Frequently Asked Questions
You have said that artists are the ones who set the example to help change the planet. In your opinion, what is the role of the artist in our society?
I believe the artist has one of the most important roles in society, as he is the dreamer of dreams! To contribute to and/or create projects that utilize the artist’s ability to expand to brand new horizons by entertaining, inspiring and/or enlightening those, he/she meets. It is my own personal “mission statement,” and makes me happy!
In addition to all the work you do as an artist, is it true that you are Honorary Mayor of the entire San Fernando Valley?
In 2005 I was selected as the Honorary Mayor of the North Valley, a part of the San Fernando Valley in California that houses about 1.76 million people. This title is not to be confused with an actual “mayor.” It is really a PR position, to be honest, a way to help my community. I feel very privileged that at this point in my career I can actually “pick and choose” what I want to do, and how I want to help. You would have to live under a rock to not notice the illiteracy, the vagrancy, the crime, drugs and lack of personal integrity going on in our neighborhoods. I live in Northridge and with all the problems, we face; I just want to do something to help.
What reference books do you recommend?
- Making Money in Voice-Overs by Teri Apple
- My Life As A 10-Year-Old Boy by Nancy Cartwright
- There’s Money Where Your Mouth Is by Elaine A. Clarke
- The 9 Critical Skills to Voice-Over Excellence by Pat Fraley
- Make Your Voice Heard by Chuck Jones
- The Magic Behind the Voices by Tim Lawson
- How to Make a Million Dollars With Your Voice by Gary Owens
There are many others available, but these seven books will get your reference library started.
What impact has creating your own work had on your career and your development as an artist?
All I can say is that I am happiest when I am productive and I am very busy all the time, doing things my agent and my in-house team have gotten as well as things I create for myself.
What is the greatest misconception aspiring actors have about a career in showbiz?
The biggest misconception is that “success” has to do with how much money you make. It doesn’t. Success has to do with your own personal goals and the journey you go on to attain them. Sure money is great and it can buy some pretty cool things, but it does not solve any of the problems you might encounter in life, or in your career—that only comes from taking full responsibility for your career and acting upon it.
Can you teach someone to be a great voice over artist, or is it one of those, “you’ve got it or you don’t” things?
You can ABSOLUTELY be taught. There are plenty of classes out there to prove it. Whether or not you will get cast in a part depends on any number of conditions: how versatile you are, how viable you are as a voice-actor, how much you “hustle” yourself to get the job, your connections, your networking skills, your timing, and your ability to compete with those professionals who are already doing it. Good luck, and I mean that. Make it fun. Make it an adventure! (See Question #2 for recommendations.)
What are some of the fundamental skills all voice over artists should possess?
Some of the skills needed are: The ability to make it sound like it is “the first time”, in other words, when you are doing a record and the director asks you to “do it again” and “one more time” for about the 10th time, you have to make it sound fresh, as if you have never said it before.
Another skill needed is, believe it or not, the ability to “Be a Professional.” This is the most basic and a skill anyone from any profession could benefit from. There is a tendency to use the record time to “make friends” or socialize, chat it up, but this is NOT the time to do this. You are hired to do a job using your voice; however, it is my professional opinion that during a record, and the time in between, it is best to keep your mouth shut so that the job can be done smoothly and efficiently.
Why is it important for you to continue to generate your own work?
It is so easy as the artist to blame others for your failure and lack of success. The only way I know how to continue being happy is by staying productive, and keep putting my voice out there. It is a constant challenge. And the best way to be productive is to create your own destiny by doing your own projects. I work with my friends whose own goals and purposes are aligned with mine and that really helps.
What are your career goals?
At this stage of the game, I am interested in writing, producing and developing projects for film and television. I am currently writing a feature-length film based on a journey I took in Italy in the mid-80s. It is called In Search of Fellini. It is truly a labor of love and I have never been happier as an artist.
I am also writing and producing an animated show. This is in development and you will hear more about this later.
To what do you attribute your success?
There is nothing worth fighting for that is ever easy. Ever since I was a little kid, I always persisted on a “given course,” in an attempt to reach my goals. It does not mean it was easy, but I just never gave up. The difference between the one who will make it, and the one who will not, is simply not enough follow through. Not enough push! There really is no excuse for failure.
These are my “Golden Rules for Living” that have helped me succeed in my life:
- Do what you love
- Surround yourself with people who believe in you and your dreams
- Hitch your wagon to a winner
- Be a professional
- Trust your instincts. You are right.
- YOU are responsible for the condition you are in, so DECIDE exactly what you want to do.
After over 600 episodes of The Simpsons, how do you keep it fresh?
It is not too hard to keep the funniest show on television fresh! I have to pinch myself to remind me that I actually get paid to burp and fart!
What do you love most about being on The Simpsons?
There are so many “perks”—it is difficult to just name one. That said, one of the benefits is the freedom I have as an artist to contribute to this magical art form. It is such a collaborative effort and to be a part of a legendary show is truly a dream come true. I love that we can have so much fun by improvising lines and also help to improve the show if something doesn’t ring quite true. Al Jean [the Show Runner—the fellow who is the head of the day-to-day targets and activities of production] definitely takes that all into consideration.
The other thing is that as a voice-actor, even though I am famous, I still have the anonymity to live a normal life. I got to raise my raise my kids without the personal invasion of privacy.
