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Futurama Star Billy West Answers Slashdot Questions 258

So. You had some brilliant, whacky, and insightful questions for Futurama star Billy West last week. Today we have his brilliant, whacky, and insightful answers. Thanks go to long-time Slashdot reader Kevin Day for arranging the interview, but the real thanks goes to Billy, who was so excited about doing this that he and I ended up talking about Slashdot via cell phone -- and he caught me while I was at a local lumberyard, thinking about plywood, not Slashdot or Futurama. I wish I'd recorded the conversation. It was totally surreal. But reading Billy's answers -- and using your imagination -- will give you a good idea of what it was like. :)

1) Question number plz99
(Score:5, Interesting)
by ak_hepcat

Who are some of your favorite voice actors to work with, obviously not limited to just the Futurama cast, and what are your favorite moments or stories with them?

Billy: I love the group of voice actors I'm privileged to work with every day. I don't give a shit what ANYONE says -- these people are all trained actors. The best I've ever seen. I will get back to the question after this not so brief announcement. Celebrities are not superlatives in our field of expertise. If celebrities that are schnoring in on our field started out trying to do what we do and were held to the standards we started out upholding, a great many of them would've never made it. It's easy for a celebrity to audition for a character who looks and sounds just like him or her. Now the studio creates characters based upon who they had in mind for the role in the first place, like a rigged fight. There is no magic, no transformation or sonic alchemy, no voices we've never heard before and no chance for most journeymen who are voice artisans to work in animated features. The general consensus is "Why?" Kids and adults pay no mind to whether Brad Pitt, David Schwimmer or Spade or Will Smith is blessing the project with their "magic" talent. For the characters they play, it could be my brother in law or the plumber. It is what it is and it will never change. This is because the folks in question know that every other huge movie is now a CGI movie. It eliminates the need for on-camera performers including stars and celebrities. Being a star or celeb does not equal the God-given gifts of those in the real craft. I'm waiting for the professional athletes to "eminent domain" us. But in general, I enjoy and respect these folks at the work they do best.

Now, back to our originally scheduled question!

All of the VO's (the usual subjects) I get to play with ARE my favorites. Every day one of us raises the bar and inspires everyone else, I think. I don't ever want to stop learning or getting better. I learn every day from all my peers. Women and men. Their unique and perfectly defined voice characterizations leave me in amazement. Most can do impressions if they are called upon to perform sound-a-likes, craft original characters with upwards of hundreds of personalities and sounds. Don't forget about killer instincts. I witness it everyday.

Fave moments--
When I was doing Futurama we'd be recording and it was so hard to continue once because John Di Maggio couldn't stop bursting out into laugher every half hour or so. He'd get hung up on something wickedly funny from the script and it would set him off. Matt G. and David X enjoyed it even when I plunged in and started my nonsense riffing. We had to be shushed repeatedly. Then all in the room would start up at some point later when the "call-back to the joke fever" set in. It was so funny to see John in the corner of the room with his bead buried in a pillow so his thunderous guffawing couldn't be heard! Too many stories to mention...

2) Re:Question number plz99
(Score:5, Interesting)
by dr_dank

This leads to a bigger question: does Billy actually get to work with his castmates? Especially on an ensamble show like the Simpsons, its extremely common to have voice actors record their bits at different studios or at different times of day.

When the cast of the Simpsons did "Inside the Actors Studio" a couple of years ago, they joked that that was one of the few times in the run of the series that the cast was all in the same room together at the same time. --

Billy: In a cartoon show we work with almost all the actors and sometimes the whole cast would be present. There are exceptions when people have other work or time constraints that keep them from being at the session. Sometimes they will work with one or two actors to play scenes off each other and sometimes a performer records solo.

I have a question. If all the Simpsons could show up for the "Actors Studio" with no problem, why couldn't they......... I'm just being silly.

3) Well...
(Score:5, Interesting)
by Black Parrot

Leela or Amy?

Billy: Leela. She has more sweater meat than Amy. Uh..I think. That was Fry not me!

4) Hank vs. Billy
(Score:5, Funny)
by Lev13than

In a cage match of you vs. Hank Azaria, who would win? How about your characters vs. Hank's characters? What if it was in jello instead of a cage?

