If you've watched any animation at all over the past two decades-plus, you probably know the voice of Billy West.
Best known for playing several characters (including Philip J. Fry, Professor Farnsworth, and Dr. Zoidberg) on Futurama, the veteran voice actor has also provided voices for such iconic characters as Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd (in the movie Space Jam) and the wailing, dumb-headed Stimpy on The Ren & Stimpy Show, amongst thousands of others. Seriously, the guy's resume is loooooong.
In honor of Futurama's Season 7 premiere (which airs tonight on Comedy Central), I talked to West about his favorite TV shows—many of which come from an era of black-and-white movies and television production. He also offered up his first memory of when he started to have an interest in the art of voice acting: "In 1962, I remember running away from the TV set, and starting to think about what I just saw, and praying I could remember every little thing about it," said a candid West. "And, then I got my hands on a reel-to-reel tape recorder, started taping TV shows, my own voice and others in secret. My world was kind of a sonic one, I used to listen to the radio more than TV—it all held a real special interest for me."
These days, West said he rarely watches any television except for the news and Futurama, but did list a few favorites. Read on to find out which other shows made his top five, and why.
"The show is great because there’s so many beautiful, classic plot lines—a lot of it is both abstract and real-like science stuff. The particular mixture comes across so good. Characters are really strong, and that’s what makes the show great; good characters, and everybody on the show is good."
"The first show I ever saw on TV was when I would stay up with my mom because she knew how much I liked Sid Caesar's show, Your Show of Shows. I grew up watching Sid Cesar, he just blew my head off when I was a little boy. This man was nonstop, and he was a ball of fire. Sid Cesar was the guy who could pantomime, mimic, do dialects, he created characters, he was just so funny and versatile. This was a show made back in the days when they did live television. You could not screw up, and that’s discipline. I knew what real talent was and I knew who were the pretenders or posers were. A lot of people can’t tell anymore."
The Man From U.N.C.L.E.
"This was a spy series. It starred Robert Vaughn and David McCallum. The secret agent, Napoleon Solo, was my idol; he was always wearing a tuxedo, always in the throes of the most beautiful women, and carried a gun."
"Jackie Gleason. Here’s a guy who spent every episode, coming up with a big idea, and spending the rest of the episode trying to scrape shit off his shoe. So you felt for him, and if he did one thing or said something that was remotely funny, you would just die on the floor—laughing because you felt for this guy. So when he did something that you thought was funny it was 100 times more intense because of the fact you felt for him. There was an emotional resonance."
"It’s a puppet show. You can watch it on YouTube. It was an English puppet show, it came out in 1960 or 1961, and that took me to another world—I needed the escape. My reality living at home was a nightmare—I didn’t have a good childhood. So I would lose myself in shows like Supercar, fantasy and sci-fi, I loved the older outer limits, and Twilight Zone."
What do you think of West's picks? Did any of them surprise you?
Futurama Season 7 premieres tonight, with back-to-back new episodes starting at 10pm on Comedy Central.
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