Bob’s Burgers Interviews – Loren Bouchard
A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to get to interview the creator and some of the cast members of the hit Fox show Bob’s Burgers as part of three separate round-tables. This is the interview with the creator of the series, Loren Bouchard.
Sorry the image is kind of blurry.
Q - Can you say your name for the record?
Loren Bouchard - Yeah, I’m Loren Bouchard, creator of Bob’s Burgers.
Never Not a Nerd - Not (with a French accent) Lo-ren Boo-shaahd?
LB - No, in Canada it probably is.
NNAN - Are you from Canada?
LB - My people, my dad’s people are.
NNAN - Maple syrup is good stuff.
LB - Oh, syrup’s great.
NNAN - It’s so pure up there. Just the amber–
LB - Oh my God, yeah.
NNAN - This is the topic now.
Q - Where did Bob’s Burgers come from?
LB - Where did it come from? The idea?
Q - The infancy–
LB - The beginning, the origin was — the idea was to do a family show for Fox. Because I knew it was going to be for Fox. They invited me to pitch for them. And I knew that that was something they were looking for, a show about a family. The thing with the restaurant is you get to do a workplace comedy and a family show entirely wrapped up in one little neat package. It’s not a stretch, it’s not weird. It’s not like ‘they’re family, but they also live in a lighthouse’. You know, everyone knows, at least in roughly my/our generation, you walk into a restaurant and there are kids working behind the counter. It’s not a strange sight. It may be in 20 years, but it felt like just a perfectly natural thing to do. I grew up eating in little burger places and pizza places like that where the kids are behind the counter, and I just liked that tension. We were just drawn to it, they were drawn to it. And that’s the beginning of it.
Q - What about the character development?
LB - Character development , very easy in my case, because I’ve been lucky enough to have done this before. I have a formula that never fails, and I highly recommend it to anybody who ever wants to do this kind of thing which is: cast first. Decide who you want to work with, who you think would be good with each other, then think of a character that would be appropriate. So, for example, Jon Benjamin I’ve been working with since, on everything I’ve ever done. I’ve never done a show that didn’t have Jon Benjamin in it. So, I knew he should be the dad. I knew he would carry the thing on his shoulders. When I saw John Roberts, for example, who (impersonates) his mom on Youtube, he has this sort of post-modern drag act where he kind of puts on this crazy wig. That voice was perfect, and we asked if we could borrow it. Same with Kristen, same with Eugene, and then the same thing with Dan Mintz. They were, already, the characters. All you have to do is put something loosely around them that they can inhabit.
NNAN - Whose decision was it to make Tina Tina?
LB - That was mine.
NNAN - Because it was originally —
LB - It was originally a boy. Fox didn’t know, they didn’t have a prescription, but they had a concern that Dan, the older boy character that we had Dan Mintz playing wasn’t ‘popping’. He wasn’t differentiated enough. He wasn’t as obvious of a character. You know, of course, they were walking onto the edge of this very scary moment, that went against everything that I was trying to do. Which was, maybe I was going to have to re-cast, but we said ‘what if Dan plays a girl?’ We did a little animation to sort of make a test case. So, we sent them a little picture of Tina, I have it, I should put it up sometime, of her doing a little bit of dialogue we had already recorded, and just Dan Mintz’s stand-up act, which was already in a higher register than the dialogue we had recorded.
NNAN - Seeing him speak in person is weird because of Tina.
LB - Yeah, he IS Tina.
Q - On one of the newer episodes of Archer they had a Bob’s Burgers segment in there. Whose idea was that?
LB - Adam Reed (the creator of Archer) came very gently and respectfully and said ‘would it be OK?’. And it was great. He had a great concept for it, he knew exactly what it was going to look like, so it was 100% Adam Reed.
Q - Any chance you try to get some ISIS agents to be customers at Bob’s Burgers one day?
LB - There’s some crossover that we need to do because it obviously , there’s like a reptilian part of people’s brains that get excited about crossovers. I have the same thing. But, I want to do it right. I don’t want to just toss it in. It’ll feel weird, so we haven’t figured out what the Bob’s Burgers/Archer crossover is going to be. Once we figure it out we’ll do it, and you may not even notice it, or it may be a big deal, I’m not sure.
NNAN - You should get Jessica Walter to play Bob’s mom.
LB - Right, something like that.
Q - Were you expecting this kind of success when it first came out? You have people changing their restaurant’s name to ‘Bob’s Burgers.
LB - Nobody changed their name!
Q - Yeah, there’s been about three of them that I saw.
LB - Noooo, they already had that name. There’s about a million of them. I felt bad for all of them when we started. You never want to expect — I take nothing for granted, i assume that these things are going to — everything I’ve ever done has been for a relatively small audience. I had never done anything for broadcast. I didn’t know what that was going to be like. So no, I didn’t expect it necessarily to thrive and survive on Fox. But, that was the plan. We didn’t go into this with a rock n’ roll like ‘fuck this’ attitude. You know, ‘we’ll just do our own thing’. We really wanted to make a show that would fit after The Simpsons. That was the goal. I wanted those people to be watching The Simpsons and have a pleasurable experience if they stayed in front of their damn televisions. And that’s still the goal. I don’t want it to be fighting what it is, it should be on Fox. It wasn’t made for anybody else. So, that’s what we hoped for, but didn’t necessarily expect to still be doing this.
Q - That’s the interesting thing, because the 8:30 time slot on FOX has been in almost constant flux for 25 years. Bob’s Burgers seems to have had the most success out of all the ones they put into that time slot.
