Toonzone Presents a Roundtable Conference Call with H. Jon Benjamin, the Voice of FX’s "Archer"
Animation fans know him as Ben Katz in Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist; Coach McGuirk in Home Movies; Satan in Lucy: Daughter of the Devil; the title character in Bob’s Burgers; Carl in Family Guy; numerous voices in Assy McGee, Aqua Teen Hunger Force/Aqua Unit Patrol Squad 1, and The Venture Brothers; and last but not least as the inimitable Sterling Archer in FX’s Archer. He’s H. Jon Benjamin, he has a van, and he spent some time in a conference call with the press in advance of the Archer season 3 premiere.
After (unsuccessfully) attempting to get the manager of the call kicked off because, “this woman has too many rules,” Benjamin was compelled to give answers to questions from the peanut gallery. No names have been changed to protect the innocent. If you’re watching Archer, you’re not all that innocent, after all. (And don’t forget to enter our Archer giveaway!)
BRITTANY FREDERICK/STARPULSE: You’re doing Archer and Bob’s Burgers, and you have the Comedy Central Show, so—
JON BENJAMIN: We all know how that’s going.
BRITTANY FREDERICK/STARPULSE: How do you differentiate between the roles? How different is it for you?
JON BENJAMIN: Well, it’s a constant…tons of protein shakes and a very regimented workout schedule that keeps me energized. And the rest I just leave to my rabbi and my group of people who I consult with.
DAVE RICHARDS/SPINOFF ONLINE: You’ve been the voicing Sterling Archer for quite a while now. What’s your favorite thing about voicing the character? What do you like best about him?
JON BENJAMIN: I like the way he looks. He’s handsome. That’s a big advantage. I’m not so handsome, and I like all the stuff I get to say, obviously. I like being rude, and it gives me a good opportunity to do that.
AMY HARRINGTON/POP CULTURE PASSIONISTAS: We wanted to go back to the beginning and find out how you got your part on Archer.
JON BENJAMIN: It’s not a great story. Adam Reed, the creator of Archer, God rest his soul [said jokingly] called me. I think he had heard me do some other work on Adult Swim shows, and he called me to read the part. I don’t know if other people had been asked. I don’t know if I was first choice or like literally last resort. Probably last resort, right? Right?
AMY HARRINGTON/POP CULTURE PASSIONISTAS: Right. Definitely right.
JON BENJAMIN: So, yes, and then I accepted and then it worked out well. But I was tentative because I didn’t think I could pull off a spy. If you knew me, you’d know all the reasons why.
JON BENJAMIN: Which Burt Reynolds thing?
CURT WAGNER/REDEYE CHICAGO: In the season premiere.
JON BENJAMIN: Wait, he was in it?
CURT WAGNER/REDEYE CHICAGO: Yeah, unless I had a dream about that.
JON BENJAMIN: Oh. Man, no one tells me anything about this! That’s great. I can’t believe he’s still doing stuff. He should take a break. It’s been like 60 years. Like just stop. I think, they mentioned him—I think it was the natural—well, not the natural progression, but Archer has obviously referenced Burt Reynolds a lot, so I’m sure it popped into Adam Reed’s head to just to try and cast him. It’s funny: “I shouldn’t be calling these people,” and you must think like they’ll never do it and then they’re probably like, “Of course, I’ll do it.
CAT EDISON/SCREENINVASION.COM: I know with Bob’s Burgers that you said that there is a fair amount of ad libbing. How much of Archer do you get to do any ad libbing with?
JON BENJAMIN: Very little. There is not a lot of room. The scripts are tightly written and he encourages sometimes on occasion. He’ll be like, “Do you want to add anything?” and I’ll say no. So it’s not the same kind of production as Bob’s Burgers, which is a lot improvising all the time, but the scripts don’t really require it.
PIETRO FILIPONI/DAILY BLAM: How much input do you have on the dialogue or the interactions with the other cast members? Do you get a chance to improvise? Also, why do you think each individual show has been so popular with the masses?
