KP: If you were to look at your plans in the mid 80s, where did you see yourself going and what aspirations did you have? Because obviously that was during the comedy boom as well, and you - as you said - were doing quite well touring and opening for major acts.
LAMARCHE: Oh sure. And you know, doing the Young Comedians special was the entré to sitcom-dom and… I mean, if you look at the special I did, six of the nine comedians on there became anything from household names to just extremely well-liked and well-established comedians. There were only three of us… one of the others that became a household name became a successful comedy writer, and I don’t know what happened to one other guy. And me. I do know what happened to me, but nobody else does.
KP: Was the ultimate goal at that time to get into Hollywood?
LAMARCHE: Get the sitcom. That was absolutely what it was about, was to get the sitcom. I absolutely saw myself… and by the way, so did the William Morris agency at the time. We had a meeting and they said, “You know, we see you” - and don’t forget, this was pre-Batman and pre-Castaway or Philadelphia - they said, “We see you in kind of a Tom Hanks/Michael Keaton mold. A sort of comedic leading man.” At the time I was slim and good looking and had decent enough timing, and they were sending me out on feature film auditions, and I came very close on a couple of things. The biggest thing I didn’t get was Moonlighting. I was actually I think their third choice for Moonlighting. I got four callbacks for Moonlighting. But, of course, the right guy got the job. They were seeing me that way. And that was absolutely the plan. That was what was supposed to happen. And perhaps in some alternate universe where we occupy the same time but different space or the same space and time and a different vibration, maybe there’s a Maurice LaMarche and the show’s called Everybody Loves Mo instead of Everybody Loves Raymond. We don’t know.
KP: And he was great in Die Hard.
LAMARCHE: (laughing) Yeah, and this guy Bruno is still waiting tables in New York. I don’t think so.
KP: Playing in a crappy band.
LAMARCHE: That’s right.
KP: When you look at that period and the aspirations, how close did you feel that you were coming to attaining that? Was it palpable to you, and were you feeling good about how close you were, or was there still some kind of sense that this might be illusory?
LAMARCHE: No, I absolutely… I felt really close to it. I felt unworthy of it because I thought I hadn’t done enough training - neither did my manager at the time, and certainly not my wife at the time, or my girlfriend who then became my wife. She also felt that I should be in class all the time. A real actor’s in class anytime you’re not working. She was in Milton Katselas’s class - who, you know, everybody in the class was like a major star who kept their chops up while not working, and I had this sort of seat of the pants laissez-faire kind of approach of, you know, “I’ll get my marks, read my lines and I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it.” To a degree I still work that way. It’s only because any time I really prepare for anything, it doesn’t work out. It sucks. So I just kind of… I kind of go with the flow even now. I didn’t look at the sides for The Brain until I got in the studio. I looked at his picture, thought “Orson Welles,” opened my mouth, and out came the voice. And apparently, I was the first and last guy they saw for The Brain. The auditions started at 9 a.m. I was the 9 a.m. slot, and Andrea Romano, the director, told me later on that, “We just stopped looking. Nobody else read Brain after you did.” They just concentrated on finding Pinky. So sometimes that seat-of-the-pants thing serves me well. But I guess in the big time world of live action, I was on a path for something that I ultimately didn’t deserve and ultimately didn’t get. Perhaps if I had started working harder again, the fork in the road, the decision to quit after my dad’s killing and of course the decision to take up drinking as my personal national pastime, had not occurred, maybe things might have been different. But they aren’t, and there’s no point in what if-ing ourselves to death. “So what, now what?” is the watchword of the day.
KP: Who were the people you were closest to and would commiserate with about that?
LAMARCHE: You mean in the stand up days?
KP: Yeah, within the community.
LAMARCHE: Well, Kinison was a dear friend. I was friends with Jim Carrey. Jim actually stayed on my couch the first three days he came out to L.A. Howie Mandell was actually the guy who originally talked me into moving out here. He was sort of a trailblazer, and the reason I know that the attitude about me moving out was that “Who do you think you are” kind of thing, was because that’s what we all said about him when he came down to L.A. “Who the hell does he think he is?”
