Billy West brings ‘Futurama Live’ to SF Sketchfest

From the San Francisco Examiner

Billy West brings ‘Futurama Live’ to SF Sketchfest
By Roman Gokhman

Wednesday, January 23, 2013


It doesn’t matter to Billy West that his name isn’t often recognized, even though anyone who grew up in the past 20 years has heard his many voices on TV.

“I don’t care about that stuff, I wanted to be an artist,” says the 62-year-old behind animated characters such as Ren and Stimpy, Doug, 1990s incarnations of Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd, and several characters on the cult hit “Futurama.”

“My heroes were artists, they weren’t celebrities,” West says. “There was no celebrity worship when I was growing up. I have no interest in being famous. I just wanted to bring something to the table. I felt like I had a lot to give.”

West, along with “Futurama” cast mates Maurice LaMarche, Lauren Tom and Phil LaMarr, and producer Lee Supercinski, will come together at SF Sketchfest on Saturday for “Futurama Live.”

The presentation at Cobb’s Comedy Club — including voice demonstrations, a teaser from an upcoming season and a question-and-answer session — is one of several TV spotlight shows at the 12th annual comedy festival.

The festival opens today at the Castro Theatre with an evening of live riffing of bad educational short films featuring “Mystery Science Theater 3000” performers and continues through Feb. 10 throughout The City.

“Sometimes they can turn into total mayhem,” West says. “We’ll go off in a million different directions.”

“Futurama” — an Emmy-winning sci-fi parable set in late 30th-century New York that lampoons modern times, created by Matt Groening (“The Simpsons”) — holds a special place in West’s heart.

“I think it’s the funniest,” he says. “I loved the writing so much, I love the people that I work with. I’ve been doing this longer than a lot of other TV shows have been on the air — since 1999.”

West voices Philip J. Fry, a clueless pizza delivery driver who is cryogenically frozen in 2000 and re-awakens in 2999. There, he works for Planet Express, mad scientist Professor Farnsworth’s (also West) delivery company. He falls for one-eyed mutant co-worker Leela (Katey Sagal of “Sons of Anarchy”) and befriends Bender, a cynical, foul-mouthed robot (John DiMaggio).

Other characters include Planet Express’ neurotic, lobsterlike alien Zoidberg (West), ditzy Amy Wong (Tom) and accountant Hermes Conrad (LaMarr), and incompetent starship captain Zapp Brannigan (West, again).

The show aired on Fox from 1999 to 2003. Reruns proved popular, and the cast made four direct-to-DVD films in 2007. That led to a 2009 revival by Comedy Central.

“We have another season that is going to premiere — it’s already done,” West said. “What we have to figure out is if we’re going to come back for another one or two years. Right now, the jury’s out. I don’t know why they would ever want to stop doing it. I can do all this stuff until I’m in my 80s. My voice ain’t about to change.”

SF Sketchfest

  • When: Today through Feb. 10
  • Where: 26 venues
  • Tickets: $10 to $50
  • Contact:
  • Note: “Futurama Live” is at 1 p.m. Saturday at Cobb’s Comedy Club, 915 Columbus Ave., S.F.

Select highlights

  • Night of the Shorts IV: Riffizens on Patrol with Michael J. Nelson, Kevin Murphy and Bill Corbett and special guests Kevin McDonald, Adam Savage, Kristen Schaal, Paul F. Tompkins, Cole Stratton and Janet Varney. [8 p.m. today, Castro Theatre, 429 Castro St., S.F.]
  • Delocated Witness Protection Program Variety Show: Jon Glaser from Adult Swim’s “Delocated” hosts, with special guests Steve Agee, Eugene Mirman, Mary Lynn Rajskub and Kristen Schaal. [10 p.m. Saturday, Cobb’s Comedy Club]
  • ‘The Naked Gun: From The Files of Police Squad!’ 25th anniversary screening and celebration: Director David Zucker, co-screenwriter Pat Proft and actress Priscilla Presley appear.  [1 p.m. Feb. 9, Castro Theatre]
  • Celebrity Autobiography: Jennifer Coolidge, Rachel Dratch, Janeane Garofalo, Laraine Newman, Maya Rudolph, Fred Willard, Eugene Pack and Dayle Reyfel read memoirs of celebs such as Snooki, Madonna and Beyoncé. [8 p.m. Feb. 9, 5 p.m. Feb. 10, Marines’ Memorial Theatre,  609 Sutter St., S.F.]
  • Theme Park Improv: SF Sketchfest co-founders Cole Stratton and Janet Varney lead all-star improvisers including Ian Brennan, Rachel Dratch, Simon Helberg, Michael Hitchcock, Jessica Makinson and Oscar Nunez. [10:30 p.m. Feb. 9, Eureka Theatre, 215 Jackson St., S.F.]

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