding? It didn't really make a lot of sense.

GROSS: But still, a lot of people - I think a lot of Muslims were very angry at
even the sentiment behind it. But...

Mr. STEWART: I don't think even a lot were. I think there were certain...

GROSS: Some. Some.

Mr. STEWART: ...extremist groups that expressed their outage.

GROSS: Yes. Right. And there were death threats against...

Mr. STEWART: I believe that's correct.

GROSS: Yes, the creators of "South Park." And you did an incredible thing
afterwards. You devoted a segment to it, and then you said: I say to anyone
who's threatening death in the name of religion or politics -and then a gospel
group came out and then, do you want to say what you did?

Mr. STEWART: I believe the phrase was: Go (bleep) yourself.


(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. STEWART: And then we danced and sang. Can I tell you the most difficult
thing about that?

(Soundbite of applause)

Mr. STEWART: Finding a gospel group that'll sing, go (bleep) yourself.

(Soundbite of laughter)

(Soundbite of applause)

Mr. STEWART: I'll tell you, they're not - not easy to find. We called a lot of
churches. We're like, do you have a gospel group? Yes, we do. Would they
possibly come on and sing: Go (bleep) yourself? And they're like, yeah, we
could do "Amazing Grace."

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. STEWART: Can you do - you know, so the negotiations to get them up there
were difficult. But, you know, I think the lesson that I sort of took from all
that is, again, there's a difference between disagreeing with people, like
newscasters on Fox News that I think are incorrect in their analysis of the
day's events, and people that threaten to kill you for putting a cartoon image
of Muhammad in a bear suit. And that's a line that we too often forget.

And it's very easy to dehumanize, and I will say in this room: I would imagine,
you know, Beck and Palin are easier punching bags, and we can think of it as,
oh my God, I'm so scared if they take over. And you know what? We'll be fine.

You know, we had a civil war. Just - we're not that fragile, and I think we
always have to remember that people can be opponents but not enemies. And there
are enemies in the world. We just need the news media to help us delineate.

And I think that's where the failing is, that the culture of corruption that
exists in the media doesn't allow us to delineate between enemies and
opponents. And that's where we sort of fall into trouble.

(Soundbite of applause)

GROSS: Now in terms of consequences...

(Soundbite of applause)

Mr. STEWART: (Singing) We are the world.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. STEWART: Yeah. We - (Singing) love on the rocks. Ain't no surprise.
Something, something...

GROSS: That's good.

Mr. STEWART: (Singing) Tell you no lies.

GROSS: That's good.

Mr. STEWART: (Singing) Baby we were born to run.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: So you were doing comedy long before "The Daily Show."


GROSS: So what was your comedy like before it became a critique of politics and

Mr. STEWART: Mostly balloons.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. STEWART: It was a critique of religion and politics and media. It was my
feelings on that but in a - just in a much less savvy form, a much less
technically aware form, a much less educated form. Our process has allowed us
to extend it, you know.

The amount of material that we go through in a day now - I mean, it took me six
years to write my first, you know, 45 minutes.

GROSS: What was in the first 45 minutes? Tell us something that was in it.

Mr. STEWART: There was, let's see - you know, it was so long ago; this is 1980.
There was a lot of Saddam Hussein stuff. I don't know if you remember that guy.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. STEWART: It was stuff about - I remember the first Persian Gulf War, where
again, it was this idea that, you know, everyone was afraid it was going to be
another Vietnam.

I think the joke was, you know, it was going to be another Vietnam - we can't
go in there; it's going to be another Vietnam. And then the whole war lasted
two days. It wasn't even another Woodstock - you know, it was that kind of

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. STEWART: Or that, you know, it was a lot of those types of issues still. It
was actually a lot of religious stuff, sort of working out. A comedian's first
15 minutes is typically about his life. I'm a - you know, your first joke is
usually who you are. You just kind of walk out and go, I'm a Jew who was raised
in New Jersey: joke.

You know, it's - and then you work through your family and, you know, you
basically go through your entire history with them, and then you sit and stare
at them, but they're not doing much. So you have to then spread out.

So then your next jokes usually come from where you go on the road. So I've
taken my act about being a Jew from New Jersey to Tennessee. Want to hear about

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. STEWART: Yeah, and then that's your next...

GROSS: Yeah.

