I Know That Voice: Interview with Bender’s John DiMaggio

john dimaggio bender voice

You may have heard of a robot named Bender who likes to drink and smoke. Maybe you played Gears of War and witnessed the tough Marcus Fenix going up against the alien threat. Or perhaps you went on an adventure with Jake the Dog in Adventure Time. What do all of these characters have in common? They are all voiced by the talented John DiMaggio.

Today is the release of I Know That Voice, a documentary about voice acting that includes many popular voice actors from the past to present, including Mr. DiMaggio himself (available on iTunes). We chat with the voice actor about the project and voice acting in general.

John “Spartan” Nguyen (Nerd Reactor): Hey John, how’s it going? Lovely name, by the way.

John DiMaggio: Yes, you too.

Nerd Reactor: What’s your role in the documentary?

John DiMaggio: Well, the documentary, I executive produced it and I’m also one of the people being interviewed. But Larry Shapiro and I directed a film. We came up with the idea in Amsterdam. He shoots a lot of rock n’ roll footage. We were there doing a musical festival called Jam in the ‘Dam, and I was emceeing, to keep the crowd going. I did Bender while I was on stage and these four German tourists freaked out and it was wild. Larry witnessed it. They came up to us afterwards and we’re just like, “Oh my God, you are the voice of the robot on the show.” So Larry was like, “We gotta do something about this. It’s a great story. We’ve got to option it somehow.” That’s the idea for the film, I Know That Voice came about and then we brought on our friend Tommy Reid to produce it, and we just kicked it into high gear. It came to fruition this year. It’s really pretty amazing.
The intention was four years ago, we really kicked it into high gear two years ago.

Nerd Reactor: I was wondering if there are any other documentaries like this before, or if this is one of a kind?

John DiMaggio: You know, this is one of a kind. This is the first one. A lot of people we would interview were like, “Finally, someone is doing this. I’ve had this idea in my head for a while. Good thing John’s doing it because somebody had to do it, and I’m just glad I got to do it. I think we did a pretty good job. Hopefully people will agree with me on that once they see the film “Coming out on iTunes January 7th, 2014!”

Nerd Reactor: I just think it’s kind of shocking because voice acting has been around for a long, long time and only right now, we can finally see something like this.

John DiMaggio: You’d think that somebody would have done something, but they didn’t. We’re kind of the unsung heroes I guess. I’m just glad that I was able to shine some light on my peers, you know?

Nerd Reactor: So how do you go about deciding who to include? Do you try to include everybody?

John DiMaggio: That was a big process. We shot 150 interviews and about 160 hours worth of material. We had to edit it down to 95 minutes, so you can imagine how much stuff we had to take out. The original director’s cut was three hours. It’s like, “OK, let’s go from here. Let’s start trimming this sucker down.” We tried to get everybody in that we could. There’s a lot of people that didn’t make the cut, but there’s a very interesting bunch that did. I think it represents the film that we wanted to make in the right way. It’s really hard when you have to cut something out. You want to shed the light on everybody, but it’s a lot of work. We had a great editor, Brendan Sonnier, who did a fantastic job helping us piece together the film, and it was just me wanting to send a Valentine to my peers.

Nerd Reactor: And were any of your peers upset that they didn’t make the cut?

John DiMaggio: Yeah. You know, you can’t please everybody. But what are you going to do?

Nerd Reactor: You’ve done a lot of different voice acting for different TV shows, video games and movies. Your most popular one is Bender. Do you have any favorite characters that you like to do?

John DiMaggio: Well, I like doing all the characters I get to do. I have the best job in the world. I get to play for a living. They all mean a lot to me. Bender and Futurama certainly opened doors for me, as far as just being known and having my name suddenly like, “Oh, that’s John DiMaggio.” That’s really a trip. That’s really “wow!” But, you know, it’s just something. It’s wild. I just love this gig, and I pinch myself every day.

Nerd Reactor: Doing Bender, did you know how big it was going to be after that?

John DiMaggio: I kind of had an idea. I thought, “The guy from The Simpsons is doing it. This is really a big deal.” I think I had a feeling that he would at least have some cult status, and I think he does. I think maybe even a little more than I know. Bender has touched a lot of people’s lives, which is pretty inappropriate.

Nerd Reactor: Well, that’s what Bender does.

John DiMaggio: Yes, that’s what Bender does best.

Nerd Reactor: The documentary touches on the subject about vocal range. One character can be squeaky, or another can be really deep. In your case, you do Marcus Fenix. He’s got a really deep voice. And then you have Jake, who is completely the opposite.

John DiMaggio: Well, that’s the joy of being able to do my job. It’s a character actor’s dream. You really get the theatricality of it, the intensive play of it. That’s why this job is so appealing. Actors who don’t do voice over tell me “Wow, that’s a great gig,” when I tell them what I do. “That’s the best gig ever!” People are envious of me, and it’s kind of crazy. It depends on perspectives. Wow. This guy is envious of me? That’s crazy! It’s just a great gig.

Nerd Reactor: I don’t know if people recognize your regular voice for the different characters, but has that ever happened to you?

