Joined: 07 Jan 2004
Location: Milford, PA
Fri Nov 29, 2013 8:09 am
In this edition of #BeyondTheBooth, we chat with voice actor Townsend Coleman, the voice of Michaelangelo from the original 1987 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles animated series, as well as the lead voice on The Tick, and Gobo on the animated version of Fraggle Rock. For 16 years, he was the promo voice for NBC's Must See TV, and The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.
In Part 2 of this interview, find out about his appearance on the game show Super Password prior to breaking into the business and which voice actor he met during the audition, what voice actor seems to be the common denominator on most of the animated series he's worked on, his love of The Muppets and his audition for Muppet Babies, how he learned to match Jerry Nelson's voice in order to land the role of Gobo on the Fraggle Rock animated series, his work on Transformers, JEM!, and other animated series.
Watch Part 1 of the interview here.
Voice Chasers (VC): So from there, I guess you just started getting more animation stuff?
Townsend Coleman (TC): Yeah, well after my experience with Inspector Gadget, I did those last ten episodes of the series, I had so much fun doing that, and I thought, gosh, there's this whole world of animation that I've never thought about. You can actually make a living maybe making money doing this? And because they were doing buy-outs in those days, those last ten episodes they did buy-outs, all of a sudden in the summer of '85... and that coupled with the residuals that were rolling in from this national TV commercial that I'd done for Kraft. And I'd just did a little part in a movie with Tommy Lee Jones...
VC: Which one?
TC: It was called Black Moon Rising. I played a waiter, and I had two lines. "Oh my god, they're stealing the cars!" I was terrible, but my scene was with Tommy Lee Jones, so it was kind of fun. But I got that national TV spot, this cartoon series, and this little part in this movie with Andrea Romano over there, she was great, she gave me my general audition over there with her and Gordon Hunt. And so I started doing a little work for them, and did a series for them called Wildfire, and Rob Paulsen was on that. You know, I was thinking back, of all the series that I've done, and certainly, not as prolific as guys like Rob, but, Rob seems to be the one guy in this business that I've done more series with, from the very beginning.
VC: Common denominator, yeah...
TC: We did Saber Rider and the Star Sherrifs together, and we did Wildfire over at HB together...
VC: Fraggle Rock...
TC: And we did Fraggle Rock together. And then, of course, Ninja Turtles, and The Tick. And show, after show, after show. It's like, well, there's Rob! This must be animation! So I kinda started getting my fingers into a whole bunch of different pies, and found myself with bunches of series going on all at once, and it was like that for, I want to say, maybe for the first, probably five years. A very concentrated period of time where I just seemed to be doing a ton of animation all of a sudden. Meeting all the best people in the world, working with all the most fascinating, facile, funny, creative, quick-witted, really beautiful people... I mean, I know it sounds like I'm just saying this stuff, but it's true. They're the most fascinating people in the world to get to know, and to be friends with, and to be peers with, and, certainly, to work with.
VC: So, I heard, that you also had a stint on a game show before you got into your voice-over career...
TC: Yeah! So you heard that, did you?
VC: Yeah, can you talk about that?
TC: Yeah, I was on Super Password. Not much to tell. I won $200 and a bedspread.
TC: My partner...
VC: Yeah, I was going to say, who was the celebrity?
TC: Opposite me, the celebrity was Fred Grandy. Gopher from Love Boat. And I was just nervous as hell, but it was fun, it was a riot. But that's where I met Cam Clarke...
VC: No way!
TC: Is that how you heard...
TC: That's how I met Cam. Before either of us had really gotten into animation, we were... Well, he, of course, was part of the King family, and had been in show business since he was wearing his knickers... his lederhosen, or whatever he was wearing back then when he was three... But I met Cam, because we were both contestants on Super Password together.
VC: At the same time?
TC: At the same time.
VC: Do you have video of that?
TC: You know, I don't have video, but somebody told me that they saw it on Game Show Network at one point a couple of years ago. So, it's still out there somewhere.
VC: So you beat Cam?
TC: I didn't. No, I didn't. I was, what they loosely called, a "loser" on that show. I went one round, and then I was out. Literally, I won 200 bucks, a bedspread, and all the hairdryers and curling irons one man could possibly use in a lifetime. Oh, and some house paint.
