- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 23, 2015

LOS ANGELES (AP) - Odds are, the voice of Billy West is ringing in your ears.

Or rather, voices. A leading voiceover actor, West has spoken up for title characters on “Doug” and “Ren & Stimpy,” for latter-day revivals of Bugs Bunny, Woody Woodpecker and Popeye, for a broad swath of the “Futurama” crew, even Red M&M.;

Now West has brought his virtuosic yackety-yak to his own podcast, speaking for himself on “The Billy West Show,” with five editions posted on his website and iTunes of a series he hopes to build on every couple of weeks.

The freewheeling format unleashes West with his vocal cast of thousands, accompanied by the singular voice of Jim Gomez, a veteran director-animator and, here, a stabilizing influence who keeps this whole enterprise from flying away.

Offering a seamless 30 minutes or so of sketches, mock-interviews and other foolishness, “The Billy West Show” aspires to be “ALMOST good college radio,” says West, while it draws on classic comedy influences including the 1960s-era Firesign Theatre.

The episodes are recorded in the repurposed garage of West’s home nestled on a cozy cul-de-sac in the Hollywood Hills.

With the garage door opened to a perfect L.A. morning recently, West and Gomez are hashing out a future episode amid a crush of audio equipment, keyboards, vintage jukeboxes, a carpenter’s work bench and a riot of random artwork on the walls.

“We wanted the show to be all over the place,” says West, 63, a compact man with a jazzed-up manner that strikes a fine contrast with the easygoing Gomez.

The show gives West free reign to draw on his encyclopedic treasury of voices, dialects, sound effects and pop-culture references. (When was the last time you heard a perfect imitation of Paul Harvey advertising Kava coffee?)

“He’s a crazy student of all things sonically,” says Gomez admiringly.

Born in Detroit, West spent his youth as what he calls an alien (“an alien studies everybody and everything”) who would “run around and throw out voices and noises, just blurt out stuff, like some kind of Tourette’s.”

Immersed in radio and TV, he honed his skills as a sonic scavenger, parroting and restyling whatever he heard.

“When I hear anything distinctive, it bedevils me until I can somehow replicate it for use in making other sounds,” says the guy who applied the art of Tuvan throat singing to reproduce Popeye’s tinny-yet-gruff tones.

Even so, West didn’t go straight into voice work. In his teens he got a guitar and was hooked on rock ‘n’ roll.

“I wanted to be the best guitarist in the world,” he says, and in the years that followed he formed bands including The Grief Counselors and The Shutdowns, opening for Roy Orbison, the 4 Seasons, and Jan and Dean.

“I made my living as a musician,” he says proudly. “But that’s finite. I lost my Spandex license in 1978, and wondered, What do I do now?”

He found a second act in local radio in Boston and elsewhere, then, after moving to New York, began getting work in commercials and landed a gig on Howard Stern’s morning show, which he terms “insane fun.”

Then in 1996 he moved to Los Angeles, where, even with his track record, he retains what he calls “a journeyman mentality. I audition every day.”

He, like Gomez, hopes to attract advertising for their podcast. Meanwhile, “The Billy West Show” could serve as a launching pad for cartoon projects they hope to get off the ground, such as “Billy Bastard - Amateur Human Being.”

But even as he coaxes bountiful and remarkable sounds from his pipes, he takes no special care of them, nor does he panic when something like a cold befalls that precious instrument.

“Suddenly you’re able to produce tones that you were not able to do before,” he explains matter-of-factly. “A big phlegmy blockage? I’ll go to work that day and use it. Anything’s a tool.”

“Just recently you blew out something in your throat,” Gomez reminds him, “and you were able to work around it.”

“It all starts up here,” says West, pointing to his head, “and, like your brain, the throat is almost infinite.”

For a moment he sounds like a Zen master, voicing mind over matter.

“There are places everywhere: Micro-places, crevices, nooks. Reeds that vibrate. I always find a way to do what I’m supposed to do.”

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EDITOR’S NOTE - Frazier Moore is a national television columnist for The Associated Press. He can be reached at [email protected] and at https://www.twitter.com/tvfrazier. Past stories are available at https://bigstory.ap.org/content/frazier-moore

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Online:

https://billywestpodcast.com

https://www.billywest.com

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