Mr. STEWART: Your next act is about your life as a comedian. And then when
that's exhausted, you tend to turn your vision to the world, and that becomes
sort of your tableau for the rest of your career. At least in the instances
that I've seen.

GROSS: We’re listening back to the interview I recorded with Jon Stewart last
September at the 92nd Street Y in New York. We'll hear more after a break. This

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: Let's get back to the interview I recorded in September with Jon Stewart
at the 92nd Street Y in New York.

GROSS: Tell us a little bit about what the morning meeting is like.

Mr. STEWART: The morning meeting - as we call it, our morning cup of sadness -
we get in around - you'd be incredibly surprised at how regimented our day is
and just how the infrastructure of the show is very much mechanized.

It - you know, we come in, and it's not - people always think "The Daily Show,"
you guys probably just sit around and make jokes. We have a very, kind of
strict day that we have to adhere to. And by doing that, that allows us to
process everything, and gives us the freedom to sort of improvise.

I'm a real believer in that creativity comes from limits not freedom. Freedom,
I think you don't know what to do with yourself. But when you have a structure,
then you can improvise off it and feel confident enough to kind of come back to

So the morning meeting is at 9 o'clock. And what we've done is, we have - I
guess you'd call them mole people that live in a little, subterranean area of
our building. And they are charged with watching all of these shows. And they
are just tragic, tragic individuals.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. STEWART: They are - they live lives of true sadness. They are mole people.
There are - someday they will be free, and we will all celebrate their freedom.

So the morning meeting is, it's typically what are the top stories, and how
have they been covered? We have a 9 o'clock meeting and a 3 o'clock meeting.

The 9 o'clock is to kind of rehash the sort of analysis that we were going over
the night before, to see if the premises and hypotheses that we had come up
with the night before have come to pass, and what's the video evidence.

And then we take that, and we sort of - then we begin to knit it together for
writing assignments. And then those writing assignments are usually coming back
in at 11:30, at which point we begin to read them.

There's really - my day is very interesting.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. STEWART: Then we read them and go over the notes of how we want to attack
it. We don't have enough there, we'll push it back out to the writers. They'll
come back at 12:30.

And the day basically goes as sort of a little dance of collaboration between
writing and rewriting, and including all the other elements of graphics and all
those kinds of things, to put together.

GROSS: So you were voted most funny person in high school.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: What got you that honor?

Mr. STEWART: It was mostly the political stuff.

GROSS: Yeah, I'm sure.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. STEWART: You know, I was obnoxious. I was obnoxious, and people in New
Jersey in the late '70s dug that, man.

(Soundbite of snapping fingers)

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. STEWART: You know, I think I always - it's not like I was morose and then
suddenly went into comedy. I mean, I was a - I guess what you would consider
back then, a pain in the ass.

GROSS: So was this from, like, did you have a stage or something to be funny
on, or were you just like, funny in the halls or -

Mr. STEWART: No, I had a stage.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. STEWART: I had a stage set up and then people would...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. STEWART: ...come by and go, hey, what are you going to geometry class? Nice

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. STEWART: Does it come in men's? Boom.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. STEWART: You know, that kind of comedy...

GROSS: And were you performing? Were you in shows? Were you in...

Mr. STEWART: I was not into theater. I was into sports and...

GROSS: That's funny.

Mr. STEWART: Well, I had the ...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. STEWART: I had the dream.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. STEWART: I had the dream that I would not have Bud Harrelson's body. I
thought I would have - perhaps I would grow into something. So I wanted to be
an athlete. I didn't want to be in show business.

It was a very different world, and I know a lot of people here are of that era.
It was not - we were not in the world where everybody was special yet.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. STEWART: We had not entered into that stage of where everybody had a
Facebook page that they could personalize with tunes they love. And you know,
my kids will never know what it's like to have nothing to watch because there's
like - they will - I mean, I'm surprised that when we have human interactions,
they don't like go, let me freeze that and just run that back. Like they're...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. STEWART: They're accustomed to things being presented to them when they
want it, in exactly the form that they want it. And they're accustomed to the
idea that: I'm special, and I can do anything, and if I do it, just by the very
nature of me doing it, it is in fact then special. I came from the era of,
you're not special.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. STEWART: Don't - oh, you think you're special? You're not so special.