KP: So you weren’t innocent of that…
LAMARCHE: I was innocent in the sense that I stood by and listened and didn’t say anything, but I admired what Howie was doing. And I think once or twice I may even have said, “Hey, come on, the guy’s taking his shot.” Rocky was the movie at the time, so it became sort of a cultural theme of the underdog getting a shot at the title. And I remember once or twice stepping up to the plate and saying, “You know, lay off him. He’s trying it and he’s doing it. You’re just jealous.” A bunch of the guys were like, “Ah, he’s gonna get his ass handed to him. That’s the big time. We don’t belong there.” So after a year down here Howie called me up and said, “Mo, Mo, Mo! No wait! Mo, you gotta come down! Whoa! Wait! Mo! What? What? No!”
KP: Was his germphobia as bad then as it is now?
LAMARCHE: Nowhere near. Nowhere near. He’s truly… in fact, his germphobia is so bad I caught it from him. I now Purell my hands constantly, wash my hands after I touch soap that other people have touched - I have to wash my hands.
KP: Or is that just a function of living in LA long enough?
LAMARCHE: I don’t touch doorknobs. I use my sleeves. I use paper towels… I mean, I’m not Monk, but I do have certain OCD traits, I have to say.
KP: You insist they change the microphone each time.
LAMARCHE: Exactly. “Is this sock new? Is it a new wind sock?”
KP: How would you compare the community of comics with the community of voice actors?
LAMARCHE: Well, let me just say this as a compliment to voice actors - they’re the least egotistical group of people you’ll ever meet in your life. For performers, there’s virtually no ego, if you consider it’s performers. We’ll all be on auditions and we’ll not only wish each other well, but actually say, “You know what, you’re more right for this than me.” We’ll recommend our friends for jobs. If I know that somebody else does a better impression of Richard Nixon, I’ll say, “You know, you really need to get Billy West. His Nixon is flawless, man. Unbelievable.” Or Jeff Bennett with his Christopher Walken. I’ve done that. And I know others have done it for me. There’s nothing to have an ego about because your face isn’t associated with it. You know, we’re very protective over our faces. Our faces are our identities. So since we’re faceless, we’re also egoless.
KP: Do you think it’s also a matter of you know casting directors will cast until they find the right voice, so there’s really nothing that you’re fighting over? That it’s all going to come down to what their decision is?
LAMARCHE: That’s true for on-camera people, too. At least at the scale level. Maybe when it comes down to big stars it becomes who your manager is and what deals can be made, what packaging can be done. But you know, my ex-wife has a terrible story about being deliberately tripped in an audition when she and another actress were going up for the same commercial. It was a two shot, and she knew the other actress had tripped her. Not to mention constantly upstaging other actors. I mean, there’s little shitty things that actors and especially actresses do to each other to take the focus away from you and put it on themselves. Voice actors don’t do that. We help each other out. It’s the Second City rule of comedy - make yourself look good by making the other person look good.
KP: Do you think that sense of camaraderie is because the voice acting community is really a very small community?
LAMARCHE: It’s not small enough, actually, Ken. I’ve got to tell you, I’m thinking of shrinking it a bit. No, I’m kidding. It used to be a lot smaller. I mean, literally it used to be you could count on all your digits the number of people working in voiceover back in the 50s and 60s. And it would be the same voices. Paul Frees, Daws Butler, Mel Blanc, Herschel Bernardi, and June Foray doing all the women, and that would be it. And you know, these people all made staggering amounts of money because all the work just came to them. But it’s still a relatively small community and it’s a well thought-of community. And it’s truly about the work. It’s about what comes out of that little area beneath your nose, which stops at your chest bone there. Your… what is that, your sternum? The top of your chest?
LAMARCHE: There we go. Quoted smoothly though. It comes from the bottom of your nose and ends at the top of your sternum. That’s what it’s all about.
KP: That’ll be one of the things we’ll tweak.
LAMARCHE: Yes, we’ll tweak that.
KP: The community being still relatively as small as it is, have you noticed within the last couple years an increase in competitiveness for roles within it?
LAMARCHE: No. No, I don’t think so.
KP: Or is there an aggravation factor with the encroachment of the…
LAMARCHE: Movie stars?
KP: Yes. Billy’s campaign and soon to be manifesto, I hear.
LAMARCHE: Ha! Well, they cast the wrong guy in the movie Conspiracy Theory, let me tell you. That’s all I’ll say.
KP: Billy Kaczynski.
