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Toonzone Talks Toons and Turtles with Voice Actor Rob Paulsen

If you’re a fan of animation made within the last 20 years or so, it’s an almost sure bet that Rob Paulsen has been in something that you loved. While growing up, Paulsen aspired to be a hockey player, but after learning at age 18 that he “had neither the talent or the temperament to make a living playing hockey,” he turned to singing and acting, dropping out of college and moving to Los Angeles to chase his dreams at age 19. He’s been supporting himself ever since, carving out several prominent niches in the pop culture consciousness as the voice of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle Rapahel in the original animated TV series; Yakko Warner and Dr. Scratch-n-Sniff in Animaniacs; Pinky the lab mouse in Animaniacs and the spinoff show Pinky and the Brain; and the title character in The Mask animated series (for which he also sang the theme song). Paulsen also has a long list of credits on shows including The Tick (where he replaced Mickey Dolenz as Arthur), The Real Adventures of Jonny Quest, Time Squad, Samurai Jack, Jimmy Neutron, Danny Phantom, Ben 10: Alien Force, The Fairly OddParents, T.U.F.F. Puppy, and the Tinker Bell direct-to-video movie series.

Recently, Paulsen was named to play Donatello in Nickelodeon’s upcoming Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles animated series, the first to be produced since Viacom acquired the property from Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird. He will join Jason Biggs (Leonardo), Sean Astin (Rapahel), Greg Cipes (Michelangelo), and Mae Whitman (April O’Neil). He has also launched a successful new podcast, “Talkin’ Toons with Rob Paulsen,” in which he’s talked with a list of luminaries in the voice-over world, and detailed the life of a voice actor in several solo podcasts. Toonzone was extremely happy to be able to chat with the extremely animated Rob Paulsen over the phone about these two of his latest projects.

(NOTE: This interview was conducted at the beginning of August, so some of the projects mentioned as being in the future have already been released.)

TOONZONE NEWS: I read that the producers of the new show approached you to be the new Donatello, is that right?

ROB PAULSEN: Well, yeah, they approached me to audition. It would be nice to say, “Oh, they just called me up and said, ‘Hey, man, we’re going to pay you all this money and we want you to do it.’” It was not quite that simple. I found it a little bit odd because there were several versions of the Turtles that were done after the original show which had nothing to do with the original cast. And that’s fine, that’s show business — a new producer comes along, he wants his own people and makes his own decisions. I get that. So when I heard that Viacom had purchased the rights to Turtles, I thought, “Wow, that’s pretty cool,” and it’d be interesting to see who gets the jobs. I didn’t really think about getting a job on it.

But I’ve been working at Nickelodeon for years and years, so one day I did get a call to go read for Ninja Turtles. I told my agent, “Well, do they know who I am?” That wasn’t out of a sense of arrogance, but it was a sense of, “I don’t want to get in there and have them say, ‘Oh, that’s right…he was Rafael on the first batch. OK, you know what, Rob? Thanks, but…’” I didn’t want to go through that because I didn’t want to waste their time or my time because I’ve been through this before. They called right back and said, “No, no, no, we know exactly who you are. We love Rafael and Pinky and all the other stuff, and we know what you do here, we think your sensibilities would be right for our version of Donatello.” And I said, “Well, hell, yeah, I’d be happy to come read for it.” And the next question was, “Is Barry Gordon involved at all?” because I would never want to step on anybody’s toes or snake a job from a fellow actor, and from an actor to whom I was so close for so many years. I just wanted to make sure that I wasn’t going to do anything that was going to hurt Barry’s chances. They said, “No, we didn’t ask the other guys. It’s nothing personal, but you’ve been here and we kind of know your work and we just think we’d love to give you a crack at this.” So one thing led to another and I got the gig.

I’ve been profoundly grateful, as you can imagine, because most people don’t get two bites of an apple this big, or culturally significant. My kid said, “Jeez, you’re going to be the answer to a Jeopardy question” (laughs). I said, “Yeah, if I live 50 more years, I can knock out all 4 of these guys.” I’m incredibly appreciative because, as you can imagine, the Ninja Turtles hold a very special place in my career and my heart. To get a chance to do it again is like the ultimate third act of your career.

TOONZONE NEWS: Did you audition for more than one Turtle like you did on the original show?

