Rob Paulsen can attribute his fortune and fame to a couple of talking turtles, a genetically modified mouse and a creature of unspecified origin whose song about the countries of the world became Paulsen’s anthem.
Not bad for would-be hockey player whose second career choice was singing and acting.
Paulsen moved to L.A. to chase the Hollywood dream. While he got plenty of work doing character roles on TV, he didn’t find his niche until he started doing voice work in the mid-’80s — several years before he connected with a certain big time director who wanted to bring the magic of Warner Bros. movie cartoons to television.
At this weekend’s Granite State Comicon at DoubleTree Hilton Dowtown Manchester, you can expect Paulsen to reprise some of his most popular characters, including Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Raphael and Donatello, Pinky — of “Pinky and the Brain,” of course — and Yakko Warner of “Animaniacs.”
Fans know those last two as prime-time cartoons helmed by Steven Spielberg, who collaborated with Warner Bros. Animation to produce them in the mid-’90s.
Paulsen is most proud of his work on those shows, which will be getting a reboot next year on Hulu with new episodes.
“Mr. Spielberg, the king of Hollywood, has decided, ‘Hey, man, at 72 years old, I think it’s time to do ‘Pinky and the Brain’ and ‘Animaniacs’ again,” Paulsen said last week from Los Angeles. “I’m kind of blown away because any time you get to work with Steven, as you can imagine, is pretty cool.”
“Animaniacs” and “Pinky and the Brain” are special in Paulsen’s repertoire because they were created as original works.
“Those shows specifically were shows that were successful for their own sake as opposed to ‘Turtles,’ which, as much as I’m proud of working on two different iterations of the show, they’re essentially half-hour commercials to sell action figures,” Paulsen said. “I’m a capitalist, I get it. But to be able to work on something that had a fan base — and a loyal fan base for 20-plus years — utterly for the sake of the content of those particular shows is a pretty cool thing.”
Paulsen’s rendition of “Yakko’s World” was the series’ biggest hit during its five-year run. A video clip of the song loaded to YouTube in 2010 has generated more than 9 million hits.
For the two-minute song, Paulsen had to fire off the names of one nation after another, an instant geography lesson, as Yakko pointed to each country on a map of the world.
Paulsen figures he’s performed “Yakko’s World” at least a couple of hundred times, thanks to the regular gigs he gets touring with “Animaniacs in Concert,” which pairs the show’s voice actors with an orchestra.
“That song is my ‘Stairway to Heaven.’ Every time we do it everybody goes nuts,” said Paulsen, 63.
For awhile, Paulsen was worried he might not be able to continue singing that song, due to a bout with throat cancer a few years ago. He’s since recovered, and his time fighting the disease inspired him to write a book that also aims to capture the special relationship he has with fans — and their parents.
Some of those fans were children battling disease. They wanted to hear Raphael or Pinky or Yakko.
“Often the children didn’t make it, and the parents would keep in touch with me and tell how much it meant to them that Yakko would sing the countries of the world to their little girl,” he said. “I was the one who clearly derived the most profound joy from that compliment. I don’t even know how you get up the next day and put your pants on when you have to bury your kid.”
Those moments happened many times.
“But I didn’t realize how much they were preparing me for my own time in the cancer cage in terms of real examples. Talk about profiles in courage,” Paulsen said.
In “Voice Lessons,” coming out Oct. 10, Paulsen culled from those experiences and his own to find the deeper meaning of his work.
“It’s about the voice lessons that I have learned along the way that have to do with courage and kindness and the power of joy and laughter,” he says.
The audio version of the book begins with Paulsen having a conversation with Pinky, the lab mouse he gifted with a cockney accent — inspired by Paulsen’s love for British humorists, including Peter Sellers and the gang from Monty Python.
Paulsen recruits Pinky to end his podcasts: “Laughter is the best medicine. The cool thing is you can’t OD and the refills are free.”
It’s the kind of medicine that often appeals to people on the autism spectrum. At noon Saturday, “A Calmer CON-versation with Rob Paulsen” will take place in the Webster Room at the DoubleTree.
Adam Wilson, founder of Calm Passion, has worked with comic conventions to create the “Calmer Con” experience.
“So this sweet man has his son, Logan, who is autistic, and he has found a way on his own time, his own dime, to put together Calmer Con, and kudos to the folks at Granite State for giving him some room, literally, to have this,” Paulsen said.
“There will be all sorts of fun stuff for children who are just a little sensitive to the stuff that everyone else enjoys,” he said. “They can still enjoy the experience.”
Getting social with Rob Paulsen