Bob’s Burgers is officially the next big thing. How do I know this? Well, for starters, both the writing and acting are phenomenal, and it’s really, really funny. But that’s not the reason. The reason is people know about this show. Not just cartoon enthusiasts, not just incessant TV watchers, not just kids – like actual, real people. Normal people who only occasionally watch a few select shows and don’t regularly devour programming in binge-watch sessions and read up on what’s next in the entertainment world. You know: boring people. They know what Bob’s Burgers is, and some actually watch it. When you see stories about a show in the mainstream news media and numerous people routinely post things about it on your Facebook news feed, it has made it. Having just kicked off its fifth season on FOX, Bob’s Burgers stopped by New York Comic-Con, bringing creator Loren Bouchard, and actors H. Jon Benjamin (Bob), John Roberts (Linda), Eugene Mirman (Gene), Kristen Schaal (Louise), Bobby Tisdale (Zeke), and Larry Murphy (Teddy). After spending an extended period of time in the press room, it’s clear that the actors are just as much of a family as the actual Belchers – and possibly as funny too. Turns out it’s because they have some history.
“Well [Kristen and I] have known each other for a decade,” Eugene Mirman said. “Jon Benjamin I met in Boston, Loren I knew from Boston, Bobby was once of the first comics I met when I got to New York, so we’ve all actually known each other for 15 years. Some of the people who are guests, we’ve known each other for 15, 20 years. It’s not like we live in a house together and have to accomplish weird tasks and it’s televised. (Editor’s Note: I’d totally watch that.) It’s awesome that we all get to hang out. We just all hang out all the time. There is a warmth and everybody is essentially friendly and pleasant to work with.”
“I’ve made a bunch of shows with Loren Bouchard,” Jon Benjamin said. “We were kind of like in this weird little bubble in Massachusetts making small animated shows.”
And if the actors appear to have similar personalities as their characters, well, there’s a reason for that too.
“We developed the characters with Loren together, so it ended up very much that we could bring a lot of ourselves to the character,” Mirman said. “I mean, I play an 11-year-old in 2014 who loves a bunch of things from the ‘80s, which is when I grew up. And knows a fair amount about a lot of different kids of ethnic foods – as most 11-year-olds do.”
Kristen Schaal enjoys playing Louise because it allows her inner child to temporarily come out. “It feels great,” she said. “For me it’s really fun because Louise is nine years old and I definitely can access that child-like side of me, and she feels really excited to get out, and it’s fun. Then you leave, and you’re an adult.” An adult with a very child-like voice. When did she discover that her voice was so unique? “I probably noticed in college, because in Colorado nobody noticed,” she said. “And then I left my hometown, and everyone’s like, ‘Your voice is super weird,’ and I was like, ‘Interesting.’” She uses this cutesy voice to her advantage with her constantly conniving character. “There’s just something about this saccharine sweet voice that I have. It is my real voice, so I can just hide behind that and be devious. It’s a fun mix.”
Since Linda is played by a man, the character’s personality comes not from John Roberts, but his mother. “My mom is always an inspiration. It’s a mix of what the writers are bringing in, just having fun, and accepting the children for who they are – as my mom did – and she’s definitely a big influence.” Linda’s now-famous, “Alright!” quasi-catchphrase also comes from Roberts’ mother. “My mom actually said that,” he said. “We were flying to Vegas in the ‘80s – my mom took us to Vegas – and we got bumped up to first class, and the plane landed, and my mom went, [sounding like Linda] ‘Alright! Nice landing!’ So we’ve been imitating that for years and it just kind of snuck in there. When we first started Season One, I was like, ‘This is going to be my ‘Dyn-o-mite!’ and [Loren] was like, ‘No.’ So now I feel so justified.”
Bouchard wants to keep them from getting out of control. “They’re in the script, and we have to watch them,” he said. “They spread like a rash.”
