chat room

Kelsey Grammer on Dracula, Sideshow Bob, and His Favorite Forgotten Voice Work

Kelsey Grammer.
Kelsey Grammer. Photo: David M. Benett/Dave Benett/Getty Images

Kelsey Grammer possesses one of the most mellifluous voices in show business, one so smooth that it’s hardly surprising he’s got a plethora of voice-acting credits within his filmography. His latest such endeavor is the new IMDb animated series You’re Not a Monster. Created by Frank Lesser, late of The Colbert Report, the series revolves around Max Seward (voiced by Modern Family’s Eric Stonestreet), a therapist who’s taken over the practice previously belonging to his great-great-grandfather, John Seward (voiced by Grammer), who — as Bram Stoker fans may suspect, given that the character originated within the pages of Dracula — is a vampire. Oh, and funny thing about that practice: The regulars include a zombie, an invisible man, and … well, you get the idea.

Grammer spoke with Vulture about working with Stonestreet on the series and how much he already knew about his character, but he was also game to discuss the other animated efforts to which he’s contributed over the years — yes, Simpsons fans, there’s a Sideshow Bob discussion — as well as a few other voice credits he’s racked up, including an appearance on an album by the Vandals.

How did this show come about for you? Was it pitched to you?
Everything takes so long now. It was three or four years ago that we actually got on a Skype call or FaceTime, whatever it was, in the offices of a no-longer manager of mine. [Laughs.] I got this idea from Frank Lesser, they were little skits with a bit of a narrative about the old vampire and his great-great-grandson. Over time, he said, “We’ve got a couple scripts on it!” I’d just finished doing something with Eric Stonestreet, so I threw a call in to him, and he said, “Sure, yeah!” And then — boom! — all of a sudden, there it is.

I guess it’s also an opportunity to revisit the therapist’s chair, right?
In a different manifestation, sure, but certainly. Although all the characters are really not very qualified as therapists. [Laughs.] Which is maybe not a feather in my cap.

Were you familiar with John Seward from the original Dracula novel?
I am. In fact, I read the original Bram Stoker novel years and years ago. There was an annotated one released in the late ’70s or early ’80s that someone had given me. It does a great job of putting together the context of what Hungary was and what Budapest was, what it meant to go into Romania at that time. It’s a great story, of course, but I found it more enriching through that experience.

I want to touch on some of the other voice work you’ve done, including a few that aren’t necessarily as well-known. Like, say, Dr. Frankenollie in the Disney cartoon Runaway Brain.
Yes! That was a Mickey Mouse cartoon. And it was a theatrically released Mickey Mouse cartoon, no less! You know how when we were kids, we’d go to a movie and there were a couple of cartoons before the movie came out? They said it was going to be that kind of cartoon. They hadn’t done a theatrical release for something like 30 years, so this was gonna be the first one. I have no idea if it ran. I remember very little of it other than the fact that Mickey and I and Frankenstein and his monster were part of it.

My understanding is that it did end up running in front of various Disney movies, including A Goofy Movie in the U.K.
Perfect. [Laughs.]

Certainly one of your most famous voice gigs has been playing Sideshow Bob on The Simpsons.
Yes, of course. Sideshow Bob casts a long shadow through the years.

And it’s one that continues to frequently recur.
Yeah, and I recorded something in London this spring for a Christmas show, which could either be this season or next. You never know. It used to take a lot longer to turn them around. It was almost a year in the old days, but I don’t know how long the process is now. It could be Christmas this year!

Are you surprised that they’ve kept the character going?
You know, he’s just like a delicious chocolate-chip cookie — once in awhile, nothing else will do. [Laughs.] Sometimes you’ve gotta have Sideshow Bob!

Do you have any particular favorite Bob episodes?
I’ve loved a lot of them, but my favorite is one where David Hyde Pierce plays my brother, Cecil. But it’s only because of the one line: “Lisa, you don’t spend ten years as a homicidal maniac without learning a thing or two about dynamite.” [Laughs.] That was just one of the greatest lines I’ve ever said.

I’m sure you’ve heard this plenty of times, but the scene with Bob and the rakes continues to be a go-to for me when trying to tell somebody about a joke that’s funny, then goes on to the point of not being funny anymore, and then keeps going …
… until it gets funny again. “How much longer is this gonna go — oh, my God!” [Laughs.] It wears you out and yet somehow gets you back. I don’t know how it happened, but it’s an extraordinary thing.

Do you remember the first time seeing it play out in its final form?
I didn’t see the show right away. I mean, they sent me a copy. They actually sent me a tape! But it ended up in a drawer and I didn’t watch it. And then I heard it was funny. And then I heard I actually won an Emmy for it. [Laughs.] And then I thought I’d better watch it. So I finally got to see it a year or so after the fact or whatever. But yes, it is actually quite funny. It recurs in my life like a bad dream.

