A Chat with Carlos Alazraqui
Carlos Alazraqui is one of the hardest working voice actors in Hollywood, bringing to life such notable characters as the Taco Bell Chihuahua, Mr. Weed from “Family Guy,” Rocko from “Rocko’s Modern Life,” Mr. Crocker on Nickelodeon’s “Fairly Odd Parents” and many, many more, including the voice of Mike Wazowski for all of Disney’s promotional material. Along with several new animated projects in the works, Carlos can currently be seen in the fourth season of “Reno 911!” on Comedy Central and the new movie, “Reno 911: Miami,” in theaters this winter. The comedian took the time to speak with Bullz-Eye about his blossoming career, the World Cup and the state of the American sitcom, not to mention sneaking in a few voices in the process.
Carlos Alzaraqui: Hi Jason, this Carlos. How are you doing?
Bullz-Eye: Good, how are you?
CA: Good. Sorry, my cell phone goes in and out in my house, so when the service came back on, I went “Oh, I’ve got a message.”
BE: I have the same exact problem, but with Cingular.
CA: Oh god, I have Nextel/Sprint. (in advertising voice) The most coverage anywhere… Cingular.
BE: …except in your house.
CA: So yeah, I’m still here, if you’re good to go…
BE: Yeah. I know that you’re a big sports fan, and was curious if you we’re able to catch any of the World Cup over the past month?
CA: I watched a ton of it.
BE: Who were you rooting for?
CA: First, the United States. Then, Argentina, because that’s where my parents are from. And then, finally, Italy, because the U.S. was the closest to beating them.
BE: That’s wild. Those are my top three favorite teams. I was really sad to see Argentina exit from the tournament so early.
CA: The quarterfinals did them in last time against Sweden, and I was at a pub called the Fox & Hound in the Valley, and I just knew as soon as Germany scored that head goal. I went, “Oh, we’re going to lose in penalty kicks,” because we always do.
BE: Well, getting back to the subject of this interview – you – I was able to catch the season premiere of “Reno 911!” last night…
CA: Yeah, it was fun –
BE: Great, but I have to say, you gave me nightmares after seeing that nude scene with you and Thomas Lennon.
CA: I know, I know. I knew that was going to be fun for everybody. Even the staff was laughing. I think that was one of the last shots of the fourth season, so we had the fake snow and all that stuff, and yeah, it was pretty racy. Good, I’m glad that disturbed you.
BE: Well, I’m just glad that the show is still around, what with Comedy Central’s track record of canceling critically acclaimed shows with big fan bases. Did you have to audition for the show, or did Tom, Kerri (Kinney) and Ben (Garrant) bring you in specifically for that role?
CA: No, I had known Ben, Tom and Kerri before, and then, in the winter of 2000 at Jersey Television they were auditioning for a new sketch show at Fox, and so I came up in with a couple of sketch characters; it was actually the subject of my one-man show. I didn’t audition with the Garcia character. I auditioned with an infomercial sales guy and Tony Montaña as a children’s birthday clown.
BE: And where did the character of Garcia come from?
CA: I just wanted to play that small Napoleon Complex prick that, on the surface, is a pretty tough guy, but underneath is pretty weak. It’s an amalgam of all the pricks you’ve ever met.
BE: You seem to share a majority of your scenes with Cedric Yarbrough – seemingly because you guys are supposed to be partners on the show…
CA: Especially when it started off, we were more so. Me and Cedric hit it off right away.
BE: I’ve read prior interviews with other cast members who’ve mentioned you often ruin takes with laughter…
CA: Oh yeah.
BE: Do you have any dirty secrets about one of the other castmates?
CA: Dirty secrets? No, but Tom’s been known to ruin some takes too. He always sort of cheats it; he gets away with it more, but when we were making the movie there was a guy named Toby Huss who cracks everybody up. Wendi’s (McLendon-Covey) trailer is decorated with pictures of her husband, and all sorts of flowing clothes. And Mary’s (Birdsong) always working out. You always see her in her spandex jogging pants, so she’s almost like Kimball.
BE: I really enjoyed the addition of Mary to the cast. Was there any animosity amongst the regular cast members?
CA: No, not with Mary, because we knew that she was going to come on as a guest star. She fit in really easy, and she’s like the nicest person in the entire world.
BE: She’s quickly become one of my favorite characters on the show, though she doesn’t get nearly as much screen time as the rest of the cast members.
