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'Archer' is back and his voice tells all

H. Jon Benjamin, the voice of Archer
H. Jon Benjamin, the voice of Archer

When I say the name H. Jon Benjamin you may not recognize it, except for maybe some connection to a van, but I’m sure you know his voice. Benjamin provides the voice of ISIS secret agent Archer Sterling for the FX animated comedy series “Archer,” among many others.

The Worcester native got his start in the Boston comedy scene when he was 24 as part of the comedy duo with Sam Seder, and later as part of a comedy team with David Cross. He went on to provide the voice for Coach John McGuirk and Jason Penopolis in “Home Movies,” Ben in “Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist,” Tuck on “Freak Show,” Carl and Yoda in “Family Guy,” Bob in “Bob’s Burgers” along with Sterling Archer.

He has appeared on camera as the live action version on Master Shake from “Aqua Teen Hunger Force,” as a cast member of “Important Things with Demetri Martin” and the Comedy Central series “Jon Benjamin has a Van.”

Currently Benjamin is out promoting the Season 3 premier of “Archer” this Thursday, January 19 at 10 p.m. and in a conference call on Friday, he spoke about all things Archer, fame and his voice.

When asked if he gets recognizined for his voice, Benjamin’s answer might surprise you. “It happens all the time in the steam room where I do most of my talking,” Benjamin said. “It happens, actually, very rarely, obviously, because nobody cares. But, on a few occasions, I’ve been recognized for my voice, and it’s just kind of hard—you have to be really keyed into that. Like there has been an occasion where like I’m ordering a tea at the coffee shop and the person behind the counter will get excited like, “Oh my, ‘Archer’s’ voice is ordering a green tea.” But, that being said, very rarely happens.”

Benjamin’s shared a lot of insight into the character of Sterling Archer. What it’s like to voice the World’s Greatest Secret Agent, what traits they share, his hopes for the character, which of Archer’s escapades he would like to try are just a few of the nuggets he shared.

What do you like about voicing Archer: “I like the way he looks. He’s handsome. That’s a big advantage. I’m not so handsome, and I like all the stuff I get to say, obviously. I like being rude, and it gives me a good opportunity to do that.”

What traits do you share with Archer: “Well, obviously, personality wise, I can be a little shrilly, and that comes from the way I look and just having to go out in public is a struggle. So, yes, I think that my tension for anger and my general attitude—poor attitude—and failure to recognize authority and my sense of entitlement in my life and being American and white and rich, those things I share. And I drink a lot in real life.”

What has Archer done that you would like to do: Sleep with a prostitute, I guess. I just never had the courage and I think that would open the flood gates for me. And I’d like to yell at a butler someday.

What he wants to see Archer do: That’s a tough question. There is so much, obviously, like spy world stuff to explore and I’m sure he hasn’t gotten to all the possibilities yet. I guess I would want him to sing more, maybe. Maybe start a band, like a really bad blues band or something. You know like Jim Belushi style.

Favorite lines: I get asked that a lot and I’m always at a loss because I never remember lines, but I do like whenever I have to say something really like falsetto and quick. It used to be like danger zone or something. And I really like doing his answering machine messages because they’re usually written out exactly as I do them. They make me laugh every time because in real life I do that stuff. So I like when he really … with people on his answering machine. That makes me giggle.

Will Archer ever find happiness: Well, I don’t think it would behoove the show for him to be happy, so I assume that will be avoided. I think, by nature, he’s like a troubled character, so I don’t think he’ll ever be happy, but I got asked this recently, and I think my stock answer was that if his mother died, I’m not sure he’d be happy, but it would change everything for him and maybe he’d be happy. So there is some—I guess that’s not…, but I just think that his mother created a lot of problems.

Does he wish Arched wouldn't yell all the time: Just once. It is, and I have to say, like I recently, whenever I finish—it’s not grueling or anything, but my vocal cords don’t recover for like a day after an Archersession. So they owe me. And it’s not like I’m at war, but it’s hard on the throat. But, yes, I would like to do … someday.

Could he be a spy: I think I could pull off a spy. If you knew me, you’d know all the reasons why.

How difficult the serious voice acting is: Well, it’s always sort of difficult to—I don’t know—I can’t discern anything about acting when you’re doing—there’s acting when you’re doing voice overs, but it was definitely strange to do that. It’s always odd when you have to like cry or something—like for real, when he was like, whatever—your woman dies or something and you’re crying. It’s so easy to do a … but it’s weird to—like I’d always be was that terrible? It’s not like a movie, I guess, where everybody’s standing around and people are watching and you really got to do it. There’s something odd—very false about just standing in front of a microphone. So hopefully the cries are believable. I actually cry. I actually cried a couple of times

And the most important thing, how does he look in a black turtleneck: I can’t imagine I would look good. I don’t think anybody does. ‘Archer’ does look good and maybe Sammy Davis Jr. looked good and a few more—Bert Convy, but I think nowadays it’s probably a huge fashion faux pas to be walking around like that, unless you like work at a club called Turtlenecks.

Benjamin also gave a look at what’s ahead for season 3.

"I think it does get crazier—not crazier, but there are definitely moments of pure craziness, as there always is, I guess, in the show. But I think, he returns back to his regular life, so he doesn’t go off the rails completely. The show gets back to what it did in the second season which is focus on all the characters who work for the spy agency and stuff like that. So he doesn’t have any more like crazy flights of—but they go to space. They get to go to space, but I think that was part of the mission, so it’s not like he was just like I’m going to go to space and take off."

He also wasn’t aware Burt Reynolds was in the series premiere: "Wait, he was in it? Oh. Man, no one tells me anything about this …. That’s great. I can’t believe he’s still doing stuff. He should take a break. It’s been like 60 years. Like just stop. I think, they mentioned him—I think it was the natural—well, not the natural progression, but ‘Archer’s’ obviously referenced Burt Reynolds a lot, so I’m sure it popped into Adam Reed’s head to just to try and cast him. It’s funny that I shouldn’t be calling like these people and you must think like they’ll never do it and then they’re probably like, “Of course, I’ll do it.”

“Archer” season 3 premieres January 19, on FX at 10 p.m.


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