It’s finally here! The long awaited second half of this article. Happy 2010 to you! Here, I’ve conducted an email interview with the talented comedians who handle the voice work and improv magic in animator Mike Hollingsworth’s short series “Nature Break”.
CF: What is your background in comedy?
Danforth France: I moved to Los Angeles and went through the Groundlings program, learned how to improvise. Then I did a lot of standup in the months between classes. I did a lot of sketch and improv with the Groundlings and my troupe The Pretty Okay Ho-hum Spectacular on Ice, which is now long defunct.
Bennie Arthur: I started taking drama classes in high school and would always get cast as the comic relief, so when I went to college me and some friends put together a sketch comedy show called Ground Zero for the campus TV station. This was pre-9/11. I also started doing stand up in college. I eventually made my way to Los Angeles and started taking classes at the Groundlings and went through the program until the next to last level which is Writing Lab. I got involved at the IO West in a show called Top Story Weekly as well as being involved in shows at UCB Theatre. I have also performed at Second City and have done stand up around town including The Improv and Icehouse.
Erik Charles Nielsen: I started doing stand-up comedy as a hobby in Boston seven years ago. I moved out to LA in 2004, originally to become an English professor — I was in the Ph.D. program at UCLA. After a year and a half, I dropped out to pursue comedy. I’ve done a moderate amount of acting in recent years — a recurring role on NBC’s “Community”, a lot of Internet pprojects, etc. Unless I’m forgetting something, “Nature Break” is the only animated project I’ve worked on.
CF: How did you first start working with Mike?
DF: Mike and I were both comedians who sort of hung out. We went to Comic Con together before we really knew each other very well. We also went to San Francisco together to a zine show, cause Mike did comics and I did a snarky humor zine. I remember worrying that we would sell enough copies to pay for the gas to get back to L.A. One day he asked me to do a voice in a cartoon and said yes. I always figured he would have someone re-record me when he realized I wasn’t very good, but instead he just kept using me. I liked playing Herman the whale in Low Tide very much. Mike didn’t have a name for the whale when I came onboard, so I suggested Herman as a slightly obscure homage to Herman Melville. Moby or something would have been too obvious. Mike shrugged and said okay. I don’t think Mike reads.
BA: We used to get booked on shows together such as Garage Comedy. It’s still around but it used to be every Monday night at the El Cid Restaurant in Silver Lake. As well as other small, quote, alternative comedy shows, unquote. I was just fortunate enough one night that he asked me to do a voice for this cartoon series he did for Fuel TV called Low Tide. And then I guess a little while after that he asked me and Matt to play armadillos in his new cartoon series, Nature Break. I’ve always wanted to play an armadillo.
ECN: Hollingsworth is a guy who I met at comedy shows in the LA area — most notably the Tomorrow Show at the Steve Allen Theater. I’m not sure why he specifically chose me for this project, but I do appreciate it.
CF: So, Danforth, are you excited about the upcoming Sherlock Holmes movie?
DF: Ah, well, I am a bit of a Sherlock fan — no expert — but a fan. I love the stories and always keep a copy of them on my nightstand. I adore the Jeremy Brett series they did in Britain. I was skeptical of the new film from the get-go. I was Sherlock Holmes for Halloween this year, almost out of protest of the new film. I got to see a screening of it last week and I’m happy to say I wasn’t outraged — but I was bored. It’s basically a flashy, noisy, typical action movie with a thin Sherlock shell. I’m sure people will like it well enough. And when I say people, I mean — you know — the idiots.
CF: (For Bennie & Matt) Can you tell us anything about the voice over session that became “Roommates”?
The Roommates episode originated from an improv with me and Matt. Mike was super cool in that he brought in scripts for episodes that he had written and then he would also let me and Matt riff too. With “Roommates”, after voicing a few episodes, we just kind of started goofing around with this idea that we were roommates who had just gotten into a fight and decided to stay on opposite sides of the apartment but everything cool was on Matt’s side and he would rub it my face and I would always justify why I wasn’t impressed by responding with…”well, my side has the…” My response was always lame in comparison to Matt’s. And then after goofing around, Mike went home and wrote out a script and brought us back in just to record that one.
CF: What is the best animal?
DF: The best animal is my cat Gloria and anyone who says otherwise will have to step outside.
BA: Armadillos. No, in real life, I’m a dog lover and wish I could have a dog but I live in a small apartment so it would be tough.
ECN: The best animal is a moose. This has been scientifically proven — it’s one of the largest animals, but unlike some large animals I can name (”rhinoceros”, anyone?), it actually has a really great name. “Moose” is basically the ideal name for the animal it represents — it’s big, ponderous, and unwieldy without being unduly complex. Also, Bullwinkle.
CF: Erik, I remember you telling me you got in trouble for improvising something about a hat - did that end up being the hat episode of “Pigeons”?
ECN: The hat was actually from a script Danforth and I worked on together, before we realized that any hats (etc.) would actually have to be animated, and therefore might pose a problem. (Fortunately, Mike seems to have handled this admirably.)
CF: I was told that since I can’t have a Bennie Armadillo plush toy, I can just have Bennie. Is that cool with everybody?
DF: If you can put up with the constant, child-like wonder Bennie oozes, be my guest.
BA: Yes of course Bailee, you can have me. I come with a life time warranty so whenever your old Bennie Arthur breaks, just trade him in for a new Bennie Arthur.
ECN: I actually haven’t seen Bennie in a month or two. This is weird! Are we sure Bennie hasn’t run off? That would be bad.
CF: What are you guys working on now? Where can we see you performing next?
DF: I try not to perform live anymore if I can help it. The day of a show, I wake up feeling like I’m going to the gallows. I’m hopefully writing a live-action project with Matt Peters. We haven’t ruled out him playing an armadillo again. It might be type-casting, but I think there’s a whole off-screen armadillo world there that Mike didn’t explore. Gosh, you know, Mike really has a lot of shortcomings, when I come to think of it.
BA: I was just in this holiday webseries for DipDive called “St. Nick and Kate Plus 8″ which goes live on Dec. 21st on DipDive. You can also see me in my friend’s HBO show in January called Derek Waters Presents: LOL. It may get pushed back to March. Other then that, just trying to come up ideas for some funny crazy happy good times for the new year and get booked on shows and do more videos.
ECN: Well, as I said, I’m on “Community” sometimes. I’m also in an upcoming episode of “Tim and Eric” on Adult Swim. I don’t have any particular stand-up appearances to plug — I’m doing “What’s Up, Tiger Lily?” at the Hollywood Grill at Hollywood Studio Bar & Grill on Sunset and Gower.
Thanks, guys! Google and follow these gents on Twitter to see where they’re performing next, and you can check out all of the installments of “Nature Break” on YouTube.