JON BENJAMIN: Well, the masses are idiots, so they don’t know any better. They’re too busy just staring at the light and cartoons are colorful. So don’t get me started about the masses. I’m really not a fan. But as far as interacting with the cast, I really don’t do any of that. They record everybody separately. Once I tried to work with Aisha Tyler, but that didn’t work out yet.
BRENDAN O’CONNELL/FORCES OF GEEK: So, your voice is pretty distinct, and while you don’t really—
JON BENJAMIN: Yours is, too.
BRENDAN O’CONNELL/FORCES OF GEEK: Thank you.
JON BENJAMIN: Everybody’s is. Everybody’s is different. It’s like a snowflake.
BRENDAN O’CONNELL/FORCES OF GEEK: For Archer, there’s a lot of yelling involved, which must get tiring at some point. Has there ever been a point where you want a few scripts which just has Archer whispering and not talking at all?
JON BENJAMIN: I would love to in parentheses …. Just once. It’s not grueling or anything, but my vocal cords don’t recover for like a day after an Archer session. So they owe me. And it’s not like I’m at war, but it’s hard on the throat. But, yes, I would like to do … someday.
KELSEA STAHLER/HOLLYWOOD.COM: One of my favorite things about Archer are those hidden references like to “Bartleby the Scrivener” or Lord of the Rings. But some of them are pretty obscure like I have to bring up my computer and Google things while I’m watching.
JON BENJAMIN: Yes. I occasionally do as well.
KELSEA STAHLER/HOLLYWOOD.COM: That was my question is there anything—
JON BENJAMIN: Yes. There’s like a 50/50 ratio of me knowing and me not, but I’m always getting questions about that, and occasionally I don’t have the answer. I forgot to check. Fortunately, I’ve read some Melville, so that’s good. There is some stuff like the guy who invented or who started eugenics—I didn’t know that was him. The first season, I always got the question about Jonny Bench, which I did not know about him or why, but a lot of people asked me, “Why did you say that?” Nobody knew, but it’s a relatively educational show.
ED LIU/TOONZONE NEWS: There’s a bonus feature on the latest DVD set where you sort of become Sterling Archer in the animation. I was wondering whose idea was that and how did you feel about doing it?
JON BENJAMIN: It was my idea, I believe, so I felt bad about it. I think it was my idea because it was actually made for this comedy festival that this comedian Eugene Mirman does. Adam wrote the entire thing but I said we should do something to show. They were doing an Archer event, so it was made for that and then they spun it off to ship it on DVD. But I think initially it was my idea.
KROZE KRESKY/COMICSONLINE.COM: That constant running gag on the show is Archer is continually deprived of being happy and his happiness. Do you think that Archer will finally get his happiness and what will that look like?
JON BENJAMIN: Well, I don’t think it would behoove the show for him to be happy, so I assume that will be avoided. I think, by nature, he’s like a troubled character, so I don’t think he’ll ever be happy. I got asked this recently, and I think my stock answer was that if his mother died, I’m not sure he’d be happy, but it would change everything for him and maybe he’d be happy. So there is some—I guess that’s not…I just think that his mother created a lot of problems.
JON BENJAMIN: Well, I don’t know if Mel Blanc was in every show you love. And also Mel Blanc was really good at voices, and I’m not, so he has the advantage, but I like being on the shows I’m on.
OREN VOURMAN/MEDIA BOULEVARD: I was wondering besides Archer’s strong jaw line and dashing good looks, what other qualities do you feel you share with your character?
JON BENJAMIN: Besides those. Well, obviously, personality wise, I can be a little shrilly, and that comes from the way I look and just having to go out in public is a struggle. So, yes, I think that my tension for anger and my general attitude—poor attitude—and failure to recognize authority and my sense of entitlement in my life and being American and white and rich, those things I share. And I drink a lot in real life.