GROSS: Jewish parents can be very good at giving you that...

Mr. STEWART: Oh, no, my mom - well, listen...

GROSS: Yeah.

Mr. STEWART: I mean, that's not her, but that was the culture of the time. She
was, I think, an anomaly in that era. You know, she - there was like, a quiet
confidence because she had to fend for herself, you know, divorced in the '70s,
and that sort of thing.

So I think she had a very different outlook. But that - the community at large
was not like that. The community at large was, hey, hey, you going to move to
New York, huh? Eh, good look at the Gay Pride Parade - you know.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Mr. Big Shot.

Mr. STEWART: Yeah. You know what I mean? It's not - it wasn't about empowerment
and creativity. I didn't - there was - I had no sense of this world of
expression that existed out there.

GROSS: Okay, so when you were 13 and you were bar mitzvahed, what was the music
that was...

Mr. STEWART: Do we have footage of that too? This is going to be interesting.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. STEWART: Oh, yeah.

GROSS: What was the music that was played at your bar mitzvah? Was there a
band? Was there a DJ? And what was the music?

Mr. STEWART: The music that was played, I guess was "Tonight's The Night. I
think the theme was Under the Sea.

GROSS: Did you have a theme?


GROSS: No. Good.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. STEWART: Again, this is before people, like, hired the Yankees to come to
their bar mitzvahs.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. STEWART: I believe at the time the announcement after the bar mitzvah was:
And I think there's pound cake in the back. Enjoy.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. STEWART: So it was, you know, and I think I was on crutches at the time,
and so I do...

GROSS: Seriously?

Mr. STEWART: I do have actually...

GROSS: Were you seriously on crutches?

Mr. STEWART: I was seriously on crutches. I broke my ankle.

GROSS: Was it a sports injury?

Mr. STEWART: A gang fight.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. STEWART: We'd had a rumble. I think it was mathletes versus...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. STEWART: It was a, yeah, you know what I had been doing? I think I had been
playing basketball on a skateboard.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. STEWART: I did a lot of that, though. And I went to the emergency room a
lot because I was always trying things like that.

GROSS: We're you really?

Mr. STEWART: Yeah. I would do that, or I would say hey, you see those logs that
go up, like, halfway there? I bet I could jump over that. You know, and then I
would run and like, get halfway up and then, you know, I mean like they'd take
me home in a, you know, a wagon half the time or just leave me on my front

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. STEWART: And, you know, my mom would have to come home and be like

GROSS: But seriously, yeah?

Mr. STEWART: Yeah.

GROSS: Yeah. So excuse the cheap psychoanalysis here, you're doing that with
comedy now. You're taking those leaps with comedy. You really are. No, sorry.
That is cheap. But it's true. But it's true, cheap but true.

Mr. STEWART: What's interesting about that is people will say like, are you
nervous about doing the rally? And you're like yeah. So why do it? Well, why

What - you know, Steve and I always talk about this, which is when you feel
like you want express yourself, you need an impetus, you need a catalyst. And
part of the catalyst is get yourself in trouble.

And that's how I got into this business, I got myself in trouble. I moved to
New York. There was no reason for me to move here. I always had a very happy
life bartending at the Bottom Half and working for the state of New Jersey, but
I wanted to get myself in trouble because I felt like I would not accomplish
anything that meant something to me unless I did.

And so moving here was a leap of faith but - you know, what if it didn't work
out? Then it didn't work out. Life's not a - there is no guarantee in any way,
if you go a simpler path.

GROSS: You work so hard on the show. It's so obvious how much work you put into
writing and performing it; and how long your day must be and how it never ends
particularly, doing an event like this rally. I mean you're...

Mr. STEWART: You'd be surprised how easily I turn off when I go home.

GROSS: Really?

Mr. STEWART: I've gotten really good at when I go home, the kids and I, we
watch "Wizards of Waverly Place," and I don't think about it again

GROSS: Have you changed the amount of time you're willing to devote to the show
and to work, now that you're the father of two?

Mr. STEWART: No. I'd rather they suffer.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. STEWART: I'd rather not. I figure I'll catch up with them.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. STEWART: No. But what I have decided is when I'm home, I'm home. And to me,
that's the difference. You know, I can't not be at work, but the real challenge
is when I'm at work, I'm at work. I'm locked in, I'm ready to go, I'm focused.