ROB PAULSEN: No, they only auditioned me for Donatello. The producers had some very specific actors in mind, at least initially. I don’t recall reading for anything else but Donatello. There was a point where I think they were having some trouble finding a Raphael — this was after I had already pretty much booked the gig — and I said, “Well, I…I can probably change my voice enough to do Rapahel kind of like myself and Donatello completely differently if you want to go that way.” They said, “No, we like your regular voice for Donatello with a few different sensibilities and a different edge.” That was the only time that that possibility came up, but they were very specific. I had probably four or five callbacks, so every time I went back in it was fewer and fewer actors. They would pare us down and then they started mixing and matching us with other guys. They’d get 3 or 4 Donatellos to read with the other Raphaels, and so they whittled it down. That’s the beautiful thing about doing what I do: nobody cares that I’m this middle-aged white guy with gray hair. They only care whether I can bring chops to the table, and they apparently thought I did and they’ve just been incredibly great. The other actors have been really really lovely, and very gracious. I’m always really amazed at how much deference they show. I think they figure that I’m like this old cartoon warhorse. I’ve been around long enough that they think, “We might as well acknowledge him because he’s still here!” But it’s been really, really great.

TOONZONE NEWS: Do you remember how you were approaching Dontatello for the audition or how you approach the character now? Are you modeling him on anyone or anything in particular? Is there anything you do to get in character as Donatello?

ROB PAULSEN: Not really, as far as getting into character. Just like Barry Gordon’s version on the original, he’s the brains of the outfit. My Donatello is a little more edgy. He’s got a shorter fuse. He’s not always so complacent. He is clearly enamored by gadgets and gimmicks and all that stuff, and all the high-tech things, and he’s the guy to whom the Turtles turn when things get nasty and they need some technical assistance, but he’s got a much shorter fuse and doesn’t suffer his brothers lightly.

He definitely is not the most prolific martial artist of the bunch. There are a couple of episodes and stories in which Splinter has got to help Donny understand that everybody has different gifts, and while Raphael may be the kick-ass-iest of the Turtles, he’s not as sharp as Donatello, and Leonardo has got the brains to lead but doesn’t have the technical expertise. I think it’s not by accident that this happens. In addition to promoting an entertaining show, I think the idea is to convey messages that everybody has their strengths and in the case of the Turtles, it’s all about the sum of the parts. It’s not about one guy is tougher than another, it’s really about “We succeed as a team.” Not unlike the first batch. We’re all brothers and we’ve got each other’s backs, but my Donatello is a little edgier and has no problem getting pissed off when he’s unable to keep up with his brothers. So far, he doesn’t have any problems kicking shell when he’s with his brothers.

Oh, he also has a huge crush on April O’Neil, and April is not really all that aware of it. April O’Neil now is played by Mae Whitman, who is just a delightful actress. I’ve known Mae, God bless her, since she was a baby. April is now a teenager, so she’s a contemporary of the Turtles as opposed to the de facto den mother. I thought, “Oh, well, that’s interesting,” because it’s sort of this weird inter-species romance (laughter), but you know, it’s sort of this unrequited one-sided crush and it’s really cute because Donny is like, “Wow. I’ve never been on the surface, and I don’t know what this human person is, but I sure like looking at her.” Those are the main differences in this version of Donny.

(l to r) Jason Biggs, Rob Paulsen, Mae Whitman, Greg Cipes, and Sean Astin

TOONZONE NEWS: I noticed that Mae Whitman is Tinker Bell in those movies, where you’re Bobble.

ROB PAULSEN: Yeah! And after I’m done here, I’m on my way to one of those today. She is fantastic. She is just an incredible little actress. That sounds so condescending, but she is physically pretty little (laughter). But she’s just wonderful, and what a pro! Really great sense of humor and very very sharp. She’s just beautiful, and just a pleasure to be around. We’ve got a great group on the show.

TOONZONE NEWS: Are you making it a career to have a crush on Mae Whitman’s characters in all of your roles now? Is that part of the contract?

ROB PAULSEN: Yeah, that’s part of my contract now. I don’t do a job unless Mae is on it. And then I have to call up her parents and say, “I realize this looks weird,” because I’m the same age as her parents. Just so you know, I’m not a convicted felon. Well, the day is not over, but as far as I know, I’m not (laughter).

Yeah, she’s just so cute and it’s so great to see this sort of rise of her, because she’s been working for a long time, you know? I know her mom Pat Musick very well, and Patty is a terrific actress, and I also know her dad Jeff Whitman. Mae has this kick-ass career, man. Just look at her IMDb page, this young lady at…I believe she’s 24, and her career is a career that virtually any actress would be happy to have at the end of her career. She seems to be making the transition because she’s gone from being baby to little girl to teenager, and she can clearly play a teenager, but now she’s a young lady and she’s working a lot. She’s got a great head on her shoulders, incredibly funny. She really is the whole package, and she’s just cute as a bug. She seems to be making the transition beautifully to big-time actress-hood and she really gets the whole animation vibe.

