Several months ago, I had the opportunity to interview a Disney legend: Bill Farmer. He has been the voice of Goofy for 27 years (as well as other many other Disney and non-Disney voices).
Wes: Thank you very much for offering to be interviewed
Bill: Well, no problem at all.
Wes: When you were a child, did you ever think you might be where you are today?
Bill: No, I fantasized about show business, I’ve always been a big fan of the movies and cartoons, ever since I can remember, but I grew up in south central Kansas, and so Hollywood was like a million miles away. I really didn’t think any of those dreams would ever really come true. Fortunately, they did.
Wes: You’ve done stand-up comedy, and had some recent work on the stage as well: Did you dream about that, too, or get involved with that in school or later in life?
Bill: I took acting in college, I did some high school plays, I found out at an early age that I could do impressions, and so my friends would have me do prank phone calls, and go through drive through places like Burger King and order in weird voices, and in high school especially, they would put me up at pep assemblies, and instead of just having cheerleaders, they’d have me come out John Wayne or something [in Wayne’s voice] “Gotta beat those Dodge City Demons”, that kind of thing, little sketches and stuff, but that was just for fun really, I never thought it would be a career until later in college when I got the idea ‘well, maybe I could do this’.
Wes: As you went on to college and decided you might try to make a go of it, was it then that you decided to do some research and looked into voice-over acting or stage acting, or how did that come about?
Bill: My degree, actually, was in journalism, and so I kicked around in radio for a number of years after college, and then got into stand-up comedy much later, in the early 1980s, in Dallas, and had worked at a slew of different jobs between then. I finally decided that I was gonna, oh I’d go up just kinda on a lark, at a comedy club in Dallas, I decided that I could probably do a pretty good job, so I wrote a little comedy routine, went up, and it got some good response, and the house comic, who is famous now, a guy named Bill Engvall, who was on Dancing With the Stars this last season, is a part of the Blue Collar Comedy Tour, goes around with Jeff Foxworthy and stuff, he was the one that really said ‘hey, you really oughta give this a shot, you oughta keep coming back’, and I kept coming back, and kind of worked myself into a job as a stand-up comic. I did that for 5 years before finally taking a chance on Hollywood.
Wes: You’ve said in the past that you’ve been able to work some stand-up comedy in?
Bill: Absolutely, as a matter of fact, after I get off the phone with you, I’m going over to Fred Willard’s house where we are rehearsing for a sketch comedy show that we’re doing tomorrow night in front of the public at the Second City Theater, in Hollywood.
Wes: Very exciting. I’ve also heard that you’ve performed on some Disney cruise ships?
Bill: Oh, absolutely. The last 5 or 6 years, I’ve performed on the Disney dream and done stand-up there, done kind of Q&As, done different kinds of shows, and I’ve loved doing that, and even more recently I’ve been speaking at colleges nationwide and Comicons and just doing more personal appearances in the last few years.
Wes: As you’ve performed on stage, on cruise ships, doing stand-up comedy, do people recognize you as Bill Farmer, or do they recognize you once you start talking: do they ever hear voices that you’ve done in the past?
Bill: You know, people generally don’t figure out what I do unless I do Goofy’s voice for them, or just ‘gawrsh’ or something like that. It’s different enough from my own voice, so then they instantly of course know who I am. But on the street, very rarely does anyone actually know who I am. They’re always people who are really into cartoons. Of course, if I go on a Disney cruise ship, or even at Disneyland, occasionally I get recognized down there, but buy and large, no, it’s kind of a nice anonymity that I have.
Wes: Do you go to the parks very often?
Bill: Not a great number, a few times a year, just to go down. Its usually people that will visit me and say “can you get me into Disneyland”, and I’ll say “sure”, you know, and usually friends that are visiting, or relatives, and we go down there, but I don’t get down there as much as I’d like to, but we do get down there occasionally, probably four or five times a year, I would imagine.
Wes: Do you remember your first trip to Disneyland?
Bill: Absolutely! It was… after college, I took a trip with a friend of mine out west; he had some relatives that lived in Los Angeles, and we drove out from Kansas to visit here, and one of the days, we decided to go to Disneyland, first time I’d been, and I was out of college, so I’d never gone as a child. And the next time I went to Disneyland, I was doing the voice for them. It was January of 1987, is when I got the job, my first job of doing Goofy.
Wes: Would you say that his voice has changed at all from year to year? Or would you say that you try to keep it pretty straight Goofy?
