Becoming a Voice Actor
May 20 2016
Recently, I was fortunate enough to have been included in a talk/storytelling series – Ignite Madison (one of many Ignite events hosted across America). The topic was “Unique Jobs”, and since I have what many consider a unique job, and since proceeds from the event would benefit Wisconsin’s Literacy Network – I jumped at the opportunity to get involved.
The talk consists of a five minute story, and twenty slides (which auto-advance at 15-second intervals). Speakers are not to use notes, but can see the slides.
Full disclosure: Due to a full schedule and a habit of trusting that *everything will work out just fine, I let the creation of the slideshow (and writing of the speech) go until the last minute.
As it turns out, everything turned out great. Money was raised to help adults gain literacy skills. I made people laugh. I may have inspired others to trust their instincts and look for their own gifts. All in all, a fun time. I hope you enjoy it.
In case you’re unable to watch the video, I’ll break it down for you with some embellishment:
I’ve wanted to entertain people as long as I can remember. If I could make my older brothers laugh when I was six or seven years old, that was the validation I needed in my DNA. Nothing else mattered.
My parents and grandparents, teachers, and other adults of influence wanted me to have a secure future (totally understandable), and get a haircut (what a bunch of squares). They didn’t know any voice actors, nor did the internet exist, nor could it be conceived that a buffoon like me would make buffoonery into a viable career.
I tried my hand at music – as a means to entertain, maybe crack into a career in music. Nope. Too much practice required.
At 17, I decided that I wanted to be a radio personality (or a DJ, in common parlance). I went to “college”, picking up a two-year degree in Radio Broadcasting – and submitted some resumes to radio stations I wanted to work at in Madison, the nearest big city to my hometown of Dodgeville. I was told that there just weren’t any openings at my favorite radio stations.
So, I went to my hometown radio station, WDMP (yes, ha ha, dump) – and begged for a job. And I was given one! I did just about anything I was asked to do, from mowing the massive lawn (an all day job, even on a riding mower), to helping remove shingles from the roof (and hauling the old shingles to a pile… oh, wait, that may have been illegal. Nevermind), to painting the fence around the base of the AM tower (which may have given me yet undiscovered cancer, time will tell). What I’m saying is that I wanted to work in entertainment so badly that I’d risk breaking environmental protections, absorb dangerous radiation, and accept a sacrilegiously low wage for the privilege.
The one redeeming quality of my first radio job was that every day at noon, I had to listen to Paul Harvey. I learned to impersonate him pretty well because of the repetition of hearing him daily – and he turned out to be the first celebrity I could impersonate well.
I knew my opportunities were limited in Dodgeville, so I sent tapes and resumes to radio stations in Madison. WIBA FM was my goal. If I could get on my favorite radio station, I’d be all set. Well, the program director at the time didn’t have a gig for me, so he sent my contact info to the boss at the country station, Q106. I just couldn’t escape country radio. This was 1997.
I worked any shift I could. Overnights, weekends, nights… Stunt boy for the morning show…
To commemorate the anniversary of a tightrope walk across Niagara Falls… Good morning, it’s 7:43.
Anything to keep moving forward, making more money, doing more fun stuff. When I landed full-time status in 1999 or so, it was still embarrassingly low pay – but I was feeling pretty good about landing where I did.
Still, I wasn’t performing. I was a DJ on a country radio station. I was being the version of me which fit the situation.
It was August of 2001 when I walked into Madison’s ComedySportz – and I immediately fell in love with improv. A few years later, when ComedySportz Madison fell apart, I started my own improv company with one of my best friends. Monkey Business Institute was born in 2004.
I was on stage, or on the radio, more than ever. I was in heaven. I moved my way up to an afternoon slot on Q106 – and started doing comedy videos with Matt Sloan and Aaron Yonda of Blame Society Films (the Chad Vader guys) in about 2008 – the same time I was getting my own morning show on 93.1 The Lake. Eventually, that fell apart, and I wound up with another morning show – this time on Q106 again – and eventually, the best partner I could have wanted.
Photo credit: Ilana Natasha Photography
Nicole Andrews and I felt like were were in a great spot – and we thought we were pretty secure in our jobs (our competition had left town, we had survived a horrible boss, and we were in a groove).
One day, we were called into the bosses office and told that the “station is going in another direction”. Which meant we were going in another direction too.
I continued doing what made me happy. Improv, performing, and doing silly web videos with my friends.
But, it wasn’t until my wife told me we were expecting our first child, did I really get my ass in gear.
My son, the great motivator.
Suddenly, things started to click. Time, Inc. published an article about a video I had voiced (President Obama Plays Titanfall) – and the other videos I was voicing (Christopher Walkenthrough, Morgan Freeman Storytime, etc…) were getting millions of views.
I surrounded myself with incredibly skilled people – an insanely talented and wise web designer, Kindra (Dirigible Studio), and a fantastic carpenter, Andy (who built my sound suppression booth). I asked for help when I needed it – and kept working hard to make people happy.
It all worked out.
Ever since I was a kid, I just wanted to make people laugh. And the stuff I did for thirty years to make that happen, is how I became a voice actor.