I have to say we have three celebrities on the show with Mae and Jason (Biggs) and Sean (Astin), and there is zero attitude at all about the fact that, “Well, it’s not a series” or “It’s not American Pie” or “It’s not Lord of the Rings.” Not at all. In fact, you could argue that it’s just the opposite. They have such deference for the franchise, because they’re all kids that grew up watching the show. They understand what an incredible opportunity it is to be part of one of the top…I don’t know, 2 or 3, maybe 4 kids’ franchises in the history of television. I don’t think that’s a stretch. So they get how lucky they are to be part of it, and there is absolutely none of this kind of feigned excitement. They were all excited to audition for the job. Obviously, their celebrity brings a little more attention to the show, but they are very very into it, and…

TOONZONE NEWS: You don’t get the sense that they’re slumming it.

ROB PAULSEN: Not a bit, man. They are SO into it and anxious to learn. It sounds like a big love fest, but it kind of is. It’s a great group of people and I feel very lucky to be working with them, because there aren’t too many people in their mid-50′s who get a crack at this again. It’s pretty wild.

TOONZONE NEWS: Now you just touched on this, that I think just about everybody else in the cast is of the age who probably grew up in that teenage range to watch the original show. Has that come up at all in the sessions? Has anybody walked up to you and said, “Oh my God, I was such a fan of you back in the day…”?

ROB PAULSEN: Yeah, as a matter of fact, for the first table read…I don’t know, a year and a half ago or so, it was really kind of cute. I walked into this big room at Nickelodeon. Jason and Greg Cipes, who I’d already known and worked with, and Sean…I worked with Sean a bit, but not very much. (Laughs) I actually did a lot of work with his dad, who is just another wonderful guy.

TOONZONE NEWS: On The Addams Family show, right?

ROB PAULSEN: Yeah, he was just a great guy, John Astin. He was one of my show biz idols when I was a kid, so I got to work with John on two different shows years before I met Sean. Anyway, I walk into this room and immediately they do this sort of comedic genuflecting. You know, “We’re not worthy! We’re not worthy!” (laughs) It was kind of cute and I sort of laughed and stuff, but honestly, the only way I can describe it is that there’s this deference. We are all on the same page, don’t get me wrong. There’s no pecking order and we all have a great time, but they definitely are very respectful. They’re all just a little bit older than my kid, and Mae is about the same age as my son and she was a big Turtle nut.

Greg Cipes, who plays Michelangelo…and by the way, if there’s anybody who’s going to be a breakout star, it’s probably going to be Cipes. He’s just absolutely perfect for the show. There’s also a wonderful actor called Hoon Lee who’s playing Master Splinter, and has the right amount of what Pete Renaday did on the first batch added to his own really excellent sensibilties. So Greg Cipes and Hoon Lee, watch out for those guys, man. They’re really unbelievable. But anyway, they were very deferential and continued to be very respectful. Cipes in particular was like, “Man, you have no idea. Turtles…the whole vibe got me into meditating and martial arts and taught me about this and that,” and he was very serious about it. It was really, really lovely.

I think that’s also one of the cool things about the whole show in general. You’re going to get people with the nostalgia issue who say, “Oh, man, why are they screwing with this?” and it really isn’t about that. Everybody has nostalgia, nobody’s going to take away your childhood wonderment at the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or the Smurfs or Rocky and Bullwinkle, or whatever it is. That’s fine. But, the cool thing about a show that has as much staying power as Turtles is that now you have people making the show who are fans…big time fans of the show. Ciro Nieli, the producer, is of the age that was totally into the whole mythology. You can make the argument that these guys get it more than we did, because we didn’t know. When we auditioned for the show, a couple of us were vaguely familiar with the underground comic book that Kevin and Peter did, but Kevin and Peter were really the only ones who knew the whole story. None of us knew it was going to be THE Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. And now, we have people actually making the show who grew up totally understanding the ethos of the show and get everything about all the characters. They know all the ancillary characters and they’re complete Turtle geeks. I would think that if you’re going to get a really killer version of the show, you’re going to get it from people who made it for fans, by fans. That is not hyperbole — that is exactly what’s happening. It’s not like they got showrunners who’ve done a bunch of TV and said, “Hey, we want you to do Turtles,” and they’re guys my age who have been in show business for a long time but really only knew of the Turtles as action figures. The guys who are making the show are IN. TO. The freaking Turtles. It’s a very cool thing. It’s really neat to be part of it.