TC: Yeah. Those were my four prizes, literally. I don't think he lasted much longer than I did on the show, but we both auditioned at the same time, that's where we met each other. We were both chosen at the same time., as part of the.. the way they work it on the game shows is you're part of a little talent pool... and then they kind of weed you out, and we both kept making the cuts. I don't think we were on the same episode, I don't think we were on the same day, but we were on the same week together.
VC: How serendipitous... that's just so strange...
TC: Isn't that crazy?
VC: And what year was that?
TC: That had to have been 1985.
VC: Okay. A couple years after you got here...
TC: Ah, no...
VC: Oh, right when you got here?
TC: Months after I got here.
VC: Before your Kraft commercial?
TC: I want to say, yeah. I think it was one of the first things I did. I was open to doing anything, I'm like, here, I'm in Hollywood! You know? I remember, literally, within ten days of moving here, I was listening to KISS FM, I'll never forget this... I was listening to KISS FM one night, and the DJ on the air, it was about seven-o'clock in the evening, puts out this call over the air, saying, hey listen, they're shooting a Pepsi commercial on the backlot of Universal Studios, and Lionel Richie Jr. is going to be starring in this spot, and they need all the people they can get for a crowd scene for this. If you want to be in the crowd scene of this Pepsi commercial, they say, go on down to Universal's backlot right now, and within the next 45 minutes or so, they'll let you in and give you a pass. And i hear this, and I say to my wife, "Honey, I'm going over to Universal Studios. I'm going to be in a Pepsi commercial! Woohoo!" So I did that. I went over to Universal, got in, was in the crowd scene of this spot with Lionel Richie Jr., and it was fascinating. I'd literally been here less than two weeks, and I thought, only in Hollywood does this kind of thing happen. You can listen to the radio, and hear a call for something like that. So I was going out on anything I could think to do, and I heard that you could audition for these game shows. So I found the number, called them up, and went down and auditioned... and that's how that happened.
VC: Wow... I love it.
TC: Super Password. $200 and a bedspread, baby!
VC: I need to find that episode...
TC: I'm telling you, you gotta find that episode. That was the best use of polyester I had ever seen. This thing fit perfectly on our 1970s waterbed.
VC: Do you still have the bedspread?
TC: No... no. My wife hated it. We had to get rid of that, and the shams.
VC: So what about Transformers? Working with Wally Burr?
TC: Yeah, I worked for Wally on a couple of shows. So I did Transformers, Generation One, I was Rewind on that. A very small part, just a couple of episodes, but still kind of put me in the credits. And the credits back in those days were really funny when you watched them on the air because, the way some of the studios worked was, to save money, they didn't want to change the credits for every episode.
VC: It was the whole season...
TC: So they'd take any actor, who was in any episode, that entire season. And if it was a show like Transformers, where you're doing sixty-five episodes in a season, that's a lot of actors they're going through.
VC: A big block of names...
TC: It's just a huge wall of names, right? But you're in the credits on every episode. So anybody who's looking at the credits, and they see... and I used to joke that I had the biggest name in cartoons because "Townsend Coleman" had, I don't know how many letters that was... but it always stretched longer than pretty much anybody else's name. You could pretty well spot my name pretty easily. So, I'd end up in these credits on episodes of shows that I was never on, because I may have been in three or four episodes of a sixty-five episode season, but I'd end up in the credits on all of them. That's the way a lot of us ended up on stuff like that... So but it got me into Transformers, Generation One, and then I went on to Transformers: Animated, for Cartoon Network.
VC: Yes! A couple of years ago.
TC: Yeah, a million years later. Yep. Four or five years ago now.
VC: That had a great cast, too...
TC: Yeah, boy, that was terrific. David Kaye, and Tom Kenny, and Tara Strong. Batches of great people. Bill Fagerbakke. So yeah, that wasn't actually my intro to Wally Burr.
TC: My intro to Wally Burr... and again, this is shortly after I had moved here... but I think it was after I had gotten Inspector Gadget. I was starting to kind of get into the animation world by auditioning for the various studios, and I remember auditioning for Muppet Babies.
VC: Oh, really?