LAMARCHE: God bless Billy. You know, there’s nothing to do about it except wait for it to pass as a trend. And there may be something to it. Perhaps casting big stars in these Disney and Dreamworks animated features does allow mom and dad to say, “Well, okay, at least I’ll sit my ass down next to junior, and at least I’ll get to hear,” you know, fill in the name of huge star, “in a cartoon role. That might be interesting to me.” Whereas mom and dad might not give a flying acid rolling donut if Maurice LaMarche and Billy West and Tress MacNeille voiced those characters. Even though the end result may be just as good. You know, we don’t know. Not to take anything away from the big stars, because so many of them are truly talented actors.
KP: But when a star comes in, they’re generally doing one voice.
LAMARCHE: Right. And they’re usually playing the main character. And usually playing some kind of romantic character.
KP: And all the other roles are done by Jim Cummings.
LAMARCHE: No, Cummings was actually… there’s some sort of index or database on the internet that you can input a star’s name, and the grand total of the box office take of all the movies he’s been in. Everybody in the top 10 is a major star except for one, and that’s Jim Cummings. Because Jim has been in so many killer Disney movies that have grossed, you know, nigh on a billion dollars.
KP: I would think Jim was second only to Frank Welker.
LAMARCHE: Well, Frank hasn’t been in as many movies, though. They don’t count Frank because they don’t count his creature sounds.
KP: But if they did, I can’t imagine that take.
LAMARCHE: Yeah, even just Indiana Jones - Raiders of the Lost Ark alone should put Frank way up there. Frank does every creature effect in the known universe… (as Shatner) and parts of the unknown universe, Mr. Spock. You go see the movie, even if it’s a dog barking, it’s Frank. Because you can get the sound of a dog barking. You can shoot footage of a dog barking. But you cannot get that dog to emote the right kind of bark. You can’t get the dog to act the bark you want. So…
KP: When you want a dog…
LAMARCHE: … Frank Welker will weigh in the emotion that you want for that dog to bark.
KP: So when you want a dog to act, you get Frank.
LAMARCHE: You get Frank. You shoot the dog and get Frank.
KP: The amount of characters that Jim has done is just astounding.
LAMARCHE: Absolutely. Absolutely. And he’s a stunningly talented man. And a nice human being, too.
KP: Even within the community, there are tiers. There are smaller levels, and there’s the go-to guys. People like you, Billy, Jim… that people will call when they need a whole bunch of something. And they don’t know what, but they want people who can be versatile enough to play multiple parts.
LAMARCHE: Well, I hope I don’t sound like I’m being falsely humble, but that’s ’cause we’re fuckin’ genius.
KP: I wouldn’t find anything falsely humble in that at all ! I’m interested to know, though, what exactly was your first foray into voice acting?
LAMARCHE: It was actually June Foray.
KP: That’s a wonderful pun.
LAMARCHE: She had me.
KP: She had you what?
LAMARCHE: No, never mind.
KP: So it the voice acting version of The Graduate?
LAMARCHE: Ask me any question… yeah. “Miss Foray, I think you’re trying to seduce me Miss Foray. Oh really? Hokey smokes!” What was the question?
KP: What was your entrée into voice acting? Because you said it was during your standup period that you first started dabbling in it.
LAMARCHE: Well, okay, if you want to talk my true entrée - actually this was probably more of an appetizer - in 1979 I did two specials for Nelvana Films in Canada. One was called Easter Fever, and it was about a roast of the Easter Bunny starring Garret Morris as the voice of the Easter Bunny, and Catherine O’Hara as a chicken. I played two of the roasters on dais. Steed Martin and Don Rattles. So Steve Martin is a horse and Don Rickles as a rattlesnake.
KP: How do you do Steve Martin as a horse?
LAMARCHE: I can’t remember. It’s funny too, I was just singing… I was driving over here to my agent’s office, where you’ve caught me, I was… for some reason, that great closing song to his first album popped into my head. The one where he goes, (as Martin) “I see people goin’ to college for 14 years, study to be doctors and lawyers. I see people get up at 7:30 every morning, going to work in the drug store to sell Flair pens. But the most amazing thing to me is, I get paid for doing this.” I was just thinking about him, and I was thinking, every actor needs to have those song lyrics up in his house behind whatever awards he’s won. You’ve got to remember - we were born in a time when doing what we do wins us awards and gets us paid really well, when in other centuries the best we could have done was court jesters and gotten burned at the stake as a witch for doing other people’s voices.