When I'm at home, I'm locked in, and I'm ready to go, and I'm focused on home.
And we don't watch the show. We don't watch the news. We don't do any of that
stuff. I sit down, I play Barbies. I, you know - and then sometimes, the kids
will come home and play with me and then...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. STEWART: You know, it just - you know, they're just sitting there. I mean,
she's got a horse and a kitchen, and I just think, like, the possibilities.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. STEWART: If I'm able to give them my full attention for the amount of time
I'm able to give it to them, I prefer that to, you know - I like to turn the
switch on and off.

And it's still, you know, it'll - in times like this, I don't sleep well just
because of so much that's going on. But I try not to let it affect me in my
waking hours.

GROSS: Do you take anything?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. STEWART: Hmm. Manischewitz.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: We'll hear more of that interview with Jon Stewart in the second half of
the show as we continue our series featuring some of our most entertaining
interviews of the year.

My interview with Jon Stewart was recorded September 29th at the 92nd Street Y
in New York. I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I’m Terry Gross. This week we're featuring a series
of some of our most entertaining interviews of the year. Let's get back to my
interview with Jon Stewart, the host and executive producer of "The Daily
Show." We spoke in September on stage at the 92nd Street Y in New York.

GROSS: I'm going to read some questions from the audience.

Mr. STEWART: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: What role does Judaism play in your professional life? How about your
personal life? Gee, could we appear on the Jewish Y?

Mr. STEWART: I can't believe that came out of 92nd Street Y.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. STEWART: You know what's great? Look through that. I bet they're all that.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. STEWART: What role does Judaism play in your day? Next question: Judaism,
does it play a role?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. STEWART: Next question: your roles in Judaism, what do you think?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. STEWART: The - I mean I don't know even, so what is it again? What is it

GROSS: It is again, what role does Judaism play in your professional life? How
about your personal life?

Mr. STEWART: What role does Judaism play? Wait - let me, I don't know who ask
this question, so let me just direct it to the audience, what do you want me to

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Let me focus the question for you.

Mr. STEWART: That it forms my...

GROSS: I think maybe what they want to hear is did you ever practice? Was being
Jewish ever significant to you, other than culturally, the kind of humor and...

Mr. STEWART: I think I am genetically, I don't know what tribe I am from,

GROSS: The Henny Youngman tribe.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. STEWART: Yeah, I mean I'm not a - I don't prescribe, necessarily, to - I
don't, you know, there's so many different things that go into Judaism and the
cultural aspect of it. I feel like an outsider. So, to some extent, I guess,
Diaspora is in my wheelhouse. But I don't know if that's Judaism or other
things, or just the way my brain is wired.

GROSS: Well, you probably feel like an outsider among Jews, too.

Mr. STEWART: That's right.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. STEWART: I would consider myself reform in the sense that, for instance on
Yom Kippur this year, I had a bacon egg and cheese Croissanwich.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. STEWART: No, I think, you know, I am respectful of those that practice
religion. I think that religion is not the sole source of morality in this
world, so I don't...

(Soundbite of applause)

Mr. STEWART: I am respectful of it. If that's how you get your center and your
bearing, I think that's great. I also think, like anything that powerful, there
is a dark side to it that also needs to be addressed and oftentimes isn't,
because of how delicate a subject matter, you know, it can be. So, that's
generally how - I mean my wife is Catholic, neither one of us - we're raising
the kids, obviously, to be sad.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. STEWART: Sure.

GROSS: Two people want to know if you actually read the books of the guests
that you have on.

Mr. STEWART: I read the book's both, back front cover.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. STEWART: It depends on, you know, some weeks we have four books and they
can be thick ones and, you know, historical nonfiction. But I read pretty
quickly, and I try and read as much of the books as I possibly can. And I have
a pretty good ability of getting through it, retaining a good deal of its
information, for a four to six hour period.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. STEWART: And then having it disappear from my brain for the rest...

GROSS: God, do I know that feeling. I so know that feeling.

Mr. STEWART: Oh, it has like a radio active half-life.

GROSS: Yeah. Yeah.