MELISSA GIRIMONTE/TELEVIXEN.COM: How many situations have you found yourself in since Archer or any of your other prominent voice work where you’re in just some random spot and you get really weird stares become people recognize your voice?
JON BENJAMIN: It happens all the time in the steam room where I do most of my talking. Actually, it happens very rarely, obviously, because nobody cares. But, on a few occasions, I’ve been recognized for my voice, and it’s just kind of hard—you have to be really keyed into that. Like there has been an occasion where like I’m ordering a tea at the coffee shop and the person behind the counter will get excited like, “Oh my, Archer’s voice is ordering a green tea.” But, that being said, very rarely happens.
NANCY BASILE/ABOUT.COM: On the show, Sterling and Malory are always going at it. In real life, cage match, you and Jessica Walter, who would win?
JON BENJAMIN: Cage match?
NANCY BASILE/ABOUT.COM: Cage match.
JON BENJAMIN: Do you need the cage? I mean, seriously?
NANCY BASILE/ABOUT.COM: Yes. That’s my question. You or Jessica? She’s pretty tough.
JON BENJAMIN: I mean, she’s frail at best. I would say it’s definitely me, unless I let her win or something which, I don’t know, for the money I would.
DAVID ECKSTEIN/ZAP2IT: So, now if you could tell Adam Reed anything as far as your hopes for your character, like if you could say, “Gee, Adam, I’d like to have my character do—” what would it be and why?
JON BENJAMIN: That’s a tough question. There is so much, obviously, like spy world stuff to explore and I’m sure he hasn’t gotten to all the possibilities yet. I guess I would want him to sing more, maybe. Maybe start a band, like a really bad blues band or something. You know like Jim Belushi style.
CAT EDISON/SCREENINVASION.COM: I have been a real big fan of yours since Home Movies. Coach McGuirk is one of my favorite, favorite characters.
JON BENJAMIN: Yes. He was really good.
CAT EDISON/SCREENINVASION.COM: I’d like to go off on a totally different tangent. How in the world did you get connected with WordGirl?
JON BENJAMIN: You say it like it was community service.
CAT EDISON/SCREENINVASION.COM: No, no, no. With all the adult shows that you’ve done, I’m just curious.
JON BENJAMIN: Well, actually, the company that made Home Movies made WordGirl. So, it was ….
CAT EDISON/SCREENINVASION.COM: Yes. That makes sense.
JON BENJAMIN: Yes, and the company that made Home Movies, their company started as like an educational software company or something, and they made animated stuff for schools like educational disks that kids could play. So, there was a prior show on ABC, I think. I can’t remember what it’s called—Science Court? So they had done a few of those, and I was asked to do a part sometimes. Shockingly, WordGirl I get more more noticed for than most of the shows I’ve ever done. Kids watch a lot of TV.
EARL DITTMAN/WIRELESS DIGITAL JOURNAL: Why do you think that adults now are being attracted to prime time animated shows like The Simpsons, The Cleveland Show, and your shows. Why do you think people are accepting it now?
JON BENJAMIN: Well, I don’t think it’s specifically been begging for acceptance. There have been tons of animated shows geared toward adults, I guess, in the last 20 years or something hasn’t there? I don’t know. I don’t think it’s any more part of the cultural fabric. I mean maybe because of the success of shows like South Park and The Simpsons, for sure, probably did start a reason to copy that formula because they were so unique. Then I guess because it was a very niche world before that. Not the whole world but adults who would read graphic novels or something like that. So in that world, I think it was pretty common and so it just sort of spun off. Now everybody. So I don’t know what I just said, but I think you’re right.
JON BENJAMIN: That requires me to have to remember anything about the show—like name some.
MELISSA GIRIMONTE/TELEVIXEN.COM: Hmm.
JON BENJAMIN: You don’t know any. It’s a well-constructed question without any ….
MELISSA GIRIMONTE/TELEVIXEN.COM: I really liked the gang that you met up with in … last year?
JON BENJAMIN: Don’t remember. Don’t remember. Was there a guy with a cat or something?
