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Wednesday, September 17, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 41.0° F  A Few Clouds
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Voice actors John Roberts and Eugene Mirman discuss performing a Bob's Burgers episode live on stage
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John Roberts and Eugene Mirman

Several juicy ingredients make Bob's Burgers a hit among fans of Fox's animated sitcoms and critics at publications such as Paste and Slant. The show stars the Belcher family, whose struggling burger restaurant violates nearly every health code imaginable. Filled with bizarre situations and offbeat humor, their weekly misadventures are cleverly sketched out by writers from animated classics such as Dr. Katz and King of the Hill. Improvisation is also integral to the recording process, as it shows off the voice actors' comedy chops.

When the cast visits the Barrymore Theatre on Thursday, Nov. 1, they'll do a table reading of an episode and show how their standup-comedy talents inform their characters.

I spoke with John Roberts, who voices Linda, the mother of the Belcher clan, and Eugene Mirman, who plays her only son, Gene.


The Daily Page: John, your impressions of your own mother eventually landed you the role of Linda. When did you first start to develop the characters that make up your standup routine?
Roberts: In my late 20s, I hosted my own weekly show at a bar in [New York City's] East Village, and that's where I developed all my characters. ... It was a really unique club [with] a nice little stage in the back, and I could DJ, so it was a really good way to gauge what was funny or not, and I didn't have the pressure of people having to [deal with] a horrendous cover charge and drink minimum. ... I think had I gone that [other] route into the comedy-club world, I would have either been a very different comic or not continued.


When creating a new character, do you conceive a biography first?
Roberts: It's more like singing and finding the right note, and then carving out all the other stuff after. My characters are a mix of people I've known in my personal life, mixed with moments or details of things that I've seen on television or in movies and culture that I think are interesting. Those I compile more like thoughts in a Monty Python sort of way and then just move on, going with what the audience reacts to and what I've had the most fun doing.


How has your life changed since you became a part of Bob's Burgers?
Roberts: Um, I'm a major cokehead now? [Laughs.] No, let's see... I don't think it's really changed. It's opened up a lot more opportunities and a bigger audience. But I think in this business, you just want to keep a level head and enjoy the moment as it's happening. It's important to stay grounded and just keep making new stuff, which I think I would have done had Bob's Burgers happened or not. But I definitely feel very lucky to hear my voice coming out of a TV on Sunday nights. It's all a little surreal, but hopefully the show will keep going so someday I can have some money in the bank.


Eugene, could you tell me about the show's recording process?
Mirman: [The cast] does each scene maybe three or four times, and we get to improvise as much as we want. When we're done, [the producers] edit what they like. ... The writers do write some very funny scripts. It's not like [you] create new scenes that take the entire thing in a new direction. ... You just have more freedom to say something silly, and if it works, you feel like the greatest American in the world.


John was also telling me that the cast is split between the coasts during the recording process, and that you listen to each other through live feeds...
Mirman: Yeah, we're split between the coasts, but we're almost always together on headphones. Then, of course, we wear helmets, and I'll wear a Batman costume. And then everyone else dresses up as Wonder Woman.


Is it unusual for a cartoon to work in that way?
Mirman:I don't think it's necessarily the norm. I think with a lot of other cartoons, you just go in and say your lines, you're alone, and then you leave. I think the shows that [creator] Loren [Bouchard] has produced like Dr. Katz and Lucy, the Daughter of the Devil have been recorded in this fashion. And because most of the cartoons I've done I've done with him, it's sort of what I'm used to.


On Bob's Burgers, you play the youngest son, Gene. Is there a stipulation in your contract that on whatever project you work on, your character's name has to be a variation of your own name?
Mirman: I wish I had a combination of that kind of power and eccentricity. I think it's really just that everyone who has put me in something has cast me as a version of myself and named the character after me. [Laughs.]


Are there any other Genes or Eugenes you hope to play someday? Gene Kelley? Pope Eugene the IV?
Mirman: In Mad Men, there's a baby Gene. When he's all grown up, I hope to be [him]. I also hope to be Eugene in the next Star Wars.


Do you have a favorite burger restaurant that you'd like to be a spokesman for?
Mirman: Does Apple computers count?


How has your life changed since joining Bob's Burgers?
Mirman: I have access to more sushi.

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