Mr. STEWART: I take it in and suddenly I'm an expert on the construction of the
Pentagon and then by a clock that night I'm like, I didn't know there was a
building with five flights, you know.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. STEWART: You know, it's, you take it in and then it's gone, so I cram, you

GROSS: So just one more thing: Do you have like, an experience on "The Daily
Show," or as a comic, where you say, this is my peak experience; this is as
good as it gets - like, this is so great?

Mr. STEWART: There was a congressional bill where they were going to get money
for first responders for 9/11, for chronic health issues. And I mean, it's a
no-brainer. The people that went into the towers that - or were down there
searching, to have their health bills taken care of...

(Soundbite of applause)

Mr. STEWART: ...and legislative maneuvering - the Democrats wouldn't bring an
up or down vote, because if they did that, the Republicans would be allowed to
insert amendments. And one of the amendments that they can insert was that you
couldn't give any of the money to illegal aliens.

And so the Democrats were afraid that they would have a commercial that would
be made that would say, you voted to give money to - so rather than standing up
and being moral for the people that risked everything for us down there, they
decided to try a legislative maneuver that made it so that two-thirds had to
pass the bill, so that no amendments could be put in it. Well, the Republicans
obviously, you know, shot it down - their own moral failing.

So we did a segment on the show called "I Give Up."

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. STEWART: And the ability to articulate our sense of just absolute sadness,
but through a prism of comedy - like, we came in, in that morning just really
despairing as we watched this go down. And we walked out that night, feeling
like we had yelled and felt, you know, we had a - we put it through the prism
and the synthesis and the digestive process that we put it through, and we made
ourselves feel better.

And we didn't make ourselves feel better by ignoring it, by dismissing it, by
not dealing with it. We made ourselves feel better by expressing our utter rage
at the ineptness and lack of courage from our legislators. And we walked out of
there that night feeling like, you know, what, (bleep) good day's work. That
was it.

(Soundbite of applause)

GROSS: My interview with Jon Stewart was recorded on stage at the 92nd Street Y
in New York on September 29th.

One postscript about his sadness and rage watching Congress' inability to pass
a bill providing health care for 9/11 first responders. Now Stewart is being
credited with helping end the Republican filibuster of that bill through a
program he did on December 16th with a panel of four firefighters who were
first responders on 9/11 and are now very sick as a result of toxins they were
exposed to but they can afford adequate health care. The First Responders Bill
passed December 22nd. Last Sunday and article in The New York Times asked: Does
this make Jon Stewart the modern day equivalent of Edward R. Morrow?

Coming up, we continue our series featuring the most entertaining interviews of
the year with comic Aziz Ansari.

This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)
Fresh Air
12:00-13:00 PM
The Rise Of 'Parks' Funny Tool Aziz Ansari


This week we're featuring some of our most entertaining interviews of the year.
I spoke with comic and actor Aziz Ansari last February. He co-stars with Amy
Poehler in the NBC series "Parks and Recreation." Last year, he was in the Judd
Apatow film "Funny People."

Ansari's parents are from India but he grew up in South Carolina and was the
only person in his school who wasn't white.

We started our interview with an excerpt of his Comedy Central standup special
called "Intimate Moments for A Sensual Evening," which had just come out on DVD
and CD.

(Soundbite of video, "Intimate Moments for A Sensual Evening")

Mr. AZIZ ANSARI (Comedian): I like living in L.A. One thing I don't like about
living here is driving. I always get bored when I'm driving, and when I get
bored, I go on the Internet on my BlackBerry. So I'm going to die.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ANSARI: And whenever they go through the wreckage, they'll find my phone
and be like, whoa, that's what he looked up right before he died? It's going to
be so sad. It'll be like: Comedian Aziz Ansari was killed in a car accident
today. He was struck by another vehicle while using IMDB to see if Val Kilmer
was, indeed, in the film "Willow." A representative for Mr. Kilmer confirmed he
was, indeed, in the film and hopes this will prevent future tragedies of this

