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October 8, 2015

'Jon Benjamin Has a Van' ... And a Lot of Random Funny Stories to Tell

by Kim Potts, posted Jun 14th 2011 10:30AM
'Jon Benjamin Has a Van' ... and what a van it is! The voice behind 'Archer' and 'Bob's Burgers,' H. Jon Benjamin (actually, he's dropped the 'H' here ... see below) is starring, voice and body, in the new Comedy Central fake news/sketch comedy series (premieres Tues., June 14, 10:30PM ET; moves to its regular timeslot on Wed., June 15, 10:30PM ET).

The show finds the frequently animated actor and comedian roving around in his super cool van in the pursuit of stories -- like the man who has pre-traumatic stress disorder, old people trying to use the Internet and a war between the gangsters of Little Italy and their miniature enemies in little Little Italy.

'Jon Benjamin Has a Van' is great fun, as is talking with Jon Benjamin, which AOL TV had the chance to do last week. And no matter which of his many memorable gigs you know him and his distinctive voice from -- he's also been on 'Family Guy,' 'WordGirl,' 'Important Things with Demetri Martin,' 'Aqua Teen Hunger Force' and 'Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist,' among others -- he's one funny dude. Even without that 'H' in his name.

Let's talk about the budget for this show, because that is a pretty sweet van ...
Well, it was a rental.

That they let you paint like that?
I didn't do it myself, but ... I don't know how expensive that was, but I assume it was like over a million dollars, something in that range.

H Jon BenjaminThey must have been surprised to get it back looking as cool as it did. I'm sure the ass wasn't on it when you rented it. Or maybe it was.
The ass was there. That was ... yeah, I mean, we couldn't come up with that ourselves.

There's also that very cool, elaborate, little Little Italy set, though, in the second episode. Again, these are details you don't normally see in a cable sketch comedy series.
That's true. You don't normally see comedy. [Laughing] So we wanted to just sort of try and change that, to change at least the normal format. Surprisingly, actually not surprising, I wasn't told ... You know me with money. I'd spend it all on myself, you know, on like special types of teas and elixirs, stuff like that. But it was a very small budget, and they made stuff look very good for a small amount of money.

And the van even becomes a character later, in a later episode, which is kind of cool.
Sort of. It's not like 'Knight Rider,' but it's fine.

Why isn't the show 'H. Jon Benjamin Has a Van' instead of 'Jon Benjamin Has a Van'?
I was trying to give up the pretension. I just want to be more familiar. I feel like ... it's just one letter separating you from Jon.

After watching some of the sketches on the show, it occurred to me that, given some real news stories recently, like the Anthony Weiner saga, for example, it might be tougher right now to come up with a fake news story that's more over the top than the real news ...
Yeah. It is. (But) I don't think we put a premium on trying to make everything seem real. There's so much of it, it seems like the real news now is fake. Like, I couldn't believe that (Weiner) story was real, and then it was. That was something we talked about early on ... 'The Daily Show,' they've kind of done semi-real pieces, like magazine-style stories. The tone is straight, but the stories are ridiculous. So I guess we've sort of tried to keep the tone that way.

Do you have a favorite of all the sketches you did on the show so far?
I don't know. Let me think. I'm stalling for time, trying to think if I liked anything ... I forgot. I really forgot the whole show now. Ah, we did shoot a, a sort of very Jewish-themed episode. I liked that a lot. I dressed up as an orthodox Jew. And I don't like getting fake beards, but on that I liked the outcome. And we walked around ... there's a part of it where we walked around and we dealt with real people as orthodox Jews. So a lot of people believed that we were.

You've done a lot of live-action stuff and a lot of animated stuff, and now your own sketch comedy series. Is there one that you prefer to do more than the others?
Well, I've been asked that a lot, and I definitely love the animated show schedule. It's a very easy schedule. It's like a couple hours. So the schedule really just works in my favor for animated shows. And then when you do live-action shows, obviously it takes a lot more work. But I'm learning to enjoy work a little more.

H. Jon BenjaminIs it more fun when it's your baby, like with 'Jon Benjamin Has a Van'?
I don't know if it's more fun. I mean, it's fun to, like, be mean to people, you know, because everyone works for me. But it's not ... it's less fun in the sense that it's a lot more work to be done, and with work comes tension and that. You know how it goes. It's how you feel every day. It's like how normal people feel. I like feeling like I am not normal. I like feeling like I have nothing to ... no responsibility. But yes, there's a certain amount of fun in being tense all the time.

Are you on social media at all, Twitter or Facebook?
[Laughing] No.

Why not?
I don't know. I don't want to? I don't ... I just don't. I totally have the time, but I just won't feel like doing it.

Do you dislike this part of doing projects, the promotion of it?
Does it seem it?