TOONZONE NEWS: That touches on one other thing I wanted to ask about, because you definitely have the weight of expectations now, both from fans and from the fact that it’s such a lucrative property. How do you guys manage that weight of expectations?

ROB PAULSEN: There is that weight, and I think there is also a lot riding on it for Viacom. I mean, Viacom spent $60 million on the franchise, which for Viacom is the kind of money they have under the front seat of the Bentley. It’s not a whole lot of money, but a company like Viacom doesn’t pay $60 million for something unless they think they can earn a billion. In terms of their dollar value, they’ve got something that could be incredibly profitable for them in terms of the bottom line.

I don’t feel any particular pressure because from my experience, if I am worried about anything more how well I do my job, then I’m putting the cart before the horse. I’m not the marketing guy, I’m not the artist, I’m not the writer. I’m just the actor, and certainly my performance and the performance of the rest of the cast have a direct impact on whether or not people like the show, but there are so many more pieces to the puzzle. I have to tell you that in terms of everybody else that’s working on the show, they have pulled out all the stops. Viacom is a big company, and for them to make this a priority is a big deal, so between press and the presence at San Diego Comic Con and constant PR, it’s a big deal. We had direct contact in the studio with Mr. (Philippe) Dauman, the CEO of Viacom. The CEO of the studio doesn’t usually come to recording sessions (laughs). That’s a pretty good indicator of how important the franchise is, and I’m sure there’s pressure. I’m sure they probably feel it much more in the corporate offices of Viacom than us in the studio, because our job is to be funny and wacky and kooky and have that end up on the screen.

Obviously, I hope it lasts because it means I’ll have a job for a few years, but I’m in a real unique position in my career. I’ve told the other guys, “Hold onto your hats, because you’re in for a really killer ride in the most wonderful way.” The amount of influence you’ll be able to have on children by phone calls, going to visit them in hospitals, birthdays, whatever it is…you’re going to get tons of friends and friends of friends and friends of friends of friends of relatives who are going to call up and say, “Hey, Jason, my kid loves Leonardo, his birthday is…” whatever. It’s great fun, but what is really, really cool is if the show has the kind of legs that I think it will, then the impact they’ll have on particularly children in difficult circumstances will be mind-blowing. I’m writing a book now, and I’ve got volumes of letters from children, from their parents, from child-life specialists at hospitals, from doctors, from parents of children who have passed away. It’s not just me, I’m not the Golden Boy and we all do it, but man, it’s so cool to watch that. I don’t know what it is and I wish I could bottle it from Kevin and Peter. The ride on the last one was so much fun because of all the extra cool stuff that we got to do. I loved going to the hospitals and I loved talking to the kids, and MAN, they just buy it hook line and sinker. You can hear it. They just freak out when they get Raphael on the phone. It’s just unbelievable. So I’m hopeful that the show is successful as well, for altruistic reasons that have nothing to do with ratings or action figures. Although, have you seen the action figures?

TOONZONE NEWS: I’ve seen the prototype photos.

ROB PAULSEN: Man, they’re pretty cool (laughs). I mean, honest to God, I’m not really a toy collector, I get toys given to me from the shows that I work on and stuff, but they’re VERY cool. The toy guys who are really into it seem to really dig them. The mass-marketed toys, especially for a big franchise like Turtles, are really cool. They’re made well, and people just love them.

TOONZONE NEWS: Changing gears to the podcast…which I love, by the way.

ROB PAULSEN: Oh, thank you! Thank you, man, so much.

TOONZONE NEWS: I understand you started doing the podcast because you were between gigs and you were just looking for something to do? Is that right?

ROB PAULSEN: That’s exactly right. It was a year and a half ago, and it was kinda slow. You know actors: we like to work, but it’s not an exact science, man, and I’m one of the lucky ones. I’ve been making my money performing since I was 19 years old, so for me to still be doing it is unusual, and I’m very, very lucky. But that’s a double-edged sword, because when it slows down…most folks would say, “Hey, good, I get to have a couple weeks, I’m gonna go play golf,” and I would. I’m a golf fanatic, but because I’m a freelancer, and because it’s a competitive business, I think, “Oh, boy, this is it. They’ve sussed me out, and realized that I’m not nearly as good as I think I am (laughs), and it’s over. That’s it. You’re done.” So I freaked out a little bit, and then I unfreaked out a little bit and I thought, “OK, this is stupid. You’re career’s not over, you haven’t pissed anybody off. It’s the nature of the beast. You’ve been through this before. Why don’t we try to take this time and put up or shut up. You’ve been talking for years about doing more live gigs, and you love doing them, how do you generate interest more than just 6 or 7 animation cons a year.”

