H. Jon Benjamin talks about the new season of Archer, Bob’s Burgers, and Coach McGuirk
Archer‘s newest season premiered last night on FX, and really shook things up for longtime fans of the show. And lucky for me, I had a chance to chat with the voice of Archer, H. Jon Benjamin, a few weeks ago about this new direction for the over-the-top adult cartoon. I’ve been a follower of Jon’s career since the days of his work on the quirky Adult Swim show, Home Movies, where he plays a drunken kids’ soccer named Coach McGuirk, as well as the loveable precocious Jason. He’s also brought to life animated characters in Dr. Katz, Space Ghost Coast to Coast, and Bob Belcher in Bob’s Burgers which is currently airing on Fox.
While I had so many questions about Archer, I didn’t hold back asking him about his work with Loren Bouchard on Home Movies and Bob’s Burgers, as well as his brief live-action comedy, Jon Benjamin Has a Van, which aired on Comedy Central but was cancelled after 10 episodes. Some of the more random things I took away from this conversation were:
- Jon (and I) would like to see Jason from Home Movies make a random cameo on Archer.
- Jon Benjamin likes chowder and bourbon.
- If Sterling Archer, Coach McGuirk, and Bob Belcher got into a drinking contest, Bob would lose hard, and Coach McGuirk would win based on his body size.
- If Jon could have anyone on Cash Stall, it would be Warren Beatty.
- Sterling Archer is what would happen if Coach McGuirk became a secret agent.
Coach McGuirk from Home Movies. A perfect role model for children.
I watched all the shows last night. I was blown away.
Oh, I’m sorry to hear that. Yes. I haven’t seen any yet. So, I’m glad that you were blown away.
Do you know why they decided to go in such a completely different direction this season, sort of changing so many things?
Well, I think there’s a lot of changes and a lot that stays the same obviously, but I think Adam Reed probably got very drunk one night while he was writing on his computer.
Watched too many episodes of Miami Vice late at night or something?
I mean I’m not exactly sure why is the real answer, but I assume it has something to do with wanting to kind of change the environment a little bit. But, the good thing is the characters are pretty much the same dynamics. They’re the same. It’s just more confusion, more of the same confusion.
Obviously, as noted, many changes to be had, but what was your reaction when Adam first broke the news to you about how dramatically the series was going to be changing? Was everyone briefed at once, or did you get a late night drunken phone call?
We all went to the briefing room, the briefing chamber underneath the briefing room and no, for the last couple of seasons, he’s had very kind of high concept ideas. So, I think he tells everybody individually. I don’t think we’re ever all in the same room for anything. So, yes, like last season with the Bob Burger’s crossover, I think he had called me to tell me that, about that. So, I was forewarned about this change. But then, when he told me in detail what was going to happen, I was thrilled. I mean I loved the idea. But in fairness, I couldn’t reject it. I couldn’t say, “Don’t do that.” I don’t have that kind of power.
Was there any particular aspect of the changes that really surprised you or you just kind of roll with the punches with Adam now?
Yes, it was more like not punches, but slight slaps and I rolled with it. I really love the idea that they’ve been operating without a license for all these years and also maybe the underlying idea that at any point in espionage as a whole, the organizations can eat themselves kind of thing. So, I thought it was a great way to change the show.
How did the character of “Archer” come to be? There seemed to be a lot of really interesting personality characterizations that make him up. So, did one person or celebrity influence how you play him, or is there a lot of yourself you see in “Archer?”
It wasn’t really based on anybody in particular, any celebrity. I think I had the initial idea to make him—try and portray him as suave, but I couldn’t really do that. So, I just played it by ear. I mean I kind of pictured him in a tuxedo a lot like James Bond. I just don’t embody that. I can barely get into a tux. Everything is odd fitting lately. Yes, I just kind of played him as a very hyper-aggressive version of me.
The gang on Archer, courtesy of FX
So, any of the other really memorable and hilarious characters you’ve played in animation like “Coach McGuirk” or “Bob Belcher,” do you really see yourself in any of those one characters particularly?
Well, I mean “Coach McGuirk” probably was…. So, it really had to kind of be me. “Archer” was, I think, initially inspired certainly from Adam Reed’s perspective. I think he wanted a spy version of “Coach McGuirk.” So, I they share a lot of traits.
That’s awesome, the spy version of “Coach McGuirk.” That’s so cool.
Well, they both drink a lot and just “Archer” has a lot more physical talents.
As we’ve already said, season five is probably the biggest departure for the Archer series. What did you enjoy most about recording for Archer Vice this year?
The outfits. The outfits I wore were much better; all Miami Vice stuff that I wore while recording. So, that was fun to do, finally to get back to the way I used to dress.