Billy: I know that would be FUN! Can you imagine me and Hank in a cage pissing circles around each other with voices? Yeow!

5) New Series: Writers
(Score:5, Interesting)
by justinstreufert

Billy --

We've heard a lot about the original voice actors who are returning to Futurama. This is great, and I believe it is absolutely essential to the success of the new season. However, what about the other staff? Are the writers of the Fox episodes returning for the new season? Is there anyone who isn't coming back to the show who you'll miss?

Thanks! Can't wait for the new season!! Can I be cryogenically frozen until 2008?

Billy: Outside of the voices, I don't know if ALL the writers and artists are on board, but I'm guessing most of them are.

Greetings from the year 3000. It still sucks! BTW you can be cryogenically frozen. Walt Disney was. They trot him out every year for "Disney on Ice."

6) "Pirates"
(Score:5, Interesting)
by TheRequiem13

How you you (not your employers) feel about consumers downloading episodes of Futurama and watching them on their personal computers or portable media player of choice?

In particular, I mean those that pay for cable TV, but don't enjoy being bombarded with ads interupting the shows every 5 minutes, and find major network schedules highly restrictive.

Billy: I was always poor, but I was pretty much raised to try to pay for everything that I wanted and don't recall ever conscientiously wanting something for nothing. Of course, it depends on an individual's situation. We're all in the same boat no matter what happens. We all wish on the same stars. I do know that a lot of advantages in technology are spurred forward as an answer to a company's perceived infringement on their product. Then there's another advance to make the former technology obsolete and on and on. But you will ALWAYS have to buy SOMETHING no matter how you feel about it. Unless you're just a dyed in the wool crook. I always hope everyone finds their happiness in a way that hurts no one. Thanks for your question.

7) Writing
(Score:5, Interesting)
by captnitro

Do/did you ever get to work with the writers on material, or improvise something on your own that makes it into the show? It seems like separating the inherent humor of many of the voices (Zoidberg comes to mind) and the way they speak, and the written material itself, would be hard.

Billy: I don't work as a writer along with the writers on the show. But I do offer ad-libs or different ways of talking for the characters. That's easy for me to do. I just want to bring as much to the table as possible. We all do.

8) The Web
(Score:5, Interesting)
by ThePolkapunk

You're one of the few actors I know of with a web site that includes the actor's involvement. How important do you think this has been in your career and continued fame? Do you think this will become important for all successful actors to have?

How important do you feel the internet has been in the success of Futurama? I know there are tons of references to fan postings and web sites on the Futurama DVDs. Do you think Futurama episodes online contributed to the continuing success of Futurama after it was cancelled? I'm sure there are plenty of people who weren't significantly exposed to Futurama until the episodes began making their way online...

Billy: I wanted to be able to talk to everyone that was into what I do. My guests are very smart, not war-like or malcontents, they're funny and imaginative and great people in general. I post all the time. I have never posted on anyone else's website ever. My page is where I say what I want to say. Every now and then a sniper from the Internet's grassy knoll breezes in, barges onto my site, takes a dump on the carpet and runs. "Just because."

I hate to say it, but it's mostly a very FEW 1st, 2nd or 3rd time posters. They show up with a full metal jacket of either a Howard Stern agenda or a Ren and Stimpy agenda. This tiny group of people harasses me about the Stern show and the time I spent there. It began 13 years ago and ended 10 years ago. I'm all done there. Most folks from the Stern groups thank me for making them laugh back then, and for that I am forever grateful to them. All I did for ten years was explain over and over why I left. Same thing with a very FEW but active spastic dogs with an R&S boner that came on basically to pick a fight with me.

I won't take any shit from anyone, but they would also attack my guests trying to get to me. I was very upset over that aberrant behavior. I can tell an innocent post from a loaded one. What do you think I am? Iggorrrent?

As far as the return of Futurama, I think it had everything to do with the Internet and the voluminous amount of fans around the world. That and the DVD sales. It was because of you all that the show is back!

Thank you for the question.

9) Futurama Flavored Humor
(Score:5, Interesting)
by eldavojohn

What exercises (if any) do you use to warm up your voice when you perform? Is it just something you're naturally good at or do you go through daily techniques and practicing like a musician or singer?

