If you’re a fan of comedy, you may recognize Chris Parnell from his time on “Saturday Night Live” — eight seasons in fact — or his role as Dr. Spaceman on “30 Rock.” But there’s a good chance you’ve heard his voice, too. Having lent his vocals characters on fan-favorite shows like FX’s “Archer” and Adult Swim’s “Rick and Morty,” Parnell has moved down a different avenue of comedic acting into the wild world of cartoons. With his newest project, the “SNL” alum continues to push forward in animation as the voice of Mr. Peabody for the new “The Mr. Peabody & Sherman Show,” debuting October 9 on Netflix.
Recently, Parnell dropped by the CBR Speakeasy in North Hollywood, CA for a sitdown executive producer Jonah Weiland to discuss voicing Mr. Peabody, updating the classic animated show for a new audience, the cartoons he watched as a kid and how he approaches voice acting. As the conversation continued, Parnell also opened up about how he got his start in comedy and his love of visual art.
In the first part of the conversation, Parnell describes the process of how he became involved in Netflix’s “The Mr. Peabody and Sherman Show,” and what viewers can expect from this updated of the classic series. Parnell then lists the cartoons he loves as a child before detailing how he found the voice of Mr. Peabody.
On how he got involved with “Mr. Peabody and Sherman:”
Chris Parnell: Well, you know, I auditioned for it back a year-and-a-half ago maybe? Yeah, I just watched some of the — rewatched some of the old Jay Ward stuff and tried to get that voice down — Bill Scott’s voice — and sort of just did my version of that. Yeah, lo and behold, they like what I did. And it’s definitely an updating of it. It pays homage to the original, but we now have a talk show. Peabody and Sherman have a late-night talk show in their giant New York penthouse apartment with guests from the past. And we still do time travel in the WABAC, but it’s much zanier and kind of wackier than say the recent movie was.
On finding the voice of Mr. Peabody:
A lot of it for me, you know, just comes out of what they put on the page. It comes out of the text, and the writing is so good that it really informs who Peabody is. And the new setting — because he’s the host of a late-night talk show — it sort of demands a certain kind of energy and presence and persona. So, it’s great because it’s a combination of “I get to be that guy,” but I also get to be this father and have some real serious, more intimate, moving movements with Sherman, then these crazy time travel adventures. So, it’s a lot of things and preparing for it really was just working on the voice a little bit and trying to make sure I had a sense of what it was going to be. It’s — you know — I think people listening will be able to tell it’s me. It’s not like I’m an amazing — I’m not like Tom Kenny or somebody who comes up with these voices, that like “who is that?” But yeah, it’s awesome.
In part two, Parnell describes what it’s like recording voice work for the various animated roles he’s done compared to acting in front of the camera, and how freeing voice acting can be. The former “SNL” cast member then talks about his part in the classic “SNL” digital short “Lazy Sunday” with Andy Samberg, as well as filming the sequel in 2012 when Samberg was leaving the show.
On the differences between his live-action and voice acting performances:
Well, the main difference is kind of obvious, you don’t have to worry about what you look like or what you’re doing physically … I can do whatever I want to with my hands. It’s all about servicing what’s coming out of my mouth, you know, and the emotion of that and the sound of it. I just have to get that into the mic. And I’m relating to the other people in the room, but it doesn’t matter at all what I’m doing physically as long as I’m not making unnecessary noise. So that’s very freeing in a way. I don’t necessarily — I don’t prefer it to doing on-camera stuff, but I love that I get to do both.
Wrapping things up, Parnell talks about how his career in comedy began with moving to L.A. and joining The Groundlings, and whether or not he has a desire to do more dramatic acting. He then opens up about his love of art and photography, and discusses the comic books he grew up reading.
On whether he wants to take on more serious dramatic roles:
You know, there are usually — there are moments that come up in regular things I’m doing — “Peabody & Sherman” included — that are not just wacky and zany and crazy, where I’m trying to really connect with Sherman and have a real moment with him. So, I usually tend to get to do that somewhere along the way in the work I do already. So I don’t — and I love doing comedy so much that it’s just fun, and everybody’s there to try to make both each other and the audience laugh … Look, I’d be happy to have almost any acting job, but like being on a procedural or something — it’s just so much harder work and I’m just so lazy, Jonah.
On his passions outside of his work:
It’s art, really — like visual art, like paintings and photography. I take pictures myself and have always done that since I was a kid. I love that. But then I also — on a very modest level — collect photography and art. So I love just going online and looking at art, and discovering new artists, and wishing I had more money so I could buy it all [laughs]. But no, that’s really — that’s kind of my bag. I have a pretty big collection of photography monographs that I love, so that’s kind of the thing I collect too. But yeah, I mean I love art.
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