KP: Look at the job security in that.
LAMARCHE: Exactly. So it’s just amazing, the people that actually work really, really hard for a living don’t make a tenth of what some of us make for flapping our gums into a microphone. So how dare I get any ego about it.
KP: You need to put that on business cards and just pass them out.
LAMARCHE: Yeah. “I get paid for doing this.”
KP: When are we going to see that initial movie released on DVD?
LAMARCHE: Easter Fever?
LAMARCHE: I don’t know. It may already be available. I don’t know. Look it up on the IMDB.
KP: When was the last time you saw it?
LAMARCHE: Oh god, in 1978 when I recorded it. And then I can’t remember the second one… oh, Take Me Up to the Ball Game, and then… again, two specials and then nothing for about seven years. And then I was lucky enough to get on the second season of Inspector Gadget. And I played The Chief. And dovetailing on that, you know, one right on top of the other was Ghostbusters. Real Ghostbusters, and I got the part of Egon.
KP: When you talk about that audition process, were they asking you to do a Harold Ramis?
LAMARCHE: They asked me not to do Harold Ramis and I still did it. Because I didn’t know anything else to do with the character. So everything at that point that I’d done was derivative and I had absolutely no original thoughts or voices. So the only thing I could do was Ramis. So I did it, and for some reason it was the only voice that sounded like the original voice from the movie. They decided they could let that slide and Egon was such a specific character they really had to honor Harold Ramis’ unique take on that character. After 65 episodes, apparently legend has it Bill Murray finally came forward and said, “How come Harold’s guy sounds just like him and my guy sounds like Garfield?” And they said, “Well, Bill, that’s because the guy who does the voice of Garfield is doing your character.” Now, Bill’s not asking him to be fired or anything. But this one comment from Bill Murray, and with them having Ghostbusters 2 in the works, somebody in the machine said, “You know what? Bill’s unhappy. We got to get a guy who sounds like him.” And so Dave Coulier took over the part after 65 episodes and Lorenzo Music lost the part, and it was a very strange transition because I loved them both, and thought both they did a great job with the character. But the irony - the huge irony - of it is that now with the Garfield movie, Bill Murray has taken over the part originally voiced by Lorenzo Music.
KP: I wonder if Bill sees the irony.
LAMARCHE: I don’t know, but I’m gonna make sure he does. I am going to make sure that Joel or Brian Doyle, who I see at voiceover auditions all the time, both of them, both his brothers, I want to make sure that they get the message back to him.
KP: Didn’t you do a voice for Transformers?
LAMARCHE: I did one episode. I did the last episode of Transformers. Yeah. That was the longest session of my life.
LAMARCHE: The director of the show had an unusual directing style. He line read you 72 times on each line. He just made you parrot back what he did into the microphone. And you always… in fact, that director is the reason there is now a four hour recording session rule in the SAG basic contract for animation. Because it used to be 8 hours. Now, nobody was there 8 hours, but that was the allowed minimum. Until this guy came along and started directing Transformers, and all of a sudden, you were there 8 hours. And the way voice actors make their money is volume. As my friend Rob Paulson is fond of saying, “Volume baby. Volume.” So even though you’re booked for four hours, if they know you’ve got a 2:00 and you’re in there at noon, they’ll get you out for 2:00 because they know you want to get on and make another session fee. The one thing that you’ll find in our business is most of us work for scale. The idea is how many times a day do you work for scale. But this one director, who I won’t name, would just keep you there.
KP: Is he still around?
LAMARCHE: I don’t know if he’s still directing,
KP: But you’ve done enough projects that you would have noticed if he was still within the animation industry.
LAMARCHE: Yeah. I haven’t worked with him in a good long time. And I like him personally. Personally, he’s a very nice guy, but it was difficult to work with.
KP: Compared then to now, how do you look at somebody giving you a line reading?
LAMARCHE: Uh, if they’re good at it, I have no problem with it. In fact, if I don’t give you the reading you want within four takes, please line read me. I have no ego about it. Tell me what you hear in your head. The problem is, some people just absolutely don’t have a facility for doing that. Taking the line the way they hear it in their head and speaking it. I especially like to hear it from the writer, because the writer wrote the line. When you’re writing, you’re having a conversation in your head, so I’ll say, “How did you hear it?” Sometimes - and this has pissed off a couple of directors - I’ll actually, if the writer’s in the studio, go, “What did you hear in your head when you wrote this?” And then they’ll give me the line the way they heard it, and then I’ll ape it… after the director has stopped glowering at me.
