TV

A Delightfully Fun And Mildly Awkward Conversation With H. Jon Benjamin About ‘Archer’ And Pandemic Bird Watching

As the voice of two of the most popular animated characters on television, H. Jon Benjamin has stayed busy during the production slowdown sparked by that pandemic thing you’ve heard so much about. Bob’s Burgers has continued its production and will soon launch its new season and Archer was able to wrap up season 11, which premieres tonight on FXX.

But despite that, things haven’t exactly been normal. Benjamin has moved out to the woods of Connecticut, he’s doing his job from a studio someone sent him in the mail, and he’s refinding a love of bird watching that seems to frighten him just a little bit. We discuss all of those things and the new season of Archer ahead, but the facts of the thing don’t quite sell the experience.

Benjamin is a unique interview, happy to riff and keep it a little awkward for the sake of a laugh… or quite possibly his own amusement. And there’s nothing wrong with that.
A fun thing is that I had a bunch of thought starters and I have lost that document, so we’re just going to fly here.

I’m excited.

Me too. It’s going to get dangerous. We’re going to really break some rules here.

Oh, we’re going to… Might get into the danger zone.

[Laughs] Perfect. Well, I did not mean to set that up, but it happened organically.

Yeah, no I’m sorry I even said that.

It’s the headline now: “H. Jon Benjamin Dives Right Into The Danger Zone With Archer,” and then I’ll have to resort to day-drinking after doing that, but that’s fine.

Right. Well, I already started, so…

So how has the apocalypse/pandemic been treating you?

Well, it’s moving along swimmingly, I think. Yeah. Every day getting worse and worse by slow degradation. Obviously it’s been difficult, but regarding the shows, it’s been relatively normal in a way, so that’s a good thing. The ability to do the shows has been a positive.

Yeah. With any kind of voice work and everything like that, have things been mostly been uninterrupted as far as that goes? Are you, like everybody else, recording in your closet?

Yeah. I’ve been recording at home in a sort of makeshift studio that was sent by mail. That’s been going on pretty regularly with both shows. I actually did finish up probably in May, but they did the last two recordings at home. For Archer, it’s probably been a little bit more normal because everybody recorded independently anyway so it’s basically the same setup with Bob’s Burgers. It’s a little more complicated because we don’t get to record together anymore, which is what we did as a group.

With Archer, I know Adam Reed is still involved in the process, but not necessarily directly writing episodes as much. How has that change been?

Well, to be honest, not a great deal [has changed]. Last season was perhaps the first season where he was not writing every script. I think it was a little different. I don’t think I’d ever been a part of rewriting a scene on the fly and we did that a couple of times just based on tone. Adam had been writing a series for 10 years completely on his own, pretty remarkable. I think his voice is so strong, just the shift into getting new people to try and either reproduce that or find their own particular version of the voice of the show was a little rocky at first, but not a lot. Like I said, my example is that I’ve never been like, “Hey, I don’t think Archer would say that.” I had never done that before. And I did that maybe a couple of times. To make a long story longer… Should I keep going?

Yeah, go. Go. Run.

[Laughs] No, I just wanted to say that. I have nothing else.

[Laughs] Are you surprised that you’re back in the Archer prime story?

Not really. I think…

Oh, I might have lost you.

It’s where I was standing. In an electromagnetic booth. Wrapped in tinfoil. Sorry.

Hey listen, that’s how I get my news now too, you’ve just got to make sure the 5G doesn’t get you.

Yeah, that’s where I masturbate, and I apologize for masturbating during this interview.

It’s fine. I talk to a lot of standup comedians.

I just love your voice.

[Laughs] It’s silky.

[Laughs] So… What were you saying?

I was asking if you were surprised to be back in the Archer Prime story.

Not really. I think Adam, Matt [Thompson], and Casey [Willis] probably had discussions back and forth about ending the show after the last coma/dream season, which would have been Space 1999. And then they probably just shifted because, in good part, I think there was probably a lot of discussions (and I’m just guessing this) from the world of Archer, including the fans of bringing the show back to where it was. I think they were probably just working to find a way to do that, so it was probably two things at once and they went with continuing the show, which was… That’s a good thing. I know that Adam in particular had a notion to end the show as a creative choice for him, but I think he shifted as well once they started talking about bringing it back to the world of the original Archer.

The amount of time that’s passed is obviously a significant aspect of this season and how Archer is dealing with the world now and how the world is dealing with Archer. Is that re-energizing for you to voice the character when he’s maybe not at his best and he’s having to be back on his heels a little bit?

From an acting perspective, not at all. I don’t do a deep dive into figuring that stuff out, it’s pretty much on the page. In certain cases, Archer has been faced with some amount of introspection or tragedies that he has to overcome. In other seasons there was the cancer thing and obviously having the child with Lana, so there’s a little bit more going on here than probably the coma seasons, which were just sort of flights of fancy, I guess, for Archer. But on the whole, yeah, I can’t cop to being a good actor.

Well, as a fan of the show, were you excited to see the development of this season? Assuming you’re a fan of the show. If you want to admit to not being a fan of the show, that’s totally fine, I’ll run with it.

[Laughs] Not really a fan, yeah. I’m not loving it, guys. Not loving it. Yeah, it’s hard. I would say you’d have to go back to a lead actor hating his show as much… the only example I could think of is According To Jim, Jim Belushi. I think I hate Archer as much as he hated According To Jim.

Did you see that he’s a professional weed farmer?

A wheat farmer?

He’s a weed farmer out in, it might be Oregon. There are some amazing pictures of him in the fields.

Good for him.

He’s becoming a titan of the legal weed industry.

Oh, you mean weed farmer. I thought you said wheat.

No, weed. Much more interesting.

Oh, that’s way less interesting. Wheat farmer is very interesting, weed farmer is not so much… Honestly, good for him, I guess, if he’s an independent farmer and harvesting weed. The only thing I’ve seen of his recently was the clip of him mowing his lawn, but maybe he was mowing weed.

Maybe. That seems like a waste.

I don’t think that’s how you harvest it.

Maybe he’s just bad at it.

There was something on like Tik Tok or Instagram of him on one of those zero-turn mowers. [Laughs] Which is like a piece of art. I would loop that and put it on my wall, a video of Belushi turning on a mower and it keeps looping.

Speaking of social media, The Bird Report…

Oh my god.

Is it a natural love of ornithology that sparked that?

In the beginning of quarantine, I left New York City, not that there aren’t birds there, but we rented this small house in Connecticut in the country and I started… There were a ton of birds in the backyard. For some reason, I had a weird sense memory of studying birds when I was really young and I think I memorized all the birds when I was a kid from the Audubon book and I hadn’t thought about that for years. I saw a mockingbird, I think it was a northern mockingbird, in the backyard and for some reason, I knew that it was a northern mockingbird, which is at the moment very crazy, as in I can’t believe I know the name of that bird. [Laughs] So I assumed the massive anxiety of feeling a deep, existential panic from the initial response to the quarantine inspired a memory from childhood that I knew somewhat about birds. Yeah, that was a good thing, but that was my repressed memory, just knowing about birds.

Were there more frightening choices that you could have dipped into?

No, I’m just glad that was the thing that I was shocked to remember, as opposed to some horrible incident. I also probably had a lot of bourbon and ecstasy and LSD, so it might have been that.

And this is all while recording The Bird Report or you’re saying that you had repressed memories of drinking bourbon and taking LSD as a child?

No, I have absolutely no repressed memories of that, I remember all of it.

‘Archer’ returns Wednesday, September 16 at 10PM on FXX

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