Writing, comedy, radio, acting, voice-work - the inimitable Dave Wittenberg has done it all. To Digimon fans, he's known as the voice of Henry Wong, as well as the Sovereign Ebonwumon, and the Monster Makers' ally, Johnny Beckenstein. When I was finally able to get in contact with him, much to my surprise, he suggested an actual on-line chat, rather than simple e-mail. Naturally, I was more than willing - and here's the result.
McFeely: So, let's see, what should I begin with...?
Dave Wittenberg: Whatever's clever, as they say... What do you want to know?
CMcF: Hmn, well, now that I've a bit more control over this whole process (never done an actual CHAT before!), I think I'll begin with:
DW: Wow... no pressure... tick, tick, tick... :-)
CMcF: It'd be something of an understatement to say you've done a lot. But what was your first love? What did you first decide you wanted to build a career in?
DW: Good question.
DW: Ive sort've had a really blessed career path. I seem to start out doing one thing and at some point it naturally branches into something else.
DW: Originally I wanted to do film and TV as every actor does. And to some extent I still do, but... I got into radio early in my career and I really loved that. It was a great way to put together a couple of things I really love: voices, comedy and loud music.
CMcF: What was your first job in radio?
DW: As luck would have it, the first job I ever had in radio was doing goofy stuff on a friend of mine's college show... I only did that twice I think. Then I walked away from it entirely for three years or so until I wound up doing voices and impressions for another friend's show. Only this time it was on WBCN in Boston, which is a huge heritage rock station, and I was gettin' paid...
CMcF: It's not often you can say you're getting paid to have fun, I guess.
DW: Exactly! I am constantly amazed that people will actually give me money to fool around...
CMcF: So, what was the next step up after WBCN?
DW: I did that for three years, then a station out here in LA hired me to do their evening show and moved me across the country. They gave me a contract, but 9 months into it they decided to switch formats to Spanish... And uh, yo no habla...
CMcF: Ditto that. I could tell you what my name is and what colour shirt I'm wearing, but that's as far as I go. /:)
DW: Yeah, other than "How much for the burrito? and Take me to the embassy!" I'm outta luck...
CMcF: What was the next move?
DW: Are you just cutting and pasting your half of this conversation? ;-)
CMcF: Er... no? /:)
DW: I got into the internet radio revolution for awhile and that was by far the greatest music oriented job I've ever had. Corporate radio is such a disaster in the States, what with payola and consultants telling you how and when to play any given song... At the internet station I could play Fatboy Slim into Al Green into Parliament into KMFDM as long as I could make it make sense... Very difficult to return to terrestrial radio after experiencing that kind of freedom.
CMcF: Yeah, I know a guy who has one'a those stations, I've done a bit for one before.
CMcF: Of course, it was a review of a Transformers toy, so I *don't* think it's quite in the same league. /:)
DW: It all counts to me.
CMcF: Okay, now, let's see... what was your "big break" into the voice acting industry?
DW: I got into games, actually. That was my big entree into the industry...
CMcF: What games?
DW: I've done voices for dozens of games at this point. Most notably for Tony Hawk Pro Skater 2 and 3, and hmm... lemme think... I also did Kelly Slater Pro Surfer, and a number of upcoming games I'm not allowed to talk about.
CMcF: Ah, mum's the word (I'd hazard a guess that .hack might be one, but we'll say nothing).
DW: *hums quietly avoiding eye contact*
CMcF: Allrighty, now, let's talking about the writing. How did you get started in that industry? Did it branch from the acting, or vice versa?
DW: It sort of evolved independently. I've always been a writer. Both as a comic and just in general... I've sort of always been interested in literally every job on any given production.
DW: But as far as professional writing goes, I used to write freelance for Bill Maher' Politically Incorrect, Dennis Miller and Craig Kilborn. I didn't get to write my first Digimon until well into Season 3 which is a good thing, because I had a lot to learn...
(Chris's note - Dave wrote episode 3.46, "When Is A Mon Justimon?")
CMcF: Well, that's a nice tie-in, as well focus on Digimon for a little while now. Through what circumstances did you get involved with the show, and get cast as Henry? Simply the normal story of "went in and auditioned?"
DW: Sorry to spoil your aspirations for something more, but yep. Went in and auditioned and they liked what i did.
