Billy West Talks Futurama Season 7 and the Return of Frye, starting tonight on Comedy Central
Missing the future? Well don't worry because the 31st century zaniness continues as Matt Groening and David X. Cohen's brilliantly subversive animated sci-fi comedy, Futurama returns with 13 all-new half-hour episodes beginning tonight at 10:00 p.m. on Comedy Central. The all-comedy channel is kicking off Futurama Season 7 in style with two new episodes airing back-to-back: The Bots and the Bees featuring guest star Wanda Sykes at 10:00PM followed by Farewell to Arms at 10:30PM.
A superstar in the realm of voice acting, Billy West is back as Frye in this long running animated sitcom, which gets things started with Episode 7.01: The Bots and the Bees, an adventure that finds Bender impregnating a vending machine.
To find out more about that small miracle of birth, and a whole lot of other impending craziness, we caught up with the very busy Mr. West for a look at what Frye, Bender, and Leela have in store for us this summer.
Here is our conversation.
Futurama has been around for such a long time. Do you have the opportunity, now that you are on Comedy Central, to play it at a different angle? Or are you staying true to the tried and tested formula that fans have come to know and love?
Billy West: There is a little branching out here and there. I can say that there is a little more heart rendering. There are tender moments going on. It's reminiscent of /shows/futurama/Jurassic Bark, which was so sad. I think it's wonderful that a cartoon can evoke a real, true feeling in somebody. There is more of that. We've explored that aspect. But there is also the same craziness. On the episode airing tonight, Bender has an illegitimate son. Zoidberg? There are a few interesting relationship things going on with him, too.
When a show has been on as long as Futurama, of course we are touched and moved by the characters. We've known them for so long...
Billy West: It is funny; the characters are real to me. I don't think of them in any other terms. They are part of whoever is doing them. And they become part of you, as well. When the show went off the air, I didn't like it, because it was too good to not be on television. That's how I felt about it. There are so many levels of plot, and story arcs, and individual interplay between the characters. They all seem to be the same when you think about them, but they are individuals, and they are psychos. They laugh inappropriately at something. They make the awkward remark, almost as if a sociopath said it. That's what I like about it. But they all have heart. They all have their own moments. They are hysterically funny in and of themselves, whether the character realizes it or not. It's that realness that resonates with me. I think people like that there are so many layers to the comedy. This isn't comedy that is just of "now". There are so many different elements. You have old school comedy in there. There is random and awkward, which is the new funny. It appeals to everyone out there on some level. That is a dream come true if you can be involved with something like that. Just for your own character ability. Where that is concerned, to be able to act in all of these depths, and lengths, and widths.
These characters, of course, don't age, because it is animation. Not physically. What do you do in your performance to insure that Frye continues to grow and age, and mature in terms of the continuation and growth of the show?
Billy West: I tweak little things here and here, just as an experiment. Because, people do change a little. I do want Frye to feel like a living, breathing thing. If you watch a clip of Frye from nine years ago, I will sound a little different from what I sound like now. I think, sometimes, in the characters, you can do that.
Working on these new episodes, how often do you get to interact and work with the other voice actors in the cast?
Billy West: Mostly all the time. We act as an ensemble. There are so many scenes that we do together. There are a few that are solos. There is more excitement generated when we are a group. When the mics go off, and they say, "Cut!" The energy keeps going in the room. Everybody is riffing. And messing around with the stuff of the day. The news. The weather. Whatever it is. They are all being so funny, and energetic about it. There is a lot of energy in that room, and I think a lot of that does transfer over to the performances.
How far into the future do you see Futurama going? Or do you see an expiration date looming over the show?
Billy West: I would love for it to keep going on. Believe me, I will still be able to do these voices when I'm 80. I'd love to see it keep moving.
Have you noticed any shift in what the show is trying to be since it left Fox and landed on Comedy Central? Do you guys get away with a little bit more in terms of some of the bawdier jokes? Or has the tone remained fairly consistant these last two years?
Billy West: There are episodes that are written in the current season that are classics. In the same way that the older ones, that became classics, did. There are a few episodes that aren't a particular member of the crew's favorite. But every show goes through that.
What can we expect to see in this new run of episodes?
Billy West: There are a couple of new characters coming in. They are introduced tonight...For instance, Bender has an illegitimate son. Which is kind of cool, I think. It's like a tiny version of himself. He is so proud of him, but instead of going, "That's my boy!" He goes, "That's my bastard!" Specifically, if you ask me what I did? It's a blur. I run out of air, and I go to another show, where I play six or seven other characters. So I am just as surprised when it comes on TV, and delighted as everyone else...Because I see it at the same time the fans see it. It's impossible for me to keep track of it all. I'm not trying to sound haughty, like, "Hey, man! I'm just too busy!" There's just so much other stuff going on. I feel like I can't sit down. After the season is over, and it's on DVD, I get a chance to sit, when I have all the time in the world, and I will just roll through each episode. I will overdose on it. I can compartmentalize it. To me? That's not me doing anything. I want to enjoy it the way someone else would. Also, because I am hypercritical of my own performances. Being an artist, it is so hard to give birth to something if you don't stand back and say, "I did my best." You know? People will criticize this stuff. You have to step back.
What else do you have coming up besides Futurama?
Billy West: Do you know what is keeping me busy, besides a few TV shows and a couple of these commercials here and there, is that I have been working on my own projects for quite a while now. I am starting to get things going. That has taken up half of my time. I am really writing. I am coming up with new characters with my partner. He's an animator, and I am the result of a misspent youth. Which, somehow, made it pay. I think that is the combination. I can't really talk about any of the projects. Not really. There are a few of these things that I have been working on for quite a while. Hopefully something will happen. You never know where they might wind up. There are so many networks, and everyone wants a cartoon.
Do you ever get a chance to do any live-action acting?
Billy West: It's mostly all voice-over work. M&Ms. Stuff like that. I did Bugs Bunny for a long time. But now, they have a lot of new people doing all of the Looney Tunes roles. Now, I am Elmer Fudd. I did that new 3D short that was in theaters. I am really trying to recapture what Arthur Q. Bryan did. He is the actor that played Elmer Fudd originally. I have to apply some sort of music to it. Every character has a tune that goes with them. Like the way they go up and down with words. It's the same as orchestration to me. Once I dial up the rhythm to a character, the voice just snaps into line. Its not like you can just turn it on and off with these voices. All I have to do is remember the musical aspect of it, and the character will appear out of nowhere.
Do you have one moment in particular from the upcoming thirteen new episodes of Futurama that you are really looking forward to fans seeing in the upcoming weeks?
Billy West: Yeah. There are a couple of them. Which are the ones I mentioned earlier, which are so touching and surprising. One of them involving Zoidberg. I think he is such a great character. It's such an interesting episode. I don't ever want to say too much, because if something doesn't go on, for some reason...Everybody will hold you to it. Like, if something gets cut, a scene is removed from the original thing...Fans always hold you to it. "What is the big idea, man? You said this was going to happen!" I'd rather it just happen.