H. Jon Benjamin Talks ARCHER VICE, BOB’S BURGERS, and More
By Dan Casey on February 6, 2014
Whether he’s slinging pun-themed burgers, coaching children’s soccer, bragging about his van, or being an international man of mystery, H. Jon Benjamin’s voice is a singular force, a thundering baritone that commands your attention and is typically guaranteed to have you clutching your ribs with laughter. Bob’s Burgers, Home Movies, Archer Vice, Dr. Kat, Professional Therapist: these are but a few of the things that have cemented Benjamin as not only a cult comic hero, but one of the funniest working actors out there. Recently, I was able to catch up with Benjamin over the phone to talk about the bold new direction of Archer, which television cast is more fun to hang out with, the role of which he’s most proud, and some genuinely weird Twitter questions courtesy of you fine folks.
Nerdist: Thank you for taking the time to speak to me today. I appreciate it. So, first things first…
H. Jon Benjamin: I know, I know. I apologize.
N: It’s alright. I’ll forgive you just this once.
HJB: I’ve done a lot of stupid things.
N: I know. We’re trying to put that behind you. Moving forward into the bold new world that is Archer Vice.
HJB: Archer Vice, yeah.
N: Yeah. So, I think a lot of fans were surprised by the switch. Can you shed a little light on what was the motivation behind this bold new direction?
HJB: Um…it was all the machinations of Adam Reed and his cohorts, who run Archer. I think it’s just him, actually. So, yes, it was his prerogative to do it, and he did decide to make a change, unilaterally, without anybody’s permission.
N: Were you guys surprised when you heard about it?
HJB: I mean, Adam Reed writes the whole show. He’s kind of a singular voice. He’s the voice behind the voice. And so, being the sole writer of the show, it was his decision to do it. I was not surprised, but I rarely am, being a totally dispassionate person. I was excited He called me and told me what the idea was, before we started recording the season, so I had a–I knew what was going on. But yeah, that was about it.
I think he was very nervous that the network would not let him do it, but he convinced them, so that worked out. And I think it’s great. The season is going to be really good. I don’t think–I’m not aware of people being unhappy with it.
N: No, I don’t think people are unhappy with it. I think it was just unexpected, but, you know, people are always happy for more Archer.
HJB: I don’t think there was any nefarious motivation behind it, like “I’m going to fuck with people and the way they think.” I think he was just probably, like, it would be more exciting to come up with a season arc that changed everything. But on the whole, like I’ve told other people, this show is very similar in its tone and attitude, and the show is so much about characters fighting with each other, and trying to get through their lives, and it’s because they stay together, so it almost doesn’t matter what they’re doing.
N: With that being said, what’s been your favorite aspect of the new premise?
HJB: [chuckles] Well, you know, I was thrilled that he decided to sell drugs, I guess. And I did like the notion that they were kind of scapegoated by the government, in a way. I think it was like one of those sort of interesting, almost real-life–I don’t think necessarily ‘pulled from the headlines’ stuff, but a very real, reasonable scenario that would happen amongst the spin and the spy world. A government agency would get eaten by its bosses, scapegoated by its bosses. Or that they were operating without a spy license, or whatever.
HJB: I don’t know if you have to have a certificate or license to spy.
N: I like that that’s the one thing…
HJB: I like that it’s sort of this weird, rogue agency that clearly, it’s OK for them to do what they’re doing. And then whatever happened, the government was like, “You should have shut them down.”
HJB: So yeah, that was the most enjoyable thing for me, because that was funny. The idea must have come to Adam, like, “Wow, what if they never–what if they were working illegally the whole time?”
N: It’s very much in line with the rest of their operating procedures, so I think it works quite well for the show.
HJB: Yeah, it’s clearly right there that they were operating unregulated. It strikes me as totally believable.
HJB: Yeah, that’s like Blackwater, or whatever. We admire people like that because they don’t have to follow the rules.
N: Yeah, exactly. I mean, someone, some agency, has to get thrown under the bus, so why not have it be ISIS?
HJB: Yeah, exactly. So I like this sort of battle that’s clearly going on. I mean, that’s more interesting, that’s probably why he did it too, I imagine, because instead of, like, coming up with new villains to fight, you go, “I should probably just work from within.”
N: One of the things I’m always curious about, especially with animation, is the level of improv in the shows. Obviously, the scripts are super solid, but you guys have a really talented group of actors and comedians in each one, so I’m curious–in a show like Archer, compared to a show like Bob’s Burgers, how much improv is there?
HJB: Well, Archer is much less than Bob’s Burgers. Bob’s Burgers, sometimes there are entire scenes that are improvised–not necessarily used in the final show, but there will be [loud background noise interrupts]–time for my blood transfusion!
N: What better time than today?
HJB: My dialysis–again! But yeah–we recorded Bob’s Burgers yesterday, with John Roberts and myself. We did a 10, maybe 15 minute improv scene that I assume they won’t use. Archer is like, we don’t work–the actors don’t work together, which is a big part, or certainly a catalyst for improv, when you’re with some other actors doing a scene together. Because Archer doesn’t do it that way, there’s sort of less room for it. I also think it’s a lot less called for. I don’t think Archer as a show ever operated like that. It was much more like tautly written scripts, and a lot of it was about, almost like you would treat a live action show, everything with this joke was about cutting right there to the next scene, which amplified that joke, you know what I mean?
HJB: So improv was a little less relevant. It worked against it. I guess it was never physically part of the show, although, you know, I work with Matt Thompson on the phone from Atlanta, and he wants to get the lines right, so it’s more that kind of show.
N: Yeah, that makes sense, especially considering how deep and esoteric some of the references are. It would seem a little odd if they were–some of them seem too researched and perfectly placed to be off the cuff.
