At New York Comic Con 2015, Toonzone News was able to sit in on a press roundtable session with Wabbit voice actors Jeff Bergman, Bob Bergen, and J.P. Karliak; and producer Gary Hartle.
Interviews have been edited for better flow in print. Questions asked by Toonzone News are marked.
Bob Bergen has been the iconic voice of Porky Pig for over 20 years, appearing as the characters in productions ranging from Space Jam to the recent Looney Tunes Show (for which he earned two Primetime Emmy nominations). In addition to Porky Pig, Bob Bergen’s lengthy voiceover resume includes stints as Luke Skywalker in several Star Wars video games, the child psychic Masaru in the original dub of Akira, No-Face in the English dub of Spirited Away, and the Winter Soldier in Marvel’s Avengers Assemble.
J.P. Karliak took Bob Bergen’s Intro to Animation Voiceover workshop a decade ago, never dreaming that he’d end up working on the same show as his former instructor. Other voiceover credits include Dante’s Inferno: An Animated Epic, Doc Samson on Hulk and the Agents of S.M.A.S.H., and Wolfgang in the Skylanders video games.
TOONZONE NEWS: How long ago did you guys start working on Wabbit?
BOB BERGEN: He started before I did.
J.P. KARLIAK: April of last year. It started off slightly different than it is now. It was a little bit more of a linear show when we started it. When we would record, we would record individually. Then over time, it changed into recording together and five-minute shorts. It’s been a metamorphosis over time.
BOB BERGEN: And Porky didn’t come in until I think about halfway through the season, so I wasn’t there for the birth. I was there for the raising of the child.
QUESTION: The Christening.
BOB BERGEN: The bris. Yeah, exactly. (laughter)
QUESTION: These characters have been around now for so long. What is it that makes them so popular?
J.P. KARLIAK: I think it’s just that if you watch a classic Looney Tunes, it’s still funny. There’s still a lot of laughs to it. Nothing ever feels dated. These are characters that just have a timelessness to them. And I think this show is just taking those characters that we’ve loved for many years and putting them in slightly more contemporary and modern situations. And it sings. It just really pops.
BOB BERGEN: Yeah. Funny is funny. I was part of a Bugs Bunny at the Symphony at the Hollywood Bowl this summer, where they showed classic Looney Tunes with a live orchestra playing the original scores. First of all, seeing them on the big screen, which is what they were intended for originally, was magical. It was amazing. And to see what we’re doing with this show, it isn’t classic Looney Tunes. It’s the classic characters in new situations, like J.P. said. To get that little feel of, “Oh my gosh, we have the integrity of this character in this situation.” That is what’s everlasting about these characters. If you can keep the integrity from project to project and year to year, decade to decade, you’re doing it right. They’re just good. It sounds so easy and cliche, but these are good characters.
QUESTION: J.P., you mentioned that you’re doing the voice work for Wile E. Coyote…
J.P. KARLIAK: It’s mime. It’s a lot of mime.
J.P. KARLIAK: No. (laughter)
QUESTION: I was going to say… Obviously in some of the cartoons, he has something to say. He’s a little bit of an erudite character. Is that how you’re playing him?
J.P. KARLIAK: Very much so. I think I saw a fan describe him as a lighter-sounding Sideshow Bob. And even though that comparison never came to mind in creating the character, I was like, “Yeah, we’ll go with that.” I mean, you know, from the classic ones where he did speak, he’s very esoteric and very full of himself, and this show really plays that up. He’s got an ego the size of Earth, so what has been cool is to take what Mel did and really pay homage to that, because the voice isn’t ingrained in everyone’s consciousness. To play with it, shape it, kind of go anywhere with it.
BOB BERGEN: I hear him as the love child of David Hyde Pierce and Dr. Smith from Lost in Space. Put them together and that’s J.P.’s Wile E.
QUESTION: Personally, it always came to me as a version of Silent Bob. When he speaks, it does surprise you. You’re used to him just being so silent and doing everything in pantomime, but he’s got this very dignified and intelligent speaking voice.
J.P. KARLIAK: Oh, absolutely. I think the cartoon where that really sings and that is my favorite one he talks in is where the two little boys are sitting right in front of the television, and they’re like, “I don’t know why he chases him anyway,” and he stops and says, “Well…” And he gives them the whole lesson on what the Road Runner tastes like. It’s fascinating. The diagram…”Papaya…pistachio…” It’s fantastic.
QUESTION: So what do you bring differently now to the characters?
J.P. KARLIAK: Well, first of all, this show does something a little differently for the character. Wile E. is not obsessed being hungry, he’s just egotistical. It’s not so much about getting the next meal, it’s about getting approval.
QUESTION: Is it the sport?
J.P. KARLIAK: Yeah, it’s the game. He’s still just as obsessed with Acme products, and he’s still just as terrible at building and implementing inventions. But it really is just about his ego and less his hunger. For me, it’s just playing into that. It’s just really being so self-involved and so indulgent, and so dismissive. Like I think the direction I always get from Charlie Adler, who’s our voice director, is, “Just more dismissive. Just more hateful.” Like when I’m talking to Bugs…he doesn’t call him “Bugs,” he calls him “Rabbit” or “Rodent.” And it’s got to just drip with, “yucghhgh…you’re disgusting.” (click to listen)
QUESTION: Is he going to have to deal with Acme Customer Service at all?
J.P. KARLIAK: Oh, God, that would be brilliant!
BOB BERGEN: We haven’t yet. That would be hysterical.
J.P. KARLIAK: But that would be amazing. So far, the Road Runner is not present in the show.
QUESTION: He was like a statue or something.