LB - I feel good there. I certainly hope so. I still don’t want to take anything for granted. I still want our numbers to be a little higher, but it feels like a good fit to me. It feels like a shoe that fits. Put it on and it feels comfortable, so I hope that we get to keep doing it.
Q - Can I ask about the visual design of the show? I noticed that in the original pilot their noses were a little bit longer. How did you guys figure out how to tweak those designs so they would work? And if they didn’t work do you realize now they look funny at certain angles?
LB - The visual design of the show is a world that’s an ongoing thing that we could still adjust. For me it’s Bob’s hair. It kills me. It looks great in 3/4, but then when he turns to the front I’m always like ‘I don’t know. Why doesn’t it go like this? If it was just going like this’. A lot of other stuff worked for me, Tina, I feel like ‘muah! perfect!’. I don’t want to change a thing. So, in a perfect world we get to keep modifying them, if we’re lucky enough to be around long enough. How we came to this point was, you know, development. They put you in development, if you’re lucky, I like this, for maybe 18 months. You know, it’s a big long process. While you’re writing scripts and adjusting the tone of the show and the voice of the show you’re simultaneously doing A LOT of versions of the characters. We started with this great original design by Jay Howell (creator of Sanjay and Craig) who’s this fantastic artist, who I love. They had these wonderful dick noses that just hang down right in front of their mouths. And that was so Jay, and these big goofy smiles, and these sort of floppy Muppet faces with no teeth. And you just sort of try to pick and choose what’s going to work. The eyes HAD to get bigger. Television is all about this(eyes) and this(mouth). There really isn’t much else. They could have little Tyrannosaurus rex arms, it almost doesn’t matter what you do with their body, but you gotta get the face to really work. Even zoomed out in a wide shot , so we couldn’t use the little Jay Howell eyes. They had to get three, four, five times bigger , but you also have to differentiate yourself from The Simpsons, you don’t want to accidentally be Family Guy. So we were trying to just find the right design, the colors, and again was custom fit for Fox. And one of the things they said to us, and it’s funny, because not everyone follows this rule, they said ‘don’t get too cool with the colors’, now we’re going deep on visual design. But, they were like ‘don’t do muted man colors. It’s a cartoon.’ And I was so appreciative, I was so glad to hear that, because I’m just a regular guy. I just put Earth tones and kind of make it relaxed. But, it’s the wrong instinct. And if you have somebody smarter than me who says ‘no, BRIGHT COLORS. It’s OK, we’ll work out a palette that looks good together’. That’s the way to go. I see muted colors in cartoons now and I’m always like ‘eh, na, na, you’re a little too cool for school’. It’s going to look great in the design when you look at it on a print out, you’re ‘that looks GREAT!’ But, it’s going to fade on TV it’s going to look kind of, weathered.
Q - One of the best gags on the show is the burger that’s always changing. I alway wondered is it something every time that’s based on that episode? Or do you have a list?
LB - No, we always try to custom fit it.
Q - Do you have a favorite?
LB - Do I have a favorite?
Q - Did you know it would turn into a big thing where you’d do it every episode?
LB - Yeah, we committed to it. Once we committed we said ‘well, everyday he has a new burger of the day and we can never repeat’. And so you realize you have a show where it’s four days you go ‘oof’. Then you take it a step further and go ‘would Bob make a comment on what’s going on in his life with his burger?’. And then we made our lives even harder because it has to be reasonably possibly true that it’d be a real burger. Because every writer pitches like ‘something something bun day, it comes with a bun’ and I’m like, ‘well, they all come with buns’, so we reject those.
NNAN - Well, it could be lettuce.
LB - No, no, no, lettuce would never catch on.
NNAN - Yeah, not in Bob’s world.
LB - So, we knew what we were getting into. The nice thing about doing a show for Fox is we have a staff, so one person doesn’t have to come up with these by themselves, though we’d like to imagine that Bob does, but of course it’s fourteen people pitching five or six ideas out of which we might only choose one or two. Then we go back and do it again. Someday I want to make the cookbook. The best ideas that could actually be burgers, then get some genius chef to come in and actually make them.
Q - In the world of all the animated shows, is there a community, a kind of comraderie? Is there unity?
LB - There is, I know two worlds now. I worked so many years for Adult Swim. That world is incredibly tight Those guys are making small shows with small groups of people, and it is a labor of love. Nobody moved to LA, everybody probably did it in their hometown, and that was my approach, I was working in Boston, New York, San Francisco, but I was working for Adult Swim who wants you to, it could be in your basement.
NNAN - You don’t have to go to Atlanta?
LB - No, no, they have a lot of good stuff that they do in Atlanta, but they won’t make you move anywhere. They don’t care. But, they’ll fly you out once a year for a party, and it’s a bunch of guys who look like me. They all have the same New Balance shoes and the same cargo pants like ‘hey, how you doing?’. So, I know that group, and they are tight. They’re slowly starting, there’s a diaspora where maybe that’ll be all that is left, idiots like us who started doing little things in the ’90s that get to do bigger things in this decade. In LA, it’s a little bit more of a professional world. You know, we have a hundred and something people who work on Bob’s. They have all worked on other shows. There are board artists who have union credentials, years of experience, and they’re tight in their own way. I don’t interact with the other shows, it’s not like me and Seth MacFarlane and Matt Groening go out for drinks or whatever, but the world of animation in LA is a world unto itself, because those people go from job to job until they die.
LB - Thanks guys!