He is vengeance. He is the night. He is… The Stinger?
When it comes to delivering the bone-chilling tones of justice-obsessed vigilantes, nobody does it better than Kevin Conroy, who for more than two decades has provided the distinctive voice of various animated incarnations of The Batman, from “Batman: The Animated Series” through “Justice League” and now currently in the “Batman: Arkham” line of video games.
And while the Dark Knight’s not exactly the most jovial guy in Gotham City, Conroy gets to have some fun with his iconic vocal performance on an episode of the current Netflix flash-animated series “Turbo FAST,” based on the speeding stunt-snail from the 2013 DreamWorks film’s adventures. The actor gives voice to The Stinger, a famous and somewhat full-of-himself superhero who takes on Turbo as his new sidekick, Shell Boy. And as Conroy tells SPINOFF ONLINE, even after 20 years sometimes Batman’s iconic image is ripe for some good-natured tweaking.
Spinoff Online: You’ve had an opportunity or two to kind of have fun with your legacy as the voice of Batman. What was the treat about this time around as The Stinger?
Kevin Conroy: Oh, this was so much fun! I love this character. Because I can really blow out everything I’m not allowed to do as Batman. You know, Batman is humble. He’s self-effacing. He doesn’t want to draw attention to himself. He wants to just do good and have no one even know he’s doing it. This guy is a braggart. He wants to draw attention to himself [Laughs] He wants to be sure everyone knows how cool he is. It’s really fun to play this character. Because when you do comedy, you have to play it totally straight. But you’re playing drama in sort of a cockeyed world. If you play to the comedy, it’s never funny. So, for me it was playing Batman, absolutely, but at a kind of a cockeyed angle, you know what I mean?
How quickly did you find, vocally, the right way to pull that off? To kind of hit that Batman tenor, but still keep the lightness and the fun to make him kind of obnoxious?
Oh god, I’m so glad you got that. Because it did take a few takes to find just the right level. Because if you do it, it’s very subtle voiceover stuff. If you do it just a little too heavy, then you’re getting into pure drama. But if you give it just a little bit of an edge and a little wink in the voice, suddenly you’re into comedy. And this character, I think, is so much fun.
Years ago Bruce Timm drew a cartoon that was everything you’re not allowed to do as an artist in animation, and he circulated it among all of us. You’re never allowed to be overly sexual. You’re never allowed to endanger a child. You’re never allowed to use a foul language. So he drew one panel of a cartoon that had all of those things in it at once. It was hysterical, and it circulated around Warner Bros. I’ve never forgotten that. That was the funniest thing I’ve ever seen, because he was just kind of getting it all out at once, you know what I mean? And it was kind of an in-house joke. This was, for me, the vocal version of that. This was me being able to sort of get out all the Batman stuff that I’m not allowed to do on a character. Does that make sense?
Absolutely. Have you been looking for opportunities to kind of play with that image that you’ve cultivated over the years? Or do you have to kind of protect the character as well when you’re going to have some fun with it?
Yeah, you do. I do feel a sense of responsibility. I did a character on “Venture Bros.” many years ago who was sort of a Batman-esque character, but a real dark spin on it. And it’s very, very funny, but I have to admit I was very nervous about whether Warner Bros. would be unhappy about my doing it. But it turns out it was a real fan-favorite and people liked it. See, I just feel a strong sense of responsibility to the character, because he means so much to so many people.
The audience relationship to Batman is profound. I mean, I go to these comic cons and the experiences, the stories that people tell me about their childhoods and stuff, and what Batman meant to them, and how it affected their lives. It’s really extraordinary. He’s such a cultural icon. So I do feel a sense of responsibility to that, the character. But, you know, all icons need a little, a little ribbing every now and then. A little — can’t take themselves too seriously. So I think it’s fun to do that to Batman periodically.
Tell me a little bit about what you’ve gotten back from your long association with the character. Aside from steady employment.
[Laughs] For an actor, you know, the steady employment’s pretty nice!
Yeah. I think the biggest feedback has been the audience feedback. The fan contact has been extraordinary. I just flew from New York to L.A. and a couple of guys came on the plane and were like, “Oh my god, you’re Kevin Conroy! You’re Batman.” Because of the Internet now, voiceover work, which used to be a completely anonymous job that no one would ever know anything about — now, everybody knows what everybody does, and there’s no anonymity anymore. So I get associated with the character constantly. And the fans have such a deep and profound relationship with him because he’s such a purely good character. He’s such a cool guy that he touches people at a very deep level. And to be associated with that has really been an honor and been amazing.
