Pinky from Pinky and the Brain, Yakko from Animaniacs, and Raphael and Donatello from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are coming to Philadelphia, and they're all getting here inside one man's head.
That man is Rob Paulsen, 62, voice actor of some of the biggest cartoon characters from millennials' childhoods. With almost 500 acting credits, you probably know Paulsen's work — even if you don't know it.
Spike from The Land Before Time? Paulsen. PJ Pete from of Goof Troop fame? Paulsen. Jimmy Neutron's Carl Wheezer? Paulsen. Snowball in Rick and Morty? Paulsen. At this point, Paulsen is half of the Teenage Ninja Mutant Turtles: He voiced Donatello in the most recent adaptation of TMNT. In the 1990s version of the show, he played Raphael.
More than 30 years into his career, nothing can slow Paulsen down now — not even a stage 3 throat cancer diagnosis, which briefly took him out of the game in 2016.
Now, Paulsen is coming to Philly to celebrate his career and meet fans as a guest at the Keystone Comic Con, taking place this weekend at the Pennsylvania Convention Center. He will hold several autograph signings and meet-ups throughout the weekend.
You've done many dialects for different characters, from English to Bostonian. Have you ever had to do a Philly accent?
No, but when I was a kid, one of my favorite comics was David Brenner, who was one of Philly's gifted sons. [In Philly accent] So I know that "O" sound Philly people have. Not only that weird O, but a lazy L: "Tawk about a Philly cheesesteak."
I do a lot of dialects for my own enjoyment because it's another arrow in my quiver. I never know when I'm going to be called to use them. It's always fun to cross-pollinate characters and dialects because even if you do it badly, you still create a new character.
Do you have a favorite character that you have voiced over the years?
My favorite character is the next one because that means I'm still working. My job is to not rest on the performances of Yakko from 20 years ago. But if I had to pick one character to do the rest of my life, it would probably be Pinky or Yakko because with Yakko, I get to sing. With Pinky, I would argue that those characters could be up there with Rocky and Bullwinkle.
Animaniacs and Pinky and the Brain seem timeless. My parents even used to watch them with me.
We run into that a lot. That stuff was written on two levels so that you and your parents could watch it, and you can go back and watch an episode and go, "Oh, my god, I now understand that joke." That is by design. The trick is, how do we write stuff that is timeless, that works the same way as the Flintstones and Looney Tunes? I don't write them, and I don't draw — I'm just the voice guy.
As far as the Animaniacs reboot, what can you say? Are you coming back?
If I were in a Senate subcommittee hearing, I could say, "I can neither confirm nor deny." You're talking about Pinky and the Brain and Animaniacs. Tens of millions of people know, "United States, Canada, Mexico, Panama…" And they know, "Egad! Narf!" The fact that Mr. Spielberg and Hulu and Warner Bros. all get it [means] they'll probably look real hard at using us. You'll find out.
Did your throat cancer diagnosis affect your perspective on the meaning of your work?
As a voice actor, the irony of that [diagnosis] was not lost on me. But I've done things that have made millions of people smile — often through very, very dark periods. The great thing about this cancer experience is you have a sense of empathy that you never would have had [otherwise.] I am graced with an opportunity to inspire people. Existentially, it's what this experiment we're going through in life is about.
Are you still doing OK these days?
I can't always differentiate between tastes. My saliva glands are shot, so I have to drink water with everything. But it's better than having them cut your face up. I can still do my job, and [in Pinky's voice] Pinky can still do his job, and [in Yakko's voice] Yakko can still do his job, and [in Raphael's voice] Raphael can still do his job. And you can still laugh, and that's the best part of my life.
Speaking of Pinky, would it be OK if I asked him a few questions?
[As Pinky] Fire away!
Pinky, what have you been up to since we last saw you?
I've been spending a lot of time in Palm Springs, a little desert community out here in Southern California. I'm a very famous lab mouse, and I've been taking a little time off. I've got a nice little condo with a golfing course. Trying to find sticks my size is quite difficult. And the ball! Sometimes, a golf ball comes near me, and I get squished, and I say, "Egad, poit!" But I find I really like the desert.
What about the Brain?
Maurice [LaMarche, the voice of the Brain] — I'm sorry — the Brain, he prefers Northern California, so he is near Lake Tahoe, where he goes to the casinos a lot and watches nightclub shows.
Are you not trying to take over the world anymore?
Not at the moment. We tried, and it was quite exhausting. I still talk to Brain once a day, and he's in a delightful space. So, if we are ever able to try and take over the world again, we will both be relaxed and ready to do so.
Will you be coming to Philadelphia with Rob this month for Keystone Comic Con?
I hope so. I'm doing my best to get on the plane with Yakko, and Raphael, and Donatello, and PJ, and Carl Wheezer. We'll all jump in Rob's melon and make the trip to Philly-delphia…Narf!
I know you're a big cheese fan. Do you think you'll try a cheesesteak?
Well, there is a Philadelphia cream cheese that I quite like, because a bowl of it allows me to eat for about a month, and then I have a place to stay. But I would like to try a Philly cheesesteak, although I'm more of a cheese mouse. Maybe I can have a cheesesteak with no steak — then it will be a big, dripping mess of bun and onion and cheese. I would not be able to go the bathroom indelicately for about two years.