When one of my longtime publicity pals made the jump to a new gig at Comedy Central and asked if I’d be interested in talking to someone from “Futurama,” there was one name on the very top of my list: John DiMaggio, a.k.a. the voice of Bender.
Mind you, it might’ve been a tough call between DiMaggio and Katey Sagal, who voices Leela, but since I’d been told that Sagal wasn’t readily available (and since I’ve already talked to the voice of Fry – Billy West – twice before), I figured, “Bring on DiMaggio, baby!”
Unfortunately, the word on the street was that DiMaggio didn’t do interviews. Good thing, then, that I had an in. Keith Phipps, my editor over at the Onion A.V. Club, told me that one of the executive producers of “Futurama” – Dan Vebber – got his start on The Onion. A few emails later, I was assured that DiMaggio was up for the interview and that I should drop him a line to set it up…and a few days later, I was on the phone with the man who gives voice to arguably the most famous robot ever to roll down the assembly line of Mom’s Friendly Robot Company.
The conversation began with DiMaggio’s immediate dismissal of his reported unavailability:
It’s funny, because someone was, like, ‘He doesn’t do interviews,’ and I was like, ‘Who the fuck…? Hold on. Wait a minute. That’s totally not true. I’ll do an interview. Talk about ‘Futurama’? Sure I’ll do an interview!” I love the show. I love the show that I do.
From that point, you can check out the majority of our conversation over at the AV Club, but for my dedicated readers, I’ll throw in a few bonus bits that ended up being excised from the final cut…but only if you come back to comment afterwards!
Me: How much of Bender is in you, and you in Bender?
John DiMaggio: Oh, I wish there wasn’t as much Bender in me, that’s for sure. That’s caused some bad nights. [Laughs.] If you take away the drinking on both sides, they’re really not similar. But there’s enough of him in me, and me in him.
Has Matt Groening ever come right out and assured the world that Bender is his favorite Futurama character?
No, and he doesn’t have to. It’s funny because Zoidberg is my favorite Futurama character. I love playing Bender, but Zoidberg is just perfect. He’s like, [Adopts a Zoidberg voice] “Zoidberg…” I mean, he’s just perfect. I even have a Zoidberg keychain. Yeah, I love Zoidberg, [Adopts a Zoidberg voice] “I love Zoidberg because I love Billy West, he’s a wonderful man.” He’s my neighbor, too, that’s the funny thing. We live one block from each other.
So, what, do you guys have neighborhood BBQs over at the West estate?
No, I’m not barbequing tofu. [Laughs.] He’s a vegan. I am not. Therefore, we do not eat together.
On your Facebook page, you’ve got a picture of the outside of the box to the talking Bender action figure. Is that yours?
Yeah, I actually have two of them! They gave me two of them, and they’re pretty cool. I have dueling fights between the Benders. Naw, I’m just a nerd. I think one is out and one is in the box, or at least they’re both in the box, but one is allowed to come out and play, and the other one going to stay there forever. [Laughs.]
But do you have the Futurama complete-series set housed in a life-sized replica of Bender’s head?
Oh, yes, I have that. They’ve been very kind to me. But I’ve also been kind to The Fox Shop. My family are always, like, “Can you get us something?” My family’s got a bunch of teachers in it, so they’re always, like, “My students are really good, can you find something for them?” And I’m, like, [Grumbling] “Yeah, fine, give it to me…” But I don’t care. That’s good. But only if they earn it! They gotta earn their stars!
So what can we expect for the new season? Patton Oswalt is in one of the first few episodes.
Patton? You know what’s funny? I got him that gig. I introduced him to everybody because he was recording some stuff at L.A. Studios, which is where we record. And so he was there recording something, and we were there recording something, and so I was, like, “Yo Patton. Wassup?” Because I know him. And I introduced him to David X Cohen, and Matt [Groening] might have even been there, I’m not sure, but through that meeting, I was, like, “Patton likes the show, you should put him on the show!” And bam, he gets the role. It’s funny, because yesterday I brought Craig Robinson to the table read, and he talked to Matt Groening, and Matt was, like, “Hey, man, would you like to do the show?” I think I got two really good people on the show. Hopefully Craig will be able to do it, but we’ll see what happens. It’s awesome. It’s going to be really funny, and this coming season that’s going to be airing is going to be genius. The new ones that we’re doing now, we’re getting ready to record our second episode of season seven, it’s just cooking along. If you asked me what the content is, I couldn’t tell you specifically because I don’t know what I’m allowed to say or what. But, yeah, Patton’s brilliant. There’s always a surprise. There’s always something worth watching. Something always popping on the show. Like Popplers. [Laughs.]
Then there’s this segment, which followed our discussion of DiMaggio’s work as Aquaman on “Batman: The Brave and the Bold.”
