It’s lovely, obviously. Kind of like baileys and an open fireplace; the sort of voice that could seduce a grizzly bear. Whether he’s playing an international spy, a slightly unhinged burger cook, or a can of vegetables, H. Jon Benjamin is one of only a handful of voice actors who doesn’t need to change his voice for his starring roles, making him instantly recognisable and a talent to listen out for. But should a voice actor be recognisable?
Although Benjamin has had plenty of fantastic roles, the two examples that stand out are Archer and Bob’s Burgers, two of Benjamin’s most widely known works, and personal favourites of mine.
For any unaware, Archer is a show chronicling the adventures of Sterling Archer, international spy and alcoholic womaniser—a spoof of James Bond and the spy/ action genre in general. A far cry in both tone and spirit from Bob’s Burgers, a restaurant themed cartoon focusing on the lives of the wonderfully whacky Belcher Family.
A part of me believes the job of a voice actor is to create fantastical characters so far outside the realm of what we’d hear on a typical day to day basis, the sheer sound of them is itself intriguing. The only hardship arrives when the actor’s real voice is already so perfect they don’t need to inflect or change it—they only need to act. Of course, Jon Benjamin plays a number of characters on Bob’s Burgers, and his Jimmy Pesto Jr. alone shows his impressive range.
But even with that in mind, his signature style makes it hard to separate Benjamin from his work. When you compare him to someone like Justin Roiland whose regular voice is unrecognisable to his character’s, and who plays both titles parts on Rick & Morty, it’s easy to wonder why Benjamin, and actors like him, don’t differentiate more between performances. One needs only to watch an episode of Archer to realise how much goes into each episode, but he becomes comparable to actors like Tom Cruise or Michael Cera, talented, but unsurprising. Typecast, even, as suave yet unstable and insecure characters.
In my eyes, he is an actor who—rather than gives life to his leading roles through wild voices—adds dimension with his hardy, often sardonic tone. Archer and Bob are cool and collected on the surface, but tightly wound, exploding into violent outbursts when even slightly challenged. Archer is clearly a much worse person than Bob, but they’re still strikingly similar characters.
It seems as though Benjamin injects more of himself into his characters than perhaps any other voice actor out there. To the point where, if I were to close my eyes, it might be difficult to know which of his characters he was playing (context notwithstanding).
No more evident is this than in the first episode of Archer’s 4th season when Sterling loses his memory, calls himself Bob, and opens a Burger restaurant. With the swearing and violence aside, it was almost like watching a short episode of Bob’s Burgers. Benjamin didn’t need to swap voices or change tone—and for a glorious, fleeting moment he was both Sterling Archer and Bob Belcher rolled into one. Sterling Belcher or Bob Archer, the spy-turned-chef.
Personally, I enjoy that I know what I’m getting when I see H. Jon Benjamin’s name. He’s a treat to listen to—akin to Chris Parnell and his hilariously whiny characters, another example of a voice actor with an instantly recognisable voice—and I know he’s going to make me laugh no matter the situation. In many ways, his voice and name are a standard, telling me the programme I’m watching is more than likely going to be great. What more could we ask of an entertainer?