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ANSARI: This is the third "Willow"-related death this year.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ANSARI: Comedian Aziz Ansari was killed in a car accident today. He was
struck by another vehicle while checking show times for "Up" on Fandango. He
just purchased a single ticket for a 4 o'clock show at a $2 theater in order to
live out the saddest afternoon of all time.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ANSARI: Comedy bad boy Aziz Ansari, aka comedy heartthrob Aziz Ansari, was
killed in an awful automobile accident today. He was struck by another vehicle
while Googling his own name.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Aziz Ansari from his comedy special, which is now on DVD, called
"Intimate Moments for A Sensual Evening." Aziz Ansari, welcome back to FRESH
AIR. That is really funny. What made you think about how embarrassing it would
be to die while Googling yourself?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ANSARI: Well, I remember when I - I used to come out to L.A. for months at
a time when we were doing this sketch comedy show I was on called "Human
Giant," and I didn't have GPS or anything, and I would be in rental cars, and I
would be on my BlackBerry, looking at maps, at, like, the dumbest stuff, like
using the Wendy's restaurant locator and things like that. And I was like this
is so dumb. I'm going to die because I'm on my phone looking for a Wendy's.

(Soundbite of laughter)

And so from that notion, I kind of came up with the other bits for that joke.

GROSS: GROSS: So I want to play another example from your show that's now out
on DVD and CD. And in this part, you're talking about watching a reality show
on MTV called "Next." It's a reality show about dating that I've actually never
seen or heard of, but you had previously done a sketch comedy show as part of
the group Human Giant on MTV.

Mr. ANSARI: Yes.

GROSS: So here's your take on this dating reality show.

(Soundbite of video, "Intimate Moments for A Sensual Evening."

Mr. ANSARI: First guy comes out, right, he's the guy going out on the dates,
and he comes up there, and he says this. He goes: Yo, this girl better be
pretty because if she's a pain in the ass, I'm going to need something cute to
look at.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ANSARI: And I was stunned that he could say that. That's so offensive, and
at the same time, on my show, they didn't want us to say that a character was
raped by a dinosaur, raped by a dinosaur because that's too offensive.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ANSARI: Oh, I guess they didn't want any of these letters from
paleontologists who are, like, hey, man, there's nothing in the fossil records
to suggest that kind of behavior. Why don't you chill with your accusations?

(Soundbite of laughter)

(Soundbite of applause)

Mr. ANSARI: And then after you meet this dude, then you meet the girls he's
going out on the dates with, and they come up there, and they say things like:
If he has a neck tattoo, I'm going to lick it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ANSARI: It's like whoa, how slutty can you be in five seconds?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ANSARI: And after they say that, they breathe, and, like, three facts about
them pop up on the left side. And the first two facts are always really normal,
but the third fact always come way out of left field. It's always like:
Monica's 22, she's a hairdresser in Hollywood, and she hates purple gift wrap.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ANSARI: How does that define her as a person? And the whole show just
bummed me out, man, because the things they try to keep off TV are just, like,
really explicit sex or violence, and no one cares about their kids seeing
attitudes like that on TV, and that's way worse to me.

Like, I'd much rather have a daughter that grew up and shot me in the leg and
burned my house down than some really slutty girl that hates the sound of
people eating bananas.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Aren't you amazed at how proud people are to behave stupidly on reality
TV shows?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ANSARI: Man, every time I've seen that show "Next," yeah, you really can't
believe how terrible the people are that go on that show. What if each time you
came back from a clip, I was just sitting here just laughing so hard at my own

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ANSARI: Oh, god, Terry, we've got to take a break. I forgot about that bit.
It's so funny. You're like, oh my god, that's that guy's really full of

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: So do you feel like you had to create a personality, like a persona for
yourself on stage, like a stage version of Aziz Ansari?

Mr. ANSARI: No, not really. I never made a conscious effort to do that. I just
kind of tried to be kind of natural and conversational, and I think my stuff is
kind of a little bit longer and more story-based. It's not as jokey sometimes,
you know, so yeah, I just try to create like a vibe of, you know, someone kind
of casually telling you stories and things like that.

GROSS: Now, you did create an alter-ego comedian named Randy, which you
portrayed in "Funny People," and there's some really funny you can find these
on YouTube really funny videos.

Mr. ANSARI: Wait, you're not going to play any excerpts from the Randy...?

GROSS: Oh, they are so filthy. There's, like, absolutely no word I could
probably play on the radio.

Mr. ANSARI: Wait. Can you guys can you say tatties? That's not even a real
word. That's a word that Randy made up, tatties.

GROSS: Right.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ANSARI: You can say tat - let's just both say tatties. Terry, can you say
tatties real quick just to do it?

GROSS: Oh, no, I would never say that word.