Bill: We try and keep the character pretty true to the original. Different shows require a little different take on the character. For example: Mickey Mouse Club House, being a show that is designed for the 5 and under crowd, you know, you have to speak in very general terms that you would to a child, whereas on the Mickey Mouse shorts, that’s a more radical change for Goofy, who’s actually more Dippy Dawg than Goofy, and we’re able to play with the characters a little bit more, but each, there’s several incarnations. When we did A Goofy Movie, we added a lot of emotions to him that he’d never really exhibited before. But buy and large, he’s the same old Goof, just, kinda, you know, a little changed around for each individual project.
Wes: Do you have a favorite scene in A Goofy Movie?
Bill: You know, for some reason, I love the Lester’s Possum Park scene in A Goofy Movie. It was kind of a touching scene with Austin, who’s my son… I mean Max, I get them confused from time to time… with Max, and it was really a father and son moment. They’re at odds, and I’ve certainly experienced that with my son. [dogs in background barking] And there’s Goofy’s dogs. That’s probably one of my favorite ones. Also, I got to work with Pat Butram, who was the old guy who says [in Pat Butram voice] “here it is” and just sorta comes out and, that was his last movie, as well, so it was doubly fun to do that scene, as well as to meet pat butram. I’ve always thought he was a great character actor, and I loved him on Green Acres and everything else. He had a cameo in Back to the Future, and did several voices: he was the sheriff of Nottingham in Robin Hood, and he did about five… I think in Aristocats, he was one of the old dogs, a bassett hound… he’s done about 5 or 6 Disney movies. And I’ve gotten to voice his characters in subsequent things, such as House of Mouse and some other projects.
Wes: Other than Goofy, you’ve done a lot of other voice over work. Are there other characters that hold near and dear to you?
Bill: Oh, well, of course, Pluto: I’ve been barking for Pluto ever since I’ve been goofin’ for Goof. He’s very special. Horace Horsecollar, I kind of gave him a voice in Prince and the Pauper. He never really spoke much before that, and so I’ve been voicing Horace when they need him, and other non-Disney items, of course for Warner Brothers I’ve done actually more Warner Brothers characters than I have Disney characters. Over the years, I’ve voices Bugs, Daffy Duck, Foghorn Leghorn, Sylvester the Cat, Yosemite Sam, and not consistently, because they have several actors who kind of do that off and on, depending on which director or producer, but I’m certainly lucky that I’ve gotten to do some of Mel Blanc’s voices over the years as well.
Wes: Once you’ve done these voices, you typically record and send them in, and it’s a long process to actually make a cartoon… do you then watch the cartoons?
Bill: Only when they’re on the air, like with everybody else. Rarely do I get a chance to see them before the public, except when we do what’s called ADR, which is Additional Dialogue Recording. We might add something, fix something that they can’t say, let’s say Goofy said [in Goofy voice] “Gawrsh, I’m gonna have a Coca-Cola”, ‘oh, we can’t use Coca-Cola, we’ll have to say sodapop’… and I’d go back and just change those words. Then I would do it looking at the picture, and do that little bit of recording and replacing dialogue, and that’s called ADR. And that’s generally the only time I get to see pieces of the final product until it’s on television.
Wes: So do they then just give you a script with your lines on it, everything you’ll say, and you record bits and pieces, or are you given a general storyline, or would that take up too much time and be unnecessary?
Bill: When we do, let’s say a cartoon, let’s say we’re doing Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, I have the full 40-some page script. I’ll highlight my lines, because we generally do not record them with the other actors anymore. At least at Disney, we go in and I’ll do each of my lines, you know maybe 4 or 5 times, listen to the director “how far away is Mickey from me?” ‘oh, he’s 10 feet, I’ll say it this way, or if he’s 50 feet away, I’ll say it that way. They get those takes, and then they’ll get those same takes, the other lines, from the other actors, and edit them together, so I don’t even record with the other actors. But I do get the entire script, and do get a chance to read the story before I go in to kind of get a better idea of what’s happening.
Wes: You said you don’t typically record with other actors, but have you gotten together with other actors in the past, or like for example, when Wayne Allwine was the voice of Mickey Mouse and Russi Taylor was doing Minnie alongside him, did the three of you ever get together for recordings or…
Bill: Oh, many times. Of course, I was recording with them for 20-some years and even the first two or three, the first season of MMCH we recorded ensemble. That’s about when it changed. Before that, most of the time we would record together, or a large portion of it, and in the beginning we always recorded together, so many hundreds of times I’ve recorded with Wayne and Russi and Tony and everybody else.
Wes: Are there any projects, Disney projects you’re currently working on that you’re able to talk about that might be coming out in the next couple of months?
