The other day I happened to overhear a coworker of mine on the phone, and when he was done, I thought there was something I should ask him.
“Cameron,” I queried, “has anyone ever told you that you sound just like H. Jon Benjamin?”
Quick on the draw, Cameron grinned and and fake-yelled “Lana! LANA!!” to my great amusement; perhaps he was aware that the season premiere of Archer was this Monday.
Benjamin’s name is not particularly well known — most actors who focus on vocal, i.e. animation, work don’t have famous names — but his voice really gets around. And, like Patrick Warburton (Seinfeld’s David Puddy), who has co-starred with Benjamin on several titles, the more things H. Jon is in, the less he seems to change his speech in the slightest. Unlike voice greats Mel Blanc or Dan Castellaneta, he has no strength of range, only of expression and comic timing. It’s not a name with a face, it’s a name with a voice.
Benjamin is the title character in Bob’s Burgers, he’s Chris’ coworker on Family Guy and he’s Morpheus’ Master for The Venture Brothers. Those are all current, and they sound entirely alike. Also indistinguishable, vocally, are previous stints on Aqua Teen Hunger Force, Lucy: The Daughter of the Devil, Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist and, the hand-in-glove part for that voice, Home Movies.
Gravelly and low but with surprising precision, Benjamin’s Massachusetts-born voice, with its lazy-yet-impish arrogance, has become an animation staple, particularly in the present slot that suits it best, the lead on FX’s uproarious spy farce Archer.
Archer is like a far crazier Get Smart with very adult levels of violence, sex, drugs and profanity, or at least it was before Monday, when the show rebooted itself as Archer Vice. The agents of ISIS, who include Jessica Walter, Aisha Tyler and Judy Greer, in addition to Benjamin, have lost an espionage charter they apparently never really had and taken up a life of crime powered by the “literal ton” of cocaine they had stashed away.
The show’s revamp, which I personally hope is temporary, will no doubt allow for plenty of fun interaction between Tyler’s Lana Kane and Benjamin’s Sterling Archer. “Are you coming?” she once asked before a mission. “No, but I’m breathing really hard,” he retorted.
Sterling Archer is, or was, a bullet-dodging, hard-drinking horn-dog of a spy. His dreams of lacrosse glory ruined by a unwise early-life affair, Archer ended up working for his mother (oh boy, do they have issues) at a low-rent intelligence agency that gives him the opportunity to sleep with women around the globe and blow stuff up while yelling “woo!” He’s a tremendous dick to everyone around him who, when given a sweet new piece of hardware or a badass vehicle, loves nothing more than to ask, “But can you operate it with a huge, throbbing erection?” I may or may not have dressed up as this guy last Halloween.
In the part, Benjamin is perfect, as well as cast perfectly against type. Spies don’t sound like out-of-control frat boys, but Benjamin nails loud indifference on an international scale. The show has terrific patter, and we warmly chuckle right along with the handsome jerk who is Sterling Archer.
“Come on,” he says to a “friend” at one point, “get me drunk enough and I might have sex with you.”
“Really?” she asks.
“No, it’s a catch-22,” Archer says, “The amount of alcohol I would need would literally kill me.”
With a talent as singular as Benjamin’s, nothing is killing Archer anytime soon.