Mr. ANSARI: But that's not a real word.

GROSS: I know.

Mr. ANSARI: Randy made up that word.

GROSS: I know.

Mr. ANSARI: You can say it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: You're going to make me say it.

Mr. ANSARI: It would be a landmark moment for NPR if you just said tatties one
time. It's not a real word. They don't have to bleep it. It's an imaginary

GROSS: Put it in a sentence for me.

Mr. ANSARI: Look at those tatties.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ANSARI: They've got to let this on, please? They're definitely going to put
any of it on NPR.

GROSS: Imaginary scenario: Four-year-old says to his mother, Mommy, what's a

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ANSARI: And she'll be, like, I don't know. Is that something you heard on

GROSS: Then it must mean an intellectual endeavor involving...

Mr. ANSARI: Tatties refers to a rare form of violin playing that was practiced
in ancient Denmark.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Thank you, tatties, that's among my favorite type of music.

Mr. ANSARI: You said tatties. You did it. You did.

GROSS: There you go.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: So tell us how you created your alter-ego Randy, for like, who is Randy?

Mr. ANSARI: So Randy was a character in the film "Funny People" that was the
last film Judd Apatow did, and he had this character, and he there is very
little bit of stuff written for his personal character.

GROSS: It's a film about stand-up comics, and you play one of them, yeah,

Mr. ANSARI: Yes, and Randy was a small character, and the idea Judd kind of
pitched to me was that he wanted the guy to be, like, really cocky and, like,
very concerned about things like merchandising and things like that. So that
was kind of the basic idea, and the other notion in my head all the time was,
like, okay, you know, every time I've done comedy in, like, traditional comedy
clubs, there's always these comedians that do really well with audiences but
that the other comedians hate because they're just, you know, doing kind of
cheap stuff like dancing around or doing, like, very kind of base sex humor a
lot, and stuff like that. So I kind of took that idea and ran with that, as

GROSS: And it's great. You know, his DJ is called Ol' Youngin'.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ANSARI: Yeah, that's this guy Brandon Johnson, who is very funny. I was at
the UCB theater in L.A., it's a theater I perform in, and I was kind of
workshopping the Randy material. And one night I had this idea of, like, well,
Randy should have a DJ. And so I loaded up my laptop with, like, these sounds
like a lot of DJs and hip-hop artists, when you see them perform live, they
will have this reggaeton horn sample that just goes:

(Soundbite of horn impersonation)

Mr. ANSARI: And rap artists use it, like, to death. And it's just, like,
anytime you go see a rap show, they, like, hit that thing way too much. Like,
they'll just be like, you guys psyched to be here? It's like:

(Soundbite of horn impersonation)

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ANSARI: So I was, like, well, what if a comedian used that sound, too, the
same way rappers do. So I wrote that, and I had, like, I recorded myself just
going Randy, just like that. And so, like, my idea was, like, whenever I would
do a joke, at the end, it would just be like: And I was, like, I got to get out
of here.

(Soundbite of horn impersonation)

Mr. ANSARI: Ra-ra-ra-ra-ra-ra-Randy. And, you know, so that was the idea, and I
was just going to keep the laptop on the side of the stage, and then after I
finished the joke, like, jump over and just start hitting those buttons like
crazy. So, like, I would finish a joke, and it would be like: Ran-ran-ran-ran-
ran-dy-dy-dy, you know, like that.

And my friend Brandon was there, and I was like, oh, Brandon's really funny.
What if he's just the DJ? And so he did it, and, like, right away I could tell
he was just going to be awesome at this, and so every time I did Randy after
that, he was there.

GROSS: So we're going to squeeze in one more clip here.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ANSARI: Sure.

GROSS: Here's another clip from Aziz Ansari's Comedy Central special that's now
out on DVD and CD, and this is something that is, in part, talking about
movies. I don't think I really need to set it up, though.

(Soundbite of video, "Intimate Moments for A Sensual Evening")

Mr. ANSARI: I was doing an interview once, and this guy goes, so, you must be
pretty psyched about all this "Slumdog Millionaire" stuff..

