You might not recognize Jon Benjamin’s face, but if you consider yourself a comedy fan, you probably recognize his voice: Benjamin has appeared in a remarkable array of cultishly beloved animated comedies over the last decade and change, including Home Movies; Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist; and, currently, Archer, as the deluded super-spy title character. Just last week, however, Comedy Central announced Jon Benjamin Has a Van, a fake news-magazine program airing next summer. It will feature Benjamin as a human interest reporter and will be his first starring role in front of the camera. To mark the occasion, Vulture got Benjamin on the phone to talk voice-overs, vans, and laziness.
Hey, Jon. How’re you doing?
Good. I like your name.
It’s better than my name.
Jon? That’s a classic name.
Yeah, it’s just … it’s just not Amos.
Yeah, I guess not. You got nominated for an Emmy for Archer … congratulations!
Well, fuck you! No, no, thank you.
Where were you when you found out?
I was in the club, man. It worked out. Uh, I was pulling an all-nighter at the club when I heard the news, so I was already there. I did 48 straight hours. The club is a gym, by the way … I’m fucking around. I was at home. In my, you know, bathrobe, boxers. Um, yeah, it was not exciting. Somebody told me about it. Via e-mail.
Are you writing an acceptance speech ahead of time?
It’s actually a manifesto … no, if I do win, I will say nothing. I will give no speech. It’ll be the first time ever that’s happened.
Have you ever won anything before?
Yeah, let me think … I won a second-place trophy in swimming, and I won Most Likely to Shit His Pants.
Do you base Archer on any specific pop-culture spies, or is it more a parody them all in general?
It came really out of what most of my characters come from, which is laziness. Not in the sense of the characters, just in that I don’t develop characters that well. When they did the pilot, I didn’t really know what the show was about. The creator of the show, Adam [Reed], was like, “Yeah, just do it as you.” And then he never said to do it different.
It’s true, you don’t really change your voice for your characters …
I know, I know. I’m sorry about that.
No worries. Moving on to your upcoming show — how did that come about?
Well, it’s sort of a labyrinthine tale, if that’s the right word. I don’t know how the van got involved. That’s the part that gets murky. I’m pretty sure I was talking to my friend Holly on the phone about Comedy Central telling me I needed to come up with an idea beyond what they’d seen, and I think it was, like, the least likely scenario that ended up being the one they chose. It came out of a completely arbitrary idea that I would have never thought would have come to fruition.
Can you give us a preview of what we’ll be seeing on the show?
A lot of the show involves strange, bizarre, human-interest stories. I can’t reveal the ones in the pilot that we’ll probably use because I don’t want to break that story — that no one will give a shit about. Anyway, we used the van in several different ways. But, uh, never to fuck in. Which is what you’d assume I’d use the van for.
It came from this idea that the van is sort of iconic, in the fact that they’re creepy, and in the other fact that they’re always related to the news. And promotionally, there’s the van that goes out and, you know, wraps itself with the Vitaminwater. You know, teenagers will Hula-hoop and give away Vitaminwater. We’ll try to use the van in all the ways people use vans.
Why did you decide to keep your own name for the character?
It’s not really a character. I said something about how it’s like Borat, but it’s not at all. That was completely misconstrued. I mean, by me. I misconstrued my own show. I sort of do just play myself, if I got a job as a guy who went around and reported on stories. And was not very good at it.
This is your first onscreen starring role. Are you …
Embarrassed by that? I’ll finish that question. I’m not quite sure I deserve it, but I’ll try to prove myself.
You also recently hosted a benefit for Stephen Baldwin, which raised money for a parrot advocate from Brooklyn named Stephen Baldwin.
I was really bummed out about giving money to the parrot guy. I wanted to give it to the real Stephen Baldwin. When I heard that guy speak … I don’t care about parrots at all. I mean, I don’t hate them; I just don’t care about them. I don’t want to give them money. I’m not necessarily in favor of building power lines that kill parrots. I mean specifically, building power lines just to kill parrots, I just feel like that would be wrong. But I will not sit here and say, “Let’s take down all the power lines and return to a more primitive time where we can’t have advanced technology, so as to spare the lives of the parrots.”
Got it. One last thing — your résumé is pretty lengthy. Is there one thing people mostly associate you with?