I’m meeting Rob Paulsen on October 5, 2018 at the Javits Center in New York City. It’s now my second day of Comic-Con.
Nickelodeon has a giant booth set up towards the front entrance. Screens move fast in front of the purple city backdrop and the orange “Mikey was Here” spray paint. The line to head inside for the photo-op was short, but by the time I was done with the interview, the line started to wind around. Inside you choose which turtle power you wanted, and start moving around. They sent me a fun action gif of me and my fiancée “fighting” with ninja weapons that had animations overlayed.
I arrived early, so I waited and watch other press interview him. I was just out of earshot, but everyone who talked to him left with a giant smile on their face. After speaking with him for about 12 minutes, I get why.
Maybe he sensed my nervousness, or maybe he is a genuinely excited and charismatic person. Either way, his excitement for life is contagious. He was very giving of his time and voice. Hearing him sing “Yakko’s World” for only me is something that will always make me smile. I think Rob Paulsen truly believes he was put here to make people smile. And I don’t see why anyone would argue him. Going through his credits, his career leads itself there.
We got to talk about music, voice acting, his podcast, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
Check out “Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” throughout 2018 on Nickelodeon.
Rob Paulsen’s podcast “Talkin’ Toons” is available for download or stream wherever podcasts are available, and a video version on projectalpha.com.
You’ve been a voice actor now for over 30 years.
I have! How old are you?
(Rob shrieks) I’ve been acting longer than you’ve been alive!
Right! But back when you were first getting started, what made you think there’s a voice behind the character?
Well, Kyle, now you’re talking about the age, like that young fella standing there in line who looks like he’s about 7?
(Rob motions to a young kid in line)
I think that’s probably when I was cognizant of the fact that there were humans doing the voices. I would watch The Wonderful World of Disney or Rocky and Bullwinkle or The Flintstones or Johnny Quest or Looney Tunes cause those shows were produced, well, Looney Tunes and Mickey Mouse and all that, 40’s and 50’s. And long before I was born. So It didn’t take me long to realize there were human actors behind it.
In terms of when I determined that it would be something at which I could make a living, that was not until the mid 80’s when I was already in L.A. doing live action stuff and I got a chance to work on cartoons. Because I just wanted to do all kinds of work. So, when the opportunity came to be a part of, in those days my first shows were Transformers and GI Joe, first generation, I got to work with Peter Cullen and Frank Welker and Michael Bell and Jack Angel and all these voice acting legends. And I thought “Now you’re talking!” Nobody cares what I look like! Turns out, I’m old enough to be your father by a long shot and people still don’t care what I look like! It’s really the best acting gig for a guy who’s not a big star.
And make no mistake, I understand. I’m part of the equation, but the characters are the stars. I don’t draw them. I don’t write them. I’m the one that fortunately people like to talk to. And often people identify with the voice the most because, whether it’s music or an actor or the radio, it leaves and indelible print on your childhood and your psyche. I could stand here in front of you and say (In Yakko’s voice) “Helloooooo Nurse!” and you’d do what you’re doing right now! You smile! It’s the most wonderful experience in the world. Same thing happened to me the first time I met June Foray and she said “Hokey Smoke, Bullwinkle!” Oh my god! It’s Rocky the Flying Squirrel! And she was 75 years old! So, um, it is a wonderful way to make a living and the best part of it is now to be old enough to have credibility with people your age, but young enough to still do it at a high level. It’s a really wonderful experience.
You even mentioned that you’re able to be anonymous, almost.
Yeah! Oh Yeah!
Back in the 90’s TurtleMania was huge.
Oh Jesus, yeah.
Was there any part of you that was like “Hey, I do that!”
You know, that’s a great question, Kyle. And honestly, um, no. I don’t think there was. I think, I- I think I have a pretty healthy ego. And by that I mean, I was very cognizant, as I was already in my early 30’s. I was probably about your age when I started doing cartoons. So I was already very aware of the good and bad aspects of celebrity. Now, I was never in a position to turn down celebrity. I understand that there may be negative aspects of it. But I asked for it! I’m not gonna get pissed off if somebody, you know, maybe asked for an autograph when I’m having dinner. I might politely say “Can you wait while I’m-”
I asked for that! Now, I don’t know what it’s like to be Brad Pitt, but that’s a different story. However, I was also very cognizant of the fact that, animation is a hugely collaborative effort. Incredible artists and writers, I don’t do that man. I’m just an actor and a singer. So, if I was lucky enough to be working. And I was going to be an integral part of something that turned out to be Ninja Turtles! That was around before you were born! And you are as excited to talk about it now as I am at 62 years old? I’ll take it. And if the downside is that people don’t know it’s me, oh trust me. When they find out? They love it. If I’m in a social situation, and people say “Wait a minute? Are you the Rob Paulsen that is Raphael and Yakko and Carl Weezer and The Mask? Holy sh-! Oh my God! You’re the voice of-” It’s a really fair trade.
So then you got asked to- did you get asked back to voice Donatello in 2012 or did you get asked to audition?
