In case you’ve been taking veganism to such an extreme that you won’t even watch TV shows about fictional hamburger joints, then allow me to tell you that Bob’s Burgers is, without a doubt, one of the sharpest, smartest and consistently funniest shows on TV nowadays, animated or otherwise. Revolving around the wonderfully weird Belcher family and their family-owned and operated restaurant, Bob’s Burgers boasts an impressive roster of voice talent including series regulars H. Jon Benjamin, Eugene Mirman, Kristen Schaal, Dan Mintz, and John Roberts as well as some terrific guest stars like Zach Galifanakis, Jon Hamm, Tom Lennon, and Paul F. Tompkins.
Tonight, the show finishes up its dynamite third season with a Little League-centric episode guest starring Rob Huebel, and the cast is currently finishing up their tour of the West Coast with their Bob’s Burgers Live show, a raucous mixture of stand-up, Q&A, live table reads and more. To help adequately prepare you for the meaty magnificence of tonight’s episode, I caught up with star Eugene Mirman (“Gene Belcher”) and creator Loren Bouchard to talk about taking Topsy to Broadway, their perfect burger and how they cook up new episodes.
Nerdist: So you guys are currently on the road, touring the West Coast with your Bob’s Burgers Live show. What can you tell us about that?
Eugene Mirman: We’re doing a tour from San Diego to Portland; the cast is all doing stand-up, then we do a table rad, a Q&A and show some clips from stuff coming up next season.
Loren Bouchard: That’s correct!
N: Any clues as to what might be in these clips since not all of us can make it to the live show?
EM: Yeah, if you were to, you’d see a clip from the Christmas episode.
LB: Yeah, that clip is playing very nicely and we’re also table reading the Thanksgiving episode, which is nice to hear. Those are two really strong episodes.
N: Do you use any audience feedback you might get from doing those table reads or screening future clips?
EM: No – they’re already in the process of being animated. It’s more just a treat for the audience to show them what’s coming up.
N: Nice! How has your experience with the fans been? Have there been any Bob’s Burgers cosplayers in the crowd?
EM: Yeah, I think there have actually. Somebody brought me a keyboard in San Diego, which is actually the kind of keyboard Gene plays, which is actually the kind of keyboard I had as a kid and Loren had as a kid.
N: That’s awesome.
EM: Yeah, so that was really cool. I tried to give it back, but then he was like, “I run a website where I sell these keyboards, so you can really have one.”
N: Well, that’s even better.
EM: Yeah, yeah.
N: The season finale is tonight and I understand Rob Huebel is guest starring. Can you give us a hint of what we can expect?
EM: Loren, take it away…
LB: We’re calling it “The Unnatural,” and it’s a nice baseball episode, a Gene episode. He signs up for Little League because he likes the idea of the uniform and the parade at the end of the season, but his first game is a disaster and he’s miserable, and Linda gets really motivated to get him some help. So, she finds this website with one of these Little League tutors, which is a real thing – for a little bit of money, they’ll coach your kid on the side – and this one happens to be run by a character that Rob Huebel played in season two. In this episode, he’s calling himself “The Deuce of Diamonds” and he’s running a training program called “Diamonds in the Rough.”
N: Sounds like the gritty underbelly of youth sports where people are trying to nickel and dime you to get your kid up to par.
LB: Yeah, it’s the dark side of Little League.
N: Now that you’re three seasons deep, how has the show evolved over time? It seems like you’ve really found your voice. I understand that in its original conception, the Belchers were a family of cannibals, so can you speak a little to how the show grew into its current state?
EM: Yeah, I think that was a brief moment, and basically after the foundation for it became what it is now.
LB: Yeah, that’s right. That was an early development idea. It was kind of like four legs of the table where you can pull one of the legs away and the whole thing doesn’t fall over. So, the cannibalism came out but everything else was already there: the family, the restaurant, this cast – we changed the gender of the oldest child, Tina, but we didn’t change Dan Mintz’s voice; it’s still Dan Mintz. And that was it. We’re always trying to evolve the show in healthy and organic ways, but in other ways it feels exactly the same to us as it did when we first started.
EM: It is also neat to watch the writers get to know the performers and the performers get to know writers and show, because it’s interesting to see everyone come together as the voice of the show.
N: And you can certainly see that from a viewer’s perspective too. You guys have a very talented cast and crew with a lot of quick wits. How much improvisation goes on in the booth or is it all pretty carefully scripted?
EM: Well, it’s sort of both. It’s actually very carefully scripted. We do two or three takes, then we’re allowed to futz around among them. A lot of it is very written, but we get to fool around too.