I knew that the podcasting thing had really taken off. Kevin Smith does a new podcast, like, every other week. He’s so prolific and there were podcasts about animation, but there really wasn’t one out there from the perspective from a guy who’s been doing this for a long time. On my cell phone, I’ve got everybody’s phone number who is anybody. I’m in a position where everybody from Frank Welker to Peter Cullen to Nancy Cartwright…today I’m doing Steve Blum — I’m going over to his house for dinner. Nolan North, Jen Hale, Tara Strong, Dee Bradley Baker, Maurice LaMarche, Mark Hamill…these guys are all my personal friends. So I thought, “What the hell?” and I did them by myself for the first five or six. People would send me questions, and it immediately went to the top of the 15 or 20 voice-acting related podcasts on iTunes. So I thought, “Well, screw it, I’m going to have my friends on.” I called Maurice and he said, “Yeah, I’ll do it.” So we had a good time doing Pinky and the Brain, and that really went crazy. One of my very dear friends is Chris Hardwick, who’s the Nerdist. Chris had Maurice and me on his podcast and was very gracious in allowing me to promote mine, which bumped it to another level. It went to #1 on iTunes in March. #1 for like five weeks, on all of the audio TV and film podcasts, of which there are quite a few. So then I thought, “Wow, I really got something here.”

Now I try to do a new one every week. I’ve done two live ones — I did a Pinky and the Brain live one about six weeks ago with Maurice at Jon Lovitz’s Comedy Club, where Kevin Smith and Adam Carrolla do all their stuff, and everyone loved it. The other was with Randy Rogel, who wrote all the Animaniacs music, and we did an evening of Animaniacs songs. It’s just a bunch of great songs. Randy’s catalog is just insane and I got to be Yakko for an hour and a half, and sing all these awesome songs that people love, and the only people who love it more are the people performing it because it’s just so purely joyful. Huge crowd, and what was great was the crowd that was there was people that we all like: Paul Dini, Alan Burnett, Tom Ruegger, Sherri Stoner, Andrea Romano, Steve Blum, Eric Bauza, David Kaye, Kyle Hebert…all these great actors and these great producers. It’s great fun to go there and not only perform, but perform for people who you respect.

Next week I’m doing June Foray at the Jon Lovitz Comedy Club and she wanted to do it live. She’s 95! So Mark Evanier is going to come out with June and I, because Mark is like this incredible historian of animation and a great guy, I’ve known him for 20 years. We’re just going to celebrate Juney. Then on August 24, we’re going to have Townsend Coleman, myself, Cam Clarke, Barry Gordon, Pete Renaday, Renae Jacobs, and Sue Blu and we’re going to do a live evening of TMNT for the 25th anniversary of when we started recording the Turtles.

From what I understand, the guy that watches those things for me on my website says I’m getting about 30,000 listeners a week. Last time I checked it was something like #35 or so on iTunes in the TV and film category. It’s hanging in there, every week. It tells me that there’s an audience for it, because people love it. I haven’t had anybody who’s given me anything but a good rating, and I know that there is a really large audience out there who probably would want to come see something like this live. I’m not talking about 10,000 people, but you could probably book a nice little 500-1000 seat venue where people could come and hang and ask questions and relive their childhood. Randy Rogel and I are trying to put together a little evening of that kind of stuff and take our little musical show around, and I think that would be well-received. I’m also doing more personal appearances. I’m thrilled about getting out on the road and meeting more people.

I’m always so surprised at the level of fan interest to meet people who have done these cartoon voices. If I have a crowd of 400-500 people, there will inevitably be 10 or 20 who come up to me afterwards and express to me how profoundly affected they were by certain characters I’ve done. Whether it was, “Hey, man, my sister had leukemia and we watched Pinky and the Brain on every chemo treatment, it just made her laugh and she’s OK now,” or “My parents were getting a divorce and my brother and I watched Ninja Turtles and it got us through it,” or “My wife and I were having a problem, we started watching Jimmy Neutron with the kids and we loved the jokes,” or “Animaniacs music made me happy when I hated my job.” Things that I never would have known, and man, some of these characters have a profoundly positive effect on people. It’s incredibly gratifying to know that.