You also played Kilowog…on “Duck Dodgers,” of all places.
That I did. Pretty funny.
Are you offended that you weren’t called to reprise the role for “Green Lantern”?
Nyeh, shmeh, what’re you gonna do? Who cares? Yeah, who’d they get? Gary Oldman or someone like that?
Michael Clark Duncan, from The Green Mile.
[Adopts a deep voice] “Yeah, boss, I got the pain real bad.” Yeah, whatever. That’s cool. Michael Clarke Duncan needs a gig. That’s alright.
Hypothetical question: in a wrestling match between the various voices of the Joker – you, Kevin Michael Richardson, and Mark Hamill – who would take the win?
Well, Mark Hamill’s out, because Kevin and I would tag-team against him, and then we’d go head to head. I’m going to say…ooh, that’s tough. That’s tough, man. Shit.
We don’t hold back at The A.V. Club.
Listen, I call a draw. I call 12 rounds, they call it even, but either way, Hamill’s out. [Laughs.] He’s gonna be pissed off if he sees this, he’s gonna be, like, “Hey DiMag. What’s your story?” and I’m gonna be like, [Imitates Macho Man Randy Savage] “Listen. Listen, Luke Skywalker. I’m gonna tell you something, brother! [Laughs.] You had your chance, brother, it’s over! You gotta give the new guy some!” See, I worked with Kevin on Penguins of Madagascar, and Kevin is one of the greatest voiceover guys on the planet. I love working with the guy. He’s one of my peers, one of my most favorite people to work with. He’s just such a funny, funny guy, and I love it, I love being in the room with him because we just go off together. We did Friday together, the animated series. I played John Witherspoon’s part, it was pretty funny. “Red! You gotta get yourself a goddamn job!”
When I think of Kevin, I think of the first time he met my wife at a Fox party. He recognized me immediately because I had talked to him a few times before, but I introduced my wife, and he grins, opens his arms, and asks, “Have you hugged your negro today?”
[Laughs.] He says that all the time. He says that I’m blacker than some black people, which is really funny. Like, “John, you black. Man, that’s the truth. You a black man. You a black man in a white man’s body. And that is just too bad.” [Laughs.]
And finally, we jump to the end, revealing how the conversation actually closed.
Do you have a favorite video game that you’ve worked on?
Gears Of War. One, Two, Three, I don’t know how many they’ve done or how many more they ever want to do, I don’t care, I love that game. I love working on that game. The people at Epic are really, really cool people. I just saw a bunch of them at an E3 party here in L.A. They’re just good people. And they’re fun to party with. [Laughs.]
Is there any particular difference between doing a video game voice and a regular animation voice?
Yeah, with a video game voice, you get beat up. Seriously beat up. Longer sessions. Repetitive stuff. It’s harder. Video games are harder to do, and they’re a lot more tedious. The amount you have to do for it is pretty tedious and pretty grueling, but the reward is great. I love working for those guys.
To wrap up, for equal opportunity purposes, let’s also talk about your Marvel voiceover work. For one, you did Spectacular Spider-Man.
Oh, right, yeah, The Sandman. Kain Marko. You know what? Those were fun gigs, but I liked doing Hammerhead more, [Adopts a heavy New York accent] “Hammerhead, yeah…he’s a tough guy…” But, yeah, Sandman. I did Juggernaut, too. I did a bunch of different things for Marvel.
You were also Dum Dum Dugan recently, in Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes.
Dum Dum Dugan? I was…?
IMDB says you were. So, yes, you were. [Laughs.]
I guess I was. Oh, boy. Yeah, I don’t remember that one. Alright. Dum Dum Dugan. Great. Put it on the résumé. [Laughs, then adopts an announcer voice.] “You might remember him as Dum Dum Dugan…”
By the way, I’ve heard that we have a favorite comic book in common.
Oh, which one is this?
The Marvel Team-Up where Spider-Man teams up with The Not Ready For Primetime Players.
[Yelling.] Oh, my God! Dude! That’s only, like, the greatest comic book ever!
It’s right up there with The Avengers on Late Night With David Letterman.
Oh God! Really? The Avengers on Late Night? That’s cool! I never saw that before. But The Not So Ready For Primetime Players teaming up with Spider-Man? That was the shit. Yeah. Oh, God, I loved that. J. B. Lu-Shi? I love that! [Laughs.] “Oh, we thought it was for John Belushi, but it wasn’t. It’s actually for the Silver Samurai.” Jesus. Oh, my, that was great. I love it. And Garrett Morris as Thor? I love it. [Laughs.]
And yet you weren’t really a big comic book guy growing up.
No, I wasn’t. I didn’t really have the resources for that. I was more of a cartoon guy.
Well, that still ended up working out pretty well for you.
You know, it did at that. [Laughs.]
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