Bob's Burgers has slowly shifted from "that new show from the Home Movies guys" (or "that show with the Archer dude") to overshadowing its animated competition. Now in its fifth season, the Fox series has officially become a phenomenon, with reruns on Adult Swim and countless cosplay Tinas running around Comic Con.
Part of the show's massive appeal, aside from the consistently hilarious writing, is the genuine chemistry between the Belcher family and their associates. As goofy and strange as the Belcerh's can be, Bob, Linda, Louise, Gene, and Tina genuinely care about each other more than other TV casts—real or animated. That warmth can be traced to the cast's fantastic chemistry; they record each episode live together, relying heavily on on spontaneity and ad-libbing to keep things fresh. (The fact that virtually everyone on the show is a veteran comic helps with that.)
We caught up with the entire cast at a Comic Con roundtable (plus creator Loren Bouchard) to talk Bob's cooking skills, friendly competition with Family Guy, and, yes, the Bob's Burgers porn parody Bob's Boners.
H. Jon Benjamin (Bob) and Larry Murphy (Teddy)
H. Jon Benjamin: A lot, I think. I’m very much like Bob, even in real life. I think the only difference is I’m a little more cynical than Bob. When I do play him, Loren will have to pull me back from being too negative and not hate my kids and hate Linda because she’s so hateable. So I have to pull back. I think Loren’s big note for me is always, you love your wife.
Would you say that Linda is the villain of the show?
Benjamin: It’s funny. I can’t conceive of how anybody likes her. So grating, but she is. I think Loren’s point, is that Linda’s a wonderfully unhinged woman who drinks a little too much but has a lot of fun and a lot of spirit and I personally as an actor have to find a way to like that.
Do you think the show is like the inverse of The Simpsons in some ways? Homer is the big baby who goes with whatever he wants and Marge keeps everything together.
Benjamin: Yeah, maybe there’s similarities between Louise. I haven’t watched The Simpsons in a long time, but certainly Bob is more of a responsible patriarch for his family. Bart’s like a schemer though right, so he’s a lot like Louise. Louise is pretty precocious, so out of all the kids I feel like she’s got it all together and knows what she’s going to do all the time.
How did you develop your voice?
Benjamin: I think it was birth. I just have it.
Larry Murphy: But Jon does have range. He plays other characters on the show. He plays Jimmy Jr.
Benjamin: I do, but a lot shows I’ve done with Loren, I’ve used my own voice. In Home Movies when I played a coach character, it was the precursor to Archer. I sort of lowered my voice a little bit and yelled a lot more. But I don’t do a lot of changes. [Imitating a female voice.] Except for this.
It seems like you guys are all recording in one room. How much of that contributes to the vibe that makes it to the show? How different is it than when you’re doing voice work in your own booth?
Murphy: Well, we’re really on two coasts. It’s me and Eugene and Jon on the East Coast, and the rest of the cast—those guys are out there along with Loren. But it’s at the same time. I think it’s a big contributor, there’s certainly a fair amount of improv.
Benjamin: Any time when you do an improv too, it’s also based on the nature of how the actor’s feeling that day too, so you get a lot of like actual real dynamics going on. And fortunately we’re playing a family that has kind of real dynamics although it’s pretty silly. So it is funny. When I’m in a bad mood, I’m in a bad when I do improv. And that affects the nature of what the scene turns into. Same goes for Kristin or Lowry.
Murphy: I feel like anytime you said “get out...”
Benjamin: I just do that on purpose. I always leave our improv scenes with “Get out. Leave.” It just means I don’t want to do any more improv: “Teddy, get out. Get. Out.”
There’s so many people on the cast that are comedians, that I just funny people in everything that they do. Do you think the show would work if it was just traditional voice actors instead of with a comedy background.
Benjamin: No. I don’t. I think that we are special. No, I think that Loren chose the people that he did, because he knew, or at least he imagined a dynamic that would work, I think it does. And I think he was in good part right to do it that way. And he works with a lot of people he’s worked with before, so he knows what he’s going to get. Without the improv, I think it would be a different show.
How has the writing changed over the years? Do things go more smoothly than they did in the early days?
Benjamin: I think all the writers now are firing out of all cylinders. They know what they’re doing and everybody’s sort of—like we said in an earlier interview, all the writers are the same writers from the original staff. So it’s a really tight knight group now, I just think it works really well. Personally, there’s been prior shows I’ve done, where you feel like because you can do improv you can kind of fix the script or fix it on the fly. And sometimes when you feel that burden it’s not great. But there’s so many good performers in the show, that everybody picks up slack. Like Larry said, the writers of the show are great and Loren does a great job directing and editing.