But the podcast has opened that huge door. I think my timing’s good because with TMNT coming up now, there’s just a level of interest anyway, so my whole job is to try and get as many people to listen to my goofy podcast as they can. It’s free, and you can find it on my website or iTunes and hey, man, it’s a nice alternative to whatever band of the moment. At least you know the people you’ll be talking to have been around for a while.

TOONZONE NEWS: Are there plans for a podcast with the new TMNT cast?

ROB PAULSEN: There are. I was talking with them last week. We had the TV Critics Association out here and we were talking about that very thing. I think they’re probably going to want to wait until after the show hits, and then we’ll probably do a live podcast where we can maybe even hook it up with a charity. I have two charities that are very dear to my heart. I’ve never charged for autographs until the podcast hit, and I kind of started this whole new venture about a year and a half ago, where I said, “OK, I’m going to podcast, I’m going to actively pursue live gigs, I’m going to do workshops, I’m going to do my podcast, write a book, and really just kind of go for it.” Then I got the Turtles, and I thought, “Well, OK, that’s a sign.” To get two shots at a very big show is really unique, so I want to take advantage of it on several levels. Obviously, it’s a great way to promote myself and my brand, but I really love doing charity work. I love giving back. I love seeing things happen just because of the love of the character, not a ratings or money issue.

All of this stuff pulled together, so now I sign pictures for charities. 100% of the proceeds are split between the Wounded Warrior Project and Operation Smile. The original Turtles show at the Lovitz on the 24th will be to benefit Operation Smile. That money and all the money I earn from the gate receipts are all going to go to charity. I didn’t want people to think, “He’s charging money for the charities, but he’s also making money there.” I could, and I don’t think people would have a problem with it, but I think I should put my money where my mouth is, so whatever I’m earning that night goes to the charity too. People have been really receptive, and I think we’ll have a really good crowd because it is kind of a once-in-a-lifetime thing, to be able to have all the Turtles together. The week before, with June Foray, is literally…all due respect to Juney, but when you’re 95 years old, that really could be a once in a lifetime thing. That’s just so special, and I’m really lucky to be in a position where people want to do it. It’s so gratifying to me, Ed, to be able to pick up the phone and before I even get to, “Hey, would you…” the response is, “You bet! Where? When?” That’s just so flattering and so gratifying. Not everybody has friends like that. If I were to die today, I’ve had a hell of a ride, and due in no small part to really amazingly wonderful friends with stupid amounts of talent. Anybody would be thrilled to have one of them, and I’ve got a whole pile of them.

TOONZONE NEWS: You’ve been talking with people you know as friends and as colleagues and that you’ve done a lot of work with over the years. Who or what would you say has been the biggest surprise that’s come up in one of your podcasts that you’ve done so far? The one where you went, “Whoa, I’ve known you for however long and I never knew that about you.”

ROB PAULSEN: I think Cree Summer, a couple of weeks ago. I’ve known Cree for 20 years. I think I met her when she was 17 or 18 on Tiny Toons. I knew about her musical background, but I never realized how interesting her background was. Her mom and dad were sort of these itinerant gypsy performers and her dad pulled her out of school on days that were particularly beautiful. They lived that sort of total hippie lifestyle. Grew up on an Indian reservation in Saskatchewan and lived off the grid, out in a big old school bus. It’s a fascinating gypsy lifestyle she led, which interestingly, I think was part and parcel of why she’s such an incredibly creative, free-spirited woman, who also has made the transition from being a child star and a rock-and-roll star at a pretty young age. She had her first record record deal I think at 19, and done a couple of records with Lenny Kravitz and toured the world, and did a couple of TV series. Now she does a lot of animation, and she’s really successful, continues to work. Absolutely delightful to hang out with! Beautiful, now she’s a mommy. I knew about her talent and about her background, but not to the extent that I found out about it on the podcast. So that was really cool. She and I share a desperate love of Frank Zappa so we talk about that all the time. Also, I’ve known for Larraine Newman for years, but I didn’t have the whole story of how she got SNL, which was really cool to find out. Everybody comes up with something that’s a little interesting. I’m really looking forward to doing Steve Blum because I’ve known Steve for years but we don’t work together that much. Steve will be an interesting one because I’m a fan, and we’re friends and we’re co-workers but not nearly as much as he is with other people. I don’t do that many video games. So that’ll be really fascinating.

Now, what’s really cool is I’m getting talent managers, calling me to say, “Hey, I think my client would be really great on your show.” (Laughs) I mean, this is not what I planned it for! I planned it because I’m like, “Hey, I’ve got all my friends here, and guess what? You want to hear from the Joker? I can call up the Joker. Or you want to hear from Ben 10? I know Yuri. Let’s talk to Yuri for an hour and a half.”

