Awards Daily talks to Hank Azaria about working on The Simpsons through the pandemic and reminds Gen Z-ers where Frink’s voice really comes from.
As a Simpsons fan, I’m embarrassed to admit that I had forgotten how many of the voices Hank Azaria does on the show. It’s actually pretty staggering.
In his Emmy-nominated episode “Frinkcoin”—about Professor Frink’s venture into cryptocurrency that makes him the richest man in Springfield, much to Burns’ chagrin—the Simpson family takes a backseat and Azaria’s characters get to shine, including Frink, Chief Wiggum, and Moe, who all at some point interact with each other at the bar (yes, Frink actually escapes the lab—GLAVIN—long enough to go to Moe’s Tavern in this episode).
During my interview with the actor Emmy-nominated for Outstanding Voice-Over Performance, I actually forgot one the most important Simpsons characters that Azaria’s bequeathed on popular culture. I’m the worst. Interviewer. EVER.
Awards Daily: What’s it been like working on the show through the pandemic?
Hank Azaria: They sent all this equipment to our houses, so we could record from home. So in some ways, it’s gotten easier for us. Personally, I don’t even go to the recording studio anymore. Some of the actors have recording studios in their houses; I never did. I guess not every animated show has done that. TheSimpsons did it right away, and I think other shows have called them to ask how they’ve done it and they shared the information. We hook into GarageBand on our computers and we share the screen with our sound tech over at Fox, and they essentially control the recording through the computer. It’s pretty amazing.
AD: That is amazing! It makes you think what you would have done 30 years ago, when it first started. It’s amazing how much things have changed. I love your Emmy submission. I love Frink. Did you ever think this character would become such a cult favorite? Everyone loves Frink.
HA: (Laughs) Well, to me it’s just an imitation of Jerry Lewis in The Nutty Professor, which is now such an old reference. Everything old is new again. As a kid, that was one of the first things I belly-laughed at, Jerry Lewis doing that voice, so it’s really fun for me and means a lot to me to do that voice and be recognized like this for it. It’s an honor just to be nominated, and it actually really is.
AD: I’m sure. This is actually an episode that mostly involves characters outside of the main family. Since you don’t voice any of the actual Simpsons, do you have a personal affinity for the rest of the characters more so than the family? Everyone always talks about Homer, but maybe you view him differently since you encounter him differently.
HA: They’re all personal friends of mine, all the Simpsons. (Laughs) I kind of do. I go through phases of loving different characters on the show. I really loved Kent Brockman for a long time. I really found what Harry [Shearer] does with that so hilarious. I love Krusty a lot. He’s always my favorite. One of the unique things about the show, and part of why I think it’s been on so long, it’s about an entire town; it truly is. Characters that had one line in Season 3 have whole episodes in Season 18. It’s crazy how they develop like that.
AD: I also like the friendship between Frink and Lisa that develops. Could he be her new Bleeding Gums type of mentor?
HA: That hasn’t panned out yet, but I guess it’s possible. I really like where Comic Book Guy has gone, being married to Kumiko. Actually, this season, they haven’t come out yet, but we’ve done a couple of Comic Book Guy episodes that I’ve found really gratifying, deepening his weirdo character. It’s been fun.
AD: This is so stupid to ask. You do the Comic Book Guy voice, too?
AD: (Laughs) I forget how many voices you do. Do you ever feel like the whole show is overrun by iterations of yourself? It’s got to be a weird feeling. Springfield is just you all over the place.
HA: To say I’ve gotten used to it is an understatement, but when I first started doing the show, I was like 22 or 23 years old. I really liked watching Dan Castellaneta and Harry Shearer do that, where they do so many characters and often these characters are talking to each other. It really blew my mind. But they were so adept at it, I quickly tried to learn from them as much as I could. It’s fun. If it’s really confusing if you’re in a situation where Chief Wiggum is talking to Moe, you can always do one and the other. Editing is a lovely thing. There are a handful of episodes where it does feel like it’s dominated by my characters, and it’s really fun to see that all come together. It’s me just talking to myself the whole time. (Laughs)
AD: Now I’m thinking of Duffman and all these great characters. Nancy Cartwright told me she thinks Database and Frink should partner up. Would you be open to that?
HA: There’s definitely been—not whole episodes or storylines—but moments where all of those nerds have gotten together. But yeah, that would be a natural pairing for sure.
AD: What’s in store for the new season? Can you spill any details? Are you addressing the pandemic?
HA: We have not addressed the pandemic as of yet. My characters are in a lot of play this season. Comic Book Guy’s lifelong dream is to go to Comic Con, and he finally gets there in an episode. Cletus becomes a country recording star accidentally.
HA: We just did one yesterday where it’s a John Wick parody featuring Moe, which I got a kick out of. I think the scripts have been great this year. We’re still having fun over there.
AD: That’s great. You’re in so many live-action shows, too. Do you ever prefer doing one over the other?
HA: No, I really feel fortunate that I get to do all of these things, whether it’s voice-over stuff or on camera or on stage or dramatic or comedic. I certainly studied and trained to do all of those things, and I feel really fortunate to do all those things. They’re all fun in different ways. Voice-over recording is at least schleppy; you can just roll out of bed, go to the other room, put the mic on, and I’ve done a show. That’s pretty great. As long as the writing’s good in whatever form you’re in, it’s a joy.
AD: Who would have thought that working on The Simpsons would be a great work-from-home job? That’s pretty awesome.
HA: Many, many voice-over artists [have studios in their homes]. I thought about doing it, but they’re actually expensive to build and make. I’m in Manhattan, and I can walk to where I record, so it’s not that hard. I don’t want to take up the space in my New York apartment. It is kind of great to be able to work from home.
AD: It’s been great chatting with you. The fact that I didn’t even remember you did Comic Book Guy is ridiculous.
HA: [Said in Comic Book Guy voice] I must request, Megan, from now on you remember I was the Comic Book Guy, please.
Megan McLachlan is a freelance writer that lives in Pittsburgh, PA. Her work has appeared in Buzzfeed, Cosmopolitan, The Cut, Paste, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Thrillist, and The Washington Post. Follow her on Twitter at @heydudemeg.