CMcF: Well, we can still wring a little more from that. ;-) Did you audition for any other characters?
DW: Well, when I went in, as I would imagine when Steve Blum or Brian Beacock went in, they had me read for all of the main male characters. I read for Takato, Henry, and even Guilmon. Each of them was very, very different, (obviously) so it was up to the casting folk to figure out which one I'd fit... if any.
DW: I give all the credit in the world to the producer and the casting people who made some wonderful choices in casting.
CMcF: If you *could* have played any other character in the show (not just limited to the main ones), who would it have been?
DW: Hmm... I love Guilmon's innocence. He's so big and so strong, but so wonderfully kind hearted. I have to say that Steve Blum did an amazing job voicing Guilmon, though, so having heard the work he did with the character, I personally don't think anyone could have done it better.
DW: Wow, some writer I am... nice run-on sentence.
CMcF: Now, to tread the fanboyish waters a little - what were your impressions of Henry as a character? Did you try to bring anything of yourself to the role?
DW: A lot of what made Henry who he is sort of evolved organically while I was in the booth recording him. Mary Elizabeth, our wonderful director and Terry Lei O'Malley our marvellous producer had definite ideas of Henry's personality. But they really let me play around and discover some great facets of his character.
DW: I love his "heart of a lion" sensibility. He, like me, believes that fighting is such a last resort. That you should be able to talk things out and settle differences like intelligent people. But when push comes to shove and people he cares about are in danger, there's nothing he won't do to protect them. I like that.
CMcF: Yknow, I reckon thats somewhere among the best answers Ive had. :-)
DW: Well thankyouvery much as Elvis Presley and Johnny Bravo might say....
CMcF: Ooh, Johnny Bravo. Y'know, I think it was better without Pops and Karl, and before Suzie's head got made that weird shape it is now...
DW: lmao... I have to agree with you.
DW: But he's still nowhere near as cool as the Tick.
CMcF: That show never got shown here enough. But I think we'll be able to do without the live action version...
DW: I will never understand what happened with that show. It only aired here for half a season. Only 13 were made, I think, and poof, off the air it went. But it has the BIGGEST cult following of any show I've ever seen... except Digimon.
CMcF: The animated or live action Tick?
CMcF: 'Cause I'm pretty sure there were two seasons of that. I must look that up...
CMcF: Oh, yeah, right, the site that said Doug Erholtz voiced Henry! ;-)
DW: Really?! Hmm... *note to self: IMDB goes on "the list"*
CMcF: *L* Well, they don't say that anymore.
CMcF: Now, here's one I've not asked anyone before: What is Digimon to you? I know that many actors view such a show as "just more work," which is, of course, normal. But what's your take on it?
DW: Digimon is... (why do I feel like this is one of those pageant type questions?) ...To me it's more than just another show. The fervor that the fans follow it with. The way that important lessons of life are dealt with sort of just below the surface. And the sheer fact that so many people can see it in such a broad range of countries makes it such a bigger deal than your average anime...
DW: Plus, the status of the show, being a Saturday Morning Cartoon makes it a dream come true for those of us who used to watch Bugs Bunny et al. And on top of that, as if there needed to be more, you simply get the chance to work with the best in the business. This show brings together an incredibly talented group.
CMcF: Did you have any previous knowledge of the show before you came on board with the third season?
DW: I have to be careful to say that I certainly knew OF it, but I didn't know much about it.
CMcF: Would be hard NOT to know of it, I think.
DW: lol true enough
CMcF: Well then, you might have a different perspective for this next question compared to some of the others I've asked.
CMcF: What were your impressions of the third season? It was considerably darker and deeper than anything that had been seen in the previous two (a much-more seriously oriented dub helped bring this across all the more) - do you think maybe some parts went over the target audience's heads a little bit? Or does a character like, say, Terriermon, Calumon or Guilmon, with their childish innocence and appeal, give the kids something to relate to?
DW: I suppose it went a little deeper than the previous seasons, but I think if you look at the way it's written and produced, there are going to be parts that go over the head of the younger viewer yet reach the older one. It definitely had an element of seriousness that the previous seasons didn't. Characters like Terriermon and Calumon and Kazu and Kenta tend to keep things pretty light though.
CMcF: And hey, the kids got naked.