[Laughing] No, not at all, it's great talking to you. But I always wonder if it's just exhausting after a while, answering the same questions over and over again ...
I think like anything, it depends. It's like therapy was for me. I don't do it anymore. But I felt like if I had a good session ... like, "I really impressed him during that hour! I was able to talk well," which is the opposite of what therapy should be. It just came out like, "That was a really good session. I really did really well." It's just, you know, some interviews are better than others, I guess, and it depends on how you feel. I don't mind doing them. But, yeah, sometimes you get the same questions a lot and it's hard to -- you know, sometimes you're just not in the mood to answer them differently. Then it just feels, you know, like "Can I stop talking, like now?"

Well, I'm sorry then if these are all questions you've heard before.
No, actually this is probably one of the better sessions.

You're being too kind.
No, I'm talking to my therapist. He's here.

[Laughing] Congratulations on 'Bob's Burgers' ... were you at all worried that it wouldn't get picked up for a second season? More and more viewers seemed to find it as the season went on.
That was very good news. Yeah, I noticed that, as well. It developed really a big following, whereas at first, I think everyone was really worried about it.

Do you feel like that happened with 'Archer' a lot, too, that people really just came to love the characters and came to it via word of mouth?
Yeah, I think that's true. 'Archer' might have even been a quicker thing, although I remember hearing from people that it wasn't doing well, you know, like ratings-wise. But I think it developed quickly into people really responding to it, liking it immediately. 'Bob's Burgers' seemed to take a little bit of time, and there was a lot more concern. But again, I sound like a network. I think it's probably just constant concern about everything.

Most voice actors haven't done as much live-action stuff as you have, as much on-camera stuff. So do you get recognized by fans a lot when you're out and about?
I do more lately probably because I've been on TV a little more, you know, my body and face, more than I was. So sometimes I do, yeah. And I've told this story a lot, too. When I get recognized by sight, people are ... the people who don't know what I look like, they're always really disappointed. Which ... I am starting to really enjoy that reaction, when people hate the way I look.

How do you know that? What is the reaction?
Because they sort of, like, sometimes they say it, or sometimes you just feel it, like they're literally ... they're not undressing me with their eyes, but they're like trying to dress me up more, say, with their eyes.

H. Jon BenjaminAre they expecting you to look like Archer? Is that the thing?
Well, they want that, I guess. Or they'll be like, "Well ... you have such a great voice. Your voice is great, but I'm sorry about the way you look."

Who do people quote back to you, because obviously that's a thing we all do when we love a show, or a character, we love quoting them. So who do people quote back to you most often?
I don't know. Oh, you mean like what character that I play, or just people? John Kennedy, maybe? Like, "Ask not what your country can do for you"? People come up and yell that. Maybe because I'm from Massachusetts.

You don't get a lot of 'Holy sh**snacks'?
Well, Archer, certainly. Like, yeah, people will come up and want me to say one of the lines. I'm terrible at that, as well, so stop doing that, stop asking me to! I don't remember any of the lines. Like, it's always an awkward thing ... "Do that!" Or, "What's your favorite Archer line?" Or, "Say something as Archer." And I can't remember any of the lines. So then they'll be like, "Say this, say that." And then you're just like, "I'm already kind of mad I can't remember. Now you're like telling me to say something. I'm not doing it."

Have you ever had any awkward fan run-ins, like when they wanted you to do something kind of crazy?
The best fan thing ... one time I was coming back from ... I can't remember what I was doing. I was in Central Park. I was walking back, and a guy came up to me, two guys came up to me, and they were fans of 'Archer' and 'Home Movies,' as well. And they were like, "Oh, man! I can't believe it!" So I was like, "Well, let's ... do you want to take a horse and buggy ride?" Just like, there were the horses right next to where we were. And then they were like, "Yeah!" So I paid for that, and I went with them. And it was awful.

ArcherWhy? What happened?
Well, it's like an hour ride around Central Park, and then I just realized, like, "Oh, f*ck! I just got into a hansom cab with two college kids, and I just don't want to hang out with them." Anyway, I thought it would be fun at first, and then I realized I shouldn't have done that. It was not fun at all. Like, we were all awkward.

Now you have to steer clear of Central Park, because when people read this, they're going to be stalking you. Any time you're ever caught near a horse and carriage again, they're going to be like, "Take a ride with us!"
Yes, you now know that if you see me and you want to do something, I'll just pay for it.

That would be a funny thing for 'Jon Benjamin Has a Van,' actually.
Yeah. I promise that if you ask me to do something that's within reason, I'll pay for it.

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Wow, someone who has 'pre-traumatic stress disorder'. It was not that funny. Do you think that veterans that were wounded in combat found that at all amusing or humorous? I very much doubt that they did, and i found that whole skit to be in poor taste and bad judgement on your part. Ridiculous and not funny.

June 15 2011 at 1:45 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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