Billy: I never had any vocal training. I guess I was just a freak. I did things then the same way as I do now. With cosmic abandon. Think I share this with a lot of other VO's. I just found myself in the church chorus and in public school it was the glee club and school plays. I don't think a lot about it. It's in the head mostly and you try like the devil to replicate the sound that originates there. The voice somehow always finds new places to go to accommodate your ideas. There was a time when it was a little difficult to do the blood-curdling screams and those high pitched "genderless" voices. So I went to the best guy in the biz. Gary Catonah is a "voice-builder" who showed me the very precise vocal exercises to build up the little-used muscles around the throat. It was like a miracle! I wound up even better vocally than I'd ever seen before!

Little known fact: I did an entire season of Futurama with one vocal chord because the other one had constricted up into itself. I think it was collateral damage from a nasty, nasty flu I had caught. I saw a doctor and squared it away but it took a long time.

10) Your projects
(Score:5, Interesting)
by AiY

I saw something a few months back about a project you were trying to get off the ground called "Billy Bastard - Amateur Human Being." It sounded like a great premise and promised me something better than most television. Any updates? Air dates? General info?

Billy: Billy Bastard was what I was 21 years ago when I was cross-addicted to alcohol and cocaine. A very volatile mix.

I would wind up in the most bizarre situations and have NO recollection for the most part of what had gone down. I was a fierce rock n' roller and had just gotten into radio in Boston. I've been clean for 21 years now, but I had written down stuff that happened. It was tragic until I read it to a friend here and there. They would break up with laughter. To me it wasn't funny, but they reminded me that if it all happened to someone else -- I would be in hysterics as well.

I guess "Seinfeld" was pitched 100 times before someone saw a diamond on the floor and had the sense to pick it up.

A few people have seen the 11 minute pilot, but we couldn't work anything out so far. We'll keep pitching it until we meet the right folks for this.

Myself, Jim Gomez, Bill Wray and Dave Guppel believe in it strongly and I think it's really funny. My VO friends, the incomparable Jim Cumings, the mighty voice of Moe La Marche, and the facile and talented lightning in a bottle Rob Paulsen were so gracious to add their magic to this show.

I will always post relevant bulletins as to where we are with the project. I won't hold a press conference if I get a great meeting with someone.

11) Leave it at the beep
(Score:5, Funny)
by El_Smack

What's the message on your answering machine?

Billy: Ocean's 11...uh, I mean chapter 11--no!

I left witty little voices on my machine, but I would come home to 16 hang ups. Callers checking in and out just to hear the message and end the call. Nowadays it's just "Hi. Please leave a message" in a deep friendly disarming voice.


Thanks for making this fun for me, guys,

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Futurama Star Billy West Answers Slashdot Questions

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  • by gid13 ( 620803 ) on Wednesday July 05, 2006 @12:40PM (#15660809)
    ...But he seems kinda not all there. Don't get me wrong, I'm not knocking him, hell, maybe it makes him better at what he does. But I just get this sense that he does NOT think like me, in a way I don't normally get from reading interviews. Is it just me?
  • by JesseL ( 107722 ) on Wednesday July 05, 2006 @12:42PM (#15660821) Homepage Journal
    If you're concerned about your kid reading 'colorful' language, why in the world would you let it read slashdot? The only filtering going on here is what gets moderated below your viewing threshold. I can say any foul word I can think of and my post will be enshrined here for as long as slashdot lives (unless I quote scientologist scripture).

    To quote St. Carlin:
    "Shit, Piss, Fuck, Cunt, Cocksucker, Motherfucker"
  • Well done.

    Shame on you people who fell for it! ;)
  • by Otter ( 3800 ) on Wednesday July 05, 2006 @12:51PM (#15660890) Journal
    My guess is that this lost a lot in the transition from voice to print.
  • by eln ( 21727 ) on Wednesday July 05, 2006 @12:52PM (#15660902)
    You can say that about most voice actors, including Hank Azaria, who BW mentioned specifically in the above article. While Billy West is a great voice actor, to try and compare him (or anyone else for that matter) to the legend that is Mel Blanc is a little unfair.
  • by WinkyN ( 263806 ) on Wednesday July 05, 2006 @12:58PM (#15660937) Homepage
    ... And no offense to you, kind sir, but maybe the fact he doesn't think like you is one reason he is so successful.