MELISSA GIRIMONTE/TELEVIXEN.COM: No, it was the people that were trying to kidnap the ….
JON BENJAMIN: Right. There is nobody that comes to mind, and I hope I didn’t offend anybody in the process. Maybe the guy with the eye patch if there was one or they guy with the peg leg, the pirate. Was there one? The guy with mustache and the earring with the scar—that guy would be good.
KROZE KRESKY/COMICSONLINE.COM: Now, Archer has done a number of bad … things in all these seasons so far. Has there been something that Archer has done that you’ve wanted to do in real life?
JON BENJAMIN: Sleep with a prostitute, I guess. I just never had the courage and I think that would open the flood gates for me. And I’d like to yell at a butler someday.
NANCY BASILE/ABOUT.COM: Do you record as a group for Bob’s Burgers and if so, do you have a preference as to recording along or with the whole cast?
JON BENJAMIN: I don’t. It’s much more efficient to record alone, obviously, so Archer is quicker to do, which is a benefit, I guess, if I wanted to go shopping. It doesn’t take as long—it’s not as long of a process, but there are occasions when being amongst a group of people is a benefit for the show—not for me but for the show. So, it just kind of depends on the day, I guess. I have done, I think, once I recorded Archer and then had to go record Bob’s Burgers or vice versa, and that day was too long.
BRENDAN O’CONNELL/FORCES OF GEEK: In the first season of Archer, the character was controlled by a microchip. The second, you had cancer. The first part of Season 3, he kind of loses everything or he abandons everything and becomes a pirate, so is it just going to get crazier from this point on?
JON BENJAMIN: I think it does get crazier—not crazier, but there are definitely moments of pure craziness, as there always is, I guess, in the show. But I think, he returns back to his regular life, so he doesn’t go off the rails completely. The show gets back to what it did in the second season which is focus on all the characters who work for the spy agency and stuff like that. So he doesn’t have any more like crazy flights of—but they go to space. They get to go to space, but I think that was part of the mission, so it’s not like he was just like I’m going to go to space and take off.
OREN VOURMAN/MEDIA BOULEVARD: After a night of regrettable decisions, my friends and I decided to watch all of Season 1 of Archer, and our favorite line was, “This is why we can’t have nice things.” We were wondering is there a line that really stood out to you.
JON BENJAMIN: Who said that? Was it me or Malory?
OREN VOURMAN/MEDIA BOULEVARD: Actually, Malory says it, but all the characters say it, too.
JON BENJAMIN: I get asked that a lot and I’m always at a loss because I never remember lines, but I do like whenever I have to say something really like falsetto and quick. It used to be like danger zone or something. And I really like doing his answering machine messages because they’re usually written out exactly as I do them. They make me laugh every time because in real life I do that stuff. So I like when he really … with people on his answering machine. That makes me giggle.
TROY ANDERSON/ANDERSONVISION.COM: Will we get to see any more of the ocelot or the Wee Baby Seamus this year?
JON BENJAMIN: I don’t think so. Ocelot—I forgot about that. I think Seamus is—I hope he’s all right. I don’t remember doing a lot. I know we see the tattoo a lot. He has a tattoo of Seamus’s name, I think, but I think that’s all you get of Seamus.
DAVE RICHARDS/SPINOFF ONLINE: Does Archer have any unfinished business with Barry Dillon, the guy who killed his wife?
JON BENJAMIN: Yes. Somebody actually asked earlier if, like who I’d want to see as a villain, and I think I’d want to see that character—he’s sort of the most prominent nemesis to Archer. I don’t think that character comes back as much after, but I’m not certain. I don’t remember, and I am sorry. I don’t think he comes back, but that character’s really funny. And bionic.
JON BENJAMIN: It’s been awhile since my bar mitzvah. I can’t imagine I would look good. I don’t think anybody does. Archer does look good and maybe Sammy Davis Jr. looked good and a few more—Bert Convy, but I think nowadays it’s probably a huge fashion faux pas to be walking around like that, unless you, like, work at a club called Turtlenecks.