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ANSARI: And I was like yeah, I am. I have no idea why, though. I had
nothing to do with that movie. It's just some people who kind of look like me
are in this movie that everyone loves and is winning Oscars and stuff. And I
was like whoa, whoa, whoa, are white people just psyched all the time? It's
like "Back to the Future," that's us. "Godfather," that's us. "Godfather: Part
II," that's us. "Departed," that's us. "Sunset Boulevard," that's us. "Citizen
Kane," that's us. "Jaws," that's us. Every (BEEP) movie but "Slumdog
Millionaire" and "Boyz n the Hood" is us.

(Soundbite of applause) (Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: So is that a good summation of what you think of, like, identity

Mr. ANSARI: When I crafted that joke, I wasn't doing it in the idea of, like,
what is my, you know, statement on identity politics, but I think that is
really how I felt. Like, I don't think that guy, when he asked that question,
was being racist or anything, when he said are you psyched about "Slumdog
Millionaire" because the answer is yes.

And it's actually very interesting to me, like, why are people psyched about
that? Why do I get psyched that that movie's doing well? I had nothing to do
with it. Why is there that kind of sense of, like, camaraderie with people that
just happen to be the same ethnicity as me? And then, you know, then from that
I took the idea of, like, well I mean, what I'm really saying is oh, so I guess
white people don't have that because they're so everywhere and so successful. I
guess the reason you do get excited is because oh, you don't really see a lot
of Indian people doing Oscar-winning movies. So when you see that, you feel
kind of proud, I guess. But, you know, so if that was true for white people,
they'd be psyched all the time because every movie has white people in it, you

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Aziz Ansari co-stars on the NBC series "Parks and Recreation."

Coming up, we continue our series featuring some of our most entertaining
interviews of the year with vocal artists Billy West. He does the voices of
many animated characters and used to do celebrity impressions on "The Howard
Stern Show."

This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)
Fresh Air
12:00-13:00 PM
The Many (Cartoon) Faces Of Actor Billy West


You may not know what Billy West looks like, but you've probably heard his
voice. He is a vocal artist who has done everything from classic cartoon
character to dead on celebrity impressions. For several years he appeared
regularly on "The Howard Stern Show." Billy West created several of the voices
for Matt Groening animated comedy series "Futurama."

When FRESH AIR contributor Dave Davies spoke with West, they began with one of
the more exotic "Futurama" characters whose voice Billy West created.

DAVE DAVIES: Now there's Zoidberg. Tell us what Zoidberg looks like, and give
us his voice.

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 could eat.

(Soundbite of laughter)

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

(Soundbite of laughter)

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, Mama? Yes, it's your son George. From the
money each week?

(Soundbite of laughter)

DAVIES: Right.

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 Jacobi
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.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. WEST: And he'd go:

Mr. WEST: (as Lou Jacobi) 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.

DAVIES: Do you combine voices a lot to get something that you like? I mean, do

Mr. WEST: Oh, sure...

DAVIES: 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.

The character Zapp Brannigan was based on a lot of disc jockeys I grew up with,
like, because I worked in radio 20 years ago.

DAVIES: Right, now, let's, for the audience, Zapp Brannigan is...

Mr. WEST: Oh, I'm sorry.

DAVIES: He's a character in "Futurama." Just explain who he is, and then where
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 everything 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 eight, 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. 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.

(Soundbite of laughter)

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: 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 on the Christmas tree. No, I didn't. It's just the stupid stuff that he
said. Hey Mo, I peed on my shoe.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. WEST: Hey Mo, I broke your Pesach dishes. Why, you idiot. This is the meat.
This is the dairy.

(Soundbite of crashing sound)

Mr. WEST: Zakumf.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Vocal artist Billy West spoke with FRESH AIR contributor Dave Davies
last July.

Our week-long series featuring some of our most entertaining interviews of the
year continues tomorrow.

You can download podcasts of our show on our website,

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.

(Soundbite of song, "Comedy Tonight")

Mr. ZERO MOSTEL (Actor): (as Pseudolus) (Singing) Something familiar, something

GROSS: On the next FRESH AIR we continue our look back at some of the most
entertaining interviews of the year with Stephen Sondheim.

Also one of our most popular interviews of the year, Matt Richtel talks about
how our digital devices are entertaining and in forming us but also distracting
us in driving us crazy.

Join us.

(Soundbite of song, "Comedy Tonight")

Mr. MOSTEL: (as Pseudolus) (Singing) ...lovers, liars and clowns. Old
situations, new complications. Nothing...

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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