Privileged to be welcomed in to Goofy’s Bounce House and spend the afternoon with the wonderful and talented Bill Farmer. For someone who started off as a “shy, shy kid” he’s come a long way, and entertained millions in both his role as a voice artist, and a stand up comic. Listen up as several of the characters he’s voiced drop in to share with the fun!
Download Podcast: Conversation with Bill Farmer (right click “…save target as…”)
Although the whole conversation is only available as audio (see links above) here’s a short piece of video from our afternoon together:
Transcript of conversation with Bill Farmer
Andy: Okay this afternoon I’m in San Fernando Valley, California with Bill Farmer. Nice to meet you Bill.
Bill: It’s a pleasure, thanks.
Andy: Well, very generous of you to invite us into your home and thank you very much for your time.
Bill: Goofy’s Bounce House right here.
Andy: Yeah I’m looking forward to meeting him later on. And I think Pluto’s scratching at the door out there.
Bill: Oh yeah. He’s, yeah… he’s out there too.
Andy: So, Bill you‘ve had a very interesting career, which many people know you as the voice of Goofy and Pluto. And in some ways that’s where you started in voice-over, which is incredible but if you were to throw back, right back to your childhood where would you say your seed of development for this crazy career that you’re in, came from?
Bill: Probably my local theatre back in a little town, Pratt, Kansas, small town of about 7000. Growing up I just adored movies. And I would go to the movie theatre every Saturday and spend the afternoon in the day and they’d show a double feature, and cartoons and The Three Stooges and all of that. And I just fell in love with the movies. And I actually think the movie that made me want to get into this was a Ray Harryhausen movie called, with Sinbad, The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad
And it had stop-motion animation, and the monsters and all of that kind of stuff. And I thought, “Oh that would be a great way to make a living” to getting into that. And also animation, on television I would watch…mostly the Warner Brothers characters, the Bugs Bunny (Bugs Bunny) “Oh brother, ain’t I stinker?” (Sylvester the cat) “Sufferin’ suckertash! Where’s that Tweety Bird?” (Tweety) “Oh I tort I taw a putty cat” and I would practice those voices and found out I have a facility for doing voices.
Bill: And it was just kind of a party trick for years and years.
Andy: So… were you recording yourself or were you just…?
Bill: No, not at that time, it was just kind of playing with the voices, just for fun.
Andy: So, just in front of other people and…?
Bill: Yes… yeah not even in front of people, for a long time I kept it to myself because I was a really shy, shy kid.
Bill: And my friends mostly enjoyed that. And then they kind of pushed me up to, “Oh you ought to perform this. Let’s drive through…” When I got old enough to drive we’d go through places like, you know, Burger King and I’d order in weird voices (Pat Buttram voice), “I’d like a Scotch and Soda” or something. And uh… people would laugh and it was just kind of a party trick or game or just kind of a… a fun thing at parties for a long time until I got into college and kind of made it into a career.
Andy: Okay so, was that… the turning the party trick into… something that you… you’re a shy guy and I’m just logging that…
Andy: You’re a shy guy that can do voices and your friends loved that… and then a little bit further down the line you were a stand-up comedian…
Andy: And you can’t be terribly shy to be a stand-up comedian…
Bill: You would think that it’s… but a lot of stand-up comics are shy people. When you assume a character on stage, you become someone else.
Bill: You can kind of be a non-shy… bold type of character onstage while being a very… offstage a very shy person. A lot of actors are like that, a lot of stand-up comics are very shy when they’re one-on-one. Maybe it’s a way of compensating; maybe it is a way of overcoming that shyness. Either way, I found it easier to be… And I’ve never… I’ve never really sought the limelight, and I think that’s why I was attracted to voice-over. As opposed to, let’s say, an on-camera actor.
Bill: Because we get to play and we aren’t interested in the fame. It’s the job that’s the interesting part. It’s to be able to… the creativity…
Bill: It’s to bring life to all these characters. And we like to play. And I think that was what really drew me to it. And I’ve always enjoyed the audio. My degree was in broadcast journalism but I started, really in radio. And it’s a theatre of the mind; you can create scenes and characters that exist only in your imagination and using your voice to bring life to these characters, not through physicality but just through the audio.
