Meet The Voice Behind All Your Favorite Cartoon Characters

Whether you are aware of it or not, Rob Paulsen was part of one’s own life for quite a long moment.

We do not have the opportunity to proceed through most of the films, video gaming, and up of 2000 tv programs he has experienced, however, you most likely know him away from Pinky and the Brain, Animaniacs, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Even though it has been a minute since we watched Pinky or even Yakko or even Dr. Scratchansniff on tv, it’d be hilariously erroneous to presume Rob has slowed in virtually any capacity. When it is really a cartoon, then there’s a fantastic chance Rob is still an essential component of ittoday, Rob performs the exact same part on the kids’ lives as he did in yours.

This autumn Animaniacs is returning after almost 25 years; a momentous and wonderfully nostalgic revival that is made even more meaningful once you learn that less than a year prior to recording the new season, Rob had just faced cancer and come out the other side. He spoke with Funny Or Die to discuss the reboot of Animaniacs and what it means to him, his journey through throat cancer, how it impacted his career, and the magic and power of voice acting.

This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.

Pinky and the Brain is my mom’s favorite show. Growing up, we had a huge box of blank VHS tapes, and we had to tell her whenever it was on so she could run in and record it.

That is the sort of compliment that is impossible for me to quantify. That’s the best aspect of this gig. If your mom was here, and I said,”Helloooo, Doctor!” Or “Narf!” — look what happens to your face! It’s the coolest thing in the world. Honestly, you’ve already made my day.

Speaking of Animaniacs, I don’t know if you knew this, but Animaniacs is coming back!

Rob Paulsen performs during Animaniacs LIVE! at the Grammy Museum in 2018 WireImage

You know you’re the second or third person who has said that! It’s coming back on Narf-vember 20th. Isn’t that exciting? I’ve been in LA for 42 years, doing cartoons for 35, and the opportunity to bring back a show that affects people the way it does, is incredible. We don’t sound any different. We look different, but that doesn’t matter. That’s the magic of animation. A brand new platform, a 25 year gap, Steven Spielberg again, and the original voice actors. This is a really remarkable experience for us as performers to be able to, with the King of Hollywood, say,”Yeah, let’s try so ,” because the audience is exponentially larger than it was when you and your mom started watching it, and all it does, just like Funny Or Die, is make happy.

Even though Pinky the Brain and Animaniacs haven’t been on TV for over 20 years, you’ve stayed with those characters through other interviews and your podcast, and now Animaniacs in Concert. Does bringing them back to TV feel strange or new again, or does it feel like those characters never really left you?

The latter, because those two shows really hit millions around the world right in the heart and the feels and the funny bone. I have been doing a lot of in-person gigs, Animaniacs in Concert, I don’t even know how many conventions I did before COVID-Con 2020. The lines sometimes go out the door, and the breadth of the audience for a show like Animaniacs is huge, it’s 60-year-olds, 70-year-olds, 10-year-olds– and that’s the best part. You watched Animaniacs with very hip cultural references, very subversive humor, and now you can watch it as a grown adult and go,”Oh my God, I had no clue exactly what the hell that meant!” And that’s all by design. The edict from the beginning was to not condescend the audience, and Mr. Spielberg and Tom Ruegger and the folks who created it were absolutely right. So yeah, it really was just like getting back on the bike.

In my view, one of the best ways to pay my humanity forward is via humor, which ultimately leads to kindness, which ultimately leads to acceptance

I reminded Tress MacNeille, one of my dearest friends in the world and now without question the most prolific voice actress in Hollywood, of a time we were in an Animaniacs recording session. Actors would sit behind one another and when it was time to do their line, they would switch and go to the microphone. I remember looking at Tress and I said,”Boy, honeytake an image with the moment. It simply do not get no better than that. Look who is in this room . The greatest of the very best.” So here we are 25 years later, the first day we got back to recording I was sitting next to Tress again, it was a little bit sentimental, and I said,”Honey, can you remember?”

She finished my sentence,”When you mentioned do not get no better. However, it will, does it not?”

And it does, because of people like you, the kindness of Funny Or Die, the kindness of your mother, and the millions of people who could read this. It didn’t just go away, people didn’t go,”That was an enjoyable series. Oh, how well I must proceed with my job ” They’re like,”Oh my God, it’s returning? I’m really so blessed” How do we quantify that compliment? We are beyond excited about this. It’s a big deal.