    Actors are creative people, and his interview responses were very creative. Most successful people are creative in some form or fashion, and having a fresh take on things can be the difference between success and failure. Do you not think Einstein was creative? How about Newton?

    Creativity is the catalyst of innovation, be it for a capacitor, rocket engine or new funny voice for a cartoon. Did anyone really expect Stimpson J. Cat to have the voice he did when you look at him? What about Dr. Zoidberg? Being creative helped give those characters a different voice and helped make their shows extremely successful.
  • pirates (Score:5, Insightful)

    by joe 155 ( 937621 ) on Wednesday July 05, 2006 @01:01PM (#15660961) Journal
    one thing that I think was missed a little about the issue of piracy is simply that if we don't watch it on their channel or buy the DVDs then they just won't make it any more. The damn networks like to mess around with scheduals to the extent that they kill the shows; when this happens it falls on the more hard-core fans to buy the dvds and vote with our wallets to get it back. Piracy seems to harm that effort at least.
  • by sgant ( 178166 ) on Wednesday July 05, 2006 @01:09PM (#15660996) Homepage Journal
    Well, I had no idea that Fry, Zoiberg, Farnsworth and Zap were all the same actor until the series was he certainly didn't sound the same to me at all.

    Even now, I go back and try to see if I can tell if it's the same actor and I still can't tell. Guess I have a deaf ear...which explains why I make my living as a musician. lol.
  • by apflwr3 ( 974301 ) on Wednesday July 05, 2006 @01:29PM (#15661110)
    ...But he seems kinda not all there. Don't get me wrong, I'm not knocking him, hell, maybe it makes him better at what he does. But I just get this sense that he does NOT think like me, in a way I don't normally get from reading interviews. Is it just me?

    I think this has more to do with the presentation.

    Most interviews we are highly edited. If they're in print the language is cleaned up, if on video or radio then only the best sound bites are used. Have you ever seen or heard raw interview footage? Unless it's completely scripted in advance-- meaning the subject gets the questions ahead of time and then meticulously prepares a response-- most don't sound all that much more coherent than this. By the way, most celebrity interviews (Barbara Walters, Today Show, etc.) are scripted as I described.

    This interview seems to be a guy from Slashdot firing off random questions at Mr. West and then transcribing his answers verbatim. Additionally, it seems to be very informal, conversational and "off the cuff" (lightweight questions with answers that don't exactly take a lot of forethought.) Nothing wrong with that, but it's not a "professional" style. Why don't you transcribe a casual phone call with a friend and see how "all there" both of you sound?
  • ah, well if he wanted +5 Funny, he should ahve been...uh...Funny.
  • Re:Thanks, Billy (Score:3, Insightful)

    by spyrochaete ( 707033 ) on Wednesday July 05, 2006 @01:46PM (#15661239) Homepage Journal
    He's also awesome as Detective Mosley in Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers for PC! He took on a great southern US accent, and so did Tim Curry as Gabriel!
  • by Elemenope ( 905108 ) on Wednesday July 05, 2006 @01:47PM (#15661252)

    How, I'm curious, does one square "I'm not a hard core fan, sorry" with "I download every episode of Futurama for free?" Something seems off kilter. And of course the incredibly obvious answer to your question is, networks decide on the life or death of programs based on estimates of viewership, which can be accurately determined in only a few ways (nielsen ratings, or for cancelled shows, DVD sales). When you go, (and your million pals who have an equivalently overdeveloped sense of entitlement and concomitant lack of conscience), and download the episodes using another method, it does not indicate the true amount of audience desire for the show. I.e. you skewed the stats.

    Thus, all of you who downloaded are not included in the number of people, from the network's perspective, of people who are interested in the show. That discrepancy can surely make the difference between a show whose future is secured and one who is doomed to scheduling hell and later cancellation, especially on networks like FOX whose programming execs are in fact nothing but trained number monkeys and don't understand other factors like show quality and artistic value when making determinations about cancellation.

