Listen to audio from this interview in the Animag Fun Bag
As one of the brilliant cast members of Comedy Central’s Reno 911!, Carlos Alazraqui has been getting some face time in front of the camera these days, especially with a feature film, Reno 911!: Miami, set to hit theaters this summer. However, most of the comedian’s career has been spent in the recording booth where he has helped create a laundry list of memorable cartoon characters over the past 14 years. Having made his mark on pop culture as the voice of Madison Avenue’s Taco Bell Chihuahua, Alazraqui is now working on eight animated series, including Cartoon Network’s Camp Lazlo and The Life and Times of Juniper Lee, PBS’s Maya & Miguel and Nickelodoen’s Wow! Wow! Wubbzy! He also plays a Scarface-like latino penguin in Warner Bros.’ upcoming CG-animated movie, Happy Feet, which waddles into theaters on Nov. 17.
Animation Magazine Online: How did you get started in the business? Doing stand-up?
Carlos Alazraqui: I started doing stand-up in college. I did mime in college as well. I did stand-up comedy competitions on and off campus, then got in a comedy duo called the Brew-Ha-Has. We did bits like William F. Buckley interviewing Floyd the Barber from The Andy Griffith Show on policy in Central America. We did Devo singing ‘White Christmas’ and all these other weird things at a place called The Metro bar and Grill. Then in ’87, I moved to San Francisco and a local producer named Mark MacNamara, a professor at SF State, was working with a local San Jose cartoonist [Joe Murray] who had developed a little concept called Rocko’s Modern Life for MTV/Nickelodoen. I didn’t have an agent but I made a tape in my kitchen and went in and auditioned in this guy’s basement. They liked what I did and I got Rocko, which turned into a pilot. I then won the San Francisco comedy competition a year later in ’93 and moved back to L.A., got an agent and took workshops with [casting directors] Ginny McSwain, Chris Zimmerman and a bunch of other people. Four years later I started to get more auditions and weaseled my way into a voiceover career.
What advice would you give someone who wants to get into the voiceover biz?
I think the No.1 thing is to be persistent and to take workshops and acting lessons. There are tons of people who can do amazing things with their voice, like, ‘Hey, I can do Bobby and Donald Duck.’ Yeah, but can you act? That’s the one thing I’ve learned by watching Tom Kenny, Jeff Bennett, Kath Soucie, Tara Strong, Billy West, Richard Horvitz, Pam Alder and all of the people I work with. I just watched and learned that you have to be able to act, too. You have to bring some flavor and depth to it. It’s not just about mimicry or doing a great voice.
I happen to know that Matt Groening, creator of The Simpsons, is a huge fan of Reno 911!
Oh, wow! I didn’t know that. I’ll have to tell my voice agent to send something to him. [The show] has given me a lot more credibility. Cedric Yarbrough, who’s on The Boondocks, is a very talented voice actor and he will soon get more parts. We did a commercial for Sorensen Ford in Brookfield, Wisconsin, and the guy loved us from Reno so he hired us. I did a Jack-in-the-Box commercial where I played a talking French fry, ‘Salt is for Suckaz, Sucka!’ When I got the callback, I talked to the director and said, ‘I did a couple of different takes, which one did you like?’ And he said, ‘It doesn’t matter. I love Reno 911! ‘ I’m getting jobs because people like me on a show. I’ll take it. It’s nice to hear that someone like a Matt Groening is a fan of the show.
So we hope to hear your voice on The Simpsons soon.
That would be nice. It would be fun if we could come on and play our characters, now that Fox is involved in the Reno 911 movie. I think the Fox/Paramount cross-promotion and it being on the big screen will help push things to a new level. I think the movie’s not going to be revered by critics, but it’s not that kind of movie. It’s stupid. It’s Police Academy amped up. Bring some popcorn and have a good time.
You work both in front of the camera and behind the microphone. Is there one that you prefer over the other?
It’s reall relative to the day and what you’re working on. I love Juniper Lee and all the other cartoons, but when I’m working on Camp Lazlo, it’s me, Tom Kenny, Jeff Bennett, Doug Lawrence, Steve Little and Jill Talley and we just crack each other up. [Series creator] Joe Murray gets our stuff and when that’s clicking and we’re cracking each other up, that’s the best time. On Reno, when I’m driving around with Cedric and betting kids that they can’t jump off a roof, how can that not be the funnest thing in the world? The Taco Bell thing was a dream gig. I would drive to Brian Boyd Casting in L.A. on Pico and Bundy and kick a soccer ball around with the valet guy. Then I’d walk a block to get some Taco Bell, an IBC root beer and a frozen Snickers Bar and I’d go in there and go, ‘Gooey, gooey cheese.’ And they’d go, ‘Okay, we’ve got it.’
I’ve talked to other voice actors who have been a little upset that Hollywood keeps turning to big-name stars when they do features and they get the recognition and awards rather than you guys who have been working in the industry for years.
I used to be kind of bitter and jealous as well, but I get it. It’s business. If DreamWorks and Disney need that name to sell the cartoon and get people in the seats, that’s what they need. It’s not fair, but there’s plenty of other work for us to do. If it’s only based on whether or not you’re going to get an award, that’s trivial. As a matter of fact, I was the lead on Handy Manny, but Disney thought, ‘You know what? For our press junkets and stuff like that, we need somebody who has more celebrity to help push this cartoon.’ So they got my friend, Wilmer Valderrama from That ’70s Show. He’s not as experienced as I am, and that’s hard to take. I’m still on the show and still get paid the same. My ego got hurt a little bit, but I get it. If it helps them to sell the cartoon, in the long run, it’s going to help me, too. It’s weird. A lot of us are like, ‘It’s not fair!’ There’s a big sign right underneath the Hollywood sign that says ‘Not Fair Land.’ [laughs].
Hear some of the many voices of Carlos Alazraqui from this exclusive interview at https://www.animationmagazine.net/wac/fun_bag.html, and learn more about Carlos at http://www.carlosalazraqui.com.