Voice Lessons: How a Couple of Ninja Turtles, Pinky, and an Animaniac Saved My Life
Writers: Rob Paulson with Michael Fleeman
Publisher: Viva Editions
Year Published: 2019
If you’re my age (late 30s to early 40s) Rob Paulson will need no introduction. Or maybe he will, because you’ve probably never seen his face or heard his name. But you do know his voice, or rather several voices, that made up a significant amount of your cartoon watching. His credits probably make up a who’s who of your childhood: Snow Job on G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero; Slingshot and Air Raid on Transformers; Boober, Sprocket, and Margery the Trash Heap on Fraggle Rock; Raphael (and later Donatello) on Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles; Pinky on Pinky and the Brain; and Yakko on Animaniacs, to name just a few.
I have huge respect for good voice acting and love getting a peek behind the curtain at the men and women who do this fascinating job. Paulson’s autobiography, Voice Lessons (2019) doesn’t just provide a peek; it throws back the whole curtain on an industry that is his life and love. Starting with growing up in small town Michigan and his relationship with his family, he details how he moved to Hollywood (twice) and stumbled, almost accidentally, into this career that he now credits for saving his life. The early parts of the book can get a bit “back in those days” and is full of name dropping, but it’s also genuine and endearing–a glimpse into 1970s Hollywood from someone doing commercials and B-movies trying to make it.
The book follows Paulson’s initially reluctant foray into voice acting, at first seeing it as just another bill-paying gig like the commercials. But as he comes to love and solidly commit to voice acting as a profession, we see the loyalty and camaraderie that develops between him and his colleagues, especially his eternal BFF, Maurice LeMarche (Pinky and the Brain, The Simpsons, Futurama, anytime they need someone who can do an Orson Wells voice).
Then, like any good narrative once it has set up its protagonist with everything he could ever want, Paulson gets diagnosed with throat cancer, a twist that is almost too literary to be true. But it is true. What follows is the most raw and honest account of cancer I have ever read. Yet, through it all, Paulson‘s self-deprecating humor keeps the book from becoming maudlin; his vulnerability and humanity keep it readable, even during the dark times. The writing can be a bit meandering at times, with some awkward transitions between anecdotes, but then he’ll come up with a turn of phrase like, “Catch the first boat to denial isle and find that sunny spot until the clouds pass” that makes his writing style endearing.
Throughout the autobiography, Paulson’s joy and positivity is infectious, even when he’s talking about chemotherapy. I hate the term “feel good read,” but I genuinely did feel good when I read it. It also has some pretty down-to-earth lessons for a Hollywood autobiography; the “voice lessons” come up organically and never feel shoehorned in. I’m not usually drawn to celebrity autobiographies, but I genuinely enjoyed reading this one.