Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Spotlight: Billy West

"In 1962, I remember running away from the TV set, and starting to think about what I just saw, and praying I could remember every little thing about it," said a candid West. "And, then I got my hands on a reel-to-reel tape recorder, started taping TV shows, my own voice and others in secret. My world was kind of a sonic one, I used to listen to the radio more than TV—it all held a real special interest for me."
Wikipedia:
William Richard West (born April 16, 1950) is an American voice actor. Born in Detroit but raised in the Roslindale neighborhood of Boston, Massachusetts, Billy launched his career in the early 1980s performing daily comedic routines on Boston's WBCN. He left the radio station to work on the short-lived revival of Beany and Cecil in 1988. He was also a writer and castmember on The Howard Stern Show during the early to mid 1990s, where he gained nationwide fame with his impersonations.

Over his career West has been the voice talent for close to 120 different characters including some of the most iconic animated figures in television history. He has become one of few voice actors who can impersonate Mel Blanc in his prime, including characterizations of Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Elmer Fudd and other characters from Warner Bros. cartoons.

West's first two high-profile roles came almost simultaneously: as Doug Funnie and Roger Klotz on Doug and as Stimpy on Ren & Stimpy, which were two of the first original three Nicktoons (the other being Rugrats).

Ren & Stimpy
West provided the voice of Stimpy in Nickelodeon's The Ren & Stimpy Show from 1991 until 1996, and he provided the voice of Ren from 1993–1996 (after Ren's original voice and series creator John Kricfalusi was fired by Nickelodeon for delivering un-airable episodes). West performed other characters on the series as well, such as Mr. Horse (another role that West was issued after Kricfalusi's departure) and the "Announcer/Salesman" of such shorts as the "Log" ads (a voice West would years later use as the Narrator for The Weird Al Show).

According to West, he was originally supposed to do the voice of both Ren and Stimpy (and performed both characters on the tape that was used to sell the show to Nickelodeon), but then Kricfalusi decided to do the voice of Ren himself once the show was sold and he had West on board as part of the selling point. However, West provided Ren's maniacal laughter when John Kricfalusi was the voice of Ren.

Futurama
Billy West's roles in Futurama include Philip J. Fry, Professor Hubert Farnsworth, Dr. Zoidberg and Zapp Brannigan, as well as various other incidental characters. As he and other Futurama cast and crew point out in DVD commentaries, West voiced so many characters throughout the series that conversations are often held entirely between characters he is voicing.

West went into the Futurama auditions and was asked to try out for, as he says, "just about every part"; eventually landing the professor, Zoidberg, and Zapp Brannigan. West later got the part of Fry, which originally had gone to Charlie Schlatter. While West is known for doing many different and unique voices, the voice he does for Philip J. Fry is often considered to be closer to his natural voice than any other character he has done (in an audio commentary, he states Fry is just himself at age 25). This similarity, West acknowledges, was done purposefully in order to make it harder to replace him in the part along with placing more of himself personally into the role.

The part of Zapp Brannigan was created for Phil Hartman, but he died before the show started and West was issued the role. West has described his interpretation of Zapp Brannigan's voice as an imitation of Hartman, but described the actual vocalizations of the character as being based on "a couple of big dumb announcers I knew."

Futurama was renewed by Comedy Central as four direct-to-DVD films broken into 16 television episodes. West reprised his roles for these films, and has been signed on for a new 26-episode season of Futurama which began airing in June 2010.

Movies
Perhaps West's most notable film work came in the 1996 movie Space Jam. Starring alongside Michael Jordan, West provided the voice of both Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd. He reprised the roles in subsequent Looney Tunes feature-length films and video games. In 1998, West starred in the direct-to-video film Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island as Shaggy Rogers, becoming the second person to portray the character (the first being Casey Kasem). He also appeared in a cameo in Garfield: The Movie. Other films featuring West's vocal talents include Joe's Apartment, Cats & Dogs, Olive, the Other Reindeer, TMNT, The Proud Family Movie, and three Tom and Jerry direct-to-video movies.

Music
West is also a guitarist and singer-songwriter with a band called Billy West and The Grief Counselors. They've released their first album, Me-Pod. West has toured as a guitarist for Roy Orbison and Brian Wilson. West has collaborated with Deborah Harry & Lou Reed, Los Lobos and played live on several occasions with Brian Wilson, including the guitar solo on the Beach Boys tune "Do it Again" on Late Show with David Letterman, in the mid 1990s.

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