    For a person to download an episode that is a.) not avaiable in any other way, or b.) occasionally, because it was either the 'bestest episode evar' or he/she missed the showing, is one thing. Downloading a readily available series in toto is something else again. And while the /. crowd balks at calling the second theft for technical reasons, it is ethically equivalent as far as I can tell.

  • by pla ( 258480 ) on Wednesday July 05, 2006 @01:48PM (#15661266) Journal
    Please explain to me ... when I download every episode of Futurama for free, how does this stop a hard-core fan from buying the DVD?

    Better yet, please explain to me how it costs the show anything when I watch it at first-run, then download it for free, then still buy the DVD sets when they come out?
  • what single word has caused more problems and brought more pain and misery to more people?

    But it's close.
  • Re:Thanks, Billy (Score:5, Insightful)

    by LMacG ( 118321 ) on Wednesday July 05, 2006 @02:00PM (#15661352) Journal
    You actually believe that Julie Kavner is using her natural speaking voice when doing Marge Simpson? Are you sure it's not her natural voice for Patty, or maybe Selma? No, wait, maybe it was as Timon's mother in Lion King 1 1/2.

    OK, granted she's not a "thousand voice talent," but I'd hazard a guess that Mr. West's distaste is more for somebody like Will Smith in Shark Tale.
  • by twistedsymphony ( 956982 ) on Wednesday July 05, 2006 @02:08PM (#15661410) Homepage
    Silly you, the show is back only because it made the studios profitable and the cast rich. Silly him? Silly you... profitability is not why we want the show back.
  • Did anyone else (Score:2, Insightful)

    by mgabrys_sf ( 951552 ) on Wednesday July 05, 2006 @02:14PM (#15661465) Journal
    Think it would be great - after hearing the recording goofs portion - to have a video reel of the recording session outtakes included on the DVD extras on the next Futurama compilation?

    With John DiMaggio's high energy it sounds like it would be quite a hoot.
  • Re:Umm... Question (Score:3, Insightful)

    by wild_berry ( 448019 ) on Wednesday July 05, 2006 @02:32PM (#15661612) Journal
    I took the comment to mean that you always buy something -- whether the HiDef screen, the HD-DVD or Blu-Ray drive, the speakers, the portable media player, the discs or tapes or what. Only dyed-in-the-wool crooks nick everything. You're not nicking TV by watching its adverts and not spending money on advertised products -- your money's already been spent on the equipment and license to watch the TV shows (whether a subscription, pay-per-view or year-long license).
  • by MarkByers ( 770551 ) on Wednesday July 05, 2006 @02:38PM (#15661646) Homepage Journal
    Yes, it's friggin' theft. Don't give me the "but they still have it" nonsense. You want it, they're willing to sell it to you, you take it for free against their wishes --> theft.

    Nice try, nearly slipped that one under the radar. But it should have read:

    You want it, they're willing to sell it to you, you copy it for free against their wishes --> copyright infringement.

    There, I fixed your errors. Much better. :-P

    I know that both are illegal so what difference does it make what you call it? Surely crime is crime?

    Well think of it like this... what if you went 5 miles per hour over the speed limit and I decided to call you a murderer?

    Or if you took hash socially once at a party, I could start calling you a drug dealer, because both are crimes. What the heck I might as well call you a baby rapist too just for the fun of it. After all, it's just crimes and crimes. All the same.

    Oh wait, you are probably one of those whiter than white people that has never ever commited a crime so you probably wouldn't understand the analogy. Forget it...
  • by kundor ( 757951 ) < minus bsd> on Wednesday July 05, 2006 @03:43PM (#15662271) Homepage
    Then you know nothing about real programming. Seeing to the heart of a problem and figuring out the twist that solves it is one of the most creative things there is. It is crafting not static works, like books, but dynamic, responsive, living words -- programming is to writing what composing is to playing music. Each layer of abstraction requires less technique and rote and more creativity, and programming is one of the most abstract media that people have ever worked in.

    If you program by brute force or mathematical proofs and use no creativity, then you are no more a programmer than someone transcribing data is an author.
  • by MarkByers ( 770551 ) on Wednesday July 05, 2006 @03:50PM (#15662337) Homepage Journal
    I'm NOT saying they're greedy, etc., just recognizing the fact that funny voices by themselves don't buy much in the way of groceries.