TC: Because I used to think, when I was back in Ohio I used to think... Now, one of the things you can discover about so many of the guys that populate the animation business, is they're great impressionists. I mean, really, the guys who work a ton, are, they have great senses of humor, they're very smart, they're very bright, they're very quick, they're very witty. They're writers themselves. They've got this well of life experience, and TV watching, and film watching, to draw from. But many of them, the really good ones, are great impressionists too. That's not me, at all. But back in those days, I was a big Muppet fan. Huge Muppet fan. And, so I used to jokingly do my Kermit the Frog... "Hi-ho, Kermit the Frog, here, your frog on the street reporter..." You know, from Sesame Street. So, my agent sent me out on an audition for Muppet Babies, and I was going up to audition for Baby Kermit. And I thought, I can do this! I mean, I felt really confident about it. And then I get to the audition, and it was disastrous!
VC: How come?
TC: I was just driving home from that audition, just going, what am I thinking? I don't belong in this business!
TC: Just because I was hearing the guys who were there doing it. And of course, Frank Welker, ended up doing Baby Kermit. And rightly so. But that was my intro to Wally Burr. I was auditioning for him, for Muppet Babies. And, it's interesting because, Margaret Loesch, who was the producer at Henson, who created Muppet Babies for Henson, came up with the idea, the concept, ran it by Jim Henson, for Muppet Babies. And then Fraggle Rock, the animated version, on NBC. It's funny how our careers have sort of loosely attached over the years, because she was very involved with The Tick, and with FOX, and I used to do a ton of promos for Fox Kids. And then she went on to create this new cable network called The Hub, and I just do a ton of promo stuff, for The Hub. But I got together with Margaret several years ago, not just Margaret, but the entire cast of Fraggle Rock. The cast from the animated version, for NBC. I ended up sitting up next to Margaret at this reunion dinner, this 25th reunion dinner that Bob Bergen put together, kindly. And boy, we just had a blast. I told Margaret, I said, from very early on, we've sort of been attached somehow, you know, in what I do, and what you do. It's like I've been sort of loosely been following you around. But Margaret was the one who created Muppet Babies, and I went and had that disastrous audition for that, but that was my first connection with Wally Burr. And then, did a little Transformers, never did any G.I. Joe, and then did Jem and the Holograms for Wally.
VC: That's right. I forgot he'd directed that...
TC: Yeah, Wally directed that. That was a trip working for him. I love Wally.
VC: Charlie Adler was on there, too.
TC: Charlie was on that. Samantha Paris was on that, back when she was Bobbi Block.
VC: Yes, Bobbi Block.
TC: And Sue Blu was on it, before she got into directing, back when she still doing her voice acting. Boy, those were great days. Those early days, in the late 80s was just... there was just so much happening. It was such a new time for me, in this business. It was fabulous, it was such great fun.
VC: So you didn't get the Muppet Babies role, but you then you got the Fraggle Rock role.
TC: Yeah, and it was the first and only show I ever had to do where I had to do a voice match. Because, of course, the original Fraggle Rock, the Muppet version of the Fraggle Rock show, was still on the air.
VC: A Jerry Nelson match.
TC: Yeah, see, you know infinitely more about this business than I do. You are a walking encyclopedia of this stuff. But that's right, it was Jerry Nelson, the original voice of Gobo.
VC: So did listen to Jerry Nelson stuff to do that?
TC: Yeah, because I was auditioning for a number of parts on the show. Gosh, I don't remember all that I auditioned for, but I ended up getting Gobo, and Architect, and Wrench. Those were the three characters I played on the show. And, this is back in the days of the Walkman, remember the little portable cassette player? And I had recorded a number of Jerry's lines from the TV onto a cassette tape that I would take to the sessions and listen to as my reference. And I had a couple of key lines that I would key into that would get me into that space. And that was hard for me, again, not being an impressionist. You know, I've got a really good ear for certain things. Doing impressions is not one of them. But I've often said that some of my better characters, I think, came out of impressions that I've tried to do that were so bad, it launched me in a different. It gave me a new idea.
VC: Yeah, Rob says that now. The worst impression is a brand new character.
TC: Right. Exactly.
VC: And then did you ever get to meet Jim during that whole process?
TC: Sesame Street. I was just a big, big Muppet fan. I thought they were hilarious. And then when The Muppet Show. But yeah, I wish I had met him.
VC: Yeah, I wasn't sure how involved he was with the show.
TC: With Fraggle Rock? With the animated...?
TC: Well, he must've been involved behind-the-scenes, but he never came to any of the sessions. We never got the chance to meet him, as a cast. But heard some wonderful stories about him, back in the days, from Margaret, and from people who were involved in the show.
Stay tooned for Part Three of this Behind the Booth interview with Townsend Coleman, coming next week!