Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Greg Berg - An Interview (Part Deux)

Yesterday we talked Muppet Babies with Greg Berg (click here to read part one) pretty much in-depth, and today we'll touch on them some as they relate to other projects followed by reviews of "The Muppets"which just hit stores today!  So, read on fair reader:

KW: Okay, I’ll put the Muppet questions on the back-burner for a while to simmer while moving forward. What is the experience like working with characters as popular as The Simpsons, Robotman and Friends, and Yo, Yogi (on which you performed as the aforementioned Huckleberry Hound)?

GB: The experiences were meeting some of the most talented artist in the field I wanted to break into, for each of the various shows had me in awe one way or another as I am a very excitable person when someone PAYS me to do something I love!

Robotman and Friends was my first professional animated show. It has been released on VHS and so I wasn't sure whether to call it a pilot, special, or show? The show may have been the first for D.I.C. Productions. Was given word from the wonderful director Marsha Goodman, that as the company had an American and Canadian producer, I was the one voice they BOTH agreed on. Trivia from the show: Cast members Frank Welker and Katie Leigh and I were assembled 2 years later to work again on Muppet Babies!

For 'The Simpson's' I, as well as hundreds of others, were brought in to audition for the various roles and as a multi-voice talent, I thought my talent would work well on this new Primetime show for FOX TV. As I didn't get a 'main' role, the show used my versatility for the voices of unnamed characters as they would appear at the bowling alley and playground (I even whistled as BART for a scene), and then was asked to 'Guest Star' on the Bart VS. Thanksgiving episode, providing 3 characters throughout. The show really took off and celebrities played many of the guest stars from then on.

It was still a thrill to be part of a show that has also gone on to be a big part of animation history. That led to about 9 years voicing with them.

The show Yo Yogi, not much of a 'known' show, hadn't panned into anything spectacular. It was one of the last Hanna-Barbera cartoons to be on Sat. mornings on NBC. Then one Sat. people woke up to Saturday kid sitcoms, namely SAVED BY THE BELL. The Yo Yogi experience also validated my work in my mind as, at the time, I worked my way up the voice ranks, studied with the greats who worked long before me and 1) I recreated my teacher/mentor Daws Butler's character to what I hoped would be acceptable if he were to critique it? 2) I worked with the incredible 'Mr. Cartoon' Don Messick and many other great celebrities who made me laugh before even thinking I'd be anywhere near Hollywood! 3) Had put in 9 years on Muppet Babies, begun Simpson's work, was an alternate voice of Donatello on TMNT and yet the Yo Yogi experience that sticks out was on one episode that was almost a rewritten scene (where a gorilla is missing) from an original Huckleberry Hound show I've seen loads of times as a little kid growing up in Ohio. And here was MY voice as Huck doing the scene.

KW: Those are wonderful memories to have! It would have to be wonderful to have the experience of working with your childhood favorites like Huckleberry Hound! Now, you were the voice of "Fungus" in the Monsters, Inc., video game: did you prepare by eating moldy bread? Just kidding! The actual question is this: Having voiced both Fungus and Baby Fozzie—both Frank Oz characters—did you voice any other characters originated by Frank Oz?

GB: I have found myself in a number of cases having to do voice-alike’s. I would be asked 'can you sound like so-and-so?' and if I don't know them, I am provided with the scene or voice and my mind turns like a Rolodex, locates the character, and I get a yes or no.

So, for the Fungus sound-alike I had to see him as I come close to Frank Oz's voice and that was in my repertoire; but, sometimes people I had sounded like for movies may put on a character that I couldn't match because then it becomes psychological. Fungus wasn't too hard for me.

Also Muppets once did a test show called 'Muppets Babies and Little Monsters.’ In that show they animated Fozzie and I was THAT grown voice, as well as Dr. Strangepork for the animated 'Pigs in Space' portion of the show. But, I never got to do anything Yoda. Guess others latched on to that character!

Animated Dr. Julius Strangepork "Pigs In Space"

Animated Fozzie Bear
 KW: Now, we all loved the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles! What all can you share with us about performing for that show? Were you required to know martial arts skills, or slip in to work like a ninja?

GB: I never got caught up in the books or show but studied the character voice. Don't remember even reading for the original show as many never knew of all my work at that time. I never followed the show as I was either studying or working but as the call came in to ‘sound like a voice,’ some people thought to try me, as, after all I was imitating Frank Oz's Characters.

And YES, I was already studying Martial Arts as a hobby.

KW: When Nickelodeon purchased the TMNT, what were your thoughts about being involved with that show (if it were offered)?