Bill: And I always enjoyed that. And I’ve always enjoyed radio plays, old time radio shows, I’ve enjoyed that and so I guess it just kind of developed from that really.
Andy: Okay so how did you make the transition then from… I’m assuming you were working as a stand-up comic?
Bill: Yes, my degree was in broadcast journalism, I got a job for a few years as a radio disc jockey in small market stations throughout Oklahoma, Kansas, Texas, wound up in Dallas, Texas. And I wasn’t too happy with the radio, mainly because there was no money in it. I needed a little bit more money to live. And one night I went to a comedy club in Dallas and it was called The Comedy Corner. And I heard… and you could sign up to do just 5 minutes of comedy and I thought it would be just kind of fun to see what would happen. And so I signed up for the following week, I came back and had written a little 5 minute comedy routine, and it got a warm reception. And I was asked to come back to the club and so I started kind of doing it on a semi-regular basis and it got more and more regular.
Andy: So that was a chance entry?
Bill: Yes, yeah!
Andy: You thought, “Oh it’d be fun, let’s see what happens”? So it wasn’t a deliberate career move as such?
Bill: Not at that time.
Andy: I think this is very interesting because that’s a very positive way to move forward…
Bill: Yes and stand-up I think is the best training there is.
Bill: Because there is no such thing as pity laughter, you are either funny or you aren’t. An audience will let you know very rapidly. And you learn the art of stand-up, of performing for an audience. Live performing in front an audience, you get that immediate feedback that you don’t get in radio or any other medium really or in animation as well. You get immediate audience return and you find out how you’re doing.
Andy: You can feel the love.
Bill: You can feel the love or the hate. And you learn from that, you learn from your mistakes. And so I became a much better performer from that. And so I think all of this prepared me for finally coming out to Hollywood, which I did back in 1986 on the advice of an agent in Dallas.
And you know, I didn’t know what awaited me out here but I got really lucky, my first animated character audition was for Goofy. At the time there were 4 or 5 Goofys and 4 or 5 Mickeys, and when Michael Eisner took over the company, one of his decrees was that they always heard the same voice so you’d always have consistency wherever you heard Mickey or Donald or Goofy. And so my agent said, “Do you do any of the Disney characters?” and I said, “Well I can kind of do a Mickey” because you can do that falsetto (Mickey Mouse) – “Gosh, oh boy Pluto!” Donald Duck is a tough voice to do (Donald Duck) “Oh boy!” that’s about all I can say as Donald Duck but (Goofy) “Oh gosh, Goofy was right there in the pocket” you know? So I did an audition and out of about 1200 people that tried out for it I was the one that was picked.
Bill: And I’ve been doing it ever since. And I’ve done probably about 3000… 3500 jobs over the last 25 years and still doing it, I have a show to do tomorrow.
Andy: Fantastic! And very interestingly for me you’ve been the voice of Goofy for all this time but next week if there’s a new Goofy role coming up that’s not just in the pocket is it?
Bill: No, no, not at all. For the Goofy role or the non-Goofy stuff?
Andy: Well if you have a Goofy role coming up is that on contract or are you auditioning for the new Goofy role?
Bill: No, they’ve used me consistently and I’ve been the only voice of Goofy for 25 years but I’m not under contract.
Bill: Yeah, they just use me, it’s like you go to the same doctor over and over… or a plumber I guess I’m more like you know? I come in, I do a job, I go home but they like what I do and I have the body of work so why use anybody else?
Andy: Well we like what you do as well
Bill: Thank you!
Andy: We enjoy watching Mickey Mouse Clubhouse back in Istanbul
Bill: Yeah and we’re just winding that up after… it went on the air in 2006, it’s 2012 now so it’s been on for 6 years and probably about a year before that we started recording so I’ve been doing that show a long time.