You had mentioned earlier about Bob Burger’s episode that you did from last season. Are there any other characters from your past that you’d like to see do another crossover episode? Like what other characters would you like to see done?
Wow. I suppose that and “Katz” or something, or maybe like “Jason” from Home Movies should walk by, but all grown up now.
My question is what can fans kind of expect from season five since I know we’ve seen some of it, but they haven’t, and is there a particular episode you’re excited for them to see?
Well, the first episode, obviously, really defines the whole change of what’s going on in the season. We haven’t finished recording the whole season yet, so there’s more to come. So, I can’t really pick the favorite except for the first one, which I think is a real—I don’t know if you’ll be shocked, but you’ll be hopefully duly surprised. So, be prepared. I would say definitely the first episode. It’s really fun to see what happens to ISIS.
Can you talk a little bit about how “Lana’s” pregnancy will change the dynamic with “Archer” this season since usually they’re partners?
Yes. Well, she’s moving a little slower and carrying some extra weight. Doing what she’s doing this season and being pregnant, there’s a fairly huge conflict of interest.
Do you prefer the mystery around “Sterling’s” father, or do you feel that he should be revealed?
I prefer the mystery I think. I think it fuels his anger. It’s both what makes him good at what he does and bad as a human being, which is fun to watch. So, yes, I mean maybe it will get resolved, but I’m not sure “Malory” knows.
I wanted to find out what perhaps have you found have been some of the biggest acting challenges would you say in creating a character using just your voice.
Well, it was very hard initially when I first did it, but that was like a long time ago. It’s hard to be sort of physically restrained. I mean I’m not tied up or anything, except on occasion from the night before. Well, whatever. That’s a little bit difficult when I started, but I guess I’m just kind of used to it now. I’ve been doing for so long. I get kind of used to just working alone in a booth. But at first, it was definitely odd. I remember feeling that way, like how do you negotiate this. Like can I yell? Like am I too loud? Yes, so there’s a lot of like natural restraints, like being extra careful, which I wouldn’t do in a live performance.
[…] Did you always want to work in this industry while you were growing up, or did you have other professions in mind?
I had a lot of professions in mind when I was younger I think – a fireman, arsonist, insurance adjustor, a lot to do with fire and fire making and fire prevention, tobacconist. I mean I definitely didn’t want to get into voice acting. I just was interested in acting and that was what I was good at early on. So, the voice acting part of it came just as a coincidence I guess.
So, you have worked really extensively with Loren Bouchard on some of the best kind of adult cartoons that exist. What do you love about working with Loren so much and do you see yourself working with him past Bob Burger’s or even with Brendon Small again?
I don’t know. I work so closely with Loren still. Brendon I haven’t worked with since Home Movies. So, I mean he was great to work with, but with Loren, I certainly read that he’s made the claim that he won’t do a show without me. I’d hold him to that. I don’t know how many more shows he’ll do, but it’s great working with Loren. We sort of started together doing what we do now. So, it’s been a pretty parallel trajectory. Loren started at editing my improvisation for Dr. Katz. Now, he’s making his own shows and I’m still doing the same thing. So, he’s really progressed. I’m just still doing the same thing. So, now I’m mad. Now, you’ve got me angry at him. But yes, I’d always be happy to work with Loren. He’s very passionate about what he does and that’s really a good foil for my dispassion.
How much of Bob Burger’s with Loren is improv? Do you do a lot of improv in that set?
We do. I mean I think I’ve heard Loren claim it’s about 90/10. They do a lot of improv obviously that they don’t use, but I think they use about 10%-15% of the improv that we do. I mean the show is really well written and they’ve had I think pretty much the same writer since the first season. So, they do a great job, but Loren always encourages improv for pretty much every take we do.
Bob Belcher, from Bob’s Burgers on Fox
Is there such a thing as too much or over the top with Archer?
It doesn’t seem so. I mean it lives pretty within itself I have to say. So, as much as it’s over the top, it feels organic. You know what I mean? I haven’t seen them go way outside themselves, and that was a slight concern with like a Bob Burger’s crossover because that can get like, “Oh, why are you ruining it?” But, he pulled it off. It was seamless. If you didn’t know Bob Burger’s, I don’t think you would have even batted your eyes at that. So, even when they do things very conceptual, it somehow still works for Archer.
One thing I’ve always really liked about the show but wondered; have you ever talked with Adam about when is it really set? Not to give away the spoiler of what’s to come, but they have the Internet, they have cell phones, but at the same time, they’re fighting the KGB for … the coding machines and “Woodhouse” is talking about World War I. So….