CA: The writers try to dissipate it as much as they can, and sometimes you’ll get more in some episodes, and sometimes you’ll get less than others, but she’s definitely got some good stuff coming up in this fourth season.
BE: Good to hear. Speaking of the “Reno 911” movie, have you guys wrapped production?
CA: Yeah, we finished on February 27th and it went into a couple screenings so far, and the first waves of people are really digging it.
BE: The original release date had the film coming out at the end of this summer, but it got pushed back to January. Do you know why it got pushed back?
CA: I think they wanted to piggyback it on the second half of the fourth season. In other words, it’s going to be like “The Sopranos.” Half of the season will air this summer, and then half is going to be in winter, and then right off that they’ll just piggyback the movie.
BE: We talked a little bit about how you got the job in “Reno 911,” but how did you initially get into the standup comedy/voice acting business?
CA: I started out with comedy in college, but had my major in Recreation Administration – which meant I wasn’t going to get a real job – so I started doing a little standup.
BE: Aside from “Reno 911,” the thing your most known for is doing the voice of the Taco Bell dog. Be serious: how helpful was that in picking up women?
CA: I know, that’s what people always ask me. (in stoner voice) “Did that dog get you chicks, man?” No, it got my friends chicks. Never helped me, but it was part of the whole package of being cute and having a sense of humor, so in that respect, yeah. And maybe people wanted to be with (in stoner voice, again) an American legend, man… I’ve got to be with you because you’re gonna be a part of history.
BE: You’re more of a party favor than anything else, then.
CA: Yeah, I’m naturally charming. I didn’t need the dog, let’s just put it that way.
BE: I was browsing your website – which lists a majority of the animated characters you’ve done voices for – and noticed that Mr. Weed (of “Family Guy”) wasn’t on there. Now, that’s by far one of my favorite characters that you’ve done in the past and was curious as to how you came to work on the project.
CA: I knew Linda Lamontagne (note: the show’s casting director) from the San Francisco Comedy Competition a long, long, long time ago, and we were skydiving together (which I’ve continued), but she brought me in to audition for a ton of voices, and then they had this character and I came in and got the part. And then they said that Mr. Weed was killed, and that was the end of my experience on “Family Guy.”
BE: That was my next question, actually. What was your reaction when you heard that they were going to kill him off?
CA: I was disappointed, because it was a fun show to be a part of, and I was like “I didn’t think animation characters could die,” but I guess they can.
BE: “Family Guy” is in that realm of suspended reality…
CA: Right, exactly. Though I will mention it was foreboding that I wasn’t going to be able to come back again. (in Mr. Weed voice) “Peter, you’re fired.”
BE: Moving on to some of your current projects, I noticed that you have a part in the upcoming animated film, “Happy Feet,” and apart from knowing that it’s about singing and dancing penguins, I haven't head anything else. Could you tell me a little bit more?
CA: Robin Williams, Jeff Garcia (a standup comedian), Johnny Sanchez, my friend Lombardo Boyar – we all just had a great time making it, riffing a lot with Robin, and the penguins are peppered throughout the whole movie, so it was a lot of good fun; family Latino humor, and I sound a little like Tony Montaña. And Elijah Wood is great. It’s basically, if you think of Frodo were a penguin, and Merry and Pippin were penguins, and Frodo goes on a journey and we help him do it. It was cool making it. We got to go to Lucas Ranch and, at that time, my brother was still living in a condo about a mile from Robin Williams, and so I made all of the other comics jealous because I got to get a ride home with him.
BE: So did you guys all record your dialogue at the same time?
CA: Not all the time, but we spent about six or seven times in the same room, and then the guy, George Miller (note: the “guy” happens to be the director of the film) would come in and say (in Australian accent) “this is the scene, you guys, and you’ve got your dialogue, so just do one for me, and then go at it and see what comes up.”
BE: I’m sure that made the final product a lot better, as well.
CA: Oh yeah, Robin would go off and we’d all start riffing with him, so it was fun.
BE: You’re also working on a bazillion animated shows right now. How many in all?
CA: God, let’s see. Some of them are coming out soon – “Schoolboy” is gonna come out, “Handy Manny” is gonna come out, “Wow Wow Wubbzy” is gonna come out, and then of course “Juniper” and “Lazlo,” “Fairly Odd Parents” is still on, “Minoriteam” on Adult Swim (that’s already out). So, maybe about six or seven? Oh, “El Tigre,” that’s coming out on Nickelodeon. And I hopefully I’m coming to come in and do a guest spot on “Boondocks.”
