Bob Bergen, the voice behind Looney Tunes' Porky Pig, on bringing home the bacon, and why after 28 years, he still has to audition
Bob Bergen, who lent his voice to the iconic Looney Tunes character Porky Pig, gets candid about his journey and experience so far
Generations of children across the world have grown up with the 'Looney Tunes' world that made popular characters like Bugs Bunny, Tweety Bird, Daffy Duck and Porky Pig household names. Porky Pig, especially, has become an iconic character and continues to live on even after being supplanted by other characters. Porky's signature line: "Th-th-th-that's all folks!" at the end of many episodes is what he is best known for.
That brings us to the voice behind Porkey, Bob Bergen, who has been on the job for almost 28 years! "I'm doing a new series now called 'Looney Tunes' cartoons and they still made me audition for it! Even after 28 years, I still have to audition from time to time. I love the fact that the show is relevant even now and the cartoons are getting visibility these days."
"Mel Blanc stopped doing these characters in 1989 and I have been doing Porky since 1990. So for the last 28 years or so, I kind of own what they want from the character and that is a challenge, but they listen. It is a very collaborative effort and the writers, producers, and voice directors are very respectful," Bergen explains.
Given how far the Looney Tunes cartoons have come, Bergen shares that there are always new writers, directors, and producers who bring their own interpretation of the character and attempt to develop it further. "The challenging part for me is to maintain the integrity of the character and still be available to do what they are looking for in today's product," Bergen explains.
One of the most memorable Looney Tunes productions has to be 'Space Jam', the movie which stars Michael Jordan and the Looney Tunes crew. As Bergen mentioned before, he had to audition for the part and had quite a fascinating audition task. Potential voice actors were asked to read Shakespeare in the voice of the character that they were auditioning for and Bergen absolutely "loved it".
Bergen's passion and love for the character Porky Pig are evident in the way he talks about the character and how he approaches Porky. It's all about acting and giving life to the script and words. "The script is a skeleton and you have to give it a body. You need to observe the character - the region, the dialects, the accents and then put everything together," Bergen points out.
"Many people can mimic the character but not all can do Shakespeare, stay in character and tell a story. I did not find it a challenge at all. It was fun," Bergen recalls as he goes on to explain the importance of being able to do improv. Since most people and children are familiar with Porky Pig, it is unimaginably hard (believe me, I tried and failed miserably) to pull off the voice the way Bergen does and as he puts it, "that is why I have job security".
I had the exciting opportunity to listen to Porky Pig himself describe his journey and experience so far and here is his story:
Another iconic role that Bergen lent his voice for was the Annie Award nominated series 'Duck Dodgers'. "Duck Dodgers was great because it paid homage to Chuck Jones who was one of the creators of Looney Tunes. When I am asked how Porky evolved from the 30s to the 60s and when the character came into its own, my answer is to point to the 1952-56 era when the original Duck Dodgers short was made. When they decided to do a series on Duck Dodgers, it was awesome! It was the perfect blend of a Chuck Jones characterization with a modern twist. It was one of my most enjoyable series."
As compared to acting, being a voice actor sounds a lot more challenging. Bergen explains that one must rely entirely on the voice and that can get difficult. "All the emotions and personality traits that one has to express has to be done via the voice and its all about the layers that the character has."
Bergen was always interested in cartoons and like all kids spent a good amount of his childhood watching cartoons. What differentiates the child version of Bergen from others is the fact that he would often repeat the dialogues of the cartoons he was watching and mimic the voice back to the TV. This is when his mother realized that Bergen had a natural talent to pull off the voices he was listening to on TV.
Being able to adapt from character to character is a skill that all actors and voice actors must have and it is crucial to the job. Bergen explains that this is not a challenge provided you are looking at the character as a character and not just a voice. "All characters, just like people, have their own unique physicality" and that helps you distinguish between different characters. Identifying and working with those physicalities is what makes the character a well polished one, he explains.
The animation industry has come a long way from when it began and for the last decade, it has even taken on a more adult tone with shows like 'BoJack Horseman' and 'Rick and Morty'. However, as Bob shares, even a show like the 'Looney Tunes' was actually never intended for a children audience. "The only reason they started of as programmes for kids is that when TV began in the 50s, they needed children’s programmes."
"What is great about animation today is that we have everything from adult films like 'Archer' and 'Bob’s Burgers' to shows like 'The Simpsons' and 'American Dad!' which is primarily for adults. On the other end of the spectrum, you have 'Disney Junior' and 'Nickelodeon' which is for kids. For audiences from preschoolers to adults, there has never been as much animation products as there are today," Bergen sums up.