I guess the fan part of me wants to kind of open with a Mad TV question before we get into Futurama. Growing up I was always a huge fan of Mad TV even though I’m right outside New York City. You would think I would be an SNL fan, but I was definitely a Mad TV kid growing up, always liked your impersonations of Michael Jackson, Chris Tucker, Bill Maher. What are the similarities between working in an environment like Mad TV where you guys kind of get to improv and do stuff like that versus something like a Futurama? Is it similar to being able to bounce back lines back and forth between the different actors?
Actually we are able to do more improvisation I think on Futurama then we were on Mad TV.
Wow. How is that?
The thing is you can’t improvise when you have multiple cameras because there is no point in making up a line while they’re showing somebody else. It just won’t be used. So the thing is I mean we certainly contributed to things during rehearsal, but in terms of that live performance like oh, I’ve got a funny idea, let me throw this in there we get more of that during records with Futurama. The thing is there is not even a ton of it there and the writers are absolutely brilliant. I mean you’re going to be able to hem-haw some quantum physics equation.
That would be tough, yes.
Especially now on Futurama we’re all the science is you know fact. Even if it’s funny sometimes there will be something you like, oh, my God, that’s crazy, did you guys just make that up and it’s like actually no, Ken, one of the writers did his thesis on it and there is actually a lab in Switzerland where they have device exactly like this.
Futurama executive producer David X. Cohen went to Harvard University and Phil you went to Yale University, is there any kind of school rivalries, sports or otherwise?
No, well one. Are there a lot of sports you’re going to have between Harvard and Yale?
I suppose not.
Although the funny thing is I actually knew of David when we were both in college.
Really? Interesting. How did you guys know that-?
His younger sister went to Yale and one day she brought in a copy of the Harvard Lampoon and she was yeah, my brother is the editor of this and I’m like oh really, cool. I mean at the time it was just this passing thing, but decades later I remembered, wait a minute, David Cohen, Harvard; you’re the same and it turns out it was the exact same guy.
Wow, small world. Isn’t it?
Yeah, really, really small.
Whats it like working on Futurama as compared to other shows you work on?
Well it’s interesting. I mean any show that goes—any television show that goes awhile they iron out a lot of the kinks procedurally. Things get smoother as you go on, but usually as the nuts and bolts part gets easier the creative part gets harder because gosh, we use all those great ideas that we had at the beginning. Now what and people start scraping for concepts and actors start getting entitled, I feel like her needs would really and that’s something where, you know what if we looked into his past and found out he was a tennis player because I love to play tennis. That’s where four or five seasons down most shows start to lose quality. The great thing about Futurama is and not being in the writers’ room I don’t know how they manage it, but from our perspective it seems like the quality has maintained. I don’t know if it’s the quote, unquote breaks, AKA, cancellations make it any stronger or what, but they’ve never seemed to run out of steam and for us we learn more and more about our characters. They become more fully developed. The voices become more deeply seated within us. Our job certainly becomes easier, although I can’t imagine that theirs does, but they make it seem effortless.
You’ve been voicing Hermes on Futurama for a number of years now. Does the way you approach or act out the character does that change over time like when you get to see him onscreen for the first few years and how the character interacts with the other characters? Do you modify him at all or is it pretty much is this the same Hermes from day one Hermes?
It’s really not and it’s funny because I think Hermes hasn’t really changed, but we’ve grown to know more about him, so it’s still the same person but obviously when we did episode one I knew that Hermes was a bureaucrat. I knew that the audience knew. I didn’t know—I’m trying to think—it was probably a couple of episodes in where we found out he was married. We met his wife and they had a son, but we didn’t find out about that he was a limbo champion until ten episodes in and also the writers find different things that are funny and those crop up later. I think the really angry relationship between Hermes and Zoidberg didn’t come up for years. I’m not even sure if it was in the first series. And it definitely has like during the DVD movies spiked up, (as Hermes) “Shut your mouth you piece of crap.” So it’s like ratcheted up and it was hilarious and so now that has become a part of the personality and a part of the relationships that they have. So definitely the character changes over time as the way the writers’ writing changes and also just technically when you’re doing a voice I mean for me a voice is never really settled until after I see the animation come back. Until I see a finished cartoon I’m still finding it and searching it, searching for the heart of it, but then once I see it finished that’s the full person because the voice is only one per—one segment of the character. The writing is another and the animation is the third and once they all come together like oh, that’s the guy, they try to imitate that.
How difficult is it voicing Hermes, like keeping his cadence and keeping the accent going?
No, it’s not hard at all. There are some actions that are perhaps more difficult like a South African accent, but this one you know. This is not so much a specific Jamaican accent. I’m not trying to copy somebody’s accent. This is Hermes’ Jamaican accent. It’s pretty white and simple. It’s not a heavy, heavy accent, although still from episode one to the one we did yesterday every once in awhile I get a note, “Can you do that line one more time? Just make it a little more clear.” So I still you know. Sometimes just for the joke’s sake they want the accent a little bit less just you can hear and understand it, but it’s I can’t say that there is anything about the voice that’s hard. In fact, the fact that it’s lower in my register and kind of you know it makes it easy to do even when my voice is not at a hundred percent, if I come in with a cold or something I can usually still do that voice.
Well obviously I can’t tell you the actual storylines. That would be a spoiler alert like nobody’s business, but God, what can I say?
Show us a little skin. Tease us a little bit.
Well I’ll say this. Definitely we delve more into Hermes himself in an episode or two. And what else? I don’t think there are really any huge surprises, but we do find out—we do get to see Hermes have some fun.
I always love seeing his character grow like from season to season. I think Herme’s becoming more of an integral part of the cast, almost like what you see in the The Simpsons. When it first started out it was Homer and Bart and then over the years you got guys like the ancillary characters like Ned and Mr. Burns become part of storylines. Futurama has done something similar with Hermes and Dr. Zoidberg who have become crazy popular. Is that something you’ve kind of taken notice of like oh wow, Hermes is starting to become more important to the world of Futurama?
Well it sort of comes and goes. I mean obviously Fry, Bender and Lela are at the core of it and then the rest of us sort of go in orbit around them and every once in awhile there will be an episode about me where you go to Mars or an episode about Hermes where we really it becomes about him and in the DVD movies it was great because you got to have the balance. It was a longer storyline, so you got to have whole plot lines going on at the same time, but yeah, I mean I think over time and maybe that’s how they’ve managed to keep it fresh is going to all of these different characters for inspiration and that’s why they’re there otherwise you’re you know. That’s why you see very, very few two-character comedies, which turn off people.
What’s next for you Phil? What other projects are you working on? What other characters are we going to start seeing come up either in the small screen or the big screen?
Working on a new animated show for the Hub called Kaijudo: Rise of the Duel Masters and also writing and producing my own web series called Inside the Legend and our second episode posted today to InsideTheLegend.com. That’s fun because it’s sort of back to my sketch where it’s a lot of whacky, fun characters and wigs.
Futurama is all new this Wednesday night starting @ 10pm EST, check your local listings.Tweet