If you’ve ever wondered where all that time you spent watching Saturday morning cartoons as a kid leads to later in life, here is Eric Bauza’s answer: helping make some of those very same cartoons, today.
As a sought-after cartoon voiceover actor, Bauza grew up emulating the very characters he’s now speaking life into. He plays a whopping five characters—Daffy Duck, Porky Pig, Foghorn Leghorn, Elmer Fudd, Marvin the Martian—in Space Jam: A New Legacy with LeBron James. He’s also the new voice of Bugs Bunny in the HBO Max show Looney Tunes Cartoons.
The Scarborough-bred, L.A.-based Bauza originally moved south of the 90th parallel 20 years ago, taking his talents along with him, like so many other Canadian comedy greats before him; Russel Peters, Mike Myers, Jim Carey, John Candy, Eugene Levy, and others. “These are basically people that raised me comedy-wise,” Bauza says.
While his Filipino-Canadian home included plenty of karaoke opportunities and chances to develop his voice as an artist, so too did the neighbourhood that surrounded it. “Scarborough was basically the blueprint of who I am… It was very multicultural… that rugged upbringing kind of shaped who I am now and sense of humour-wise.”
Bauza’s previous work also includes voicing Ren and Stimpy: Adult Party Cartoon, and everyone’s second-favourite Ninja Turtle (ahem, Leo) in Batman vs. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
For the latest episode of Northern Clutch, Complex Canada took a video crew over to SoundWorks Studios in Burbank, California to catch up with Bauza. Check it out, then read the interview with Bauza, edited for clarity, below.
How did growing up a Scarborough kid give you the blueprint for who you are today?
A lot of people think about high school and they think about, like, awkward times and it being not fun for them, but for me I loved it. Maybe it’s because for the most part I was always kind of the class clown. When you’re in high school, of course, you find your people… you find your groups. There are plenty of Filipinos in Scarborough and plenty of other cultures too; you know, Polish, Jamaican, Italian, Portuguese. Everyone was in [my] high school… The best part about it all was being able to make people laugh from all sorts of backgrounds and heritage. It didn’t matter where you’re from. As long as I could get the joke across and make you laugh, that’s all that mattered to me.
How did you get into voice acting?
I mean, every Filipino household is not complete without a karaoke machine built into the television. That’s how I got my practice, just kind of testing my material and voices on my family. As a kid, I would always be the one that was, you know, fake-falling down stairs or doing some kind of imitation from a movie I saw. Austin Powers or Ace Ventura were always the go-to source for catchphrases. And of course, Saturday Night Live. Watching people develop characters on that show…
But it didn’t really start until high school when we were introduced to the audio-visual club, and audio visual arts… We got to make these short films. And we would get to make videos and do our sketches and stuff. So that’s also where that hunger or that need to entertain people or get laughs from people kind of started. I was never really picked on because I was always the funny guy.
“[I’m] hoping to influence the next generation of Asian Americans, Asian Canadians, Filipinos, Pacific Islanders, South Pacific Islanders, everyone around the globe… If there’s anything I can do to help lift other people’s voices with my own, I will happily do that.”
You’re the seventh person to voice Bugs Bunny. You follow in the footsteps of iconic voice over artists voicing iconic characters. How does it feel to come full circle?
As far back as I can remember, being able to sit up and watch TV, I was always tuned in to The Bugs Bunny and Tweety Show… There was always something funnier about those cartoons to me… they’re a little bit more gritty. They weren’t perfect. They didn’t always look the same. You could always tell when a [different] director was directing. Clampett, Chuck Jones, Friz Freleng, Bob Makinson, Tex Avery. These are kind of like all the godfathers of animation. They influenced me as an artist, but they also influenced me as a voiceover artist because that’s where I met Mel Blanc.
I will always be a fan first of the Looney Tunes, but to know that I’ve now put my thumbprint on characters that helped raise me, you know, and helped teach me how to be funny… to know that I’m associated with these characters, that are older than some of our relatives—like Bugs Bunny just turned 80 years old last year and we’re still talking about him. It’s just a testament to the heart and soul that Mel Blanc put into not just Bugs Bunny, but Daffy Duck or Tweety Bird or Marvin the Martian.