Larry’s done a lot of voices on the show. Is there any characters that you’re personally working on that you’re like I want to put this voice in the show?
Murphy: Not really, but I like when they use those secondary characters more. Like I was reminded just before that Gretchen makes an appearance again as a hair dresser doing Linda’s hair. I certainly like that character.
Benjamin: Let me just say this. They usually ask Larry, almost the day of or the day before to do characters. More often than not, they’ll bring that character back. That’s how good Larry is at nailing a character on the fly. He’s great at it, so it’s really fun to watch. I would say like 70 percent of the time the writers would love what Larry did with even a tiny part, and they’ll bring that character.
Click to page two for more from the cast.
Kristen Schaal (Louise) and Eugene Mirman (Gene)
Kristen Schaal: You have nice handwriting.
Oh, I don’t think so, really? It’s so scribbly.
Schaal: Yeah, I like it.
Eugene Mirman: I think it’s fine. I mean, I don’t think it’s great. But I think it’s totally good.
Schaal: I think you should start being nicer to yourself.
That’s what my therapist says. So what are some of the weirdest voices you’ve had to do in your careers?
Mirman: This. No just kidding. Well we all, except for Bobby, just do our own voice. Meaning in Bob’s we’re just ourselves.
Schaal: Sometimes on Gravity Falls, Mabel makes funny voices and I’ll try to get my voice to go as low as it’ll go and that’s a little weird. I don’t know, I haven’t had to do anything...sometimes I do my Nick Nolte impression on stage and that really hurts my voice.
Mirman: That’s probably true for everyone. Whenever they try to impersonate Nick Nolte. It becomes trouble.
Five seasons in, now that you know the characters so well, is it easier to sort of riff in the studio?
Schaal: Yeah, I think so. Definitely.
Mirman: Yeah I think we’ve all known each other for a long time and also have worked together as comics and in general. It’s a combination of getting to know the characters and then also just knowing each other for so long, it’s fun to goof around.
Schaal: It’s fun to get to live in the character for that long, it’s a real privilege. Usually, sometimes I’ll get an acting job for a day, and that’s it. Just to get to sit in her for this many episodes and then you get protective of them, and you're like, “Oh no, I don’t think she would do that.” Wait she really does have a heart for this situation, and it’s nice.
I felt like your character made a big turn when she fell in love with the boy band. Do you see any big corners coming in the future for any of the characters where they’re going to develop their new sides to their personalities?
Schaal: Yeah. The fun thing about Louise—at first I was nervous that people wouldn’t like her cause she is so out for scheming and for herself, but then she does have these turns and I think people like her even more. Which is great. I just want Louise to be more popular than Tina.
Do you guys ever get to record with Kevin Kline?
Mirman: Yes, whenever he records. We all record as a group.
Schaal: He was supposed to come out to dinner with us last night, and he just blew us off.
Mirman: He’s starting a new movie today. Otherwise he was actually gonna maybe be here. Yeah, he’s a gentleman. But we did all get to record together. Whoever the guest stars are, we get to basically, generally get to record with them. And part of them even doing it, is cause it’s fun for them to do it like that too.
Do you have an opinion on the current New York comedy scene compared to what it was 10 years ago?
Mirman: Well, Kristen has definitely moved to L.A., as have many people, but New York is strong and no one will defeat it, except the economy, as it prices out artists. Bye artists!
Schaal: Yeah, a lot of my peers. You know you get into your 30s and you’re like I’m too old for this shit. I was saying that if I was a young comedian I would move to New York yesterday because you can just burn it down. You can kind of like start your own movement right now, it’s a good time.
Are there any up and coming comics you feel are doing really an especially great job?
Schaal: Oh yeah, Aparna Nancherla.
Mirman: Aparna’s very funny. Michael Che, but he blew up really fast.
Are you ever surprised about what ad-libs get into the show?
Schaal: There was one where it was like, "Buckle up, buckle up, or you’ll die." That was just something I started singing and then it got in the show. There’s a few things
Mirman: I think there’s in the second episode, a joke about Salman Rushdie writing The Lion The Witch and The Wardrobe that’s just a weird sort of argument that me and Jon Benjamin, as my dad, got into and then it ended up being in it. But I don’t think we come with the stuff beforehand. You sort of think of it as you’re doing it. And then you try a bunch of stuff and sometimes it makes it. Like there’s a scene where Louise is making me to look like Bob in the bathroom. That was originally written as a little shorter, and then we just all started piling on top of each other. So if you look at it as written. It’s kind of that idea, but then we blew it up and it has a bunch more stuff in it.
