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The kosher Porky Pig was up for an Emmy Award on Sept. 18. Bob Bergen, a nice Jewish boy from Woodland Hills, was nominated in the voice-over category for his performance as America’s favorite traife hero on “The Looney Tunes Show” on Cartoon Network. And while he lost to “Futurama’s” Maurice LaMarche, he said, “I’m thrilled just to have been nominated.” He was, after all, the underdog—er—pig.
Bergen, 47, received the nomination for the episode titled, “Jailbird and Jailbunny,” in which Porky must testify before a judge after Daffy Duck gets arrested for littering at the Grand Canyon. (Naturally, Daffy tries to blame the infraction on Porky and Bugs Bunny.) The judge asks the stuttering character why he isn’t wearing pants, an issue Bergen joked he has brought up with animators.
Besides LaMarche of “Futurama,” which also won the best animated series Emmy, Bergen competed against Christopher Plummer, who narrated TCM’s “Moguls & Movie Stars” series, Brenda Strong for her voice over work as Mary Alice Young on “Desperate Housewives,” and the animation performers Seth Green (“Robot Chicken”) and Dan Castellaneta – the guy who voices Homer Simpson – D’oh!
When the hilarious, affable performer came to the Journal offices for an interview on Sept. 16 (listen to the podcast on the right), he regaled us with the sounds of Porky, Marvin the Martian, Sylvester, Tweety and other Looney Tunes characters he has voiced. He also demonstrated the range of background voices he has done for films such as “Tangled” and “Up” – crying babies, buzzing flies and barking dogs that sounded uncannily real (and delightfully surreal) coming out of a person’s mouth.
Bergen (in his own voice) pointed out that he is not the first kosher Porky. The first, of course, was the late, great Mel Blanc, who voiced all the Looney Tunes characters and who was Bergen’s childhood idol. “I wanted to be Porky Pig when I was 5 years old, and my mom said you can’t be Porky Pig, you’re Jewish,” he recalled. Even so, Bob spent countless hours practicing the pig’s voice—even figuring out the pattern of Porky’s stutter—to his mother’s chagrin.
In grammar school, he got in trouble for saying the “Pledge of Allegiance” in Porky-speak. More discipline ensued when he answered teachers’ questions as the porcine character while attending Portola Junior High (now middle school) in Tarzana, Stephen S. Wise’s religious school and Taft High in Woodland Hills. “I got in so much trouble,” he said. Even the Passover seder wasn’t immune: “Why is this night different from other n-n-n-neh-n-n-evenings,” he demonstrated.
But Bergen wasn’t without ambition. By his early teens, he was spending hours thumbing through the yellow pages, calling every animation studio in town, figuring out how to break into the voice over field. Eventually, he studied with legends such as Daws Butler (the voice of Yogi Bear, Snagglepuss and Huckleberry Hound), and took classes in comedy improv and acting. Bergen even finagled a way to watch his idol, Blanc, record in the studio.
His Jewish mother was initially heartbroken when he chose not to attend college. But Bergen’s chutzpah again paid off after a friend sent him an autographed photo of Casey Kasem for his Taft graduation. Bob promptly mailed Casey a thank you note with his phone number, stating that he hoped to work in cartoons; to his shock Kasem phoned with offers to help. A homemade demo tape of 85 voices that the teenager sent Kasem led Bob to snag his first agent when he was 18.
Within five years, Bergen was working full-time as an actor; in between commercials for McDonalds and such, he landed his dream job – voicing Porky as well as other Looney Tunes characters – in 1990, the year after Blanc’s death. He’s done Porky in everything from the film “Spacejam” to Cartoon Network’s “The Looney Tunes Show,” which premiered this summer.
Among other endeavors, he has also written and performed a one-man show, “Bob Bergen: So, Here’s the Deal!” which he describes as “the story of a nice Jewish boy who wanted to be Porky Pig.”
These days, Bergen remains a staunch Porky fan. During the holiday season, he dresses a figure of his traife hero in a Santa Claus suit, which graces his front yard. And now he has an Emmy Award nomination under his belt—Mazel Tov, Bob!
For now, as Bergen himself told us, “That’s all, J-j-j-j-j-Jews!”