BE: Cedric (Yarbrough) works on that show, correct?
BE: Wow, then you’re very busy. Well, aside from the shows that you work on, what kind of television do you like to watch in your free time?
CA: Probably about a year-and-a-half ago I got into “Strangers with Candy,” because I had met them at the Aspen Comedy Festival. And I remember the first time I saw it, it didn’t hit me right, and then I kept watching it and thought, “Oh man, this is brilliant.” I mean, I love that show. And I love the British version of “The Office.” I’m an ESPN guy, diehard “Sopranos” fan – me and a guy named Richard Horvitz and Pam Adlon, we go to our “Squirrel Boy” sessions and discuss last night’s episode, and we’re just cussing like crazy. I’m like (as Christopher Moltisanti) “Jesus, Adrianna, we gotta talk about your bowels?” (As Adrianna) “Christopher, I love you.” (as Chris) “Shut up, you fuckin’ whore.” So that’s what we do. Huge “Sopranos” fan. Huge fan of British “Office.” There’s also this show called “Bottom” with Rik Mayall and Adrian Edmondson that I have on DVD; they’re from “The Young Ones.” But yeah, the “24”’s, and all that stuff, I rarely watch network television.
BE: So have you seen the American “Office”?
CA: I’ve seen a couple episodes – it’s good – but I definitely prefer the British one.
BE: I was a bit weary after seeing the American one, but they’ve certainly come into their own during this second season. I’m also going to throw out another great British series called “Spaced” – starring Simon Pegg and Jessica Stevenson of “Shaun of the Dead” – but to watch it, you’ll need a region-free DVD player.
CA: (in British accent) Bloody hell. Yeah, there’s this shop in town called The Continental, and every once in a while you can get some DVDs there. (Note: Carlos then goes on to talk about some obscure Scottish series that he enjoys, “Rab C. Nesbitt,” but I couldn’t understand a majority of his comments, since he decided to talk, this time, in a Scottish accent.) It’s a guy named Gregor Fisher, and he’s actually the manager of the singer in “Love Actually…”
BE: Bill Nighy’s character?
CA: Right. He plays this sort of Andy Capp character who wears a fishnet tank top and is always fucking plastered, and his wife is fat, and his kids are stupid, and he’s just scum, which is what I miss about old sitcoms like “All in the Family,” and that sense of foreboding that the British “Office” has. That’s the difference between the British “Office” and the American “Office.” The reason the British “Office” works is because underlining the whole British culture is (in British accent, again) “we’re always going to lose the World Cup, my life is shit, it’s cloudy every Sunday, and this is my rotten life.” And Americans are like “No, we’re number one! We can achieve!” And when that underlines your sitcom, you lose all of the subtlety and the wonderfulness of the British stuff. That’s why they could never be the same.
BE: I’ve just recently discovered BBC America, and I watch it all the time now. It’s a real shame that most of this stuff never makes it overseas.
CA: It’s too bad, because when I was growing up, we had shows like “All in the Family,” and that shit was good. For once you had a fat husband with a so-so looking wife. Instead of Belushi in “Still Standing” and “King of Queens”; all these fat guys with hot wives, it’s like, “What? Why?”
BE: It’s the American dream.
CA: Exactly. Make them average looking, and have some desperation. “Friends,” to me, was totally boring. There’s no compelling reason to watch it, because they’re not poor and they’re not ugly. How hard can their life be? Oh, Rachel said this. I’m devastated, you know? There’s nothing there. That’s what I think makes “Reno” so great, because it’s fun too. In character we’re all pretty stupid, and goofy and vulnerable.
BE: Well, I don’t want to take up too much of your time, so I just have one more question for you. Which do you prefer more: voice-acting or screen acting?
CA: Gosh, they’re both great, but when you see that red carpet or when you see a movie set, that’s where I’d like to be… It’s like a 50/50 thing, but if I had my choice, I’d like to be up on a movie set. Doing what Leguizamo and Steve Carrell are doing. That seems like it would be a lot of fun. Right now, I have to answer in the present, and being in “Reno” when I’m just goofing around with Cedric in a cop car and doing stupid stuff – that’s pretty darn fun, so it’s slightly a little bit more fun than voice-over.
BE: Well, great. Thanks for taking the time out to talk with me.
CA: Of course. I could go off for hours (I’m pretty opinionated), but thank you and I’ll be sure to check out “Spaced.” I loved “Shaun of the Dead,” it was brilliant.