That’s so awesome. Is part of that sentimentality for you, personally, influenced by the fact that you’re now coming back and doing a second iteration of this show after something as life changing as beating cancer?

Yeah, how about that?

Which, by the way, congratulations. That’s amazing. We’re all so glad that you’re here.

Me too. I will die someday, but not from throat cancer, and I will do my very best not to die during the interview. It is Funny Or Die, and I prefer the former.

That’d be good.

No, man, honestly, thank you for bringing that up. I’m a lottery winner and I know it. It’s one thing for an actor to be able to come to Hollywood, even though ostensibly I came here to do live action and that’s what I was doing, then animation called, I jumped on it, and it turns out that my desire to perform, be funny, be creative, is no different at 64 than it was at 14. My gig has been nothing but joy. Nothing.

Now, a couple of years ago, I got thrown a bit of a curve ball– I had cancer. Not just any cancer, throat cancer. But I was in my late fifties when I was diagnosed, I had already been able to do shows decades ago that have left an indelible, joyful mark on the world. So even if the doctors had said,”Look, here’s the offer. But that really is it” What is it they say? We make plans and God laughs? But that’s not what they said. They said,”We’re convinced we can fix you. This is a competitive cancervery curable, and also we have it premature ” It was stage III, it had already spread to my lymph nodes and my neck.

They said,”We’re virtually convinced we can fix you. However, before we dowe nearly need to kill you”

The treatment is brutal. Mouth, throat, can’t eat, can’t even drink. It’s rough. But that was four years ago. I am different. Rob 2.0 is not the same. I will submit that some of the differences are a hassle… I can’t go anywhere without my trusty bottle of water, because my saliva glands are fried from the radiation. I don’t taste food like I used to. But the opportunity to do this show again, and nobody is any the wiser, that was really in doubt. The doctors were like,”Even if the cyst isn’t in your own vocal cords, it can be a fairly gnarly therapy. Are you going to have the ability to talk about? Are you going to have the ability to sing?” And I can.

The first song I sang for the new Animaniacs is very complex, which is exactly what we like, and when I finished it, I said,”Can we take a rest for one moment? This is just a major deal for me personally, because there is a probably six calendar month period where I was not certain when I really could do so ”

Rob Paulsen as Yakko Warner for “Yakko’s World” Screenshot from Animaniacs

And nobody looked at each other and groaned. It wasn’t that at all. It was,”Man, that really is excellent.” As much as Warner Brothers and Steven and everybody had been so kind to me, it’s show business. If I wasn’t able to cut the mustard as well as the other actors, there would have been no point, probably, in doing the whole thing just to replace me. So even though nobody put any pressure on me, it was a big deal to see whether or not I could handle it. The first job was to save my life, but my life is driven in so many ways by what I’m getting to do with you here today. It’s about creativity and joy and happiness, and Jesus H. Christ, do we need that more now than ever. That was a very big deal, and I’m really glad you brought it up.

The other silver lining –platinum, really– is as a result of my cancer I was asked by the Head and Neck Cancer Alliance —headandneck.org, kids, check that out– to be their 2020 spokes-toon. Last month or the month before, the FDA approved Gardasil as a vaccine against HPV-related head and neck cancers. HPV related head and neck cancers, like mine, have eclipsed cervical cancers in women that are caused by the human papillomavirus. And let me tell you something, kid, if I can vaccinate my young boy or girl so that they live their lives in the fullest way possible, and don’t have to go through this, holy smoke. That’s a big deal. So I get to be the spokes-toon, and I love that responsibility, because nothing is for certain, who knows when I’m going to have another wonderful opportunity, like you’re giving me, to talk about happy, wonderful, joyful things. Some of the joyful-est of which is that, guess what, man, you can go get this shot, or get it for your kids, or at least check it out. It’s pretty remarkable.

Just like everything else, once the dust settles, you look back and go,”Man, I’m kinda happy I went .” I don’t know that I’d choose to do it again, but if you got to go through it, you might as well go with good that comes out of it. Here I am talking with you about happy, joyful stuff, and a big part of it is the fact that I had cancer. So I’m grateful really.

That’s such a wonderful outlook to have, and as someone who has never had cancer and never experienced that firsthand, it’s truly inspiring.

That’s the idea, isn’t it? You’re a young person, and believe it or not, I was actually your age one time. Of course, older people know I was the entertainment at the Last Supper. In those days, I was Shecky of Arimathea. Jesus, what a party. It was great until karaoke, and Judas decided to do “Back Stabbers.” I thought that was in poor taste.