TOONZONE NEWS: “You want to talk to Fry? You want to talk to Bender?”

ROB PAULSEN: Yeah! You want to talk to talk to Winnie the Pooh and Tigger? OK. “Hey, Jim (Cummings), you want to be on the show?” “Sure!” It is a labor of love and I try not to be too redundant, but man, we just have a really good time and it seems to translate to the audience. A lot of folks listen to it because they just love to hear these people take the piss out of each other and laugh, you know? But yeah, I’ve got a bunch of other folks lined up to do it. Tom Kenny’s going to do it, and Jeff Bennett’s going to come back on. Jason Marsden wants to do it, and Charlie Schlatter, so we’re having a great time.

Honestly, it’s not personal, but sometimes I don’t know who the managers are talking about because there’s a whole group of young actors and actresses with whom I’ve not worked and who all do anime and video games. Nolan North and Steve Blum and Jennifer Hale are all very close friends of mine and they do a ton of video games and anime, but I don’t know a lot of the other people. It’s nothing personal, but I’ve got people who want to hear from Jason Marsden or from Jeff Bennett again, or they want to hear from Tress MacNeille or Peter Cullen or Frank Welker, and all these other people who haven’t had the time to get on yet. With all due respect to the many talented people who I think would be great on the podcast, I would have to dig up information to talk to them, sort of like being a producer and a traditional talk show host. The thing that’s cool about the podcast is it’s not my job. I just do it for fun. I can call up my friends and I can talk to Mark Hamill for 2 hours because we have a bunch of stuff to talk about. I can talk to Kevin Conroy about Batman because he was doing Batman when I was doing Animaniacs and we have a similar experience and we’re the same age.

So I’m going, “Well, it’s not that I don’t want to talk to your client, but I don’t have the time to do the research to give them their due to talk about what they’ve done.” It’s just basically supposed to be a labor of love and easy-peasy. I walk in with a microphone and we talk and then we go home. But if I talk to someone who’s on the latest animated show or the latest anime, I don’t know what to talk to them about after it. Hopefully, I will get to a place where I can get other folks on and I’ll be in a position to talk to them about things that will give them their due, but then it will be incumbent on me to learn about the people I don’t know. I do want to get other people on because I want to learn about it too, but the whole idea now is to get people on who I know and I have a relationship with. That comes across in the podcast, and that’s what people like. They like to hear the camaraderie and the stories. The charm of the show right now is just me and all these people who I know personally. I mean, they’ve all been to my house. It’s like Bill Shatner does sometimes with his talk show, where he gets people who he knows or are his contemporaries. Frank Welker’s my golf buddy. Billy West, Mark Hamill, Tress MacNeille, Kevin Michael Richardson…all those people used to come to my kid’s birthday parties, so it’s a different sense of what we have to talk about, from a completely different perspective than with someone I don’t really know or I haven’t really worked with.

TOONZONE NEWS: Plus, you got to where you are because of what you’re doing. You must be doing something right.

ROB PAULSEN: Right. And if it ain’t broke, I don’t want to mess with it. The charm of the show is that I’m talking to my personal friends, and my personal friends happen to be these kick-ass voice actors. Like Brad Garrett, who wants to be on it. I’ve known Brad Garrett for 15 years before he got Everybody Loves Raymond, and we would have a ball together. Or Ian Ziering, from Beverly Hills 90210, I know him and Luke Perry because they did Biker Mice from Mars. When I get new folks that call up, I’m like, “I appreciate it and I’m so flattered that you want to do it, but I’m not Johnny Carson.” I don’t have a production staff that says, “OK, here’s this actress, here’s what she’s done, you need to talk about this…” I want to just turn on the microphone and talk. I don’t have a hundred or two-hundred episodes of things to talk about with Steve Blum, but we’re personal friends and contemporaries from the amount of work we’ve done, so I can sit down and talk with him for a couple of hours about our stuff.

I hope people understand. I understand that there are a lot of people who are younger and who listen to the podcast and say, “Wow, if you’re talking to this guy, talk to this actress who plays my favorite anime character.” But I don’t know them, because I don’t do anime. It’s not because I don’t want to, but it’s usually a non-union project and I can’t do non-union projects.

TOONZONE NEWS: I hear so many stories of voice actors doing an audition and then saying, “You know, you really want to get so-and-so to read for this.” There’s that sense of generosity among the community. This is kind of like that. “I can’t fit this into my podcast, but I just started doing this for fun. Maybe this is the opportunity for somebody else to come in and fill in this niche,” because obviously there is one.