Besides yourself, who are your favorite characters?
Schaal: Yeah, we love Zeke.
What would be your favorite episode that you guys did working together?
Mirman: It’s like picking a favorite child. If I had two kids, I would have.
What do you think would happen if Louise and Mabel met each other?
Schaal: I think they would be friends. I think Louise obviously might blow her off because she loves stickers, she’s very goof-bally, and she’s into boys which Louise is not. But I think Mabel’s so warm that she would wear her down and they’d be friends and she’d value her friendship.
Click to page three for more from the cast.
Loren Bouchard (Creator) and John Roberts (Linda)
How much fun do you get when people’s reaction, when you tell them that you’re Linda?
John Roberts: I love it. Yeah because, everyone’s such a big fan of the show anyway so you just cash in on that love right away. Linda’s--sometimes it’s a surprise that I’m a man playing a female character so that’s always my favorite, when people don’t know that I’m a man, which is questionable. [Laughs.] It’s just a great character to play and you just appreciate anyone being a fan of the show in general.
Are you pulling from any past female influences in your life, like a mother or a grandmother?
Roberts: My mother. Who’s here actually here with me at Comic Con. She’s from Brooklyn, and Loren’s mom is from Brooklyn as well. We got that East Coast thing going on. East Coast women are so big and so much fun to be around really. She’s flattered by it. It’s all really fun.
Now playing the same character for five seasons, what have you learned about Linda that you didn’t know when you started? What’s been the most surprising?
Roberts: Well it’s so cool because the character just grows and grows. All these things that have happened along the way, the musical numbers. Linda loves to sing. Linda loves to drink her wine. She loves her kids and she’s very accepting of all their different idiosyncrasies. She’s nurturing, but she keeps it real too with Bob. Both their parent styling, it’s very grounded but also they have a fun sense of humor about it all. And the family has that humor, and that makes it fun to watch.
During recording sessions, how hard is it to maintain her enthusiasm when performing as Linda?
Roberts: Well Loren keeps you grounded and he knows exactly what he wants. If I say something, I go a little too far, he’ll say pull it back in a little bit or try saying it this way. He’s knows a lot more about the story, because the writer’s room and exactly what needs to happen in this scene. So he’s always there to guide us. For me, I can kind of do that voice in my sleep because it’s my mom and I have been kind of mocking her my whole life. It’s nice that she lets me do that. But as far as Linda, she’s still developing and there’s sides of her we haven’t seen yet.
Loren Bouchard: All of these actors can do these voices so easily. It’s not at all hard for them to access these voices and play these parts. It’s incredible, it’s just like letting horses go out and run in a pasture. Sometimes it’s getting them to stop that’s hard, which is a great place to be.
Roberts: Yeah, even yesterday, Jon Benjamin was doing a character and holding his nose and glasses, and I couldn't even look at him it was so funny. I’m so lucky this is my job and we get to laugh every time we record. It’s just laughter, nonstop laughter.
Do you get a lot of people asking you on the spot if can you pull out the Linda voice?
Roberts: Yeah, you know, when people are sick or they’re going through some trouble—could you leave a Linda message on their voicemail or whatever. If it cheers people up, I’m always happy to do it. I go in L.A., I go in my marijuana dispensary place and they’re all like, “Linda!” And I’m recording stuff for all the dispensary guys. “We love the episode.”
Bouchard: There’s that place in L.A, I forget what it was, I think it was that burger joint, but I can’t remember, they had a promotion, if you come in and order as Linda, you get free something. There was a movement to try to get you over there but I don’t know if they ever got you over there.
Roberts: No, cause I’m a vegetarian, I don’t eat meat.
So what can we expect for the next upcoming season?
Bouchard: Oh some good stuff coming up.
Roberts: Our holiday episodes are about to kick in. We’ve got Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas.
Bouchard: Halloween’s coming up first. “Tina and the Real Ghost,” it’s called. Tina comes to believe that she’s having a relationship with a teenage boy ghost who is in a shoebox. It’s a sweet, it’s almost sort of a love story. And then to kind of balance it out, our Thanksgiving episode is almost a horror story. Basically the Wonder Wharf gets overrun by really dangerous poultry and the whole family gets trapped there except for Bob, who’s having a great time the whole time.
