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Wednesday, February 13, 2008

David Shankbone interviews Billy West

"I’m optimistic about my own life and things changing for the better. I don’t pin my existence on the industry. I really don’t. Some people, without their fame, they would just roll up into a ball and bounce away.... Celebrity means nothing to me."  Billy West

Ren and Stimpy. Bugs Bunny. Philip J. Fry and Professor Hubert Farnsworth on Futurama. Sparx. Bi-Polar Bear. Pop Eye. Woody Woodpecker. You may not think you have ever heard Billy West, but chances are on a television program, a movie, a commercial, or as Howard Stern's voice guru in the 1990's, you have heard him. West's talent for creating personalities by twisting his voice has made him one of a handful of voice actors—Hank Azaria and the late Mel Blanc come to mind—who have achieved celebrity for their talent. Indeed, West is one of the few voice actors who can impersonate Blanc in his prime, including characterizations of Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Elmer Fudd and other characters from Warner Bros. cartoons.

What is the fulcrum in Mr. West's life that led him to realize a talent to shape personalities with his voice, and how did the discovery of that gift shape him? David Shankbone found that like many great comedians, West faced more sour early in life than he did sweet. The sour came from a physically and emotionally abusive alcoholic father ("I could tell you the kind of night I was going to have from the sound of the key in the door or the way the car pulled up."), to his own problems with drug and alcohol use ("There is a point that you can reach in your life where you don’t want to live, but you haven’t made the decision to die.").

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Billy West, voice of Ren and Stimpy, Futurama, on the rough start that shaped his life
I’m telling you stuff that I never said to anybody...
...
Billy West, voice of Ren and Stimpy, Futurama, on the rough start that shaped his life

If sin, suffering and redemption feel like the stages of an endless cycle of American existence, West's own redemption from his brutalized childhood is what helped shape his gift. He performed little bits to cheer up his cowed mother, ravaged by the fact she could not stop her husband's abuse of young West. "I was the whipping boy and she would just be reduced to tears a lot of times, and I would come in and say stuff, and I would put out little bits just to pull her out of it."


GO HERE TO READ DAVID SHANKBONE'S INTERVIEW WITH BILLY WEST.

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