[At this point, Grammer delivered the shuddering groan that follows every rake Sideshow Bob takes to the face. It was a beautiful thing.]

You also did the voice of Gary the Rat for a few episodes of that show.
Yes, it was a show for the opening of the Spike network. We were on with Pamela Anderson as Stripperella, so it was an hour of cartoons. I loved that character. It was like Gregor Samsa [in Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis], with a lawyer who’s turned into a rat. Maybe it was too on the nose? I don’t know. But I thought it was a terrific show.

This isn’t exactly in the same realm of voice work, but I recently discovered that you sang and even played piano on a song by the Vandals.
Yes, I did! Some time ago.

How did that come about?
A buddy of mine, Bob Casale, was the engineer for it. He’s gone now, but he was the guitar player in Devo. He went into engineering and producing records for other guys, including the Vandals. So he called me one afternoon and said, “I’ve got these guys coming in, they’re looking for a jazzy, bluesy lick on the piano,” and I said, “Hell yeah, I’ll come over!” If I remember right, it was in the key of E. I was very proud to have that credit in my quiver.

How did you and Bob Casale cross paths in the first place?
Oh gosh, years ago. It was one of those wild things. That’s the ’80s, right? I’d see him talking in the bathroom and somebody says, “Hey, what do you do, man?” You’d share a bump, as we used to call it back in those days, and we were off and running! [Laughs.] The Devo guys and some graphic artists I knew, we all hung out together. It was an eclectic mix. Bob’s girlfriend at the time, Lisa, is still a pal. She used to cut hair, so she would cut my hair when we’d all hang out. It was a great, great time.

I interviewed Gerald Casale a couple of years ago for the anniversary of Devo’s Freedom of Choice coming out. Great guy, great band.
Oh yeah, wonderful. And Mark [Mothersbaugh] actually wrote music for me for Gary the Rat. He’s done a couple of things for us over the years. They’re lovely.

To jump back to proper voice work, you took on the role of Snowball in a TV adaptation of George Orwell’s Animal Farm.
Yes, I was very proud of that. Of course, I’m a big Orwell fan. And I’m definitely not a communist. [Laughs.] So that was right up my alley. I thought it was an important thing to do. It’s one of the best distillates of why we don’t want to become that society. But, you know, we’re whistling through the graveyard right now.

If there’s ever been a time to reevaluate Orwell’s work …
It might be the time, yeah! [Laughs.]

When I traded tweets with Frank Lesser, he said you could make a killing licensing your voice to one of those online therapy apps.
Maybe we should start working on that!

Do you remember the first time somebody said that you had a great voice?
When I was a young actor, there was a gal out in Minneapolis who said to me, “You know, you have a terrific voice, but you don’t use it. You have a lower register that is remarkable. The minute you use it, your life will change.” And she was right! [Laughs.] It did change things a lot.

I’m very proud of a number of the voice roles I’ve done. Like Vladimir in Anastasia. And Zozi the bear in Bartok the Magnificent, the spinoff of Anastasia. And, oh, what was Gary Baseman’s thing called? Teacher’s Pet! I really had a ball doing that.

Lest we forget, there’s also Stinky Pete from Toy Story 2.
We can’t forget Stinky Pete, who has been partially cut from the movie.

It’s a very controversial thing, apparently. John Lasseter and I were talking about these outtake things at the end of the movies, right? We thought that the Barbies might be in his trailer, talking about how he’d like to get them some work, but he’s actually trying to hit on them. Disney cut it out recently, just about six months ago. They said, “We’re taking it out because of the Me Too movement.” And I said, “But why? Because, what, they’re guilty of it?” [Laughs.]

One would hope not.
But they cut it out anyway. It was fairly harmless. It just was, “Oh, yeah, that never happened in Hollywood.” [Laughs.] Well, all right …

You’ve also done a few musicals. Have you ever thought of releasing an album?
You know what? I have actually recorded a full album. I just never released it! I recorded it some time ago. I’ve been thinking about singing in Vegas. I know a lot of songs that I’d sing if I were to do it. There’s about a hundred songs that I know I could pull off. But lately, I’ve been doing actual musicals. I did Big Fish about two and a half years ago, and I just did Man of La Mancha in London. I love singing live. It’s wonderful.

Lastly but inevitably, you’ve been talking up the possibility of a Frasier reboot. Is that still in the cards?
We’re definitely talking about it. There’s life in there. There’s a few other things we’re working on first, and Frasier takes a backseat to that. I’ve shot five movies in the last year and a half … and eventually one of them is gonna get seen! [Laughs.]

Like Father made it out, at least.
Like Father was good. That was the beginning of it, but then there’s four others after that. So I’ve been busy, which has been great. And I’ve got three new kids and that’s really great, too! [Laughs.]

Kelsey Grammer on His Most Famous and Forgotten Voice Work