'Disenchantment's David Herman talks about having played over a hundred voices and "just being able to get paid to play"
David Herman has been into live action as well as animated shows, and after two decades in the industry, he shares the bonus perks of being in animation.
If you're a fan of 'The Simpsons', 'Futurama' and 'Bob's Burgers', there's a new animated show in town that is bound to have you stoked. Titled 'Disenchantment', this show comes from the house of the legendary Matt Groening, who happens to be the same person that has blessed us with the classics mentioned above. And as is the case with most of his works, he decided to have voice actors who have previously worked on his show before, to collaborate on this one too. Meaning, we have the iconic David Herman — yes, the one from the cult classic 'Office Space' — reprising his work in the house of Groening once again.
In a casual chat with MEAWW, Herman spoke about his upcoming show, the thrills of working with Netflix and Matt Groening, and of course, things that you can do as a young comedian that you seem to grow out of once you've evolved as a veteran in the genre. Here are some excerpts of his conversation with us:
You've worked on iconic shows like 'Futurama' and 'Bob's Burgers'; was 'Disenchantment' an easy transition from them?
Yes. We don't realize how much you cherish and how special something is until it's been ripped away from you. I've been very blessed to be able to still continue working with most of the cast of 'Futurama' on other projects. It's a very small circle who do the work on this, so you're always bumping into the same guys. And we're all very close and love working together. But when 'Futurama' was over, we were like, we got to play together and suddenly that playground was taken away. And I have been hearing for a while that Matt (Groening) had this (Disenchantment) in the works. But the wheels grind slow, so it was like 'is this really gonna happen?' But when it finally did, it was just joyous for us to be together. We just love playing with one another the tone and the humor is much the same as 'Futurama', maybe a little whackier. So it was a glorious transition.
What was your experience working with Matt Groening on this project, like?
In the first season of 'Futurama', Matt was in the core being involved. As it goes on, he was more in the table reads, writing stuff - he's been so involved. It's much more improv, so it's been lovely. It's been so great to have him there all the time. I'm very fortunate and appreciate it.
Tell us about your work on 'Disenchantment'.
This is Matt Groening tackling sword and sorcery. Matt Groening and Josh Weinstein, who is a veteran 'Futurama' writer as well created it. I personally am more of a sword and sorcery person than a sci-fi person, so this is a genre I've enjoyed more than science fiction. So there's kings and princess and reapers - it's such a rich soil to churn. And it's great: Every week they come in to play a different wizard or a different king or a knight. So it's very much in the tone of 'Futurama', but it's Matt tackling the sword and sorcery genre.
What was the best part about with Netflix?
They are great! They really have figured out a good tide here, because when they're just clear that okay, we want Matt Groening - it's like Matt Groening, you do your Matt Groening. They don't interfere very much with the train of the process. They are just like - we got this guy and we'll let him do what he does. So in terms of that, they really have it figured out because generally in show business because there's such a high, costly investment when you're making a show, everyone's on top of them - sticking their fingers all over it and in it. And generally speaking, the model in show business is that we want to be the first at being second. We want to be the carbon copy of something that's already succeeded. Nobody wants to risk being groundbreaking. In the business, we don't really want to explore when there's so much cash involved. But Netflix just gets these creative people - they let them go do what they do, steer the path and that's actually the way to have something pioneering or groundbreaking.
You've been in the industry for over two decades and played over a 100 voices now; what according to you has been the most rewarding aspect of this profession?
As compared to live action — and this is my personal thing, the reason I stopped doing live action — animation is so much closer to the playing around you do with a child. And I've been so fortunate to play with the people I love. Basically just being able to get paid to play. That's the best element there is.
How difficult is it to come up with a voice for an animated character?
In my process — which I'm sure is different to others — is I try to stick to, and focus on the story of the episode and the tone of the series. They are like my two guiding principles. And if it's mostly the things I've seen and experienced, it comes right up. And if it doesn't work, then we mold it. Like refer to other episodes and so on. But the general instinct for me is that it starts with the story and the tone of the script. Everything grows out of those two guidelines.
Have you ever used your actual voice for any of the characters?
For the most part, it's some kind of variety that I put to my own voice, but yeah. I probably sound a bit like Mr. Frond from 'Bob's Burgers' or Steve. There are certainly characters that are closer to me than the ones that are way off.
What do you consider some of the biggest challenges as a voice actor?
I've been so blessed. But there are times, and shows which you'll work on where someone will be directing and you can't figure out where they may be going with it, or you'll do 45 takes of a single line. And if you know about semiotics, you'd know if you read the word egg for 45 times over and over again you'll forget what an egg is. So it's really about keeping it fresh and virginal and alive and that's the hardest thing to maintain.
Could you us a little bit about your time on MADtv? How was that experience like as a young comedian?
A lot of great people worked on that show. It wasn't my big place to do a lot of characters - or my particular cup of tea - but I worked with great writers and directors and performers. I had just come from another sketch show and I was one of the few cast members who had an idea of this is how a TV sketch show works like and how much is asked of you. But I couldn't do it today. I have two kids and a family. And I was working 16 hours a day an moved to Los Angeles for MADTV. It was a lot of work, so you really just give your entire life to it. My whole life revolved around that show. The only people I saw were people involved with Mad TV so it was nonstop, and I just couldn't do it today.
You also played Michael Bolton in the very critically acclaimed 'Office Space'. How does it feel being a part of such a cult classic?
I've worked with Mike (Judge) for several years before and so I knew him and I knew what he wanted from this thing and he literally gave me the part and I loved the script. It was such a great mirror of that passive aggressive climate, so I was thrilled. And I've worked with most of the people involved before so it was like summer camp. And I was overjoyed. And when you really hold a mirror like that to people lives, they are just like - you know, that's my life! They are really grateful their lives are being represented on a screen. And at that time it was groundbreaking.
What are some of your upcoming projects that you are excited about?
'Disenchantment', of course! And then I'm continuing working on 'Bob's Burgers', and there's another Netflix show I'm working on and of course 'Disenchantment' really seems like a part of my golden years and I've been blessed.