One wonders how it must feel for John Roberts to be a man playing a progressive mother that is said to empower women. “It’s awesome,” he said. “Anything that empowers women is awesome. Women are still kind of crapped on a lot, so it’s nice to put that out there. Especially for the young girls. Tina [voiced by the absent Dan Mintz] is such a funny role; it’s so complex. The fact that you’re talking about it now – that she’s this liberated young woman – it’s great to be a part of that too.”
People even tell Eugene Mirman that Gene is a role model for awkward kids. You know the type. “Oddballs, like me,” he said. “I had terrible grades but I was not a nerd or a jock. I was just a sad little oddball, finding my dreams. I don’t know that I ever thought of Gene as a role model for kids today, but I think that is a very sweet sentiment, and if that is at all true: wonderful.”
Bob doesn’t come from Jon Benjamin’s father, though. Okay, technically he does, but not in the way you’re thinking. “Well, I come from my dad,” Benjamin said, laughing. “But Bob is not like my dad. My dad was a lot less amused by his family. Bob is pretty tolerant guy. Not that my dad is intolerant, but he was definitely not having as much fun as Bob. Bob has a pretty forgiving nature. And his kids are really annoying, so that’s a good place to be.”
With all these eccentric personalities, it’s no wonder the producers made the rare decision to have the cast record together. “In a lot of animation they don’t get the actors together, which to me is shocking, because they’re missing the most fun part, which is putting these guys in a room together and watching them try to make each other laugh,” Bouchard said.
This occasionally leads to some improvisation. “We get to go through everything as it’s written,” Mirman explained. “But then also get to sort of goof around.”
Schaal expanded on why this doesn’t happen until they’re in the booth. “Table read we just get it done,” she explained. “You don’t want to improvise the writer’s jokes then, because that’s the first time they get to hear them to see if they’ll land.” The improv comes about naturally later. “The riffing just comes up from conversation.”
However, Mirman cautioned that ad-libbing is never really necessary, and doesn’t always even make it to air. “The writers give us a fully-written, very funny script, so when you do the table read you wouldn’t change anything,” he said. “When you’re doing it for the fourth time, you might try something else for fun. It comes out nine months later, and sometimes they use it. You never know.”
The boss approves. “If they’re ad-libbing and making each other laugh and it can be in character, then that’s fair game,” Bouchard said. “We’ve been blessed with actors who can do that; they can be in character while they’re breaking [from the script] at the same time. But you can’t rely on it, because it’s rude,” he added. “There’s a deal we don’t talk about but was struck at the beginning between the actors and staff, which is: we will try to make the best script possible so that you don’t have to fix anything. We don’t want to ask the actors to be writers. We don’t want to expect them to write the show by improvising. What is nice though, is when they can’t stop themselves and it just bubbles up like a great burp, and we capture it on tape, and then we can pick and choose. But it should be freely given by them, and not extracted by us because we came in with some half-assed script. I would say for 100% of every word we write, we expect if that was the only thing said by these guys, we would be proud to put it on TV.”
Also on the topic of actors, the guest stars on this show are always fantastic, and several of the Bob’s folks were eager to talk about some upcoming ones. “We have a lot of great returning people we love working with,” Bouchard said, in addition to some new ones. “Kevin Kline, Zach Galifianakis, Jordan Peele & Keegan-Michael Key, Molly Shannon, Aziz Ansari coming back as Darryl, and Carl Reiner loaned us his voice for the Christmas episode. He plays a regular in Bob’s dad’s restaurant.”
Bill Hader will be back too, and not just as Mickey, but also a special role in the Christmas episode. “They do an episode where I reconnect with my dad, who’s played by Bill Hader,” Benjamin said. “Alan Arkin was going to potentially be him, so I was looking forward to that. But they got Bill Hader, so that’s too bad,” he added, laughing. “Nah, he’s really good.”
Schaal volunteered that she enjoyed one guest in particular. “It was really fun for me to meet Molly Shannon, because she was a hero of mine [when I was] coming up on the scene,” she said. “I couldn’t have even imagined working with her then.”
