If you enjoy watching American Dad I am guessing you are a fan of Dee Bradley Baker. He is the voice of many loveable characters including the East German goldfish named Klaus we see on American Dad.
Baker is one of the most versatile and sought after A-list voice actors working today. His voice is seemingly everywhere, featured in literally hundreds of television shows, movies and top video games. Over the past two decades, Dee has earned an extraordinary reputation among show creators and fans alike with his chameleon-like acting skills and his wide range of realistic creature sounds, from tiny birds and insects to gigantic monsters.
Thanks to TBS I was able to chat with Dee about his work on American Dad, voice acting, and fatherhood. Make sure you check out Dee’s parenting site, http://whatihavelearnedasaparent.com, where he shares his experiences as a father.
Art Eddy: Let’s first talk about your own American Dad. Fans of the show love your work as Klaus. What has been the most ridiculous thing in your mind that you had to voice for Klaus?
Dee Bradley Baker: The most ridiculous thing, (laughs) I am trying to narrow it down. The whole situation of Klaus is just completely absurd and utterly ridiculous in it of itself. I don’t know how to narrow that down. My God he is an East German athlete in a goldfish body. I don’t know how you get more ridiculous than that. Just the basic setup itself is pretty ridiculous.
AE: The cast is fantastic and the show is hilarious. I know you all are professionals, but are there times where you are cracking each other up? Do you even record the show all together? If so how many takes on average do you guys need to complete a scene?
DBB: The only time we get to read together is at a table read, which is when we read straight through the scripts or at a convention. Otherwise we are
recorded separately. The only time we have to crack each other up is probably at a table read. That happens a lot. It is really fun because we get to go through the entire script and tell the whole story essentially to a live audience among the animators and the studio and the people that make the show.
We are all surrounded in a medium sized conference room. It sounds like a really boring setting, but everyone is there to have fun. We get to read through it. We laugh all the way through the show. It is a really great way to see what the show is going to be and then allows the writers to see what tweaks they need to make, if any for the script which we record a few days later.
AE: American Dad has 12 seasons so far. When you guys started out the show did you ever think that the show would have this much longevity?
DBB: For me I think it has been the longest enduring TV show that I ever been on. It is one thing that I have learned doing animated shows. You can tell if the show is a strong show or it is solid and really funny. That often doesn’t translate into longevity. It may be a show where it is placed where nobody sees it or the people in charge of making it would rather make something different that one year.
There are just a lot of variables that don’t have to do with the quality of the show that come into whether or not a show is going to be renewed again and again. For a lot of shows the quality of the show does count. It certainly does for this show. It has been a really solid show right out of the gate. It has always been a solid performer. It keeps going. I ultimately have to pin that on the writing of the show. It has always been very funny, but it also has been very innovative. It is not afraid to take weird chances and try weird ideas out.
It still holds to the basically family sitcom premise. By that I do not mean it is a show that is aimed for the entire family to see, but rather one that is aimed at a family that affirms its relationships in kind of an adult manner for this particular show. I got to pin the longevity on this on the writers. It is a great team all around. From the people on the technical end as well as the artists. I think the voice cast can take some credit for that. Ultimately I think that the writing is just so strong. That’s part of why the show has legs.
AE: You do a ton of voice work for video games, animated series, and so much more. How long does it take you to craft a voice for each character on an average basis?
DBB: For any show you are hired and brought in for whatever you did in the audition. Occasionally there is a voice that starts one way and then either the voice changes or the way they write it changes. An example of that is on Adventure Time, the character of Cinnamon Bun. Cinnamon Bun started one way and is now very different. It has been so long that I don’t know what I originally did, but I do remember that this has become something different. I pushed it that way myself because I wanted to do the character a different way. Fortunately for that show they didn’t care because it was Adventure Time.
Now Klaus is an interesting example because when they first started with Klaus it was essentially sexy fish was what they wanted. The fish has the hots for Francine. That was kind of what the original story was. They very quickly dropped that line. What strikes me is it is about his inability to fulfill anything that he wants to do. Just being confined and cut off from fulfilling himself in any way. He is easily dismissed or forgotten. That is part of the fun as it turns out about Klaus. Sometimes it is just a brief reference in an episode. Sometimes it is a whole storyline about that.
That is the way I see it. It has transformed to a different dynamic that they very quickly got a lock on actually. They made it about Klaus’ ineffective impotence. A lot of people who watch the show may in some way relate to it. Maybe that is what is kind of irresistible about that character. I think each character in the show has something that is kind of irresistible at its core, but each one is very different. The dynamic of it all fits together very beautifully.