GB: The Turtle franchise keeps changing hands. Just like when another Yogi Bear special came out, those I knew who would be best for the roles were never thought of or, lately, when some popular TV show is transferred to a film version they may be asked to use other talent than the original and then sometimes even after the film version gets established and they change the voice or character/talent the film suffers as was seen when TMNT 1st 3 movies went for a new cast on the 2nd one (and maybe other things) made it not do as well. BUT they went back to the same voices from the 1st when they did the 3rd, so maybe the voice factor came up.

KW: You did a voice-match in TMNT for Donatello: Have you ever met any of the folks you did a matching voice after?

GB: I have met the actor Barry Gordon who I voice-matched as Donatello, and I am friends with the actors who voiced Donatello in the 1st 2 movies. What a coincidence!

KW: What’s easier? Voice-matching or creating a new voice?

GB: Well, we discussed the "Rolodex of voices" earlier; but, I know what you mean though as I remember meeting others who did voices on a radio show and the guy had a stack of pictures of all the people whose voice he was going to do. Everyone has their way to do a voice, I guess.

KW: I often say that a fellow has to be crazy to be a puppeteer with all this personality and performance flowing through his hand; and the same with having to draw a comic strip with different characters interacting—almost always constantly in my head—to create those strips. Now, these voices and characters are all living in my head and so, of course, when folks say I’m crazy: I agree! My question to you is, with all the voices you create: Are you crazy?

GB: Tell someone you do lots of voices and maybe you'd be put away. So, if you have to make a face to get the voice you need, guess you'd be put away twice as long; but, as you sit in the rubber room, you'd be able to say, 'Somebody paid me to do that! Why aren't THEY locked up?!'

KW: Is there a funny story you can share about something that happened while doing voice acting?

GB: I haven't collected funny things that happen in a session. Maybe because (to me) if someone, say, starts joking around by talking with a mouthful of water, I just figure 'maybe that's a new character!'.

There have been 'strange' sessions but that's what they called for. Like once when I provided the voice of a moose for Build-a-Bear (as mentioned earlier).

Next year, they may be out with another video game, in which I am doing 5 or 6 animal reactions. I also gurgled as a monster Alligator Boy for the film 'Highway' (originally titled the Leonard Cohen Untitled Project.)

KW: What advice do you have for the aspiring, up-and-coming voice actor?

GB: My advice: The motivator/coach in me would tell you that you can do anything which you set your heart on doing, as long as it doesn't violate the Laws of Man or 'Whatever' Universal Creator you believe in (and isn't ridiculous...like being a pro basketball player when you're only 4'5''). Also ask yourself if you were never 'paid' to do voiceovers, would you still do it. Yes, it's a lucrative paying job; but, you must first become satisfactory at voicing which moves you into the decent pay range as a 'regular' hired talent.
Wow, imagine me showing up to a voice class and saying 'this' instead of 'give me your money and I'll tell you how great you are'? So, back to advice: learn the craft and read a good book (one of my favorites is 'Word of Mouth' by Sue Blu) on the business before starting. If you are already started, the next step: find a good workout (voice) class and proceed as they may help you put a demo together or teach you how to. Before you ask: I don't voice teach/coach but more 'creative' coach.

KW: What other talents do you possess?

GB: People are mostly aware of my vocal abilities but not many have seen enough of my character acting work for TV and films which I am pursuing currently (as Mel Blanc had been known for) and I have aspired to build a career out of. As I have made this choice, a whole new team needs to be assembled with an agent and press to help build the awareness of these talents. This has been a passion of mine since my teen years and discovered The National Lampoon Radio Players who eventually went on to be major comedy/character acting influences from Bill Murray to Dan Aykroyd, and Saturday Night Live Players. (Feels like I'm launching a plane here until it comes together further.) Just saying here, I have a lot more to offer. To add to the progress, I also studied and/or performed with the best I could find: from the Second City L.A. Performers Group to National Lampoon L.A. directed by Ryan Stiles.

Daws Butler with puppets of cartoon characters he voiced,
including Huckleberry Hound!

Mel Blanc and his illustrious career of characters...

 (At this point, Muley the Mule walked in with his notepad and pen in hand and decided it was his turn. After a hearty apology, I left the room and left poor Greg with the mule.)

MULEY THE MULE: Hi, Greg, I’m your ‘Mule on the Street: In Print’ reporter. I have a few very hard-hitting, important questions that the readers want to know. First up: Paper or plastic?

GREG BERG: I assume you mean when shopping? I ask for rubber!

MTM: How do you like your eggs cooked?

GB: I am a fried, egg white kinda guy.

MTM: Just so you know, I have a friend who is a duck. He was an egg once. I just want you to think about that next time you’re eating an egg. That could have been someone’s pal! Anyway, what’s your favorite color?