Bill: Sure, I am working on, we’re doing more of, they’re very popular now, the Mickey Mouse shorts, which are on Disney and YouTube and everything, um, they just the other night at the Annies were nominated for a lot of things, and won a couple of them. I was up for Goofy for that, and didn’t win, but I was a nominee at the Annie awards the other night, we’re gonna be doing more of those, they seem to be very popular. Coming and premiering I think in June is a series based on the 7 dwarfs called 7D. In that series I am Doc, and it’s kidn of a rethinking of the 7 dwarves, they kind of look different and sound different. The traditional dwarves, when you ever hear them, which is not too often these days, I’m Sleepy, I voice Sleepy in the 7 dwarves, so I’m also Sleepy and Doc in different projects.
Wes: Do you ever record with yourself, in terms of voicing multiple characters in the same cartoon?
Bill: Oh yes, uh-huh. Yeah, I’ve certainly done that quite often, as several times I’ve done Goofy and Pluto together, and I’ve done some incidental characters, where I’m right up against my other character and I’ll do both of them.
Wes: You’ve received Disney Legend status. With that, when you go to the parks do you have Disney staff that walks around with you? Do you walk around on your own by yourself because you’re a voice actor and you’re able to keep that anonymity until you talk? How does that effect your time at the parks?
Bill: I have a pass I can go into the parks whenever I want to, but no, it’s just like any other person, I go in there with my family and unless it’s a special event that I really want to try and show someone special around, almost all the time it’s just me and my family and I just go in like anybody else.
Wes: You don’t have a black card that gets you to the front of the line or anything?
Bill: No, I wish I did. That’d be nice.
Wes: We’ve talked about Disney a bit, and I know you’ve done a lot of work outside of that, what kind of non-Disney projects are you working on right now?
Bill: None right now… I’m trying to think… commercials from time to time, I’ve recorded a few commercials recently, but no other cartoon series at the present time outside of Disney.
Wes: People have heard your voice, some people may have seen you do stand-up comedy, do you have any other hidden talents that most people might not know about?
Bill: Well, I started as a stand-up comic impressionist, so a lot of different voices and celebrity impressions, and, let me see, hobbies would include photography, and I did photo-journalism for a while with my journalism degree, I’m kind of a science nerd and a Halloween fanatic, I love Halloween. Here at the house we always have a giant Halloween party every year, and as a kid I used to make Tesla coils, and I had a minor in electronics, so I’ve worked as an electronic technician, so I’m fairly techno-geeky in that way. I have a company where I teach, you know, aspiring actors, with my son who is an audio-engineer and a drummer in a couple of bands around here, and so I teach voice over and I prepare demos, I record demos with the voice actors who want to get into this business and so yeah, I have a lot of things. I don’t know how talented I am at that, but I have a lot of interests.
Wes: That’s with Toonhouse Inc, right? I’m sure you’ve had a lot of people ask you, and of course you do it professionally, so you would be the person to ask: are there any tips or tricks to following your dreams of being a voice-over actor, or are there so many that you’d say ‘leave the jobs to me’?
Bill: Well, I’ll tell you, there are a lot of people that want to do this, and it’s a very competitive business because there’s like 150,000 SAG members in LA, and in any given week , and there are between 5 and 10,000 jobs. So there’s 150,000 people going to 10,000 jobs, that means in any week there are a lot of out of work actors. It’s very competitive, so it’s kind of just keep at it and do it, not that you’re going to make a lot of money, or even make a career of it… you should always have a back-up job to pay the bills, and do this because you love it.
Wes: That sounds like some good advice. Outside of Disney, do you have a favorite movie or musical group?
Bill: Gosh, well, I’m old-school, so I grew up with the Beatles and the Doors, and I like some heavier stuff. Led Zepellen was always great when I was younger. Now, I’m getting to know a lot more local groups because my son is a drummer… as a matter of fact, we were up at Universal City Walk last night at Universal Studios, at a bar called Howl-At-The-Moon. My son’s band was performing ,and I always go and watch him perform when I can, so I’m able to live my musical side vicariously through him. It’s a tough business, but the nice thing out here is that Austin, my son, can take lessons from working professionals. One of his drum teachers is on tour with Ringo Starr, another one is a drummer for the Doobie Brothers, so there are some really top-flight people, and he can take lessons from them, which is really a great thing for him.
Wes: Jumping around a little more, you’re from Kansas, you’ve been to Texas, and now California… Are you able to travel a lot because of your job, or in addition to your job have you been able to travel much?