It’s a little on the nose.

Thank you. But yeah, we hear that axiom all the time about”all of us are in this together,” and in your young life and my old life, this is the first time that that’s ever been so true. Every day we see the COVID count. Every day we wrestle with racial issues, gender issues, politics, and we truly are all in this together.

I believe we are here to inspire each other. If my story, my talent, my experience, my career, inspires, that’s what we’re here to do, man.

I’m going to be dead in, what, 20 years, maybe 25. Maybe next week. I don’t know. But if the dent that I leave makes you inspired for five seconds to pay it forward, that’s it. It’s not about money. It’s not about an action figure. At the risk of getting too existential, it’s about our utter humanity. In my view, one of the best ways to pay my humanity forward is via humor, which ultimately leads to kindness, which ultimately leads to acceptance. It’s pretty difficult to hate someone when you’re laughing with them, irrespective of their gender, or their color, or their nation of origin. What’s funny in Iceland is maybe not necessarily as funny in Flint, Michigan, where I’m from, but it doesn’t matter.

When people laugh, and when you can tap into that, it allows for a few barriers to come down.

So I’m glad that that’s inspirational. Funny Or Die is that for millions of people, and you guys are way ahead of the game. I’m very proud of sitting here and talking to you about it.

I wanted to ask you more about your improv background and time at Groundlings. How has sketch comedy impacted your journey as a voice actor, and if you hadn’t gone to Groundlings, do you think that you would have found the same success you have now?

Great question. I need to qualify that a bit. I went to Groundlings to study, but what happened was that by utter accident, while I was there to take some classes, I got some actual Screen Actors’ Guild paying gigs, doing ADR and looping on pictures using a killer loop band, such as Cassandra Peterson, Phil Hartman, John Paragon, Tress MacNeille, Nancy Cartwright. They are terrifyingly inspirational.

I must perform and learn about these men and women who, unbeknownst to me, were at the A band that could finally produce Cheri Oteri and Will Ferrell, and’d produced Laraine Newman. I was not in The Groundlings, however I had been in using all of them time. The adventure has been completely priceless, especially with Phil, along with using the amazing chance of knowing Phil until he turned into Phil was an amazing thing.

That is, I think, what should be understood and recalled about characters that are animated. If it is done accurately, once the visual artworks together with the operation art, it’s classic and practicable manner beyond what I knew

I had been dealing together with Phil, Corey Burton, along with Nancy Cartwright on Spaceballs in,’84,’85, along with Mr. Brooks comes to the ADR point and says”In this next scene here, Bill Pullman crashes on the sand planet, and we got all these critters walking around in hoods going,’Dink, dink, dink,”’ so we call them the Dinks. All right? One of the Dinks walks up and gives Bill water. Now, we gotta have a name for him, so who’s got something?” I looked in Phil Hartman, and I said,”Hey, how about Gunga Dink?” At this time you most likely understand, there’s a very famous poem by Rudyard Kipling called Gunga Din, roughly a Indian waterboy that brought water into wounded soldiers. Thus, I believed, Gunga Din, Gunga Dink. Right?

That’s such a speedy mention of the pull.

I told Phil, also he explained,”Oh, Robbie, oh, dude. You got to tell him. You never know. This is Hollywood,” and I said, “I don’t know, man.” It’s Mel Brooks, that person’s a god ! Therefore,”Anybody got anything? Phil?”

“Mr. Brooks?”

“Yeah. Whaddaya got, son?”

“Not me, but my friend Rob’s got something. Tell him, Rob,” and I said, “Well, how about Gunga Dink?” Everyone laughed. The dialogue editor, the more technical woman, I remember,” laughed. Laughter slows down,” Mel looks , says,”What’s your name, son?”

“Rob. Rob Paulsen, sir.” He moves,”Rob, in my business, wit is shit. Funny is money. Who’s got something else?”

[GASP] NO

Yeah, I really did this. Broke my heart. We broke for dinner, and Phil took me aside and said,”Hey, Robbie, you know what happened? You were funnier than Mel Brooks,” and I said,”No, no,” and we travelled forth and back, however it does not matter. The purpose is, Phil took me aside and allow me to feel much better. Then, years after, our mutual friend has Mel in his tradition, and he supposes that moment and says”Mel, I got to ask you about a personal friend of mine that you worked with on Spaceballs.” He informs him that the story, and Mel, to his charge, says and laughs,”You know what? That sounds like something I’d have said. Sorry about that, Rob. That was pretty funny.”