HJB: Yeah, they’ve improvised, though. Like, I know Adam and Matt have written stuff on the fly like that. Like, “Who would be a guy we could say…” I’ve heard them kind of talk amongst themselves. “What if we say….” or, “Who’s the founder of eugenics?” “I don’t know–Google it.” “Say that!” That’s definitely happened, where it wasn’t written in the script at first and they added to it.
N: Nice. You mentioned that the Archer cast doesn’t record together. Do you find when it comes to voice acting that you prefer to record separately, or with the entire cast present?
HJB: I don’t have a preference. Archer is much quicker to do, which I like, sometimes. But sometimes I’m lonely, and I like to be with other people. Bob’s Burgers can be cut both ways. It’s like sometimes it’s fun working with–that show’s been going on for a long time, so you’re working with the same people. Sometimes that’s fun, sometimes that’s annoying. With Archer there’s not much human contact.
N: I know you’ve done live shows with both of them, so which cast is more fun to hang out with?
HJB: [laughs] Again, it depends on my mood. If I want to get blackout drunk, it’s the cast of Archer. But if I just want to get kind of drunk, it’s Bob’s Burgers.
N: All right, that’s a good distinction to make. That’s fair. I took a couple of questions from Twitter, and this one is kind of weird, but I’m interviewing Paul F. Tompkins today as well, so they wanted me to ask what the “F” in Paul F. Tompkins stands for.
HJB: [laughter] I assume Farragut?
N: Farragut? I could see that. That seems appropriate.
HJB: Or Floyd.
N: Floyd. Yeah, it’s got to be one of those two. Who would your picks be to star in a Broadway version of “Topsy”?
HJB: Oh, wow. Kevin Kline was really good singing. He has a good voice. And so does what’s-her-name.
N: Megan Mullally?
HJB: Yeah, her. But I definitely would want better-looking people in front of an audience.
N: [laughter] We’ll just put them in giant papier mâché costumes. I know you guys have been doing a bunch of the Archer Live and Bob’s Burgers Live shows. I was wondering–what’s the craziest or most memorable fan encounter that you’ve had?
HJB: For both–in the live shows?
N: In the live shows, or even at a convention setting, or somewhere like that, or even just on the street.
HJB: Yeah, I mean, it’s not like–we’re not like the cast of Game of Thrones or something, I assume, right? I’ve never been involved in, like, a Bob’s Burgers orgy. But there’s a lot of–a couple of years ago–there’s been a lot of children named Archer, I think that’s clear.
N: Oh, interesting.
HJB: So there’ve been a lot of women with a baby, saying “I’d like you to meet Archer.” I’m never that happy about it.
N: No, meeting a baby is never that exciting of a prospect.
HJB: No, but it’s not a bad name.
N: They could do a lot worse.
HJB: You’re right. And I feel like, it’s a cable show. It’s not like you named your kid “Potsy.”
N: Yeah. I hope not.
HJB: Like, everyone would know 20 years from now. Like, “Oh my god.” It concedes that child bearing happened while watching Happy Days. They shouldn’t have done that.
N: I’m sure there are more out there.
HJB: There are a lot of tattoos that have been shown, where it’s like, “Oh, you shouldn’t have done that.” [laughs]
N: It’s exactly what I don’t want to do.
HJB: I’m like, “Don’t.”
N: Oh, wow.
HJB: You’ve got the tattoo of a TV show on your tit?
N: Has anyone asked you to sign their baby?
HJB: [laughs] No, no, no.
N: All right. Maybe at Comic-Con this year.
HJB: I would totally do that. I would tattoo a baby; I would do that too.
N: Well, there’s a precedent for that too, so that’s definitely in canon for Archer.
HJB: Was that in Archer?
N: Yeah, the wee baby Seamus. They got tattoos together.
HJB: He got a tattoo.
N: Speaking of babies, when can we get another edition of Baby Pranks?
HJB: Wow. I’d need to have another baby. It’s hard to recruit babies to do that. I mean, it’s my own. So yeah, when I adopt!
N: Gotcha. You can just adopt for a two-week shoot.
HJB: [laughs] And then give it back up for adoption.
N: Exactly. Something to add to his adoption resume.
N: So I’ve been a big fan of your work, going all the way back to Dr. Katz. I’m curious–going back, which voice-over character are you most proud of, or do you have the most fun doing?
HJB: Well, I did have a lot of fun doing Ben from Dr. Katz, because it was the first job I ever had. I guess I was just young. Being young is better. It was much easier, and much less responsibility. But that show was really fun to do. It was very much–mostly improvised at times, so you had a lot of control of your character, I guess. But I really enjoy doing Archer, it’s a really fun show to do. For one, it’s a great character, and it’s so well written, that I like that. But my first job will always be truly special.
N: Awesome. And I just have one more question for you. It’s a bit of an oddball, so bear with me: What would be inside your ideal burrito?
HJB: You saved the worst for last. Wow. I want to say–does it have to be edible?
N: It’s your ideal, it doesn’t matter what’s inside. It’s up to you, man.
HJB: I’d like to find something that wouldn’t kill me, but would cut my mouth, so I could sue the company that made it, so I could make million from just biting…like a condom. Like that–a used condom.
N: I’d hope a condom would not cut your mouth!
HJB: That wouldn’t cut my mouth, but maybe that’s better, because I wouldn’t cut my mouth, I would just start chewing, and there would be a condom, and then I would sue Taco Bell, and I’d make $15 million. Then I could open my specialty condom company.
N: Doritos Locos condoms. They have little cheese dust and everything.
HJB: Yeah. Doritos condoms.
N: Where is that Kickstarter?
What’s your favorite H. Jon Benjamin role? Sound off in the comments below.