J.P. KARLIAK: Yeah, every once in a while, there is a concrete birdbath in Wile E’s yard that is the Road Runner. I’d like to believe the Road Runner is in it. Apparently, they are talking about a way to work in the Road Runner, and some of the ideas are just brilliant, so I really can’t wait to see what they do. But it has nothing to do with eating.
QUESTION: We see your characters go up against Bugs Bunny and they always lose. Is that a tough situation as voice actors? Do you ever want to beat the Rabbit?
BOB BERGEN: This is getting deep! (laughs) Here’s the thing: I don’t care what they do to that pig. If they keep bringing me back, I’m employed. So they can beat the heck out of Porky, they can make bacon out of Porky, I don’t care. It’s actually fun. Conflict is a fun thing to play.
J.P. KARLIAK: Yeah, I love being the villain, no matter how badly beaten he is. Playing the villain is always inevitably more fun, because in any plot, the hero is always one step behind the villain until the end when he finally wins. The villain is always on top. And Wile is super fun because he’s so lovable in his inability to accomplish anything, you know? I feel just so bad for him. So he’s super-fun. I really think if he won, it would almost be a letdown, because there’s no way he could win that would be satisfying at this point. It always has to be a loss.
BOB BERGEN: I’ll also say that the Porky episodes haven’t aired yet, but Porky has a lot of fun with Bugs. Porky gets the better of Bugs in this show.
J.P. KARLIAK: I would say that Bugs loses quite a bit in this show.
BOB BERGEN: Oh, yeah.
J.P. KARLIAK: Not to Wile. Never. But Bugs gets pounded. There are a lot of random secondary characters like Bigfoot, who is so innocent…
BOB BERGEN: Sweetly annoying.
J.P. KARLIAK: Yeah, and huge, and very inadvertently bashes Bugs constantly. So it’s fun to see that.
QUESTION: What would you say is your version of Porky’s inner conflict? I remember the cartoons where Daffy was the traveling salesman with the automated house, where Porky’s frustration was just the everyman’s frustration, with the inanities and the insanities of the world. Is that where you’re going with him?
BOB BERGEN: Yeah, that’s the integrity of the character. This is just the circumstance of the scripts, but we don’t really play the frustrated Porky. You know, where Sylvester the cat thinks he sees ghosts and Porky’s just trying to get some sleep. We’re not playing that part of him right at this second. Right now, it’s the innocent Porky who happens to be put in situations, and for whatever reason …(stutters) maybe the way he talks…there’s conflict. But he’s the innocent.
We’ve got some episodes towards the end of the season where there’s a little bit of a shift, and I’m not going to say anything else about it because it’s kind of a surprise. But the nice thing about these characters is that over the years, with different fingerprints that all the classic directors had, there are so many facets to their personality. If you watch Bugs or Daffy or Porky or Sylvester from early on through the 40’s, 50’s, and even the 60’s, there was an evolution and a change in the shorts based on who was producing it. That was a long way to answer to say, “Eh, I don’t know.” (laughs)
J.P. KARLIAK: Daffy is definitely one of the bigger shifts, to me.
BOB BERGEN: Yeah, Daffy had a couple of different personalities. He had the wacky, zany “whoo-hoo! Whoo-hoo!” personality …
J.P. KARLIAK: An agent of chaos…
BOB BERGEN: …and then he became the greedy Daffy. “It’s mine! Mine! Mine!” But we’re talking Tex Avery vs. Chuck Jones and 20 years in between. We’ve got different writers and producers and directors and voice directors on this show, so everybody’s caressing it in the way that they see this is the franchise. These are the characters. And we’re having a blast. It’s so much fun.
TOONZONE NEWS: You mentioned you started off doing solo records, and then it turned into sort of an ensemble thing. Did you detect changes once that shift happened?
J.P. KARLIAK: Yes. I think a lot of it has to do with Matt Craig, who’s one of the producers on this show. He’s the writer. He’s a Second City guy, so he comes from an improv and sketch background. He just has an innate sense of how these characters are supposed to interact with each other, and what the musicality is. That’s also true of Gary Hartle. It encapsulates who these characters are so brilliantly.
Also getting to record together, it’s nice to be able to have that banter. Almost every one of my sessions has been against Jeff as Bugs, and Wile E. really can’t get condescending until he’s got that other person to be condescending with. It really is nice to have that ensemble thing.
QUESTION: Do you have moments where you throw in a little improv and they say, “No, no, we can’t use that.”
BOB BERGEN: Actually, we have never been stifled creatively to throw in some stuff. The scripts are pretty darn well-written, but it’s Porky, so while he’s stuttering, I’m thinking of an ad lib. I’ll throw something in and they’ll be laughing! But Charlie Adler, our voice director, will say, “Listen, get it as written just for safety, and keep our fingers crossed that they use this.” I’m sure that’s the same for you too.
J.P. KARLIAK: Oh, yeah.
BOB BERGEN: We’ve never worked together because our characters haven’t been in scenes yet. I say yet.
J.P. KARLIAK: It will happen.
QUESTION: If you could do any other voice besides the one that you’re doing, what would you do?
J.P. KARLIAK: The Peter Lorre mad scientist that’s in with Gossamer. That is so much fun.
BOB BERGEN: And a perfect character to put into this show because he’s such a one-or-two shot character.
J.P. KARLIAK: And there are so many side characters who come into this to mess with Bugs. There’s a knight, and there’s Bigfoot, there’s just a whole bunch of additional characters.
BOB BERGEN: I’ve done Tweety and Sylvester Jr. in the past for Warner Brothers.
J.P. KARLIAK: I love Sylvester Jr.
BOB BERGEN: Sylvester Jr. would be my number one choice. “Father, it’s a walking rabbit, pop! It’s got gloves, I don’t get it! We should fricassee him.” (click to listen)