Futurama's Billy West: Cons are becoming "a place to see and be seen"
Billy West isn't a household name, but everybody in your household is likely familiar with his body of work. West, who has been working in the voice acting industry for about 30 years, has given life to characters like Bugs Bunny, the red M&M, and both Ren and Stimpy. Most recently he's been heard on Futurama as Fry, Professor Farnsworth, Dr. Zoidberg, and Zapp Brannigan (among others).
Hitting town this weekend as part of the three-day Meta Con festival, West will talk with fans about his experiences, his voices, and nerd culture as a whole. In preparation for his first trip to the Twin Cities, Dressing Room chatted with him about the convention circuit, staying young, and the uncertain fate of Futurama.
When you do conventions, do you get a chance to mingle with the other speakers, or is it primarily about interacting with fans?
Billy West: It's mostly fans -- signing and talking to everybody, and then I have to go decompress at night. It's a long day, but I love it.
I'm looking forward to enjoying everybody, and getting a chance to thank people for bringing [Futurama] back as many times as they did.
Is it hard on your voice to talk all day like that?
Oh, no, not at all.
What are some of the standout oddities you've seen at the conventions
The weirdest thing that's happened to conventions is, ever since big Hollywood co-opted them, all the beautiful people started to show up and crowd out the nerds and the geeks. These are the same people who used to beat them up in high school, and they went on to create their own thing, and now everybody is back from high school.
You're seeing that everywhere? It's not specifically, say, in San Diego?
Not everywhere, but I'm seeing it and these shows are becoming so huge. It's like a place to see and be seen. It's an event no one ever predicted.
The one here, Meta Con, is definitely growing.
At first, cities used to see Comic Con in San Diego and their reaction was, 'We don't know if we want that element in our town.' And then they found out that San Diego receives $70 million in revenue from the fans that come there -- it changes their economic picture overnight -- so every city in the world wants to find out if they can do a Comic Con, and how many times a year can they get away with it.
It sounds like Futurama has stood out as one of your favorite jobs.
I would say it was my most favorite.
What make it your favorite?
I love the writing. I can't believe how good it is. I'm really, really happy to record it, and I've never had a bad day once for it, ever. I remember when we started in 1999 that I loved every minute of it.
Do you have a favorite one-off character or voice that you've done for the show?
I can't answer that, really, because it's like asking a parent which one of their kids is their favorite. I put everything into what I did. One-thousand percent into everything -- there weren't any throwaways for me.
Do you have any characters are closest to you in real life, personality-wise?
Fry is the closest to me because I was like that when I was 25. I played in a band, and I was always whiny and complained.
As you mention, Fry is perpetually 25 years old. As you age, is it hard to keep hitting these pitches and sounding like a range of different age groups?
I'm one of those guys who refuses to grow up, and I've always had the spirit of a child. I never lost my ability to play, fool around, and all that stuff.
You're not growing into the Professor?
No, not at all.
Since I've mostly been asking about Futurama, is this season actually the end?
Don't give up yet. They're talking to everybody, so we'll see what happens.
I imagine you've come to live with that uncertainty surrounding the show.
I have plenty to do. I'm working a preschool show right now called 7D, a take on the seven dwarfs, and I do a lot of commercials and stuff. I'm pretty busy. But I'd love to go back and work on that show any day of the week.
You've mentioned in past interviews that there has been an influx of celebrity voices. Have they been detrimental to the bigger picture?
I don't understand it. I don't give a shit about celebrities, I don't care about them, I never wanted to be one. I just want to bring some skill to the table. I didn't care about being famous, and I didn't care about making money. All I want to do is work and be a craftsman who creates something instead of getting away with murder and going in and getting paid $20 million for doing something that sounds exactly like me.
IF YOU GO:
Meta Con Hyatt Regency Minneapolis 1300 Nicollet Mall, Minneapolis $30; $40 weekend pass; $110 platinum pass Noon to 2 a.m. Friday; 10 a.m. to 2 a.m. Saturday; 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday metaconvention.com
Get the Arts & Culture Newsletter
Find out about arts and culture events in Minneapolis & St. Paul and offers you won't hear about anywhere else.
1300 Nicollet Mall
Minneapolis, MN 55403