John DiMaggio: It used to happen a lot when I would go out and drink at the bar. You have a couple of beers and all of a sudden (Bender) this guy starts to seep through a little bit. Yeah baby, c’mon. (normal voice) I have friends of mine that were bartenders where I used to go drinking. They would purposefully get me extra booze just so that I’d get revved up and start doing the Bender voice, which is pretty funny. And also pretty evil at the same time. Those bastards.

Nerd Reactor: So I’m guessing they’re not doing that anymore.

John DiMaggio: Nah. I stay out of the bar. It’s better for me not to go to the bar just to go to the bar. You get older, and the knees start to creak when you walk up them steps. It’s like, “OK, we’ve had it.”

Nerd Reactor:  Yeah, that’s no good. Has any kid ever come up to you, like at a supermarket or a store and said, “Hey, it’s Bender! Can you do the voice?”

John DiMaggio: You know, it rarely, rarely happens. But when it does, it’s like, “Oh, that’s cool.” I had a guy in an audition that I was at yesterday for a film, for an on-camera role, and he was all, “Did I see you on Modern Family recently?” I was like, “Yeah, you did.” Then it dawned on him that that’s why he knew who I was. He’s like, “Oh, that’s the actor who plays Bender and he’s on Modern Family for this guest spot. And he came out after his audition, and was like, “Dude, man, I just want to tell you, I love you man. I love your work. You make me laugh every day.” I was like, “Thank you so much.” It was out of the blue, and that’s always nice, especially to hear from another actor, you know what I mean? Taking the time out to just be like, “Oh, shit!” and that’s really, really cool. Every once in a blue moon it happens, but I don’t expect it to happen, nor do I mind if it doesn’t happen.

Nerd Reactor: But it wouldn’t be a factor if say a journalist would say, “Oh, I love your work.”

John DiMaggio: No, I would thank them too. I would thank said journalist.

Nerd Reactor: Yeah, well, I love your work. There you go.

John DiMaggio: There you go. Well, thank you very much. Thank you. I profusely thank you.

Nerd Reactor: For the documentary, did you get a chance to do the interviews with your fellow voice actors?

John DiMaggio: No, I left that to Tommy, and I left that to Larry. Larry conducted most of the interviews, but we all came up with the content. What we wanted the actors to talk about, we came up with that together. I was working at the time, so I would have to be at work, and they would let me know what was going on. I would get feedback every day, people would tell me about highlights of the interviews, this, that and the other thing. So that’s how that worked.

Nerd Reactor: One of the topics talks about the voice actors love for music. Is music a big part of your life?

John DiMaggio: Oh, absolutely. Music is a big deal. I sang in chorus in high school. Music has always been part of my life. It’s always been something that helps me, that binds me, that catches me. Sometimes it gets me through the night. It also is a part of the job. There’s a certain sense of musicality that I think you have to have – and most of my peers would agree with me – to be in voice over. To be able to do that, to be able to perform certain lines, you have to have a certain musicality. It’s in the film. You’ll see it. Billy West talks about it a lot, and Rob Paulsen talks about it. And for those of you who don’t know who Billy West and Rob Paulsen are…just watch the movie “On January 7th of 2014! iTunes, baby!”

Nerd Reactor: Speaking of music, one of the things that people like is the Bacon Pancakes song from Adventure Time.

John DiMaggio: Yes. I can’t believe how big that thing is. It blew my mind.

Nerd Reactor: I heard that you did the Bacon Pancakes song as Bender on 1337 Lounge Live.

John DiMaggio: Oh yeah!

Nerd Reactor: So I have a request – can you do it as Marcus Fenix
from Gears of War, singing that song?

John DiMaggio: Oh really? Seriously?

Nerd Reactor: Yes.

John DiMaggio: You really want me to do it? OK. (as Marcus Fenix) “Bacon pancakes, making bacon pancakes. I take some bacon and I put it in a pancake. Bacon pancakes. That’s what it’s gonna make. Bacon pancakes.”

Nerd Reactor: That is awesome!

John DiMaggio: That’s a very scary song now. I can’t…ugh.

Nerd Reactor: Yeah, well, Marcus Fenix is a scary dude.

John DiMaggio: Oh yeah he is. Absolutely.

Nerd Reactor: When you do a voice for a character, is it easy for you to turn into that character right away, or does it take a lot of practice?

John DiMaggio: No, it all depends on what the production wants. I mean if it’s a voice in your repertoire, that’s fine. But if they want you to come up with something original then that’s fine too. It all depends. That’s all taken care of in the audition process. Sometimes people call you in because they know you have something in your back pocket that you can do, that they already know about and they want you to do something like that. So, you know, it all depends. I audition for things a lot, and that’s how you get the gig. That’s how you get the craft in. That’s how the production knows what they want.

Nerd Reactor: Can you remind us when I Know That Voice is coming out again?

I will remind everyone. (smooth announcer voice) “Everyone, I Know That Voice premieres on iTunes January 7th of 2014. Get your Apple ID ready. Come on baby. January 7th, 2014. (as Bender) C’mon yeah baby, aww yeah!”

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