Talking to Jon Benjamin About ‘Bob’s Burgers’, Voicing Animated Characters and Crying in the Shower

Bob Belcher and his restaurant may be cursed with an unlucky streak, but even before the fourth season premieres this Sunday, Fox has already renewd Bob’s Burgers for a fifth. While portraying a dysfunctional, blue-collar family struggling to stay afloat, the show has successfully challenged Seth MacFarlane’s hegemony in the world of animated primetime comedy while attracting a growing fanbase. While the Belcher family continues to struggle, Bob’s Burgers continues to grow.

Jon Benjamin, the voice behind  protagonist Bob Belcher, has been lauded for his hilarously gruff dead pan which has brought to life many animated leading men such as Sterling Archer in FX’s animated series Archer. I got the chance to talk to the comedian behind the voice about his career, what goes on in the sound booth for Bob’s Burgers and why he thinks he’ll be 290 pound by 2016.

Is this next season of Bob’s Burgers different or is it the same fun stuff we’ve been seeing in the past?

Well, I think there’s a couple things that are slightly different about it, but specifically, it’s pretty much more of the same, though I think there is more music this year. More musical-oriented. The season concludes, and I can think of two parts where there is a big musical element.

What prompted that?

There’s always music involved in the show a lot, more and more. Loren [Bouchard], the creator of the show, is very musical, so I think he is tapping into that interest of his, which hopefully will be other people’s interest as well.

Do you sing?

I sing a little bit, yeah. But I sing very poorly. You know what? Not really poorly. I’m not bad. I’m actually in the like, 52nd percentile. Kevin Kline, the actor, can sing very well, though. Megan Mullally, who’s in the show, is also a really good singer, and John Roberts, who plays Linda, also has a pretty good voice.

It’s crazy how many actors also have these secret singing talents no one knows about.

Like me [laughs].

Of course! How do you do it all?

Well, you know, getting four hours of sleep and that’s about it.

Do you really sleep four hours a night?

Well, give or take. That way, I’m more anxious and jittery to get stuff done.

The show has a particular way of recording dialogue that’s more collaborative and allows for improvisation. With guest performers like Jon Hamm or Aziz Ansari, do they come in as well to record?

They don’t always come in. Well, they go somewhere obviously. They have to record it. Aziz Ansari probably does it in the recording area of his limousine or something along those lines, but sometimes, people would come in. It’s not disruptive at all. And maybe for those people [guests] who aren’t aware that some of the scenes are loosely knocked out and improvised or that improvisation is encouraged, for them it might be a little bit shocking. Like, “I?… Really?” But most people are performers or actors, so it’s gone pretty smoothly. I record in New York but most of the show is recorded in LA. I mean, most of the cast is in LA, I should say. Here, it’s just me, myself and Eugene Mirman and Larry Murphy pretty much. And Kevin Kline, when he comes in, and Aziz Ansari, who lives in New York sometimes. He came in a few times. And most guests we know. Aziz is a comedian, so we know him, but some performers weren’t as known to me.

I can imagine there’s a union between comedians that maybe other actors don’t share.

Yeah. I can’t remember who came in, but there was one person who came in and it really didn’t work out and they didn’t get the part. But I can’t remember who it is. I mean, I do remember who it is, but shouldn’t say it. So yeah, it hasn’t worked out once.

I can imagine. It’s not like you just come in and read a script, you have to vibe off of other people.

Well it’s like anything. It’s like going to a new school. You walk in and everybody works together, so on the whole, it’s a little awkward for some performers to come in and do that. But it’s not really a big deal. The whole thing isn’t really a big deal.

When you guys are recording together do you sometimes get off schedule since it’s a bit free-form? Or do you guys already understand the groove of things when you’re in the booth?

Well Loren Bouchard usually directs us in our headphones from LA from the sound engineer area, so that corals the thing. The most input he’ll have is to sort of stop a scene when it’s going nowhere, kinda reign it in and regroup. Or to stop John Roberts and Kristen Schaal from chit-chatting.