It must also be nice to have a lot of the kids who grew up watching you voicing Batman are now working within the Hollywood industry and occasionally call you up to come do something fun. Have you had those experiences?
I recently had an incident where I did a — I had a wonderful thing happen. I did a — Kevin Smith is a big fan of Batman. You know, he has a blog called “Fat Man on Batman.” And he asked me to do a bit in his next movie, “Yoga Hosers.” It’s a small part, and I thought, “This’ll be fun, to play with Kevin.” And the guy who does a lot of his music for his films came up to me on the set and said, “You probably don’t remember this, but 20 years ago, I met you in Texas at a comic con and I told you I really wanted to get into the movie business and I wanted to write music.”
And he said, “And you told me to believe in myself more than anyone else does, because I have to be my own strongest advocate, that I would never have an ally as strong as myself, and I had to absolutely believe in myself because a lot of people would try and get in my way. But to stick with it, and that someday we would be working together.” He said, “You know something? Twenty years later, we’re working together.” Isn’t that great? I couldn’t believe it.
What an amazing story.
So I’m glad I told him “Stick with it.”
You also worked on the film with Harley Quinn Smith, Kevin’s daughter, who is named for the character from the show.
Isn’t that wild? Yeah. She’s terrific. And Johnny Depp’s daughter is in it too. And both of them are just such professional and talented actresses. They were… there was no nonsense on that set at all. I mean, they showed up. They knew their stuff. They performed really well. Very, very professional. I had a really good time working with them.
What are the things that you are still looking for in your professional life, looking to accomplish right now? Anything that’s sort of like on your bucket list to get done still?
Well, I have about a million things on my bucket list. I don’t know where to start. Every time I go to see a play, I think, “Oh, why aren’t I doing plays anymore? I love doing theater.” So I’ve got to get back and do more theater. But I haven’t been in a number of years. And I just hope that opportunities keep presenting themselves to me. The biggest challenge as an actor and as an artist is to constantly grow, and to not get stuck. Especially with a character you’ve been performing for 23 years. I mean, the big challenge for me has been to keep him fresh. And to keep it, you know, real.
And the nice thing has been the different incarnations of Batman. Like these games now that I do, the Arkham games — it’s been a whole new kind of challenge to keep that character alive, recording him for 8 hours a day for two years. Which is what the last game took to get done. I mean, it was a masterpiece of a thousand lines of dialogue. That’s a massive amount of work to keep the character real. So each project presents its own challenges.
I have to ask: that voice you put on for Batman can literally stop someone in their tracks. I’m wondering if you’ve ever had that happen just in your daily life, where you’ve lowered the voice just an octave and somebody’s kind of frozen, or trying to figure out “What did I just hear?”
It is fun to do, I have to say. It’s a nice thing to pull out of the bag when you want to shock people. Yes. I’ve done that, I have to admit. You know who are big fans for some reason are the TSA guys at the airports. A lot of them, when they see my driver’s license, they go, “Oh my god, it’s Batman!” So then I have to do the voice. And then it always creates a big scene.
Have you gotten to know anybody else who’s sort of worn the mantle of Batman in film and TV? Have you gotten to spend any time with Adam West or any of the movie Batmen and talk about that sort of shared legacy that you fellas have?
Well, Adam West voiced that character called The Grey Ghost in “Batman: The Animated Series,” so I actually worked with him a long time ago. And now I see him periodically at comic cons. In fact, I posted a picture of the two of us at Dallas-Fort Worth Airport just recently on my Twitter site. And I captioned it, “Batmen spotted at DFW.” And fans went wild for it. It was a great photo. He is such a great guy. He’s a very elegant, classy actor. He’s really a nice guy. He’s great to work with. He’s very respectful of the fans. He’s a wonderful person. I haven’t actually met any of the other on-camera Batmen. Someday, I guess.
We need to put some special event together to get all you Batmen under the same roof.
It would be funny. Yeah, that would be funny.
“Turbo FAST” Season Two is now streaming on Netflix.
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