DW: There was that!
CMcF: Have you done any recording or writing for the fourth series of the show?
DW: I understand the fourth season will be even better than the third!
CMcF: Apparently, its particularly light-hearted, to contrast with Tamers' seriousness. Any thoughts on that?
DW: I think each season has a different twist than the others. I wouldn't be surprised if the fourth season had more of the fun goofiness of the first two.
CMcF: Well, this time around we have kids that turn INTO Digimon themselves.
DW: Now who among us wouldn't want to have that little skill?
CMcF: It's the "fighting-for-my-life-stuck-in-another-dimension" aspect that doesn't appeal so much to me. ;-)
DW: I think fighting for my life doesn't appeal to me much in ANY dimension. Sounds like a great deal of sweating would be involved. Especially since I can't turn into a Digimon... or can I...?
CMcF: One final question to round up the Digimon-related ones - have a favourite character on the show, besides Henry?
DW: Well, not one, but several. I think Rika is great. I love her snippy little comebacks and her fiery spirit. I also think it's great that she wasn't afraid to grow a little bit and realize that she needed Takato and Henry as much as they needed her. And I do love Terriermon. Terriermon gets to say so many of the things that I'm thinking but can't say.
CMcF: Now, see, I love Terriermon, but I'm not so fond of Rika.
DW: See, the show has a little something for everyone!
CMcF: I've personally never had any lost love for the introverted, alienated character archetype.
DW: Hmm... yeah, but when it's a girl it's cooler.
CMcF: There's that whole "marketing" thing. The girl must be hardcore so the boy viewers will like her.
DW: Nice use of the word Archetype, by the way
CMcF: Heck, I'm makin' it up as I go along, I could have used that completely incorrectly and probably did and I'd still be happy if it *sounded* good! ;-)
DW: Well in that case, you doubly succeeded!
CMcF: It's my understanding that a lot of voice actors rarely watch the shows they work. Does this hold true for you? If you do watch the shows (or play the games) you work on, what are your impressions of the finished products?
DW: I love to watch the shows. I'm just a fan of anything animated. I'm always amazed at what happens when we leave the booth and the sound editors get to work. And then the real magic, the composers put music to a scene and it just brings it to life.
CMcF: Fan of anything animated, eh? Have any current and/or long-time favourite shows?
DW: I'd say Bugs Bunny is number one. But the Simpsons rates a close second.
CMcF: It's been rather a pity about the dip in quality the Simpsons storylines have suffered in recent years, I feel.
DW: I think anything that if runs that long, and keep in mind it's the longest running animated show in history (it may even be the longest running SHOW in history), you're bound to start losing something...
CMcF: True, true. I think it might be good for it if it actually did come to an end, as they've been suggesting lately. I'd die happy if they made a movie, though.
DW: If you look back on the greatest seasons of the Simpsons, Conan O'Brien was actually the head writer for most of them.
CMcF: I wish I paid more attention to that sort of stuff on shows *other* than Digimon. ^^;;
DW: It's never too late.
CMcF: I'm sure there's a list of it all somewhere...
CMcF: It's reasonable to say that voice actors and actresses are don't get a lot of public appreciation for what they do, and instead have more cult and fan followings. What are your opinions on this? Do you like the anonymity?
DW: I love the anonymity. There's a real downside to being instantly recognizable I suspect. I think most of us just do this because we love it.
CMcF: Ever found yourself recognised at all, when out and about?
DW: Yeah, and it's kind of nice. Especially when people are complimentary. It's always nice to hear that people like what you do, no matter what your profession.
CMcF: What advice do you have you for those out there who aspire to be voice actors? How should they go about making their way into the industry?
DW: I would say refer to Steve Blum's answer on this one. It pretty much sums it up. I'd love to elaborate, but he really hit the nail on the head.
CMcF: Who would you cite as your inspirations, in life, in the industry, in anything?
DW: I'm most inspired by my family, but as far as people those other than me may know... I'd say Robin Williams. Great improv comic. Billy West and Rob Paulsen are the very best in the world of voiceovers... There's something to learn from each of them, I'm sure.
CMcF: Paulsen, I love - grew up with him, what with him being Raphael on the Turtles, which was, of course, a staple for me.