And finally, as a celebrity, I have the opportunity to support many charitable activities. I have a personal passion for helping this world to be a better place—for me, for my kids, my grandkids that I will have some day and for all my friends, their kids, and so on. I have a non-profit organization called “Happy House” whose purpose is “Building Better Families. www.happyhouse.org. We developed a program, based on the common-sense, moral compass booklet, The Way to Happiness, called “How to Make Good Choices” www.goodchoicesprogram.org and it is being used in numerous after-school programs, including Boys and Girls Clubs, PALS organizations, home-school programs, church-related and more. We are having such a great time working with not only the kids, but also their parents and giving them some workable tools to build a stronger, happier family unit.
What is the production schedule for The Simpsons?
It takes about 5 months to do one episode of The Simpsons. The script is written and we do a “Table Read” for the writers. Many people attend, including guests and very often a kid from “The Make-A-Wish Foundation”. The purpose is to read the script aloud so the writers can make any necessary changes to improve that show. After the show is re-written, the actors return to the studio and record that episode. Then once it is edited, it is turned over to Film Roman, the animation studio that does all the artwork for the show. It takes months and months to do all the characters, color and add the sound and music. Finally, after all the retouches and retakes of any scenes, the show is ready to air. And the best part is that when I watch the show, I don’t even think about being the voice of Bart! I just get to be a fan!
In addition to Bart, what other characters/shows do you do?
On The Simpsons I do the voices of Nelson, Ralph, Kearney, Todd/Rod, Data Base, and Maggie. I also “revived” the voice of Chuckie on Rugrats when voice-artist Christina Cavanaugh retired. I created Rufus, the naked mole rat on Kim Possible, Chip on The Kellys, (an animated series I developed and produced for www.nascar.com), and Earl, the squirrel for Chuck Jones’ animated webisode Timberwolf on www.warnerbros.com. Another challenging character I created is Todd on “The Replacements.” I love him because he is a combination of Ralph and Nelson! A very special guy.
My entire voice biography can be found on http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0004813/.
Who is your favorite guest star on The Simpsons?
We have had over 450 to date, but some of my more memorable ones (Meryl Streep, Michael Jackson, Kirk Douglas, Mel Gibson and Elizabeth Taylor) are documented in my book, My Life as a 10-Year-Old Boy. I’ve also enjoyed working with Anne Hathaway, Zooey Deschanel and author, Neil Gaiman. They don’t take themselves very seriously and it comes across in their performance; professional but humorous. In fact, it is when they are a bit self-deprecating that I find them most appealing.
What is the actor’s responsibility after signing with an agent?
Let us face it… the agent only gets 10% of your income. That means that 90% of the perspiration and inspiration has to come from YOU! You have to do the hustle, man. After all, I have not retired yet!! Ha! So watch out!
All kidding aside, casting directors are ALWAYS looking for “the new kid in town”. The industry is always looking for good material, so do not shy away or let the fact that this is a small and very select, tight-knit group deter you. I have my own professional challenges too, i.e., how to keep it fresh and NOT sound like Bart, Ralph, Nelson, Rodd, Kearney, Database, Maggie, Chuckie, etc. when I audition for other characters. It is harder than you think. Everyone has his/her own obstacles to overcome. The idea is to JUST DO IT!
How did you come up with Bart’s voice?
Bart’s voice was really something that just came naturally to me. When I auditioned for the part of Bart, I gave Matt Groening one sound, and what you hear is what I did! I was hired on the spot.
How did you get your start?
I connected up with the legendary voice of Huckleberry Hound, Yogi Bear, Quick-Draw Mcgraw—Daws Butler. His name was referred to me when I was working at a local radio station in Dayton, Ohio—WING. I was so young and naïve—yet very eager to do what I loved. I never really considered it had anything to do with confidence—I just did what I thought made sense. I had his phone number and I had a phone, so, I called him. Pretty simple.
I think sometimes we stop ourselves from ever doing the important things in our life because we are afraid of what “others” might think. Don’t worry—take chances. Don’t think—just DO!
At that time, I had no idea that things would actually unfold the way they did. The bottom line is, I trusted my muse—my passion and myself. As it turned out, Daws was very helpful to me. He encouraged me and guided me, via the mail, and after corresponding with him for two years, I decided to move from Ohio to LA to make a go of it. He eventually took me to Hanna-Barbera and the rest is history.
My whole story can be found in a book I wrote in 2001, called, My Life As A 10-Year-Old Boy. It became an LA Times best-seller and I hear it is pretty funny.
How do I get an Agent?
My best advice is you need to cultivate relationships. Hollywood operates on “word of mouth” and referrals. Get into classes. Study. Do lunch. Share ideas. Find networking groups that can assist you in meeting agents, putting together a good demo tape, etc. One such group is Women in Animation. www.womeninanimation.org (Men are welcome, by the way.) This group has a voice-over section that is very loyal, dedicated and interested in helping each other in their careers. Most agents are swamped but will listen to tapes that come with a recommendation from clients they already represent. Read the trade papers and go to industry-related seminars.
I have also found www.voiceoverresourceguide.com to be an invaluable resource for all sorts of voiceover services including recording, casting, talent agencies, training and demo production.