If you don’t know Billy West by name, you absolutely know him by voice. The veteran radio personality, comedian and voice actor has entered your ears through everything from Futurama and Ren and Stimpy to Howard Stern to just about every animated commercial on TV today. He’s now turned his attention a new project, The Billy West Podcast, an eclectic and unexpected entry into the podcast space that allows Billy to not only stretch his vocal chords, but put them to use in service of his own ideas. We chatted with Billy about the podcast and the strangeness of haters online.
The Interrobang: Why did you decide to do a podcast after everything else you’ve already done?
Billy West: Just because you’ve accomplished one thing or another doesn’t mean you stop outputting, and I had a stockpile of ideas I wanted to get out. That was my own objective, whereas I’m usually an objective fulfillment machine. This was the perfect place to just say some stuff I wanted to say. And it’s very silly, I really just wanted a place to be silly. I didn’t want to interview all my friends like every other podcast, I wanted to do something different. So we’ve created our own programming every episode, kind of like a soap opera thing and we’re tearing apart record lyrics, there’s a lot of stuff going on. I like doing things that are silly to counter-balance the whole front end of my life, which was miserable. I just found myself doing things to make everybody else laugh.
The Interrobang: Have these ideas been in your head the whole time just waiting for a chance to come out?
Billy West: I don’t know, stuff just comes into my head, like when you run into a girl you know and she can’t remember your name, every woman goes, “Hey, you…” So we just took that and went back and forth on the podcast with everyone going “Hey, you” and all that stupid stuff we all just do automatically.
I gotta find a way to do it live. The show is about the show, it’s all about all the disruptions to this show I never really get to do. It’s a lot like old time radio. Shows like The Burns and Allen Show was a show about the show. He’d be in another part of the house but seemed to know what was going on everywhere, he’d talk to the fourth wall, “Let’s take a look at what’s going on in the kitchen” That’s the kind of feeling I like. If it’s these curveballs coming left and right, it can’t get tedious.
The Interrobang: How do you actually go about writing and recording this podcast with so many characters?
Billy West: Me and my partner sit down and mostly I just sit in a chair in character and start talking in character and we write it down, I love working like that. That’s when I’m at my best, when it’s like cosmic abandon. If I plan ahead and write stuff down with discipline, it seems contrived to me. I want it to sound organic. And if we start out just talking in character and going with it, after a while a certain type of personality will come out [for that character] and then the jokes just come flying in out of nowhere. You’re searching around to find a heart, soul, body and brain to put together that’s not yours, and suddenly this disembodied character becomes more than just two dimensional. I like doing that when I work on cartoons, too.
The Interrobang: You’ve been a part of some cult favorite cartoons, are you sick of talking about that? Do people still want to talk to you about it all the time?
Billy West: There’s something wrong with me, I guess, because I just think, why are we talking about stuff that happened twenty years ago? There’s Stern fans that still can’t let go of the fact I left the show and that was twenty years ago. People are fighting about it online every day, they’re fighting about Ren and Stimpy. What does that tell you that someone spends part of their day arguing with someone whether I’m actually funny or it was just the writers? How can you spend so much of your time dumping so much of your energy into something that happened two decades ago? But that’s the critical thinker in me, I do actually like it, but I’m also amused by it. It’s nice that people have passion about me and something I did in one way or another.
I don’t know what happens to people when they get online, it’s like they put on a whole other costume. You know, if there’s a website called The Ladies Flower Society and someone posted “I planted some rhododendrons in my yard and I didn’t think they were going to grow, but they grew! And now they look absolutely beautiful.” and then the next person will say, “Fuck you” But no one ever has attacked the podcast, that’s a nice thing. People just love it and that’s really great. It blows me away.