Bill: And it’s finally coming to the end of that run.
Andy: I’m sure it will continue being repeated…
Bill, “Oh absolutely”
Andy: …for many years before I even… Steamhouse Willy is still being shown so…
Bill: Yeah, kids can watch stuff, for over and over and over and they’re happy to do so.
Andy: … and new generations, and of course that also segued into things like Kingdom Hearts and the game side.
Bill: Oh yes!
Andy: So you’re not just a cartoon animated character, you’re doing video games…
Bill: Video games, record albums, singing – a lot of singing, talking toys, computer games, websites, live park shows at Disneyland, Disney World… everywhere they use the character. And like I say, it’s thousands of times I’ve done different projects. Tomorrow I am doing a pickup session for Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, NO actually tomorrow morning is for a Walt Disney World Marathon, it’s a live announcement, I guess Goofy will be announcing the marathon, like (Goofy) “Runners get ready!” or whatever they say and so I’m doing that tomorrow, then on Thursday I’m doing Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, some pickup lines from an earlier show that they’ve changed some lines in and on Friday I’m actually doing Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck in an episode of Robot Chicken so…
Andy: How cool is that? That’s amazing.
Bill: Yeah, it’s a busy week.
Andy: May they all be like that!
Andy: And are you doing any of the straight narration recordings as well?
Bill: Oh absolutely, I do commercials, I do narrations, I did a promo for a television show… what was it for? Something up in Oregon, and that was interesting because I auditioned for it here and my audition that I recorded here was good enough quality and they just used that, I didn’t even have to go and rerecord it at a studio, they used my audition for the actual project and so I didn’t even have to go in and rerecord it!
Andy: Well that’s great as well! I’m guessing that Goofy is your favourite character?
Bill: Yeah, he’s definitely… he was always my favourite Disney character as well, which is kind of interesting… that if I could pick any character to get as my own that would have been the one character, yes.
Andy: Well that’s great. I wanted just to wind up, could Goofy say hello to my son William?
Bill: (Goofy) Gosh! Howdy William, that’s a great name!
Andy: Thanks Bill, you’re great. Pleasure to meet you.
Bill: My pleasure.
Andy: Thank you so much.
Bill: My pleasure.
About Bill Farmer
Bill Farmer is a performer of many diverse talents. In a voiceover career that has spanned over 25 years, his voice has been heard by millions of people worldwide as the official voices of “Goofy” and “Pluto” for the Walt Disney Company. In 2009 Bill was honored to be inducted in the Walt Disney Company’s hall of fame when he became a Disney Legend along with Betty White, Tony Anselmo and Robin Williams. High honors also came in 2011 when Bill was the first Voice Actor to receive the Friz Freeling Lifetime Achievement Award as well as being nominated for a Daytime Emmy Award from the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences for his work on the television series Mickey Mouse Clubhouse. Additionally, Bill has also voiced such classic cartoon characters as Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Sylvester the Cat, Foghorn Leghorn, and Yosemite Sam, and many others for various studios such as Warner Brothers, Lucasarts, Universal Studios and MGM. Bill provided additional voices for such motion pictures as Toy Story, Toy Story 2, A Bugs Life, Beauty and the Beast, Monsters Inc, Cars, Horton Hears A Who, Surf’s Up and the Spongebob Squarepants Movie among others as well as hundreds of commercials and television shows and has maintained a strong acting career in front of the camera as well.
This episode of “The Person Behind the Voice” was kindly transcribed by British voice artist Beau Bridgland.
Beau is an up and coming young, English voice artist, based near Cambridge in the UK with a desire to work in the USA. For several years whilst studying for his Mathematics degree, he studied voice-over independently and made contacts. But he really stepped up his voice career with his first US visit (and first ever flight) to the VOICE 2012 convention where he was able to meet face-to-face with many of his voice acting heroes. He has since received coaching from the likes of Crispin Freeman and Bill Holmes – the Voice-Over Doctor – and his is a talent to be listened out for and followed.