Although plenty was revealed about guest voices, plot details were few and far between. However, we do know that fans of Teddy will be treated to another Teddy-centric episode. “Deeper into this season there’s an episode where Bob tries to save Teddy’s life, because he had high cholesterol,” Larry Murphy leaked. “He tries to get him physically fit so they go to stuntman camp.”
“Teddy has got to stop eating meat,” Benjamin added. “And that’s a huge issue for both Teddy and Bob, because Bob refused to make a veggie burger. Just on principle. So they go to some gimmicky stuntman camp.”
There also might be a lady for Teddy in the future, according to Murphy. “I know deeper into this season they kind of add the element that there might be a potential love interest for Teddy. I don’t know if they’ll continue it on, but they definitely sow the seeds at the end of this season.”
At least I assume it’s a lady. “Teddy’s like sexually confused,” Benjamin joked. “He’s a big baby. He’s a hermaphrodite. He has both sex organs.”
Murphy quickly interjected: “Don’t print that.” (Editor’s Note: Just be happy it wasn’t our headline.)
Speaking of sex organs, we wanted to know if anyone had heard about the Bob’s Burgers porn parody, “Bob’s Boners.” They all had. “Everybody’s talking about it,” Jon Benjamin said, stating that it was (another!) sign that the show has made it to the big leagues. “We finally made it. Forget the Emmy, we’re in porn now. And that’s where the money is. Loren Bouchard watched the whole thing. He was the first one to shout out that he watched it.”
“I feel like it was lovingly made,” Bouchard said.
John Roberts agreed. “It’s pretty damn exciting,” he said. “I got a message in my twitter mailbox and it was from the woman that plays Linda. At first I was like, ‘What’s this?’ But now every Facebook message I get asks me if I’ve seen it. I’m not a big porn person, I don’t personally have a lot of porn, but I think it’s awesome.”
The relationships between certain characters were also discussed, like the strange one between Bob and Teddy. “Well Larry and I have a really good time when we do scenes together, and I think they write scenes for that,” Benjamin said. “There’s definitely an underlying antagonism, I mean, Teddy is always there, and I think Bob resents him. The place doesn’t seem particularly packed, so I think Bob is like, ‘This is the only guy that comes regularly to my restaurant.’ And Teddy is a pestering guy. Out of every character on the show, that’s probably the most combative relationship. When we improv we always end up yelling at each other.”
With Kristen Schaal and Bobby Tisdale sitting next to each other, someone asked when we can expect their characters to date. Schaal pointed out that her character is only nine years old, and though we don’t know Zeke’s exact age (“I don’t even know how old Zeke is, to be honest with you,” Tisdale said) there is clearly quite an age difference between them.
“So we can NEVER expect it, unless we’re a bunch of weirdoes,” Mirman chimed in.
How about a Bob’s Burgers/Archer crossover? Can we expect that? The short answer is not anytime soon, but possibly, according to Bouchard. The long answer, on the other hand, is a pitch by Jon Benjamin: “Guy in a grey flannel suit [walks into Bob’s Burgers]. Gets a to-go order. Gets mad. Like he doesn’t want a burger. ‘I want a chicken salad sandwich.’ ‘We don’t have those. We don’t have chicken salad, sir.’ ‘Why would you not have chicken salad? This is a diner.’ ‘We just don’t.’
What we can definitely expect, is more Bob’s Burgers for the foreseeable future. The show continues to surprise first-time watchers, critics, and even longtime fans with what it can do. And what it’s best at doing, is making people laugh and smile – be it from the jokes, the actors, or even the animation. “There’s something about the way they draw the whole show that’s sunny and sweet and just works really well,” Benjamin said.
If it keeps up its pace, and keeps hanging around with shows like The Simpsons and Family Guy, it might just become everyone’s new favorite animated comedy.
[Photos by Becca Green]