GB: Plaid!

MTM: This one is a deep question and almost always stumps people: Where do you squeeze your toothpaste tube?

GB: Squeeze?! I 'suck' my toothpaste out of the tube like everyone else! ...oh, I get it..trick question!

MTM: You’ve been studying! Now, with spring on the horizon folks will be looking to cohabitate until the fall (or, that’s how it is in some species—I just talked to a flamingo this morning about this and, well, let’s finish here first and I’ll tell you all about the flamingo later): Toilet paper! Over or under?

GB: C'mon! I grew up in the suburbs of Ohio where we would BURN our trash, in a can, out in the backyard! The question SHOULD BE: 'Leaves or Sears Catalogue pages?’

MTM: Interesting!

(At this point, I could see Muley in the room stop talking for a moment to jot down a bunch of notes which, to this day, I have never seen. I did see him draw something about an animal backed up to a tree..?)

MTM: And the final question, Mr. Berg: If you had a girl name what would it be?

GB: My name as a Girl? I haven't been to prison, so don't know? What would your girl name be?

MTM: Gotta run!

(With that, Muley fled the room and I re-entered to apologize again for anything Muley may have said or done in that time.)
KW: Thank you again, Greg, for your time to answer these questions and for playing along with our mule. Anything else you’d like to add?

GB: Glad to be a part of such a great industry. Thanks for your interest in my voice contributions.

We appreciate Mr. Berg! You can hear him in just about anything and more—so, keep your ears tuned in!

THE MUPPETS -New on DVD and Blu Ray 3/20/2012!  The Muppets also get a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame--hop here to read about it!

You can read my review on the movie (which is chock FULL of spoilers) by clicking here, and Muley's review (or whatever it is!) will be below. But, for now, let’s visit with Mr. Berg’s thoughts on the movie:

I saw 'The Muppets' at the
El Capitan Theater in Hollywood. The theater site was partly used as a location in the movie. Very surreal, saying to myself 'Whoa! I'm 'in' that very theater seen in the movie, watching the Muppets do their show in this theater for the movie I'm watching! 

I enjoyed the upbeat feel to it. As I've been a part of the 'audience' of Muppets Lovers and have seen the ups and downs of their work, so I was happy to see it held up for the story they were presenting.

What was fun to see was when they tapped into using TV favorite moments; i.e. recreating the Muppet Show Theme for the Muppet Telethon. Glad Jason (Segel) and Nick Stoller, his writing partner, added this element as it was fun seeing a bit of the TV memory on the big screen. Noticed the very brief celebrity cameos, but not sure if that was cut short to focus on the Muppets or not to put too much TV element into it? As maybe the Muppets performing a song or sketch with a celebrity would take away from the main story point.

I had heard, the movie may have run 3 hours before some scenes were cut from the final presentation.

When I was growing up with the Muppets, (before having any personal connection), the attraction was how it was fun and family-friendly to watch. The Muppets taking a road trip is familiar (families relate with, park scenes, friendships formed) compared to some movies since whose including product tie-ins keep people cautionary, taking away from their enjoying the story and show.

'The Muppets' movie and my connection: I was brought in to be the voice of the (unseen) Stage Manager for the critical scene where the Muppets rush around and have 15 seconds to go before the Telethon starts. One Muppet says "15 seconds", then it gets to 1 second and you hear my low volume voice—to establish the manager is in the control booth. I'm heard for about 2 seconds saying, '1...Cue Scooter!' Then, the show begins.

Later, after the power outage, they restart the show and again you may hear me louder on a speaker cueing them with '3...2' then they begin again, back onstage.

So, for those who love 'micromanaged' movie trivia, it fits into me being the ONLY actor from the animated Muppet Babies show who can be heard in a Muppet Movie--(for now) as years ago when actors had added voices in movie, trivia buffs had discovered Paul Frees was 3 or 4 voices in 1 movie scene. Plus, I was asked to do my 'natural' voice (Muppets do the only characters—after all: it's their movie).

Head on over now and buy your own copy of this fantastic movie; click the poster!
And now, here is Muley the Mule's (tongue-in-cheek) review of "The Muppets:"

Videography by DaMarco Randle.

Yeah.  It seems to me that someone's "review" turned into a jealous rant.  He'll get over it, though. That 'Walter' doll behind him?  That belongs to Muley.  And, most folks already know I'm a big fan of Walter's:

Don't forget that I also interviewed Kami Asgar and Rocco Fonzarelli, the sound guys for The Muppets.  You can read it at Muppet Central by clicking here.

Images not of Muley or myself are copyrighted by their owners, links to the origin of images used here represent credit given to the source. 

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