KP: How difficult is it when you’re coming to a project, like you did with Ghostbusters, where there’s a pre-established voice? Or something like Dennis the Menace, where there’s an idea in people’s heads of what a character should or shouldn’t sound like. Or could sound like. I mean, is there a difference when you’re coming to a blank slate with something like, say, The Brain, or coming to something that is a pre-established character that people might a preconceived notion of a voice?
LAMARCHE: Well yeah, you’re trying to please them. In the case of Brain, even though it was 80% Orson Welles, 20% Vincent Price, it was still my unique blend. My mixture. My recipe. And actually, that became problematic for me because those old ego muscles began to flex again. I began to think of him as mine, and began to fight for certain readings. To me, I thought everything Brain should do should be said very flat, very slow. And a lot of beats and arched eyebrows. In animation, the idea is to move it along because, after all, we’re only looking at six drawings per second here. So it’s not as interesting to look at as live action. So we really need to move this thing along, folks. I would do these very, very lovingly sarcastic reads that had billionths of a beat built into them, that if you altered it even by that much I felt that the joke was going away. So I actually got very proprietary over the character and got a reputation, I think, as somewhat of a pain in the ass. Someone who didn’t take direction. So sometimes it’s better to just treat it like a job and go with it and that’s easy to do with somebody else’s character. Interesting sidebar about the Ghostbusters thing, as I was the only guy to do a voice that sounded like the actual guy from the movie. When we were auditioning, I walked in initially to the studio and there on the couch was Arsenio Hall - who was a buddy, another guy I palled around with from standup. And just walking in, right behind me, was Ernie Hudson, the guy who’d played Winston Zeddmore in the movies. So I looked at Arsenio, he looked at me, and it was like, he mouthed the words, “I don’t know what the fuck I’m doing here.” And I shrugged and went, “uh-UH-uh, sorry pal. It’s a job.
KP: Yeah, that’s got to be awkward.
LAMARCHE: Arsenio got the friggin’ job, and Ernie Hudson went home without a paycheck. It still stuns me to this day.
KP: But, really, does it surprise you? As much as you’ve seen?
LAMARCHE: No. There used to be a comedian… oh god, his name is gonna escape me now… oh, goodness. Alan Bursky. Alan Bursky was Freddie Prinze’s roommate, and there’s well documented stories about him and Freddie in the big Playboy article about Freddie Prinze, and the book The Last Laugh. Anyway, when they finally decided to make the Freddie Prinze story for TV, Bursky read for the part of himself, and didn’t get it. Mike Binder got it. And Bursky just wasn’t Bursky enough for them… That’s what they said - “You’re just not Bursky enough.” So no, it didn’t surprise me.
KP: There’s also the thing that it really is two completely separate disciplines for on camera acting and voice acting. So, I mean, there could be somebody that is the character, but isn’t able to emote behind a microphone. Do you think that’s the case?
LAMARCHE: Yeah, because I think you’ve got to bring 110% of whatever it is. You know, whatever the -ness of it is, the N-E-S-S of it is, you’ve got to be able to bring it 110% because, as I said before, you’re only looking at six drawings per second. So it’s got to be a little larger than life, and if you’re acting is too flat or even too real, it ain’t gonna translate. So maybe we’re a bunch of over-actors, but that’s part of the craft, I guess.
KP: Do you think that actors trying to make the transition into doing voiceover… you’ve obviously seen many of them come into sessions over the years… Do you think that there’s a steep learning curve that they’re not prepared for? Not just acting skills, but even mic technique…
LAMARCHE: I think a lot of them, unless they’re booked to play the lead in the latest Dreamworks or Disney feature, come to it, do a couple of episodes, and realize that when you’re in a room with Welker and Cummings and Harnell and West, and you know each of them are doing six voices per episode - they stand there with their mouths agape, checking their back pocket to make sure that their $70,000 paycheck for their sitcom is still there while they’re on the way to the bank. They’re amazed at what we do. And you know, they take their hats off to these guys. But they sort of realize, well, this was a fun little foray, and now I’m going to go back to the set and do what I do.
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