On this edition of “Talking to Fox” I got to chat with Yeardley Smith the voice of Lisa Simpson, and John Dimaggio the voice of Bender from Futurama. Tomorrow (Sunday Nov 9th) is the long awaited “Simpsorama” – the Futurama/The Simpsons crossover episode. While I have been a huge fan of both shows for years, and Lisa Simpson was one of my earliest feminist icons, I never knew how prolific the careers of Yeardley and John had been. Yeardley Smith has been all over Broadway, TV and film while working on The Simpsons, although no voiceover work. She is even writing a children’s book called “I, Lorelei” which is unfortunately not about Gilmore Girls. John Dimaggio has also had his share of success voicing Jake on Adventure Time, Marcus Phoenix from Gears of War, Final Fantasy X, and Kim Possible.
This interview is one of the most fun I’ve been in on. Having two comedians on the line together led to many interesting diversions. I was brave enough to ask not just one, but two questions. Mine and other questions are highlighted below. I included more of the back and forth because it was too much fun to leave out.
On the Crossover Episode:
Interviewer: I was wondering, John, if you could start out by telling us how Bender reacts to being so close to a Duff brewery?
John: He loves beer. He loves it. I tell you, it was such a joy to do this episode and if you think Bender is funny, wait until you see Bender and Homer together, drinking. It’s quite an event.
Yeardley: It’s quite an event. There are some physical similarities that may surprise you.
INT: Yeardley, what’s Lisa’s reaction to meeting Professor Farnsworth? He’s probably quite like-minded to her since they’re so intellectual.
Yeardley: I think she’s less impressed with him than you might think and even yet less impressed with Bender who she’s convinced is, perhaps, not the most advanced robot in the history of the world. How is this possible? Bender and Lisa have some great, great exchanges. Bender, even though Bender’s not necessarily technologically advanced, he’s sort of that take no prisoner’s kind of guy and Lisa always responds to that.
John: Also, I think, I really, I think Lisa is the coolest Simpson in the future. That’s my vote. I really believe that. She’s the one that’s fully ready to handle being in the year 3000.
Yeardley: This is true. She’s the one who’s going to get away and survive.
John: Yes. That’s it.
Yeardley: To make sure that the entire human race doesn’t come to an end. You know what’s funny, when Michael was saying the episode is about Futurama, you guys trying to keep the Simpsons from destroying the future. I’m like, that’s not what the episode’s about; that’s not what the episode’s about. We’re trying to keep Bender from killing Homer. So there. I won’t tell you how that ends, but that’s a totally different story.
INT: Did you all record together and, if so, what was it like to bring in people from the two shows together?
Yeardley: It was mayhem. It was complete mayhem. They had to batten down the hatches. They had to lock off the lot.
John: It was pretty darn funny. There was a lot of buffoonery going on. It was great.It had a lot of laughs.
Yeardley: We do a table reading of the script before we record the episode a few days later and that was a really lively table read. Totally.
John: That was really great. That was one for the ages.
INT: Had you worked together? Some people, I think, have done both shows, right? Or—
Yeardley: Yes. That’s true. Tress has done both shows. No, we had never worked together. They try to keep us apart because they know it’s probably a little oil and water and they don’t want to start a fight. Sometimes you just got to throw down and—
John: That’s it. Yes.
Yeardley: — and like the two sides of the magnet together and see what happens.
John: Yes, yes. It’s kind of like a crypts, bloods relationship, but it’s okay; we’ll get over it.
Yeardley: It’s like that. It’s like the sonic boom.
John: We’re all in the same gang. Anyway.
INT: Thanks so much. Don’t get in a fight now.
John: No, no.
Yeardley: We’ve been sedated; we’re on our best behavior
On Their Individual Shows:
INT: John, do you think that there’s still plenty of future for Futurama?
John: I think that there’s definitely the possibility of a future. Matt is always saying to us, hey, don’t worry about it; it’s alright. You know, it’s like okay, when do we start? What’s going on? We’re all pretty much game for doing more Futuramas. Absolutely, one of the best experiences in my life, professionally, doing Futurama. Anybody throws up the flag and says here we go, we’re doing it, I’m all game for it.
INT: Question for Yeardley. When you started with The Simpsons, what were your expectations? How long did you think that this show could run?