EARL DITTMAN/WIRELESS DIGITAL JOURNAL: Were you a big spy fan when you were a kid or could take them or leave them?
JON BENJAMIN: I was into the Torah, mostly and into the movie Tora! Tora! Tora! because it fooled me because I thought it was Jewish, and it was actually a movie about kamikazes. But I thought that was like this movie that was going to be like crazily about the Torah—like “Torah! Torah! Torah!” And it had nothing. There was nothing Jewish about it except maybe one—I don’t know, they didn’t mention that any of the pilots or the people killed were Jewish. So, yeah, as a kid, it was strictly all about Judaism. I was crazy for it. So I didn’t have time for spy stuff.
CAT EDISON/SCREENINVASION.COM: I wanted to find out if you just prefer doing the voice work or if you plan on branching more into live acting?
JON BENJAMIN: Well, we are waiting to hear if this Comedy Central show that I did is going to get a second season. I hope that it does. I liked doing it a lot. But, you know, voice work right now is predominantly what I do. But it took a year to make that show, and it was a lot of work, but I enjoyed it, so I would probably like to do more stuff on camera, but…it doesn’t bode well.
KROZE KRESKY/COMICSONLINE.COM: The show does a lot of story arcs and then it does a lot of one-off episodes. Which do you prefer in terms of the story? Do you like singled-off stories or an overall arc going on?
JON BENJAMIN: I think it’s very successful when they try and do more longer arcs, but I don’t necessarily think it’s a detriment when they don’t. The television I watch is probably more story, more narratives. But I don’t know—Adam Reed is so good at crafting narrative threads that run throughout everything that like it’s kind of always a combination of one-offs and I guess it’s like any sort of really good sitcom where you start to love all the characters. He does such a good job keeping it vibrant. I’m sorry I said that—“keeping it vibrant.” I never wanted to use that. I never wanted to say those three words, but I think like when Archer got cancer and this sort of “first of three-parter”—those were really fun to do.
DAVE RICHARDS/SPINOFF ONLINE: You just commented on my question a little bit. I was going to ask you what was it like to have a little more of those serious moments like when Archer got cancer and when his wife was murdered. Was it a bit more challenging or was it something you were waiting for?
JON BENJAMIN: Well, there’s acting when you’re doing voice overs, but it was definitely strange to do that. It’s always odd when you have to, like, cry or something. It’s so easy to do, but it’s weird, too. I’d always be, “Was that terrible?” It’s not like a movie, I guess, where everybody’s standing around and people are watching and you really got to do it. There’s something odd—very false about just standing in front of a microphone. So hopefully the cries are believable. I actually cry. I actually cried a couple of times.
KRISTY FROM FX: We’ve got a journalist dialed in that is having trouble with their phone and can’t get in queue to ask a question, so I’m going to do it for them. It’s a two-parter. The first part is: are they going to see more of you, your van, and your take on interstellar justice?
JON BENJAMIN: We wrote half of the second season of the van show, and we’re waiting to hear. But I’ve heard nobody watched it. That doesn’t seem like it’s encouraging, but I hope we can do more of them. And the scripts we wrote are, I think, sublimely funny.
KRISTY FROM FX: As the follow-up, does anybody ever give you any grief over racy subject matter?
JON BENJAMIN: Yes, like sometimes, I’ll be walking down the street and someone will say “**** you!” sometimes, but I don’t know if that’s about the racy subject matter or not. And I do get that question a lot whether I’m shocked when I read some of the stuff I have to say, and I am not. I am not shocked.
Toonzone News would like to thank H. Jon Benjamin for taking the time to talk with us, and to the folks at FX PR and M80 for setting it up. Archer season 3 premieres Thursday, January 19, 2012 at 10:00 p.m. on FX. Check out Toonzone News’ review of the premiere. And did I mention our Archer giveaway? You should enter it. Just saying.