The new Looney Tunes show Wabbit was the centerpiece of a panel on the last day of New York Comic Con 2015, with producer Gary Hartle joined by voice talent Jeff Bergman (Bugs Bunny), Bob Bergen (Porky Pig), and J.P. Karliak (Wile E. Coyote). The moderator of the panel was unfortunately stuck in transit and unable to attend, but the panelists recovered nicely, entertaining attendees with two brand-new shorts and wonderful conversation among the participants before moving to a fairly lengthy audience Q&A session.
Gary Hartle pointed out that Wabbit might have updated props like cell phones or television sets, but “other than that, he’s regular Bugs.” He pointed out that classic characters often get watered down over time, but Bugs is only Bugs when he can be a stinker and that was one of the show’s goals from the outset. He also added that Wabbit moved from a script-driven show to a storyboard-driven show, tying back to the way the original Looney Tunes shows were done. He also underscored the contributions of producer Matt Craig in making the show what it is. Ratings for the show have “gone through the roof,” and the crew couldn’t be prouder of it.
Jeff Bergman and Bob Bergen are veterans of Looney Tunes voices, with Mr. Bergen pointing out that he and Mr. Bergman had been doing Porky Pig and Bugs Bunny for a little over 25 years, but that he enjoyed the short screened for the audience and the way it updated some elements while also referring back to the classic Looney Tunes cartoons. As the newcomer to the franchise, J.P. Karliak pointed out that he was in Bob Bergen’s animation voiceover class a decade ago, never dreaming that he’d be working with his teacher on a Looney Tunes project as Wile E. Coyote. His Wile E. Coyote is less about feeding his belly as much as he’s about feeding his ego. Another deviation from the last Looney Tunes project was that the recording sessions were done radio-style, with as many actors in the booth together at once (with Bob Bergen saying he did three years of The Looney Tunes Show by himself, rarely getting to work with Jeff Bergman).
Many people who watch the show have noticed that Bugs Bunny doesn’t always come out on top in Wabbit, which Gary Hartle said was intentional. While he’ll tend to stick up for underdogs (especially his sidekick Squeaks the squirrel, or with Porky Pig), he’ll also be frustrated and have bad days that drive him to less-than-honorable behavior. On the flip side, Wile E. Coyote will always end up on the losing side of the equation, which is exactly as Nature intended it to be.
Since the moderator was stuck on a train, the panelists opened up for audience Q&A early. Highlights include:
- Gary Hartle’s favorite adversary for Bugs Bunny is a new character created for the show called Littlechin, who hasn’t appeared on the show yet. He began life as a one-off character perpetually searching for mythical beasts, and who is constantly frustrated by Bugs. The crew thought he was funny enough to keep bringing him back.
- The characters are designed a little more rubbery on purpose, specifically to “grandfather in a lot of the slapstick” from the older cartoons, with the idea that you can pull them through a keyhole without thinking that anyone got hurt. Gary Hartle described it by saying, “You know how there’s dry humor? This is wet humor.”
- A lot of classic Looney Tunes characters will be returning to the show eventually(Porky Pig hasn’t appeared on any episodes that have aired to date). The crew casts vintage characters for stories where they’re most appropriate. In addition to Porky Pig, upcoming characters will include Daffy Duck (who will be “completely nuts” according to Gary Hartle) and Elmer Fudd.
- The audience was entertained by lots of voice actor tricks, like Bob Bergen teaching people how to talk like Porky Pig (ending with an object lesson that knowing the trick doesn’t make the trick easy), and reciting favorite quotes from famous movies in character.
- The panelists said they didn’t know anything more than the audience about the persistent rumors of a Space Jam 2 in production, but for fans to keep talking about it until the studio notices they’re leaving money on the table.
In answering who their iconic voice actors are, J.P. Karliak pointed to Bob. Gary Hartle pointed to Frank Welker, telling a story of how he watched him sing one time as Huey, Dewey, AND Louie at the same time, with harmonizing. Jeff Bergman named Dee Bradley Baker and his talent for producing noises that really should not come out of a person’s mouth. All 3 voice actors said that they were fans of nearly all their colleagues, and J.P. Karliak added that in one episode where he had to work with Jeff Bergman, Jeff Bennett, Steve Blum, and Dee Bradley Baker, voice director Charlie Adler had to keep telling him to “pick up your cues!” because he was so awestruck during the session.
- Squeaks the Squirrel was added to be a sidekick and thinking foil to Bugs, allowing Bugs to talk out problems for his own (and the audience’s) benefit. Gary Hartle also said that only Bugs and Squeaks can do bad things to each other, in the way that friends can be mean to each other but will react badly when other people are mean to their friends.
- In answering a question about how they replaced Mel Blanc, Bob Bergen and Jeff Bergman relayed stories on how they ended up stalking Mel Blanc. After hearing Mel Blanc speak at the University of Pittsburgh, Jeff Bergman managed to find Mr. Blanc’s hotel and knocked on his room door. Bob Bergen relayed the story of how he cold called Mel Blanc at 14 when his family moved to Los Angeles (the recording is on his website), and then talked his way into a recording session. Do not try those tricks these days, kids.
- Related to the above, J.P. Karliak added that owed much of his current gig as Wile E. Coyote to the numerous connections he had built up over a decade doing voiceover, saying, “Your job as a voice actor is to be prepared to do the funny voice and embody it and be the person behind it, but it’s really to get the audition. It’s all about hustling, building relationships and friendships with people, and that’s how you get the work.”