Born in Detroit, Michigan in 1958, Billy West began his career providing comedic impressions for radio. He is now one of the most respected voice artists working today.
Billy West may not be a household name but Entertainment Weekly once referred to him as ”The Mel Blanc of the 90s.’ West has the uncanny ability to replicate Blanc’s voice and has regularly voiced Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd in numerous Looney Toon shows/video games and even in the 1996 basketball classic ‘Space Jam.’
Within the voice over industry there is high demand for a talent such as West who can perform vocal replication but West prefers voicing original characters that are exclusively his to voice. In an interview with the A.V Club West pointed out that many voice actors want to replicate the Looney Toons characters, as they want to be deemed the new Mel Blanc. In his belief, you become the new Mel Blanc through voicing original characters. Obviously West did not think much of Entertainment Weekly deeming him as the new Mel Blanc as that was before West really began voicing his own original characters.
Original characters voiced by West
Fans of Matt Groening’s ‘Futurama’ will know West as the voice of Fry, Professor Farnsworth, Dr Zoidberg and Zapp Brannigan. West intentionally used a voice very close to his natural voice for the character of Fry so it would be difficult to replicate. For the voice of Zapp Brannigan, West uses a voice similar to that of Saturday Night Live legend Phil Hartman who was originally cast as Brannigan but was tragically murdered.
Due to the prominence of Fry, Farnsworth and Zoidberg, West often has to record conversations involving these three characters. He is able to alternate his voice in real time thus performing these conversations in one voice over recording session. West cites Futurama as his favourite show.
Aside from his Futurama characters, West also provided the original voice for Stimpy from ‘The Ren and Stimpy show’ and eventually replicated John Kricfalusi’s Ren when Jon was fired from the show. ‘Ren and Stimpy’ was one of the three Nicktoons original cartoons along with ‘Rugrats’ and ‘Doug’. Doug Funnie and his rival Roger are both voiced by West. The irony of voicing a character as sweet as Doug and characters as psychotic and neurotic as Ren and Stimpy was not lost on West.
Many animated films from the likes of Disney and Dreamworks hire famous actors to provide the voices for their characters. Billy West is very much against this. From a professional point of view he realises the actors don’t have enough voice acting ability and they are cast simply to attach a big name to the project. West singled out Cameron Diaz as an example. Her performance as Princess Fiona in Shrek was, at the time, the highest paid voice actress earning the Charlie’s Angels actress a hefty 20 million yet Diaz just used her normal speaking voice. West has been very outspoken on the matter and fails to understand why projects spend so much money hiring big names when professional voice actors would do a far, better job for significantly less pay.
Aside from voice work on television shows, West has also gained notoriety through his work on advertisements. His most famous voice is that of the red M&M.
In addition West also voiced the Honey Nut Cheerios Bee on advertisements for the popular cereal brand.
West’s talents go further than voice-work, he is also an accomplished guitarist who has performed with legends such as Lou Reed and Brian Wilson and he toured with Roy Orbison.
West describes himself as an artist and claims he was a loner at school who spent his time studying and performing music.
This article was written by Kimberley Thompson. Kim was born and raised in Reading, Berkshire. She studied in King’s College in London but went back to Reading right after. Kim is currently working as a content curator for a London-based SEO agency on a project for San Sebastian Apartments in the north of Spain, but her true passions are journalism and writing fiction.