    Because these guys are close to the poverty line? If they would work for ordinary salaries there would be no difficulty in getting the money back.

    Or if they made the product better so that people want to buy it, they get more sales.

    Look at Microsoft. They are doing OK despite "theft" / "sharing" or whatever word you want to use.

    People like boxes. They like collecting. They love supporting the artist even if it means buying into DRM. If people aren't buying their product then they must be doing something seriously wrong. I'm sure other professionals will be very eager to fill the hole they will leave when they give up. It is a free market after all.

    Rather than putting your head in the sand and pretending copying won't happen, ask yourself why aren't the so called hard-core fans buying Futurama? What are they doing wrong?
  • by Catbeller ( 118204 ) on Wednesday July 05, 2006 @04:37PM (#15662756) Homepage
    Uh, semantic nonsense.

    We watched Futurama on TV. For free. Thieves are we? Deadbeat hippies?
    We taped Futurama for free. Were we stealing? Communist infiltrators of Hollywood?
    We Tivoed for free. We stole the shows? (Are any missing?)
    We downloaded the shows. HOW IS THAT DIFFERENT?

    Taping, Tivoing, and watching were all Nielson-free (only a thousand damned families are Nielsoned at a time!) and didn't cost us a dime.
    How is downloading different? This makes NO logical sense. Nothing is stolen. Nothing has changed except that the video is a file and you can send it over a wire instead of passing a tape to your buddy at work.

    Every method of recording has caused executives to scream that they were being robbed, and every method has accompanied even more profits for those same executives. And frankly, making a profit using a specific technology does not mean that the universe and human law must change to enable a profit in the future. Sometimes a business dies because it no longer can make a profit because the world changed around it. Passing laws forbidding technology and corrupting the language and criminalizing perfectly legal and previously unimpeachable behavior are what is wrong! I personally think the corruption of words is the vilest of crimes against humanity. Change the meaning of a word, and you can disarm the sane for lack of mutually understandable terms with the rest of the speakers of the language. Just say "thief" and the debate is over with no argument possible, because the word has been coopted by liars whose ultimate goal is to make even more money and control people.

    Enough manipulation of the English language. Watching a show is not stealing, and it is not a character flaw. I'm tired of being called a criminal because I don't have a meter embedded in my head.
  • by Tingler ( 56229 ) on Wednesday July 05, 2006 @04:46PM (#15662824)
    Amazon is selling the entire series for $118 with free shipping. The discs contain 72 episodes. Let's say that you don't watch any of the bonus features. Let's also say that each episode is 20 minutes long. That means there is 24 full hours of Futurama. The cost breaks down to just under $5 an hour. How much cheaper would they have to be?
  • Re:Thanks, Billy (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Petrushka ( 815171 ) on Wednesday July 05, 2006 @05:29PM (#15663101)

    And there weren't guest stars on Futurama? Let's see... Beastie Boys, Leonard Nemoy, Al Gore, Stephen Hawking, Richard Nixon's head, Hypnotoad...

    Just for reference, Richard Nixon's voice in Futurama was provided by ... guess who.

  • Re:Thanks, Billy (Score:3, Insightful)

    by nomadic ( 141991 ) <{nomadicworld} {at} {}> on Wednesday July 05, 2006 @07:40PM (#15663763) Homepage
    Alright, Al Gore's line of "I have ridden the mighty moon worm!" would not be nearly as funny without it being delivered in Al Gore's stilted, wooden voice.
  • by solitas ( 916005 ) on Wednesday July 05, 2006 @08:27PM (#15663927)
    In the name of Jebus/Ghod/Buddha/FSM/Cthulhu/Phil: DO NOT try to get 'edgy' and 'hip' like family guy did. It will be absolute death to a season 6.

    Futurama was a nice clean show (with its occasional burlesque moments) and no one I've ever spoken with ever had a bad thing to say about an episode.

    Everything worked just fine the way it was and if the FauX network hadn't been yanking the times all over the place the series never would have closed after 4 seasons.
  • what single word has caused more problems and brought more pain and misery to more people?


"It's my cookie file and if I come up with something that's lame and I like it, it goes in." -- karl (Karl Lehenbauer)