Well, I got asked to audition. Oh, you bet! And I was grateful to! I never, because I’m not a celebrity type, I never expect not to audition. I certainly get a lot more work given to me now than before because I have credibility with a lot of people your age who are now- Like Rick and Morty. I work on Rick and Morty. Justin Roiland and Dan Harmon are fans of mine, and Maurice Lamarche and people like that. So they give us work. And I’m very grateful. But no, no, no. I understand. When you’re doing something as important as Ninja Turtles, to a company like Viacom. They’re spending a lot of money! They have a right to hear who they want to hear. The thing that surprised me was that I got the job! And it was a huge gift! And now I’m the voice director on the show. So, it’s my third ride in the turtle van and I can make the argument that there aren’t too many actors in Hollywood who have the same credibility with this franchise with respect to actors as myself! I know a lot about turtles!
Right! So, with this new version of the turtles, this is your first time behind the glass, right?
What’s that like? Can you tell us a little about that?
Oh my God, Kyle. It’s an incredible honor. I’ve had the great good fortune of working with many voice directors who are all Emmy winners, who are very good personal friends, but in particular Andrea Romano whose won 9 Emmys for voice directing. Batman, Animaniacs, Freakazoid, uh, Tiny Toons, Pinky and the Brain, Hysteria, Ninja Turtles the last version, Spongebob, The Legend of Korra, and I’ve worked with her on all those! So I’ve learned a lot, from the best. I, uh, make no mistake, I realize that I’m a newbie at this, but I have good instincts. Moreover I have good examples of how to do this gig. And it seems to be paying off on both sides of the equation. So far they haven’t fired me, but the day’s not over!
And you mentioned Maurice LaMarche and you have Eric Bauza coming in as Splinter for the new one. Maurice Lamarche has already voiced one of the backups.
Yeah! Mo and I! They gave Mo and me jobs as bad guys.
Can we expect any other voiceover legends to come in? Like maybe John Dimaggio or-
Yes! You can! In fact, specifically yes you can. Johnny’s been on the show. Tom Kenny is on the show. Zelda Williams is on the show. Oh my God. There are so many wonderful actors who are coming in. More to come because we’ve already been picked up for a second season. And as you can imagine, everybody wants to work on Ninja Turtles. What’s really cool is that even a big celebrity, John Cena, Lena Headey from Game of Thrones, Rhys Darby, John Lydon from Sex Pistols. Ya know, John’s my age. And he comes in (Doing Johnny Rotten impression) “Oh my God! I’m working on the Ninja Turtles! Who bloody knew! I can’t believe I’m be working on the turtles!”
It’s a big deal to people, man! This is a franchise- I could go almost anywhere in the world probably. They may not know Brad Pitt, but they’ll probably know Ninja Turtles. They may not like it, but they’ll know it. It’s huge. Everybody wants to be on the show. I’m a lucky guy.
I’ve read that your background is in music.
Yes, I was a singer first.
Do you think we’ll end up getting a musical version of the Ninja Turtles at some point?
(Shocked) Jesus! Kyle! You should produce this! From your lips to God’s checkbook!
Hey, I’ve been saying it for years!
You know what, why not? Listen, that’s how I got Animaniacs! Because I could sing, (Rob sings Yakko’s World) “United States, Canada, Mexico, Panama, Haiti, Jamaica, Peru.” So, yeah! I was a singer first. I would love there to be- why not! Stranger things have happened, you know! So far, I think we have “music” to the extent that sometimes Mikey and Donnie, Raph and Leo, and April might be coming to themselves. But, maybe there will be a proper music version. You never know!
What kind of musical artist do you think would be the tone of the new “Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles?” Like, Johnny Rotten is going to be a voice on it.
Right, I would say, you know honestly, because there is a distinct urban feel to this version I would say Common, maybe, certainly hip hop artists. Because Snoop Dogg is now, or is he just calling himself Snoop? I don’t know. Because Snoop has now gotten to a place where he is sort of like a younger version of me in his realm and, that is to say, that while he’s not my age he’s an older group of hip hop artists. And Ice Cube and Ice T and guys like that who established credibility with a mainstream audience. So, if I can be hired as a mainstream turtle guy, why not those guys? And they have the credibility with a hip hop, urban audience. And it would be a logical- and also some of the new guys too! Forgive me if I don’t remember them but Lil Wayne and, who’s the guy? The Actor who has an artistic persona?
Oh! Childish Gambino?
Yes! And that would make perfect sense. Because it is a logical crossover that is still a distinctly street type of urban music. And I’m not even well versed in hip hop. I’m a rock and roll guy! But that would make sense to me.
You have your own podcast.
I do! Thank you!
I listen to it! It’s great!
Thank you! I thought I liked you Kyle!
Who is someone you wish you could interview, living or dead, that you haven’t yet.
Well, the obvious answer is Mel Blanc. I had the pleasure of working with Mr. Blanc before he died. He was almost 80. That was just ridiculous, sitting next to him. Nowadays it’s my buddy Frank Welker. I love Frank. He’s my golf partner, we’ve lived near, well he found my house for us. We live 5 minutes away. Frank is not a particularly- he’s not shy. But he’s not really a podcast interview kind of guy. I really want to get Frank and my other friend Peter Cullen. We talk about having Metatron and Optimus Prime alone! But both of them, look up Frank it will blow your mind. Those guys I want to get on my podcast Because they’re still living!
He could just make cat noises and I’d listen.
Yes! Totally! Cat and dog noises. Tom Kenny is going to be on the show. I’ve already had Kevin Conroy on a couple of times. A lot more. We’re doing many more episodes. One day I’m going to get Frank and Peter on. We’ll make that happen.
Well, we’re getting told to wrap up. This was a pleasure. Thank you so much!
Thanks for taking the time! Appreciate it.