Yeardley: Well, you know, as an actor who is actually very fortunate to have some success, you’re happy if a job lasts more than three weeks. I will say, I got The Simpsons because I’d done a tiny little play in Hollywood a year before and the woman who cast The Simpsons on The Tracey Ullman Show was one of the 17 people who saw that play. She said I know you should play Lisa Simpson. It’s a great sort of Lana Turner drugstore story, don’t you think?
But I will say, when my agent said you’re going to go in and read for this voice-over, I said I don’t want to do voice-over. This is not part of my plan for world domination; I don’t really care about that. He told me I should go, and I’m not an actress who turns down auditions so I’ll go. I didn’t have a voice-over agent. I had never done voice-over before. I’ve, really, never done it since. I thought, look, I’m down with this as long as it doesn’t interrupt my true quest for world domination where I’m going to be a superstar.
Then we spun off into half hour. I do remember everybody saying this is the worst idea a network has ever had. They haven’t had a cartoon on in primetime since The Flintstones. You all are high; you’re ridiculous; have a nice day. Then it hit so big. Of course the turnaround was instantaneous. We’re like no, no we knew it; we knew Simpsons was going to be big. It’s going to be awesome.
Then you were happy that you went five years because now you can go into syndication and that’s the juggernaut. Then, it was 10 years, and then it was 15 years, and then you’re creeping up on Gunsmoke, which is 20 years. Then you pass Gunsmoke and then you’re like, okay. We now have writers on the show who grew up watching the show and I don’t think there’s any other show on television that can say that. It’s been the best job of all time. I certainly landed in the honey pot and thank God I was arrogant, but I wasn’t stupid. So here I am.
INT: Yeardley, you mentioned the “Every Simpsons Ever” and I was just curious, if you took a while to watch some episodes and what your take away from all that Simpsons love going on.
Yeardley: The take away—I mean it was astounding because it could have gone either way; it could have been you all shot your wad years ago, I don’t know why you’d think we want to watch every Simpsons ever, or it could have been the juggernaut that it was. That so was incredibly gratifying when the risk you’re taking works out in your favor.
I did check in; you know it was really fun when people would Tweet me about “oh my God, this is my favorite line; my favorite episode”. I don’t have a very—we’ve done so many episodes, and I have a terrible memory any way, so it’s sort of the perfect storm when people come up to you and go “you remember the line…”, I’m like, “no I already don’t. I already don’t remember that so you probably know more about it than me”.
On Their Careers:
INT: What is it like voicing a character as opposed to often appearing on television; do you get recognized less frequently because of it?
Yeardley: I get recognized every day. Mainly because—I’ve done a lot of on-camera stuff, but I’ve looked the same since I was about the age of six so I’m just—and I sound the same. You can’t get away from me. I also do, I’ve been fortunate to do a lot of press for our show. You’d be surprised, actually, how much, how often I get made. People send me a lot of free food in restaurants; that’s all I can tell you.
John: That’s pretty awesome.
INT: That sounds like an awesome perk.
John: I get drinks bought for me, which is kind of detrimental to my health, but that’s okay.
Yeardley: At least you get to keep your girlish figure, John.
John: Yes, I know. Yes, my girlish—specifically my breasts. Anyway, that’s horrible. No, but it’s funny. The more I’m around, the more I get noticed. I do a lot of conventions, as well; that puts my face out there and having to do press stuff like this it definitely, definitely gets your face out there. Plus, I’ve also done on-camera stuff as well. It surprises me. It’s just that I’m a pretty big guy; I’m like 6 foot 3 inches, 295. People are kind of nervous to approach me because they think I might eat them so—
Yeardley: Meanwhile, people hug me in the supermarket. I don’t think that happens to you, John. They literally like ‘Oh my God,’ and then pull me toward them while I’m by the cabbages.
John: That’s, that’s, that’s rough. I’m sorry about that.
Yeardley: It’s rough.
John: Maybe you and I should shop together; they’ll stay away from both of us, you know.
Yeardley: That sounds awesome. I’m in.
John: Okay. Cool. No more cabbage hugging. That’s it.
Yeardley: No more cabbage hugging. You win.
INT: John, I see that you’re a part of the Movember.
Yeardley: Oh, John, are you doing Movember?
John: I’m totally doing Movember. I’ve already raised $250.
Yeardley: Hot damn. That’s awesome.
John: It’s pretty cool. I’m usually in a beard so I had to shave clean and now I’ve got my little mustache growing. It’s alright.
INT: Why is it such an important cause for you, though?
