That’s All Folksby Brie Stimson December 4, 2017
Bob Bergen has been voicing Looney Tunes’ Porky Pig for the last 27 years, and luckily for SDJJ, the acclaimed Jewish voiceover actor took time from his adorable stuttering to sp- sp- sp- talk to us. The interview has been edited for space.
SDJJ: Can you tell me how you got started doing Porky Pig and all the other voices you do?
Bob Bergen: Porky Pig was a goal of mine since I was a five-year-old kid. I remember my mom was doing the dishes and I walked in on a Saturday morning watching cartoons and I said I want to be Porky Pig and my mom, she didn’t even look at me, she said you can’t be Porky Pig, you’re Jewish. I didn’t know what that had to do with it … But, some kids want to be a baseball player, some kids want to be a fireman, I wanted to be a cartoon pig. We lived in the Midwest at the time … but I was fortunate that my dad moved the family to LA when I was 14 when he took a job out here and I just picked up the phone and I called anything that said animation or cartoons in the phonebook to see how do I go about doing this and I eventually … tracked down Mel Blanc in the phone book and I crashed a recording session.
SDJJ: He was in the phonebook?
Bergen: I was from the Midwest; everybody’s in the phonebook. In LA, the concept of unlisted phone number didn’t enter my mind … I couldn’t find him. And then I tried under his wife’s name, which was Estelle and I found Estelle Blanc in the Pacific Palisades and that was his house … And during the course of the conversation with him he mentioned the studio he was working at that day of the week, he didn’t say the time, but he mentioned the name. So when I finished my conversation with him I called the studio and I pretended to be his assistant and I said ‘hi I’m calling to confirm Mr. Blanc’s appointment for Thursday at 9’ – I was just completely making it up – and the receptionist said ‘no, we’ve got him on the books for Wednesday at 11,’ and I said ‘that’s right, I’m sorry, I’m looking at the wrong calendar.’ So I told my mom, ‘I’m going to skip school on Wednesday, and you’re going to take me to see Mel Blanc work,’ and she said ‘okay.’ So when we got to the studio I told the receptionist that we were guests of Mel Blanc and she directed us into this recording booth … I told the producer that we were good friends of the receptionist and she said we could watch. And so I watched him work.
SDJJ: How do you find Porky’s voice?
Bergen: I figured out at a young age that there’s a formula to the way that he talked. The stutter had a formula.
SDJJ: Can you explain the formula?
Bergen: I’ll teach you how to do it. … Say the word boy. Now I’m going to teach you how to stutter and Porky Pig the word boy … So there are four sounds in the stutter before you say the word if you’re going to make the word boy the way Porky Pig says boy. We’re going to break it down syllable by syllable, but it helps if you count out with your fingers. So go ‘eh’ – ‘eh ba’ – ‘eh ba bih’ – ‘eh ba bih ih’ – ‘eh ba bih ih boy.’ Now wiggle your nose like you’re smelling something bad so it makes the sound go into your nose. Now say boy. Now say ‘eh ba bih ih boy.’ … On the third sound push it a little bit more. ‘Eh ba BIH ih boy.’ ‘eh da dih ih dog.’ ‘eh ka kih ih cat.’ Now make a full sentence …Yeah, that’s usually about where I lose them.
SDJJ: That’s cool.
Bergen: Two years ago the Hollywood Bowl did an evening with Bugs Bunny cartoons where they played the music live with the symphony, and they had me come out and teach 18,000 people how to do that, which was kind of surreal. It was kind of a moment. They were very good. It kind of surprised me. It made me nervous. My mom was in the audience. She said you just told 18,000 people how to do your job.
SDJJ: What has it been like doing Porky for all these years?
Bergen: The bottom line is Mel Blanc was the main voice of this character. I’ve been doing it since he passed away, but nobody can take what he brought to that character away. Because he was the genius that perfected the character, so I’m nowhere close to what he did, but my goal is to keep the integrity of the character as much as possible. But I mean he was a genius.
SDJJ: What are the other Looney Tunes characters that you do?
Bergen: Tweety. I’m doing Tweety right now for our new series “The New Loony Tunes.” In the past I’ve done Marvin the Martian, I’ve done Speedy Gonzales … Porky’s my main character. That’s the one I’ve done most often. Porky and Tweety.
SDJJ: Was/is Judaism a big part of your life?
Bergen: Traditionally, yeah. Our Passovers over the years – my mom was always really hesitant to invite observant Jews to our Passover because everybody there, at least since we moved to Los Angeles, are voice actors reading the Haggadah doing funny voices … They were more festive, they were traditional but very festive. Our family’s traditions, as far as Judaism is concerned, was important. We’re not the most religious, but we’re very traditionally passionate about our Jewish rituals.
SDJJ: Since you’re a voiceover actor can you walk down the street without people bothering you?
Bergen: Exactly, you can be a working actor and not worry about people coming up to you at restaurants. I don’t usually lead by my career unless people ask and I don’t have the kind of voice that people recognize if I’m just talking like myself, but a couple of days after 9/11 a bunch of friends and I were in the car. It was late at night and we just decided let’s go to Crispy Crème and get some donuts. So I pulled up to the drive through and this lady said ‘may I take your order?’ And I said ‘give us a second. We haven’t figured out what we want yet.’ And this male voice popped up and said ‘let me know when you’re ready.’ And I said ‘ooh you changed your voice,’ and she came back and she said ‘now you change yours.’ And I looked at my friends and I said ‘well she asked’ so I ordered a dozen glazed donuts like Porky Pig. And there’s this long pause and she says ‘please pull forward to the second window.’ I pulled forward and she gave me three-dozen donuts, and I said ‘I think you misunderstood what I said’ and she said ‘nope, I heard exactly what you said. It’s the first laugh we’ve had in two days. They’re on the house, thank you.’
SDJJ: Can you tell me a little bit more about some of the other voice work you’ve done?
Bergen: A lot of animated features. A lot of Pixar, Disney films. “A Bug’s Life,” “Hercules,” “Monsters, Inc.,” “Toy Story 2.” I’ve done a lot of work for the Henson company. I did the cartoon “Fraggle Rock” and the Second Season of “Muppet Babies” … “Emperor’s New Groove” and the voice of Luke Skywalker for the “Star Wars properties.” … I was the voice of Disney Channel for five years. The nice thing about what I get to do is it’s unpredictable, but it’s interesting. It’s always creative. I’ve been teaching animation and voiceover for 30 years, which is really, really fun … If I had to put on a tie every day and do a nine to five I think I’d go crazy. The life of an actor is not stable, but it’s interesting.