ROB PAULSEN: That’s a great idea. “Hey, man, if you want Barney Fife, I do a bad impression of Jeff Bennett’s perfect impression of Don Knotts. So I can do this, and I can create a character that will work, but if you really want a spot-on guy, call Jeff Bennett.” You know, I’m going to do that. I try to be a pretty nice guy and I feel bad when somebody says, “Oh, you got to get so-and-so on,” and I don’t ever want it to come across as, (snobby) “I don’t know that person.” That’s not what I mean. Now you want to hear from her, and that means probably 500 or 600 other people want to hear from her. I believe that. She’s on a hit anime show, but I don’t know her, and I don’t have that kind of history I have with Tara Strong or Grey Delisle or April Winchell. They’re all contemporaries and we have stuff to talk about, which is what makes the show charming. But I feel so badly that I’m not addressing an issue that folks are calling about and I never want to come across as like I’m this arrogant guy who doesn’t have time to talk to the new people. I have total respect for them, man. They keep me on my toes. But in terms of my podcast, I’m not getting paid for this. I’m hopefully using it to get paid for more live gigs and as a bit of a launch pad, but it’s a total labor of love.

TOONZONE NEWS: The last question I have is that you’ve got the podcast, you’ve got Turtles, and you mentioned a book and that you’re starting to ramp up live appearances. Is there anything else you’ve got coming up that we can look forward to?

ROB PAULSEN: The biggest thing coming up, of course, is Turtles. There are more Tinker Bell movies coming up. There’s a new one called The Secret of the Wings, and that’s coming out I think in the fall. I’ve been working pretty regularly on new T.U.F.F. Puppy episodes, and there’s a show called Robot and Monster that’s going to be out soon on Nickelodeon, I’ve done a lot of work on that. I’m doing a lot of work on the Annoying Orange for Cartoon Network, I did one of those yesterday. I’m doing a bunch of music for Disney today and Friday, though I’m not exactly sure of the projects. I’ve always got irons in the fire.

I’m going to be appearing at Dragon*Con this year, and at New York Comic Con. I’m also going to be at this thing called Geek Media Expo in Nashville, and I just booked another con in February, I think, in Baltimore. Not sure what it is right offhand. I’m also doing a lot of work now for Namco Bandai. Namco Bandai has resurrected a lot of their older 8-bit video game characters in a little web-based series, and I’m doing a character that they used to have called Bravo Man. They introduced that at San Diego, and they’re bringing me to New York to promote their Shiftylook website, which is webcomics and web-based material. I’m going to be doing a Shiftylook panel. I’m not sure yet what my schedule will be, but I’ll probably be doing a workshop on the Sunday after Comic Con. I think that Shiftylook only needs me for Friday and Saturday, so as it stands right now I’ve got a voice-acting workshop that I’m going to be doing with the Lau Lapides studio. Lau Lapides does a lot of voice-acting workshops in Boston and New York and I’ve done them for her before, so I’ll be doing one on Sunday, October 14, the last day of the con.

I think that the whole live thing is really going to take off, because I think people really really dig it. They like the opportunity to ask questions and have a good time, so I’m going to be ramping that up, and those will always be available several weeks or several months in advance on my web site. To folks that are interested in getting a picture of yours truly with some of my characters, they can get that on the website as well, and again, the proceeds are split 100% between Wounded Warriors and Operation Smile. I’ll be doing more live appearances around the country, that will all be available on my website at robpaulsenlive.com. The podcast is “Talkin Toons with Rob Paulsen,” which is available at the website and also iTunes. My Twitter feed is @YakkoPinky, and of course I’m available on Facebook.

Toonzone News would like to thank Rob Paulsen for taking the time to talk with us, as well as Noelle Brown for setting it up, and Chris Pope and the Nickelodeon PR department for their assistance. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles premieres on Nickelodeon on September 29, 2012. The “Talkin’ Toons with Rob Paulsen” podcast is available free from Paulsen’s website or via iTunes, and you can keep up with Rob through all the methods linked above.

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  3. […] other members of the press. In the booth with me was legendary Emmy-award winning voice actor Rob Paulsen of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Animaniacs, and Pinky and the Brain fame. Being in […]

  4. […] met up with the awesome folks at Nickelodeon PR on Friday morning for a session with the inimitable Rob Paulsen, to play Michelangelo to his Donatello in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. No pressure or anything. […]

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