Many actors get the chance to play Hamlet, but only one gets to play Goofy. That guy is Bill Farmer, who for nearly 25 years has been the voice behind Disney's top dog in 3,000-plus projects spanning theme parks, TV shows, movies, video games — everything.
“The best training I ever had was as a road stand-up comedian in the '80s. It you can do stand-up, you can do anything,” says Farmer. He is also the official voice of Practical Pig of the Three Little Pigs, Horace Horsecollar, Pluto and a number of Looney Tunes characters as well. You can catch Farmer around town performing in Fred Willard's sketch troupe the Mohos (check out Farmer's kick-ass George Burns here). We caught up with Farmer at Disney's official fan expo D23 and asked him to deconstruct the dog.
The voiceover actor you took over for, was he the original Goofy?
No, that was Pinto Colvig who passed away in the '60s. For 20 years following it was Goofy du jour: There was Tony Pope and Hal Smith who played Otis on The Andy Griffith Show — he did the voice in Mickey's Christmas Carol. Jack Wagner performed Goofy at the parks.
With the advent of the Disney Channel in 1987 and the exposure of old cartoons, they (Disney) wanted the closest match as possible to Pinto. So there was a big audition and as luck had it, I just moved to L.A. from Texas. It was my first animated character audition. I got a cassette tape of Pinto's sayings from such classics '30s cartoons as Boat Builders and Lonesome Ghosts, laid them down and [as Goofy] “Garshh they liked it!”
I've noticed that Disney truly commits over the long haul to their voiceover actors who bring their characters to life.
It's not just a voice, it's a personality. People know when it's a different actor. When I was a kid, they replaced Fred Flintstone after Alan Reed passed away and I didn't like it. It was close and a good impression, but it wasn't Fred. Out of necessity you have to replace voices occasionally, but to find the actor who has the personality and puts the life into the character rather than just the voice — once you find that, hang on to it.
Describe Goofy's vocals.
He's got a guttural voice, [as Goofy] “Garsh, way in the back,” and it comes from the chest. It's a swallowed, round voice; what I refer to as a cadence voice because there's a lot of [vocal] scoops; ups and downs. Mickey and Donald are trick voices to me because if you can do a falsetto, [as Mickey] “You're in the ballpark for Mickey.” And if you do that cheek thing, [as Donald] “Oh Boy,” you've got Donald. Goofy and Winnie the Pooh are the toughest ones to translate in foreign languages. Early on, I had to do Goofy in German [does Goofy in German]: “Ludwig Von Drake. Eins, zwei, drei.”
Goofy's accent hails from?
The Midwest. I grew up in Kansas, so it's not too far. We think Walt probably had an ear for that Missouri kind of thing. It's not Texan.
In the clip below, Farmer performs his genius Goofy vocals:
How has the portrayal of Goofy changed through time?
Goofy has gone through more changes than any Disney character. In the '50s when Pinto left the studio, Goofy didn't talk in cartoons. There was this George Geef period which took him in a new direction. That didn't work out so they came back to the traditional Goofy. During my term, every project is different. The biggest change was in 1995's A Goofy Movie. Disney wanted him to be a caring dad with more layers and emotion than silliness.
Have you gathered with the other foreign actors who voice Goofy?
Yes, once I got a call from the Disney Character Voices department and they asked if I wanted to go to lunch with two of them. So I dined with the Chinese and Norwegian Goofys, which made for a very interesting lunch. [He impersonates both Goofys conversing.]
How is Goofy portrayed on Disney Channel's Mickey Mouse Clubhouse ?
He's the comic relief if something goes wrong. It's much gentler then the older cartoons. He usually counts to five: [as Goofy] “Garsh we need to get some grapes, how many grapes do we need?” Sometimes he even comes out with a smart answer too.
I imagine you're a vital part of the writing process. If someone writes a line/action that's offbeat you can say “Goofy wouldn't order Eggs Benedict.”
Disney Character Voices department ensures the quality of Goofy, that it's true to his personality. In the cases where there's a toy company that writes its own copy for a Goofy doll, instead of me taking time in the studio to explain what Goofy would do and not do, Disney hammers it out beforehand and OKs the scripts. If I come up with a funny line during a recording session, I'll do it.
What has the Disney family shared with you about Walt's vision for Goofy?
Goofy is an eternal optimist. He embodies the can-do spirit even though he can't do. And it doesn't get him down. Goofy picks himself up and keeps going with a smile on his face. Even though the world won't let Goofy achieve, he will still attempt to.