So how does Space Jam 2 compare to the original?
It’s a story about a father and a son… I know the original Space Jam started with [Michael] Jordan and his dad, and [Jordan’s] quest to become one of the greatest basketball players to ever live. This is kind of like LeBron and his son, and whether or not [his son] wants to carry the torch of being a great basketball player from his dad. And, you know, he has other interests. And I think it’s pretty relevant—like a father-son family picture that I think a lot of audiences today will understand.
What was it like working with LeBron?
Before the pandemic hit, before the lockdown, before all these restrictions, I had a chance to work with LeBron in the [voice] booth at least like four times. And the guy is super chill… super cool. You can tell that he’s just like me—like a kid in a candy store, just to be there.
It was crazy to just be acting with LeBron in the same room… It was quite the experience. I mean, outside of being a world-famous basketball champion player, he’s also a family man himself. You know, he’s got a wife and kids and he does so much charity work. And then he’s producing a film that gets over millions and millions of views within a week? It’s kind of like, where does he get the energy?
What was the most memorable moment during the production of Space Jam 2?
This was last December on my birthday, December 7th, 2020, where I got to be on set not just in the booth with LeBron, but on set reading temporary dialog lines as Bugs Bunny. I was around the corner with a microphone within earshot of LeBron, and I got to act out a scene as Bugs Bunny… on set at Warner Brothers [Studios] wearing eight masks and a face shield and five sets of gloves just to be safe. I was tested eight times that week.
But just to be there and see how many people it takes to make one scene on a giant feature film… And I was part of that puzzle. I think that was one of the coolest birthday gifts I could ever have. It’s already a gift to be a part of this big film. But having that one experience at the tail end of one of the darkest years that we’ve ever had in human history—that was definitely the silver lining of my 2020.
You started an apparel brand called RetroKid, an omage to Canadian pop culture. Talk to me about this project, this company that you’ve started, and what it represents.
I mean, everyone’s doing retro apparel, everyone is doing a crossover, some kind of collaboration with old school characters.
The idea for RetroKid came from myself and my my old high school best friend, Steve Gaskin, and our love for graphic T-shirts and streetwear. But how were we going to stick out? We thought to concentrate on Canadian pop culture. If you grew up in Toronto in the ’80s and ’90s, what was around, what was available? You could talk about Kids in the Hall. You could talk about Degrassi Junior High. You could talk about like the Canadian Mister Rogers, Mr. Dressup. We had CBC, TVO, City TV. We had so much to choose from. We actually saw the appeal in it. And then as soon as we started manufacturing these really cool, Canadian-specific reference T-shirts, the masses started showing up. People started paying attention. We’ve had Kardinal Offishall, Russell Peters, and Eric McCormack support. We’ve had so many great Canadian icons show us love and support.
There is a big push for representation in the industry. Can you say more about that?
At one point, there were four action figures on the shelf that I could have bought at the same time—all Asian characters. Now more than ever in voiceover, we’re talking about representation matters and representation in voices matters. Before, when I started as a voiceover artist, you’re a voice behind a microphone. It didn’t exactly matter what you looked like, but now it’s relevant. And now it’s like you kind of have to pay respect to who’s playing what character. And if I can inspire another kid out there that shares the same face as me or not share the same face as me or just has trouble using their own voice, I hope to inspire people with my work.
Maybe voicing such an iconic character and seeing that it doesn’t always have to be one way culturally, that it can be so many different ways, it could be so many different people telling a story—that’s a positive thing.
[I’m] hoping to influence the next generation of Asian Americans, Asian Canadians, Filipinos, Pacific Islanders, South Pacific Islanders, everyone around the globe, and not just us but if it sparks something positive in people, then I’m happy to be aboard. If there’s anything I can do to help lift other people’s voices with my own, I will happily do that.
Space Jam: A New Legacy is in theatres and available to rent at home on July 16.