You started with comedy in Boston, and I’m kind of interested in your trajectory. Were you always interested in voice-over acting? Did you see yourself as more of a stand-up?

Well, I’m getting heavier. I’m experiencing a gradual morph into a fat guy. That I never suspected. But you don’t think about that when you’re 25. Like, ‘Wow, I’m going to look awful at 45 even though I think I look great now.’ So I would never had projected this. It’s ridiculous. Morphing into some weird organism I never thought I would become. But you know I’ll have to live with it.

I think you’re doing just fine!

I just take long showers. I cry in the shower. That’s what my grandmother’s boyfriend always used to say: “Do all your crying in the shower.”

Oh yeah?

Well, he was psychotic, though, so… But I mean, the only reason I got into voice-overs at all was ‘cause the show that I did in Cambridge, Massachusetts, called Dr. Katz. I had no intention of ever doing voice-overs. I wasn’t opposed to them; I just didn’t have any particular knowledge of how or why people do that. I auditioned for that show, and I got the part, so that was what started it all. It’s never stopped. Loren Bouchard was actually the sound engineer for Dr. Katz. And Loren has a much more overt interest in animation and voice-overs and stuff like that, so he was in the creative production side of the show that I was an actor in early on. So I’m doing the same thing I was back then and Loren, well, he’s done much better. Because he really did start — I wouldn’t say at the bottom, but he was an editor and worked on the production side of the show.

That’s incredible you guys have been working together this long.

Yeah. That kind of is why he does Bob’s Burgers not exactly the same way as Dr. Katz was done. It was certainly not as big of a show. It was a small cable show that had not a lot of oversight, but there are still things that we did and that Lorne did then that he does now. It’s interesting. His particular talent and skill came from this very unique interest in editing audio, and he was really great at it.

Dr. Katz, when it started, was pretty much all improvised. In the first season, we pretty much just worked off of an outline and never a script. If there was a long improvisation session, a lot of stuff was probably difficult to listen to and hard to listen to again, but he loved doing that. He loved the characters and the voices, and he would pick apart the conversations and edit them down, so right away, that was his real skill. It was a real skill to have ‘cause not a lot of people would want to do that! But he loved it. I really think he was the guy. He always had a knack for editing a scene. The show [Bob’s Burgers] is probably done much differently now.

It must be so difficult to piece together something concise out of limited structure.

I think there is a lot more structure now. Loren probably approaches it the same way, making the perfect scene that sounds good.

As a writer, comedian, standup, does collaborative work or more independent work come more easily for your?

What’s most difficult to do? Well, the type of shows I do now I find very easy to do, so that’s good. I like that. Writing is the most difficult for me because it’s like committing time to write and to write scripts that I’m supposed to write. That’s pretty difficult and very solitary. Right now, I’m writing something with somebody else, and we’re working together but its hard. It’s a difficult process for me. For me, performing isn’t really particularly difficult.

Is there anything else you’re working on that we might be expecting in the future?

Well, I’m finishing this pilot script now for more of a sitcom kind of show that I hope to do. It’s very unlikely. I know that sounds like I have a bad attitude, but I’m just going to be straight with everyone. You’ll probably never see it! And I’m also working another couple of ideas, live action-stuff for me to be seen.

Yeah, I was going to ask you about live-action stuff and if you wanted to do more of it.

Yeah, the show I’m working on now has me in it, and it would be great to do, but it’s a long process to get a pilot done, so even if you do see this, it’s two years off. And think about how fat I’ll be then! Five foot six. I’ll be 290 pounds by 2016! That would be fun to watch.

Bob’s Burgers premieres its fourth season this Sunday at 8:30 on Fox. 

Joanna Hausmann is a Venezuelan writer/comedian/fro-yo enthusiast .

Talking to Jon Benjamin About ‘Bob’s Burgers’, Voicing […]