'Bob's Burgers' Serves Up Gently Savory Entertainment

'Bob's Burgers' Serves Up Gently Savory Entertainment

10:35am Oct 03, 2014
Bob's Burgers won this year's Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Animated Program.
Bob's Burgers won this year's Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Animated Program.
Fox

It's not news that cartoons aren't child's play anymore: The Simpsons' dysfunctional family of five debuted way back in 1989. Then came Family Guy, also on the FOX network, and even darker and edgier.

But for four seasons now, Bob's Burgers has found a home sandwiched between that bombastic and sarcastic duo. The cartoon — created by Loren Bouchard — revolves around life at the Belcher family's struggling burger joint. The show's oddball characters, their tendency to burst into song, and a dead-on depiction of the pitfalls of puberty have won it a cult following.

It also snagged an Emmy for Outstanding Animated Program in 2014, a year The Simpsons and Family Guy weren't even nominated. Bouchard says the Belcher family's gentle, wacky dynamic is a reflection of the writing team. Meanness just looks out of place on the pages of the show's script. "There's a sort of what I call the 'Archie Bunker urge' in creating characters," he says. "Because in comedy, you want people bouncing off each other. You want a little disagreement, or a lot. ... But for all of us working on the show, it ends up being more funny to just assume that they accept each other — the members of this family — and that the conflict comes from elsewhere, something more circumstantial."


Interview Highlights

On the show's female characters, particularly sisters Tina and Louise Belcher

Louise is a great example of the sort of precocious child archetype. She is 9; she's the youngest. But we've written her, and Kristen [Schall] easily plays her, as often the sharpest person in the room. She's bored easily as a result, and sort of creates her own entertainment in that classic trickster way. She's messing with people almost all the time. Tina, her older sister, is a yearning character. She wants. She wears her heart on her sleeve. She's 13 and she's right in the beginning hot zone of puberty. And so she is very focused on boys and on a certain amount of fantasy life that involves her and kissing and boys' butts.

On casting standup comics with recognizable voices

I love working with comedians. They come to the gig with a practiced and honed ability to make you laugh using just their voice and a microphone. Secondarily, I would say, we just try to cast people with interesting voices. Whether they're a standup or not, ultimately you just want a voice that really cuts and feels really specific. Aziz [Ansari, who plays Darryl], for example, is a great voice. He doesn't have to change a thing. You just want exactly what he's born with.

On the improvisational nature of the dialogue

We love improv. Improv is very useful for a couple reasons. One is, the actors, when they say something that they're thinking of in the moment, they'll be more alive. They're all great at reading a script and they can give you a line read that sounds as fresh as you want, but I still think there's another gear. There's a little extra "oomph" in a performance when they're thinking of it and maybe they're trying to make the other actors in the booth laugh. And then, of course, on top of it, we're working with very talented people who can improvise and can often say something funnier that we wouldn't necessarily have thought of in the script stage.

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Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Long ago "The Simpsons" won adult audiences over to TV's animated sitcoms. Then came "Family Guy," also on the Fox network, a little darker and edgier. But for four seasons now, wedged between that bombastic and sarcastic duo has been "Bob's Burgers" created by Loren Bouchard. The Emmy-winning animated sitcom revolves around the life of the Belcher family and their restaurant. The show's oddball characters, their tendency to burst into song and a dead-on depiction of the pitfalls of puberty have won it a cult following. As the new season kicks off, we talked to Loren Bouchard about the family's gentle and wacky dynamic. He says mean stuff just looks out of place in the show's script.

LOREN BOUCHARD: There's a sort of what I call the Archie Bunker urge in creating characters. And I get - I can see it as a trap, that you might want to, say, make your dad character intolerant, and then you could say, well, the son's coming out - he's gay, isn't that going to be funny? They don't understand each other. But for us - all of us working on the show, I think it ends up being more funny to just assume that they accept each other, the members of this family and that the conflict comes from elsewhere, something more circumstantial. You know, Linda wants to go to a thing and Bob doesn't want to go is funnier to me than one character doesn't fundamentally understand another character.

CORNISH: There are so many great female characters on the show, particularly the sisters, Tina Belcher voiced by comedian Dan Mintz - a guy - and Louise Belcher voiced by comedian Kristen Schaal. Give us a little thumbnail sketch of each of these two characters.

BOUCHARD: Louise is a great example of the sort of precocious child archetype. She is 9. She's the youngest, but we've written and Kristen easily plays her as often the sharpest person in the room. She's bored easily as a result and sort of creates her own entertainment in that classic trickster way.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "BOB'S BURGERS")

KRISTEN SCHAAL: (As Louise Belcher) All right. Andy, Ollie, you two and me are the only ones small enough to fit through that hole in the dumpster. I would go, but I'm masterminding this.

BOUCHARD: She's messing with people almost all the time. Tina, her older sister, is a yearning character. She wants. She wears her heart on her sleeve. She's 13, and she's right in the beginning hot-zone of puberty. And so she is very focused on a certain amount of fantasy life that involves her and kissing and boys' butts.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "BOB'S BURGERS")

DAN MINTZ: (As Tina Belcher) I started writing erotic-friend-fiction, using people at school and zombies.

EUGENE MIRMAN: (As Gene Belcher) Oh, do the janitor and the vice principal. I think they'd have beautiful children.

MINTZ: (As Tina Belcher) I did, and they don't.

CORNISH: (Laughter) I know it's because of Dan Mintz's voice, that I also kind of lose it every time I hear that character. And, you know, it's funny. You have actors or standup comedians like Dan Mintz, and I know other people who have appeared on the show - Aziz Ansari and Sarah Silverman - and their voices don't change all that much, if I'm being truthful, if I think about what their voices are like. Is that part of the draw to these particular actors, or is there something about working with comedians that really allows you some flexibility in this medium?

BOUCHARD: Both. I love working with comedians. They come to the gig with a practiced and honed ability to make you laugh using just their voice and a microphone. Secondarily I would say we just try to cast people with interesting voices, whether they're a stand-up or not, ultimately we just want a voice that really, you know, cuts and feels really specific, so Aziz, for example.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "BOB'S BURGERS")

AZIZ ANSARI: (As Darryl) This town might suck at Halloween but not if you have this. I give you the treasure trail.

BOUCHARD: He doesn't have to change a thing. You just want exactly what he's born with.

CORNISH: The thing about the dialogue on the show is sometimes it feels like improv. Is it?

BOUCHARD: You know, we love improv. Improv is very useful for a couple of reasons. One is the actors. When they say something that they're thinking of in the moment, they'll be more alive. You know, they'll - they're all great at reading a script, and they can give you a line-read that sounds as fresh as you want, but I still think there's another gear. There's a little extra umph in a performance when they're thinking of it, and maybe they're trying to make the other actors in the booth laugh. And then of a course on top of it, we're working with very talented people who can improvise and can often say something funnier that we won't necessarily have thought of in the script stage.

CORNISH: Loren Bouchard, he's the creator of "Bob's Burgers." Thanks so much for speaking with us.

BOUCHARD: Pleasure. Thank you Audie. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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