All those years after, long after Phil’s goneit was Phil that had been ideal. This was Phil who left me feel great about any of it.

Phil was much more to people have been fortunate enough to learn him. We knew he would definitely function as Phil Hartman. Your afternoon he got Saturday Night Live, I found a telephone call, like others,”Robbie, I got it,” and it had been simply glorious to see his own celebrity increase.

That’s why The Groundlings really are a huge deal if you ask me personally. I heard in the feet and also the voices of those masters because I had been besieged by these. I simply did not understand it at that moment. Each of them proved to become The Groundlings, and also whether they truly are dead or living, they truly are a few of my absolute best friends. Tress, Paul Reubens, Cassandra, Laraine, Phil, Phil LaMarr, the very best of their very best, the funniest, entirely egoless, best people who you’d ever wish to meetwith.

That’s an wonderful experience.

It really is. Thanks for you. You’ve got a lot to anticipate. That is exactly what I really like telling young celebrities and entertainers. It is the very fact. You are only limited by your imagination and the kindness of those who engage you. Then you are definitely going to have the ability to share with people these very remarkable stories, when you think them on, you are definitely going to move,”Holy shit. What a run I’ve had.”

At this time in your career, together with most of the extraordinary things which you have done now with this new type of rental in your life, what’s another thing to youpersonally? Are there such a thing in your own livelihood bucket-list which you have not done?

I would really like to have the ability to surpass the star ceiling, vis a vis voice ability. What I mean with this is I’ve done, I really don’t understand, 2,500 half-hours of cartoon, Ninja Turtles, Animaniacs, Pinky and the Brain, Jimmy Neutron, The Fairly Odd Parents, The Mask, The Tick, Mighty Max, Smurfs, G.I. Joe, Transformers– personalities whom, I’d assert, you would certainly be in a position to visit far flung places of the planet and mention, along with most everyone could say,”Oh, yeah. We know Raphael, we know Ninja Turtles,” and maybe not know Brad Pitt. I believe that is even true of personalities such as Bugs and Homer.

There will likely often be cachet to visual actress. I am not likely to improve this. But, there was some thing to be said in regards to the validity of characters.

Carl Wheezer given by Rob Paulsen at Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius Screenshot from Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius

Steven Spielberg picked Tress MacNeille, Maurice LaMarche, Jess Harnell, and yours truly for an Essential reboot, because it’s significant for him. Steven, just like the crowd, knows that in case the authentic voice actors can be bought, why do you hire Liam Neeson to be Yakko, or even Peter Dinklage are the Brain? It isn’t all about this. The Jimmy Neutron picture made 100 million bucks, no more actress gift, nominated for the Oscar. Then I did the next film a few years afterwards known as The Ant Bully using Meryl Streep, Nic Cage, Alan Cumming, Paul Giamatti. At the dumper.

On my bucket set is for at a place where folks recognize my name and my head and place both together. I want to participate in this vanguard who is able to declare that Hollywood is speaking with real, veteran voice ability to workin high-tech animated movies in the place of Brad and George and Justin, as, honestly, we’re better at this domain; this kingdom isn’t about actress.

Because the reality is, even if I had been a guest about some one particular huge evening shows, I understand that when I open my mouth and state “Hellooooo, studio audience,” I got them. Before I hit my ticket, even when I could possibly capture on some one of the significant discussion shows, and maybe that contributes to a significant film, an animated film, that is exactly what I wish todo, because gift is gift. Authenticity is credibility. These folks are so blessed, and countless understand their own work. They simply do not understand their faces.

A few years ago I watched the trailer to get the Winnie-the-Pooh picture with Ewan McGregor and presumed, thank God Disney didn’t replace the voice of Winnie-the-Pooh. Jim has been Winnie-the-Pooh, and it has been for 30 decades. The trailer was brilliant, emotional, hot, just what Winnie is all about. Therefore, I called Jimmy, and I said,”Mark my words. If there’s ever an Oscar for voice talent, you could really be in the running.” Per month after, there’s a Vanity Fair cover article that claims that there is certainly an Oscar-worthy operation in Christopher Robin, also it isn’t Ewan McGregor. It had been roughly Jim’s operation.