John: You know, it’s a great cause and people need to talk about it. It’s important for men’s health. I’m coming up on the age where I’m going to need to have that meeting with my doctor that all men approaching 50 need to do. It’s one of those things that you need to handle. I can’t believe I just said approaching 50. Anyway, the horror.
Yeardley: Listen, I already am 50. So you could just zip it.
John: I just turned 46, so I’m coming. I’m on my way.
Yeardley: Whatever. Whatever.
John: I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I still look at it as you were in 12th grade and I was in 8th.
Yeardley: Just rub it in. There was a time—
John: I’m sorry.
Yeardley: —when I was always the youngest in every cast, except for my own cast at The Simpsons. Now sometimes I’m leaps and bounds older than everybody in the room; I don’t know how this happened.
John: I don’t know. It’s all going so fast. Darn it.
Yeardley: Darn it.
INT: Yeardley, you have great comedic timing. Is it something that’s always been a natural ability of yours, or did you work at some way to hone it.
Yeardley: I think I honed it at the dinner table.
John: That’s a good place to do it.
Yeardley: I do think—because that’s a tough room, my friend, let me tell you.
Yeardley: I think I’ve always—it was my—when I was insecure I knew if I could make you laugh, when I was growing up, then you probably would like me. It was sort of a survival technique and I’m happy to say that I was actually able to make a living at it. I really love it.
I do remember the very first time I was in a school play; I was 12 years old and I was playing Dagmar in I Remember Mama. I remember the first line out of my mouth the audience just like fell; I don’t even remember what the line was, but I do remember they laughed heartily and fell out of their chairs, practically. I thought, oh, oh, I need to do more of that. That’s the magic. It was sort of greed and survival all at once.
INT: Having worked on these characters for so long, is there anything to—any extra work that you guys put into keeping the characters fresh or keeping them alive?
John: For me, it’s a cigar and a shot whiskey. I’m kidding. Yeardley was saying how smart the show is, the shows are, and it’s really true. I don’t have to worry about anything with a Futurama script. The writing staff for Futurama, specifically, is the most over-educated staff in Hollywood history.
Yeardley: We have the other half of the over-educated staff.
John: Yes, exactly. We had all alumni from you guys.
Yeardley: Oh, right.
John: We have doctorates in chemistry and biology and math in the writing staff. There’s no reason for me to say, well, don’t you think this would be funnier? There’s no real reason, I mean sometimes I’ll do something and it’ll be funny and it might stick, but when you have people that brilliant that work that hard on math jokes, you’re not just going, hey, what about the Pythagorean theorem? That’s not going to work; that’s not going to cut it.
Yeardley: I think that’s well said. I’m also, I’ve actually had this question a few times and it’s interesting. It’s not like doing Cats for 26 years where you’re doing the same lines and the same blocking. [laughter] Oh my God. I mean seriously, you’d be homicidal. Every week, the words are completely different and I truly love Lisa Simpson and I have this funny relationship with her where I feel like she very much exists outside of me. She, I’m a part of her, but I’m really only a third of her. There’s the writing and the animating and then there’s me. We each take 33.3% and so it’s a very unique kind of collaboration and when I watch Lisa Simpson on TV, she makes me laugh. Then I think, oh, oh, I’m a part of that and it’s tremendous. There’s great joy—
John: Well put.
Yeardley: —tremendous privilege, right?
John: Yes. Well put.
Yeardley: Because I never watch myself on TV. If it’s live, it’s me Yeardley, I wait a couple of years then it’s been so long I’m like, oh well, you can’t do anything about that.
John: That’s really—that’s right on the money. I couldn’t agree with you more. It’s so true. When you see yourself animated, or when you see your character perform animated, it’s so much different than seeing yourself live because—
Yeardley: It’s so endearing.
John: —you’re waiting to—
Yeardley: You feel funny. Yes.
John: —you’re waiting to see what they did with your choices of acting.
On Baiting the Interviewers:
[ A pause while the moderator reminds people how to ask a question]
Yeardley: Nobody has any more questions. Well, that’s great.
John: Okay. Thanks a lot, everybody. This has been really great.
Moderator: You’ve shamed them into it.
[ At the end of the interview]
John: I’d just like to say, really quick, that Terry and Charles and Danette and Matt and Tom, [in Bender’s voice] you lost out, baby. Yes. You zip your lips, you don’t get nothing. Yes, that’s right. I said it. And Christopher, too, from Zap2it. You got to step up with your questions, baby. Come on now.
Yeardley: It is a tough room. Thank you, all, so much.