LB: The actors are incredibly good at that, but the last thing you want to do is show up to the studio with a bad script and ask the writers to fix it. So, we try and get that script as good as we possibly can and get a good performance of that script, but it’s always nice when the actors start getting loose and making each other laugh. That’s the best feeling of all – not necessarily an improvised line, but the feeling of spontaneity and the feeling of a cohesive troupe.
EM: It’s more the moment itself, but the truth is that when we record, Loren and the writers are pitching stuff. So you’ll often do a scene as written, then take a line and do 5-6 different versions of it, and then you do that for a bunch of things. But it’s the writers and us trying a bunch of stuff. It’s a very creative, very fun party that only we are invited to.
N: Do you guys record together or separately? I’m always curious as to different cast’s processes.
LB: Together. Well, about that…
EM: Well, we actually record half of us in LA, half of us in New York on an ISDN line, so we do the scenes live and together as frequently as possible, which is virtually most of the time.
LB: I don’t know why anyone does a cartoon any other way. It seems way harder to build a show based on character interaction without actually having character interaction; I guess you can, but I recommend to anyone doing voiceover that they get their actors working with each other.
N: It always throws me for a loop when I hear about shows that record separately. It throws me for a bit of a loop because it seems so counter-intuitive.
EM: I feel like a lot of them don’t, but it certainly makes it very fun. Then you can play off each other. You can improvise alone, but not in the same way that you could when you’re with another person or the whole family doing the scene.
N: It seems a bit like racquetball versus tennis.
EM: Yes, exactly. [pause] Is tennis the better one? Either way, it’s exactly like that.
N: Whichever one you enjoy more, I suppose.
N: One thing that’s always piqued my interest: what was the impetus behind casting so many female characters with male voices?
LB: [laughs] You know, to me it’s one of the pleasures of animation – you can fool around with whose voice is coming out of whose mouth. It’s on par with casting adults to play kids; it’s just a nice little way to goose a character. It’s not unlike maybe the way Monty Python had fun with these men dressed up as women. It’s not because we were looking to take jobs away from funny women, certainly not that. It’s just a really enjoyable game to play – to mix and match and play around with effects.
EM: And also, John Roberts was sort of very well known for a character that is essentially Linda, which was based on his mom. And Dan Mintz was originally a boy, but was flipped to be a girl. There’s also Sarah and Laura Silverman, who are playing boys, [the twins Ollie and Andy], so it’s all a mish-mash of gender, so we’re trying to make a difference that way. That last part isn’t totally true.
LB: Because it doesn’t.
N: I think it does work quite well; I was just wondering for my own edification.
EM: Yes. Dan Mintz makes a very funny Tina, but not because it was specifically a drive to do anything. And because John Roberts happens to be a guy who does that character. If it makes you feel better, he’s gay.
N: [laughs] I do feel better. No, I’m kidding – that’s great.
N: I asked some of our readers if they had questions for you and this was my favorite: who would be your top picks to be in a Broadway production of Topsy?
LB: [laughs] Oh, man. Which part are we talking about?
N: Let’s go with Edison and the elephant for now.
LB: Okay…Hugh Jackman and, uh, Cyndi Lauper. No, I don’t know – I have no idea.
EM: [laughs] I’m going to stick with that. I’m going to say it’s 12 roles, Hugh Jackman plays all of them. By the way, you’re welcome, Hugh Jackman.
N: He really needs something after The Wolverine, and this sounds like the ideal project for him.
EM: Exactly. He is a multitalented man… from what I am told by people who have seen Les Mis.
N: I’m sure you’re asked this all the time, but what would be on your perfect burger?
EM: I guess a lobster.
N: Prohibitively expensive – I like it.
LB: I would have a pineapple – not just slices; a whole pineapple.
EM: Then make it a milkshake.
N: Hey, protein shakes are pretty popular, so why not go for broke.
EM: Yeah, why use powder when you can use burgers and lobster? It’ll make you strong.
N: One more question: one of my favorite moments on the show is seeing what the Burger of the Day is. Are there any apocryphal Burgers of the Day you can share with us?
LB: The Burgers of the Day – they’re fast and furious at our office and we reject way more than we use. There was one I liked recently…So Many Fennels, So Little Thyme (comes with lots of fennel and no thyme). I just like the rhythm of it.
EM: [laughs] Please use that one.
[Editor’s note: they actually used it in a recent episode, “Carpe Museum”.)
N: That sounds like an aggressive, but tasty burger.
LB: [laughs] Yeah, if you like fennel.
EM: I happen to like fennel.
Bob’s Burgers’ season finale airs tonight on FOX at 9:30/8:30c. What’s your favorite moment from the show? Who would you cast in the Topsy Broadway adaptation? Let us know in the comments below!