Bill: I’m doing more of that. Mostly, my voice has been traveling, but now that it’s much more common to for Comicons, I’m doing a lot more of those. Seattle, the Emerald City Comicon. And I’ve been to Australia several times, there are lot of good Goofy fans Down Under, and I’m gonna be doing Sydney and Brisbane in September. And I’ve done several Comicons in New Zealand as well, as well as around the country. I’ve been going to Atlanta, I think in September to Dragon-Con, and I’m just doing a lot more of that. It’s a lot of fun, and I’d like to do some in Europe if I could.
Wes: When you’re at these Comicons, I wonder, do you have scores of people coming up to you trying to do Goofy or Mickey Mouse impressions for you when they see you?
Bill: Yeah, once in a while. It’s a lot of fun. I’m just pleased that people are that interested in the characters these days. Yeah, a lot of people will try their Goofy and their Mickey and other voices. And a lot of people will do Donald. That seems to be a big one. Mickey and Donald are more popular to do than Goofy. It’s more of a trick voice to do that, and maybe it’s a little bit easier, I’m not sure. If you can get into the falsetto [for Mickey], (in Mickey voice) ‘Gosh, you’re kind of there’. The Donald voice is tough, I can only make the noise, (as Donald) “oh boy”, but that’s about all I can do.
Wes: It definitely takes talent, being about to do what you do, and so well. You travel a lot going to Comicons, doing voice-over work… do you have much free time? And if you do, what do you like to do in that free time?
Bill: Well, I’m always auditioning, but I do have a lot of free time. In my other free time, like I said, I bring in clients, and I teach quite often, several people a week, I love to travel. I love to still do photography… You know, I’m pretty busy really. My wife and I travel from time to time, we like to vacation, I walk my dogs every day, and just do regular kind of stuff.
Wes: And you and your wife have also had time to make award-winning movies.
Bill: Absolutely. She’s a great director. As a matter of fact, we’re working on one right now, so we spend a lot of our time editing. I edit them, she directs them, we shoot them together, and one of my best friends is a camera man on the show The Amazing Race, and he helps shoot them, so it’s kind of a small-time film production business, so we keep ourselves busy with all of these little things.
Wes: If you ever need a 6’10” opera singing extra… I’ll be there for you.
Bill: Well, my advice is to follow your loves, follow your passions, follow what makes you happy.
Wes: I’m on Twitter, I blog, I use social media to stay in touch with people. Are there things about social media that have changed how voice over actors work?
Bill: Oh, absolutely. I am not that big on Facebook, but I do it now and I’m getting more into it. And I have a twitter account, @GoofyBill, and I have a website, BillFarmer.com, and ToonhouseInc.com is my website for the other stuff… and yeah, you kind of have to spend some time doing that . It’s a lot of fun. Immediately, people know what I’m doing. We took pictures from the Annie awards the other night, and by the time the show was over, probably thousands of people had seen those pictures all around the world. And I was getting nice tweets saying ‘great job’ from places like Japan and Australia and Florida, and everywhere, even Scotland. It’s amazing, it’s not localized anymore, it is completely worldwide.
Wes: Well, along with Twitter and social media sites, there are also apps. There’s the one for the new Disney cartoons, and any time a new one is available, my daughter says “Dad, lets watch Mickey Mouse. Lets watch Donald and Goofy”
Bill: Do you have a favorite of the new Mickey Mouse shorts?
Wes: I really like Potatoland, it’s a little longer, there’s more of a story that’s able to come through, and it takes place in the middle of nowhere, which is kind of like where I live. I realize I’m a ways from Idaho…
Wes: My daughter wants to watch it over and over and over again, and says ‘Potato… land!”
Bill: I love that one myself, and I love where Goofy got to become a Zombie, in Ghoul-friend, which is just so radically different, I just thought it was so much fun to do. Yaah, Goofy is going to be a zombie! It was great!
Wes: They’re out there, but they definitely bring in an audience that hasn’t seen anything like that before. I’ve talked to a couple people that think it’s a little bit strange, but I’ve talked to so many more that just absolutely love the new cartoons and the direction they’ve gone with the classic characters.
Bill: I don’t think it takes away from the characters at all, I think it adds too them. The traditional stuff will always be there. They’re not changing Goofy for good, just for this particular series, and it’s just kind of putting these characters in a different light. And if people like it, fine, but if they don’t, they don’t have to watch it, they can watch the traditional cartoons we’ve done.
Wes: Last question: if you could be a sandwich, any sandwich, what kind of sandwich would you be, and why?
Bill: If I were a sandwich… well, I’m in show business, so I’d probably be a ham sandwich. Ham on rye probably, because I like subtle humor, a dry sense of humor, so ham on rye, I guess.
Wes: Well, I want to take the time to thank you once again for taking the time to do this interview.
Bill: Thank you very much, and all the best to you.