DW: Yeah. He has really had a marvellously diverse career. I've gotten to work with him on one occasion and he is utterly amazing and humbling to be in the same room with.
CMcF: I can imagine... but, as for West... I dunno, I'm not so sure about him. I liked him as Doug in... er... Doug. But... there's something about him that I can't quite put my finger on.
DW: Billy West will live forever in my heart because of Ren and Stimpy.
CMcF: I never saw as much of that show as I would have liked. Bad scheduling over here. That might have something to do with why Im not so attached to him.
CMcF: Which is not to say that West's not GOOD, or anything, of course. /:)
DW: lol, of course.
CMcF: Similar kinda vein - are there any individuals in the industry who you would like to work with in the future?
DW: I would love to work with Frank Welker. He's truly a genius. Maurice LeMarche... Hank Azaria would be a blast to work with either live action or in an animated show.
DW: Oh, Dennis Leary and Owen Wilson are also charter members of my "people you'd kill to work with" list...
CMcF: And speaking of future work - what can we expect to see from you next? What are you working on at the moment?
DW: I just did some TV voiceovers for Activision O2, which is their X Games division. I've got a number of game projects on their way out... Also some TV and Radio campaigns for "The Who." In addition, I was blessed enough to get to work on the Cowboy Bebop movie. Lots of other things in the works!
CMcF: Ooh, Bebop. That will excite a few people.
DW: Wait till you see it. Amazing.
CMcF: Doesn't hold much sway for me, unfortunately, as the show isn't on TV here, and when I was just in the US recently, I was only able to see half an episode of the show before the jet-lag kicked in. /:)
DW: Well, I have a sneaking suspicion you'll get your chance to behold the movie.
CMcF: Basically, my Bebop experience = ten minutes or so.
DW: But ten good minutes, right?
CMcF: Er... well, I remember they involved Faye trying to take a shower, so, yeah, that seemed good. :-)
DW: LOL, point taken!
CMcF: But, say, speaking of movies - what's the good word on the possibility of a new Digimon movie?
DW: I honestly haven't heard. I would think, though, that the time for another film is ripe, since it's been a couple of years...
CMcF: You and all of the fandom.
CMcF: We're all just hoping, however, that it'll be better made than the first, which cut up the first three Japanese movies, and pasted them together, re-writing the third one's plot entirely and cutting out more than a half-hour of footage.
DW: Yeah... I would imagine that along the way in the editing process some decisions were made that may not have been ideal. But that's true of most anything that has to be reimagined for a US audience.
CMcF: Rounding it up now, penultimate question - What do you do in your spare time? What hobbies or interests do you have? Besides animation, of course, as we've already covered that pretty well.
DW: I'm a crazed sports fan. I love to take in a baseball game whenever possible. I also love to play guitar with a few friends of mine. Not nearly well enough I'd want anyone to hear it though... I also love doing stand-up. Not so much a hobby but definitely something I'm constantly playing around with...
CMcF: And lastly - any final words you've got to impart to your fans?
DW: Yes. Wear sunscreen. Brush AND Floss. Don't chew tinfoil. And above all, thank you. Thanks for being as into the show as the people who make it are. You have to realize that everything that goes into putting that show on the air is done with you in mind. We're constantly trying to give you something you haven't seen before along with all of the things we know you love. But thanks for letting us entertain you. Without you, I might've wound up working at the gas station, like my mom always dreamed I would.
CMcF: Well, that's me out of questions. You have any you want to ask ME?
DW: Only that I've really enjoyed chatting with you, and I hope the other fans that read it enjoy it too. Thanks Chris.
CMcF: Well, now, that's not technically a question. *grins*
DW: lol... not technically, no.
DW: It has been a pleasure Chris, truly. Thanks for taking the time and effort to track me down!
CMcF: It's been a pleasure for me too. This is the first time I've ever done a chat, as I said, but I've always wanted to. I just didn't think it'd work, you know, time difference, and all. So thank you.
CMcF: Perhaps at another time, we shall discuss the cultural relevance of the Powerpuff Girls.
CMcF: Or... perhaps not. ;-)
DW: OH yes we will!
CMcF: Well, allrighty then! Wish the movie would hurry up and get over here. Monkeys, super heroines, monkeys, robots, monkeys, devastation and *monkeys.*
DW: Don't forget the monkeys!