Do you think that Bob’s food actually tastes any good?
Bouchard: Yes, yes. We always imagine that Bob’s very good at his job and that his burgers are actually delicious and that’s he’s a bit undiscovered. At the moment unsuccessful, but I always thought that he’s actually an artist.
Does his family appreciate his cooking or do they just take it for granted.
Bouchard: Both probably. I would think I bet you when you’re married to a chef, I’ve never had the pleasure, but I would assume you’d probably just take them for granted and get really sick of everything that they’d make. I’m guessing, I don’t know.
Roberts: I feel like Linda and Bob, they have a quality to their stuff. Linda likes to clean the counter, the fries are always fresh. I don’t think Linda or Bob would let a bad burger be served.
Have things changed since last year. Because since then you have the Adult Swim syndication. It really feels like the show’s gotten extremely popular in such a short time frame. How’s that experience been?
Bouchard: I mean, it’s nice. I am used to blank stares when somebody asks what I do or what I work on and I tell them. My whole career has mostly just been telling people that and they nod and smile. That’s absolutely fine and I never wanted it to be any other way, but it is different now. Bob’s has penetrated in a way where more often than not if I tell somebody what I work on, they light up. And it’s really nice. I’ve had that experience many times. Occasionally on the other shows I’ve worked on, but this one is really out there.
Roberts: We have a porn parody. Speaking of penetration, Bob’s Boners! Bob’s serving hot dogs now, who knew. That’s pretty...I don’t want to say it’s cool.
How is that when you see people dressing up as your characters at Comic Con?
Roberts: So cool. There were never a lot of Lindas, but now I feel like there’s couple of Lindas out there.
Bouchard: Oh, there were always some Lindas.
Roberts: Well it was gradually. Every year there was a couple more Lindas. But that’s nice. It’s nice when people put the time to shop and buy these outfits. It’s fun. It’s really fun to see. I hope this Halloween we get a lot of Bobs.
Bouchard: Yeah! That’d be nice.
What you guys think of the digs that Family Guy makes at you guys on the air?
Roberts: It’s all in good fun.
Bouchard: Nobody’s spent too much time talking about it, I don’t think at the office or whatever. It’s supposed to be in good fun. I don’t know if they get the tone exactly right, but it’s alright.
You guys are, in some ways, the polar opposite of that show. You're all heart and they’re more cynical.
Bouchard: I’m sure they wouldn’t agree with that characterization. But I’m sure they would own that anger and a little edge—or maybe a lot—is part of what they’re trying to do. And it is true that it’s not what we’re trying to do. So we end up feeling like we’re on the other side of that coin somehow. There are shows that do that really well. South Park. I think that if I could have made a voice that sharp, I would want to.
Well those kids are all so lovable on South Park. They’re more like Peanuts than Beavis and Butthead in a lot of ways.
Bouchard: That is right. I agree.
Roberts: But we’re fans of American Dad, Family Guy, Simpsons. We’re all kind of—we gotta look out for each other.
I want to know, what can we expect from the building next door?
Bouchard: I mean, it’s always gonna be something else. The original idea is the building next door is always something new to sort of show you that Bob may not be in the best location. There’s this idea that being next to a mortuary on one side and this vacant--he didn’t quite get the right location and it’s part of his cross he has to bear. Bob lives a sort of Jobe like existence, you know. A good man who makes good burgers and hasn’t caught a break. I think that store’s always gotta be empty, or at least always something else. High turnover on Ocean Avenue.
I’ve always felt like Bob always cut himself a bit short, like he didn’t understand his own potential.
Bouchard: This is true for a lot of people. A lot of us. I think he is both. I think my guess is that guy knows he’s good. I think he has to, because otherwise he wouldn’t stick with it. You know what I mean. People who have a restaurant are dreamers basically, because it’s a hard business.
Do you see any more musical numbers in the future? “Nice Things Are Nice” was a really high moment for the show I think.
Bouchard: Yeah. It was in the “Lindapendent” episode when we realized our characters could actually do an old fashioned musical number and not break the show somehow. That was really fun. And then doing “Nice Things Are Nice” felt like revisiting that. I don’t think we want to do it every episode. I think there’s something nice about really earning them and having them come right when they should and not a moment before that. But yeah, we’ll definitely do some more.
Roberts: The Wonder Wharf song was my favorite. The 007-esque. When I got to sing that, I felt like Celine Dion that day.
Nathan Reese is a News Editor at Complex. He tweets here.