AE: I also have to ask this as a Star Wars fan. I know many people like myself where pumped to see you return as Captain Rex in Star Wars Rebels. What was your initial reaction once you found out about Rex getting into the mix on that series?
DBB: I was thrilled that Rex would come back. That was one of the characters that I wanted to know what happened to after the Clone Wars was over. You kind of know what happened to all the main characters. Most all of the clones die. I assume because they just kept dying.
I was really glad to learn that Ahoska (Tano) came back and that Rex was coming back. I was really hoping to see (Asajj) Ventress again. I was really wanted to know what happened to her. I don’t know if that is ever going to happen. I was thrilled. I think the fans really responded. I actually went online and ordered an old Captain Rex figurine. I think the price was probably hyped up. It was the last one available on Amazon. I was like, ‘Oh, I got it.’ (Both laugh.)
I am glad the fans respond to old Rex. I can’t really think of a character in animation that is like that. It is this dependable soldier that has aged. Now he is kind of dependable Grandpa soldier in a way since he never had a family. I think people like that. The like the idea of a smart, dependable, good hearted soldier, who is competent and loyal. Just everything that is laudable in a person. I think everyone would love to have that. I think everyone is happy to have old Rex back.
AE: Switching to fatherhood now, what are some of the core values you look to instill in your children as they grow up?
DBB: I think about things like this being a middle aged dad myself. I actually made a website called what I have learned as a parent.com. I tried to write out everything I learned as a parent. (Laughs.) I am not an authority. It is not like a how to guide or anything. I work with other casts and people who are younger than me. They are just a step behind me in terms of just starting a family. They will occasionally ask me for advice.
I have actually learned a few things that may be helpful. So I was like I will just make a website. You can go to that if you want and learn about things I learned as a parent. What I want to instill into my kids is a sense of confidence. I want them to be curious. I want them to be nice people. Beyond that it is up to them.
AE: Your kids must think what you do is so cool. What is their take on your profession? Do they help you when you are coming up with voices?
DBB: There is a limit to how cool a kid thinks a parent is especially when once they get into the tweens and teens. My oldest when she was a kid wouldn’t allow me to read stories in voices. She just wanted to hear daddy’s voice. That was always the refrain. Talk normal daddy.
They like the shows that I do. They like to watch those shows. They have their own stuff too. It is more impressive for a dad to be at home, make dinner, and help clean up the kitchen, to listen and to play with them. That is a lot more important than me being a voice of a German goldfish or Cinnamon Bun or Captain Rex. There is a limit to how interesting daddy is with his career. It is mostly about where is daddy, is daddy around, does daddy love me, is daddy listening to me? That is the important stuff right there.
AE: How do you balance work and family?
DBB: One of the reasons that I chose voice acting is to balance work and family. It is a career that is freelance. The schedule is irregular and last minute, but it allows for a lot of time together. Right now I am sitting at home. I am not at an office doing a nine to five. I am home a lot of the week because my career allows that.
That is a lot of it for me. I want to be at home while my kids are still here. They are going to school and they are around. I want to be present in their lives. Also to help out my wife and be at home and everything else. I chose a career that allows me to be present. I think that is the most important thing in a relationship or in a family. It is just to be around as much as possible.
Life of Dad Quick Five
AE: What is your favorite family movie that you guys like to watch together?
DBB: We sure like Home Alone. That is a lot of fun. We always watch that at Christmas.
AE: Do you guys have a favorite song that you all like to dance to?
DBB: It has got to be something from the Hamilton musical soundtrack. What a fantastic soundtrack. We like Battle of Yorktown from the soundtrack.
AE: Describe the perfect family vacation.
DBB: The perfect family vacation is someplace where there are things to do, but nothing is prearranged or scheduled and there is nothing to worry about. Disneyland is pretty great. There is a lot of stuff to do. It is beautiful. I like Disneyland a lot. So I will say Disneyland.
AE: What was your favorite cartoon when you were growing up?
DBB: My favorite cartoon would probably be Looney Tunes. My favorite kids show was probably Land of the Lost. My favorite movie was Planet of the Apes.
AE: I love how you share your favorite voice directions on social media for that week. What is your favorite voice direction of all time?
DBB: (Laughs.) It is so absurd and ridiculous. Each one is so bizarre. I will try to pick out one recently. One was a banjo barf. There was a banjo barf and a dog sniffing itself. I don’t know. How do you choose between a banjo barf and a dog sniffing itself as a way to put bread on the table? I live in the greatest country in the world when I can do things like this and still have time to spend with my family and sit here and talk with you. I am a pretty lucky fellow I will tell you that.