“It’s not like you’re rolling film — when you’re recording voice, you can fail all you want,” says Eugene Mirman, a comedian and voice actor who plays Gene Belcher, the 11-year-old middle child on the animated television series “Bob’s Burgers,” which debuted in 2011. “That allows for more risk and taking chances and trying different jokes.” Be prepared to say a line dozens of times in a dozen different ways. “You could say lines in an angry, happy, questioning or fun way,” Mirman says. While voicing the character of Gene, Mirman emphasizes a youthful exuberance and optimism and cadence that’s slightly more upbeat than his everyday adult voice.
To prepare, try yawning, relaxing your jaw, raising your arms, hitting yourself in the chest, smiling while saying a happy line. Keep a glass of water or tea nearby. Mirman records on his feet; a music stand holds his script. “I stand so I can do the physical actions described,” says Mirman, who works out of a soundproof booth in his home. “If you have to make running noises, you probably wiggle your body in a slight running way mimicking the actions.”
Develop relationships with your fellow performers. When you get together, whether in person or online, it helps to chitchat and catch up with one another. Mirman has known his castmates for years (they were hired partly, he says, “because we already knew each other”), and that has fostered the “familial” comfort level needed to go off on ad-libbing tangents. Comedy productions in particular require improvisational freedom. “In the second episode of ‘Bob’s,’ there’s a whole part where Bob is trapped in the wall of their home,” Mirman says. “And Gene starts talking to him about ‘The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe’ and how he’s sure Salman Rushdie wrote it. It was just this random thing we improvised, and it actually got used.”
Even when following the script or the director’s guidance — whether recording solo or with the cast — try not to just say one line at a time. Make it feel as if you’re responding inside the scene. “You want it to sound like you’re discovering it as you’re saying that thought,” Mirman says.