People have started to comprehend it. Things are shifting. I’d really like to see a few of my colleagues at this degree be nominated for a Oscar and state,”Wow. Acting is acting, and it doesn’t have to be with your face.”

When Jim talks to some new person with disabilities, who continues to be attracted by their own parents to meet with him as Winnie-the-Pooh– I do understand how to share with you. The parents really are 10 feet , absolutely a wreck, however they’re transfixed on Winnie-the-Pooh from the mouth of a elderly gentleman. It’s completely perfect, and it doesn’t have anything todo with Jim Cummings. It’s all about the credibility of the personality, and this is, I think, what should be understood and recalled about characters that are animated. If it is done accurately, once the visual artworks with all the operation art, it’s classic and impactful manner beyond what I knew until live events and fine people just like you. Thankyou for the chance to spell out that.

Thank you. It’s so odd as as you are saying I’m thinking, why isn’t that the case? Cartoons are therefore powerful. That really is really powerful.

Darkwing Duck’s Steelbeak voiced by Rob Paulsen Screenshot out of Darkwing Duck

The Truth is it is likely to shift with younger men like you personally. Everytime I visit pitch a series in Hulu, or Netflix with the men and women who produced the series, what ends up happening is people proceed,”The pitch was great. Rob, can you hang on a second? Listen, I have your book–” or, “My mom sent me my old Ninja Turtle pillowcase. Would you sign it for me?” I am in Hollywood, also here’s some one inside their thirties who is gone out of the way to be certain they’ve memorabilia for me to register, whether they choose the show. This tells me something. I can not even show you that the amount of times that I’ve met those who have said,”Mr. Paulsen, I did three tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan. I would go out on patrol for two days at a time, and when we’d come back to hang out for a couple days, we’d put on Pinky and the Brain or The Simpsons or Darkwing Duck, because that is what grounded us, and you’ll never know what that meant to me.” Are you kidding me? Just how can I wrap my head?

Thank you a lot for all of your thoughtfulness and insight, as well as for sharing a lot that’s really personal for you. This was lovely

I’m really thankful. Thankyou and your crowd for, firstly, understanding why I had been cast as Yakko, because I have not closed up to your complete god damn hourbut frankly, you and your crowd won’t ever understand… You won’t ever understand exactly what this indicates if you ask me personally, just how you answer my own stuff. What really made me during my cancer was that the variety of those who got ahold of me once they learned exactly what I had been coping. I did not advertise it. I sure as hell did not want empathy; everyone has got their own stuff.

But I started getting mails, calls, from all around the Earth, from parents that our kids did not allow it to be Yakko, or Pinky, or even Raphael,’d spoken about them twenty decades back.

Literally tens of thousands of letters and videos and cards, images that state,”Here’s the last picture of our boy when he was talking to Raphael on the phone. He lived another two years, we buried him with his Turtles shirt. We just want you to know what turtle power really is, and that you have it in you.” They did not understand anything about my cancer survivability. They all wanted to allow me to understand was that the power of these personalities, and also to remind me exactly what those personalities did to his or her kids, and fair to God, in the event that did not provide me enough courage and strength to make it through it, then shame on me.

That’s the ability of the characters. They have been completely happy, plus so they get people throughout the very impossible conditions, while it’s being taken on behalf of every one people holding their kid’s hand while she or he moves to another airplane.

That’s exactly what that really is all about. It simplifies activity amounts, cash, and evaluation points– and I’ve lived it. I understand it today. My cancer experience revealed me.

So, it really is I who will be the one. You gave me the chance to talk about my narrative, and also my final answer is that bliss is the very best drug, people, as well as the cool thing is you can not OD, as well as the refills are not free. Therefore, for God’s sake, keep this up.

Thank you for taking time to talk now, Rob. Before we proceed, that which had been the name of your publication?

It’s called Voice Lessons: How a Couple of Ninja Turtles, an Animaniac, and Pinky Saved My Life, also incidentally this type of multi purpose novel since in the event you do not like this, and also you have a dining table that is wonky, then you can push it directly underneath the leg of this desk. Take good care. And tell your mum I said narf.

Catch each of the first episodes of Animaniacs on Hulu, and also prepare for the 20 20 resurrection featuring the original voice cast, made by Steven Spielberg, starting this November.

Follow Rob around Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and also take a look at what he is as much as from concert events to charity ventures on his website.

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