Even if you don’t know the name Rob Paulsen, chances are you’ve heard his voice.
With voice work that has appeared in Animaniacs, Pinky and the Brain, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Jimmy Neutron and more, Paulsen has been a vocal mainstay of childhood memories for nearly three decades. And now that voice is coming to Long Island with “Animaniacs in Concert,” staring Paulsen and composer Randy Rogel, at the Tilles Center for the Performing Arts on Saturday, Feb. 3.
The concert, which features live music and voice work from Paulsen while beloved Animaniacs cartoons are screened, comes at a time when illness forced Paulsen to reevaluate and refocus his life trajectory. Paulsen recently defeated throat cancer after a grueling year of aggressive treatment and he now has a renewed passion for his craft—with new challenges and some old familiar faces, and voices.
“It was the people who I met throughout my career who were affected by cancer that were my inspiration,” said Paulsen, adding that because of his beloved characters, he’s frequently met or spoken with hundreds of infirm children who had their wishes come true via a conversation with Pinky or Raphael. “Their parents keep in touch with me when those kids pass away, saying ‘we can’t tell you how much your shows mean to our kids.’ That opportunity, to bring that into their lives, that gave me the example to deal with my own pretty intense circumstances. I had these great teachers.”
Paulsen’s success in voice acting came right at the advent of the cable revolution and the millennial baby boom, when there was suddenly a demand for family-oriented programming that would enchant young viewers as well as their parents. Disney, Warner Brothers and Hanna-Barbara all started reviving old series and creating new ones, while networks like Nickelodeon and syndication outlets began demanding more original daytime programming. Paulsen and his colleagues have worked for all of them, using their incredible talents to literally bring to life some of the most beloved original characters of a generation while simultaneously bringing back to life the classic characters of yesteryear.
The actor’s familiar timbre and tone has voiced the likes of Yakko Warner and Pinky from Animaniacs and Pinky and the Brain, Carl Wheezer from The Adventures of Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius, Bobble from Disney’s Tinker Bell films and Raphael from the original run of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. And when Nickelodeon decided to reboot the Heroes in a Half-Shell in TMNT, producers nabbed him to voice Donatello.
“I wondered—did they know that I did the original Raphael? Are they sure they wanted me to do the job?” Paulsen wondered about his new voice assignment. “And it reminded me again—nobody cares what you look like, and how much that makes me more passionate for my job and having fun with it.”
The desire to enjoy work has even more meaning for Paulsen now that he is on the mend from illness. He’s still gaining back some of the 50 pounds he has lost and there’s at least another year of recovery work ahead as his throat and voice regain strength after months of brutal radiation. But he sees now that as modest and genuine as his need to downplay his illness may have been, he’s not just another one of a legion of cancer survivors.
“There are millions of people who have beaten cancer, but because of what I do for a living, it has a little more weight. It all circles back to the deep attachment people have to these characters I’ve been lucky enough to play,” he said. “I can not only continue to make a living, but make a difference, and I can’t wait to use that on the biggest scale that I can.”