Time is pretty fungible in Archer I feel, yes. Sometimes Burt Reynolds seemed like he was of his time, but the car that he was driving was from the ‘70s. I mean they preserve cars. So, that’s maybe a sad example, but yes, there’s pretty much a very broad sense of time in Archer. I think it was that was from the onset. So, that was the world the way they structured it and I don’t think it’s ever really changed.
So obviously, the whole season so far is kind of a throwback to the 1980s and Miami Vice. …recurring jokes … cocaine addiction. So, I was wondering what sort of aspects of that whole ‘80s cop show would you most looking to … this season in your discussions with Adam.
Well, I mean it certainly seems like a lot—yes. Archer seemed to start in the ‘60s, late-‘70s in a way with this kind of nod to James Bond and that’s sort of progressing through the decade. I can’t wait for the ‘90s. But yes, I was a teenager, I think, when Miami Vice came out and that was such a huge show. So, I was excited when I heard that the whole format was sort of—but I think it’s sort of like the James Bond backdrop or landscape. It’s not necessarily—the show kind of maintains itself. It just sort of transitions into this kind of ‘80s world more so, but it’s not really a lampooning of Miami Vice I think.
So, my question for you is what your favorite drink?
Like drink drink or any drink?
No, like drink drink.
Drink drink. Not like soda water.
Not like grape juice.
I hear you. I don’t mix a lot, but I like beer and wine mostly. If I do have a drink drink, it will be I guess bourbon. It would be bourbon.
So, if “Coach McGuirk” and “Sterling Archer” and “Bob Belcher” got into a drinking contest, who do you think would take home the gold?
I’d say “Coach McGuirk” I guess. He’s bigger. “Bob Belcher” would lose by a long shot. He would be in real bad shape, but “Archer” and “Coach McGuirk” I think would have a good go at it, but I think “Coach McGuirk” just solely based on alcohol weight and the ability to process.
One question I have about the new season going forward is can you foresee “Archer” sincerely trying to become a would-be father to “Lana’s” child in the future?
I think that there’s always the hope or there’s always the desire to probably do that, although I just don’t have a lot of confidence in “Archer” as the character to commit to that kind of thing yet. I think he’ll be more like one of those guys who might be able to raise a child when he’s in his mid-60s. So, I think he wants to do that, but I think his emotional issues, deep, deep emotional issues would always get in the way.
Archer’s new season premiered last night on FX. Catch it Mondays at 10pm Eastern and Pacific time.
Speaking of the emotional issues, if there’s one life lesson “Sterling Archer” needs to learn, what do you think that is?
I think he probably needs to sort of get over these issues with his mother, but that’s hard to do. Most people can’t. I think he probably needs to cut the line with his mom and just go somewhere and write an autobiography.
What is the fan response? I mean you said that you do get recognized, but do you get like high-fives from bros and stuff like that and free beers?
I will get an occasional high-five from some bros, yes.
When you’re in the booth, is there a different sense of collaboration by working off of other performers?
Well, the way it works with Archer is I really just work off this guy named Matt Thompson and this guy named Casey who are producers of the show Archer. They’re on the line. So, I always work off them and sometimes we’ll do scenes together; like we would read together a scene and sometimes I’ll just do line reading, but they’re very good at directing me as to what they want. So, that works out well.
Jon Benjamin Has a Van aired on Comedy Central
I did want to ask you about Jon Benjamin Has a Van because it was such a hilarious show and it was a completely unique setting for us to see you in, but it ended only after ten episodes. In a few days, I know you’ll be talking about it in LA at the Celebration of Failure. So, why do you think it was a failure, and if you had to choose one celebrity to be on Cash Stall, who would it be?
Well, I guess I’ll answer the latter first. Cash Stall celebrities, it would have to be male I feel like just out of respect. I’d like somebody older, somebody—so, who would I like to interrupt while taking a shit? That’s really the bottom line, right?
Who would I like to … next to the most and who would I like to talk to while they go to the bathroom. It’s so hard – Warren Beatty. Yes, why not? And then, why was it a failure? Well, it got canceled and that’s the obvious reason, but I think it was also a show that was kind of finding its footing and we were kind of just getting going as it was dwindling in favor, if it ever had any favor with the audience. So, I think it just sort of never took hold and that was the sad fact. But, I really wanted to do more. The failure part comes from deep inside.
I think it was kind of ahead of its time. I don’t know. I think they should bring it back. I thought it was really great.
Thank you. I don’t know if it was ahead of its time, but yes, I think a lot of people disliked it for valid reasons. It was a bit all over the place. That’s what I’m like. I’m a happy little mess.
Catch the new Archer on FX, Mondays at 10pm Eastern and Pacific. Thanks again to Jon for the really awesome Q&A.