For the love of voice acting #001, Why Voices Matter

I provide two pieces of disclosure as a preface:

First, I have largely neglected the voice acting aspect of my interests, and I seek to remedy that.

Second, I am not a voice actor, nor am I trained in any field (radio, acting, et. al.) that carries any authority or special insight into the field. As such, I will be crudely creating a lexicon of very likely improper terms that will address how I feel towards the craft of voice acting. This perspective is entirely as a fan, and with luck I will learn and self-correct as time goes on.

Now, here I blunder through my thoughts on what I perceive to be an underappreciated art form. Without being too effusive about it, I will start simply by considering Charlie Adler.

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Somehow, he pulls off the backwards cap look.

Mr. Adler (if I may be so formal) delivers a range of emotions with unparallel comedic timing. His ability to master those voices has had me in awe since I first began recognizing him from one role to the next. It was this recognition, among others, that sparked my interest in voice actors. It reminded me that there was a common thread that ran through the cartoons that brought me much enjoyment, like a tapestry of sound unifying my childhood. If that sounds sappy, you probably don’t look back as fondly on cartoons as I do.

But I digress. Mr. Adler’s voice saw me through a significant portion of my childhood, from Buster Bunny all the way to an iteration of Dr Doom more recently, as my kids themselves are able to pick his voice out from familiarity with his work on Cow and Chicken. His voice is recognizable, and that is very much a good thing. A good voice actor can easily leverage their considerable talent to bring the whole production to life, and this is what Mr Adler does.

He seems to reach into the zeitgeist of Americana and cartoon culture to deliver the bellows and wisecracks that tap into our collective psyche. But before I start sounding like some obscure pop-culture James Lipton, let me qualify all of this; Mr. Adler does all of this simply by talking.

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“Man, voice, force of nature; Charlie Addler is all of these things…”

We see no facial expressions as we may have with someone like Robin Williams, an equally frenetic comedic genius. We only get Mr. Adler’s voice, and through that, we are given all of the cues and tones that accompany cartoon faces and gestures.

Think of Ed Bighead, or Tex Hex, or I.R. Baboon. You may not like all of his characters, but if you like cartoons even a fraction as much as I do, you are likely to have enjoyed Mr. Adler’s work. I challenge you to think hard about it, look up his breadth of work, and consider what joy he has given you. Then think about how much of a blast it was for him to vociferate into a microphone for your entertainment. Mr. Adler surely loves what he does, and for good reason; he is damn good at it.

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On “being tired of jumping the same shark” or What the “Harry Shearer news” Means to Me

I may be late to the party, but I think that it is important enough to me to mention this. Lets get it out of the way; Harry Shearer is a genius, and not just in the field of voice acting. We have yet to truly form an opinion of cartoon voice actors outside of a mild amusement at seeing the face that goes with the voice.

It’s important to recognize that there are faces that go to the voices.

Some of the people that work in voice acting are just as talented, passionate, and prolific as the “we get to see their face” actors that work today. As a brief example, Frank Welker is among one of the hardest working people in show business if you consider the sheer amount of work that he does, right next to Samuel L. Jackson in terms of the breadth of his work. And yet some of you might be asking yourselves who Frank Welker is.

Consider this; if you have heard a cartoon animal, then you have likely heard the voice of Frank Welker.

Just look at his body of work.

You know of him if you don’t know about him. He does damn near every cartoon animal voice that there is, and he does it well. But we never see his face, and so we only have our ears on which to rely. We have been indoctrinated by a culture that was hard pressed to even credit voice actors (a change brought on by the legendary Mel Blanc) and where one needs not only a keen ear, but to do research to discover the rich tapestry that lies within the vocalization of our beloved works of animation.

To which I will segue into Harry Shearer. As most are likely to now know, he is leaving the Simpsons. Everything is either speculation or “he said she said” at this moment, so I won’t add to the rumor mills, but I will say that the real and lasting effects of this change are momentous, and may have a domino effect.

Now, I am a huge Simpsons fan, and I was among those that saw the show from it’s roots on the Tracey Ullman show. I even remember the faces of those people on that show as they correspond to their roles on the Simpsons.

Of the Simpsons voice actors, Hank Azaria is very likely the most recognizable, but these faces remain relatively obscure to the general public. Many have seen the Simpsons voice actors in other roles in live action, but have likely not recognized them for who they are.

All of this is to say that while I am not against the Simpsons, I am against what it has become, especially as an enterprise. This is the true showcase of voice acting talent being marginalized. These voices and their cartoon representations are among the most recognized icons of our culture, and yet they are being derided by the powers that be.

Ultimately, this speaks to the nigh ironic struggle for recognition faced by voice actors, and the voice acting industry at large. Mel Blanc got a name credit in cartoons in place of a pay raise, and he was among few in his day to do so. Voice actors remain loved by their dedicated fans, but are viewed as disposable, modular, and fungible* by uncaring executives.

Mel Blanc. Appreciate the man.

Voice actors have obviously come a long way, though I had thought they had come further than to necessitate a squabble between a studio and one of the most recognized voices in America. Could I be wrong? Maybe Mr. Shearer was a jerk. And yet history already tells a different story, given the industry’s** penchant for treating voice talent so poorly. The information we have suggests that Shearer is justified in feeling as he does, and I’m inclined to believe his side.

*I am largely displeased by the voice actor changes in Golan the Insatiable, among other issues, but it illustrates (no pun intended) the kind of shuffling that can happen at a whim, and for the purpose of “name recognition”

** I use the word “industry” here to mean the greater mechanism of fame and commerce by which our modern media is hoisted.