Philly's Jeff Bergman on finding voice(s) of Trump in 'Our Cartoon President': 'I don't judge'

Ellen Gray, Television Critic

Updated: Friday, February 9, 2018, 6:53 AM

Animated cast of Showtime’s “Our Cartoon President,” which will premier Feb. 11. CBS “Late Show” host Stephen Colbert is an executive producer.

Philadelphia’s Jeff Bergman does a few voices in Showtime’s new animated comedy, Our Cartoon President, but they all belong to President Trump.

“He has a lot of different levels. There’s rally Donald Trump, there’s prompter Donald Trump, and then there’s colloquial Donald Trump, off the cuff,” the veteran voice actor said in a phone interview. The show, whose producers include CBS Late Show host Stephen Colbert, had an online and On Demand preview tied to last week’s State of the Union address. It makes its TV premiere Sunday with two back-to-back episodes, the first of which has already had more than one million views on YouTube.

Bergman, a Lower Moreland High School and University of Pittsburgh graduate who grew up in Northeast Philadelphia, and Bucks and Montgomery Counties, is known for, among other things, being the first actor to replace the late Mel Blanc as the voice of Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, and other Looney Tunes characters.

So who’s more fun: Daffy Duck or Donald Trump?

“Nothing has ever been more fun than doing the Looney Tunes for me. Because anything is possible. That’s a universe that is completely different from anything. But I would have to say,” Bergman said, laughing, “this either ties it or might even beat it. … It’s maybe the most fun job I’ve ever had.”

Speaking with reporters at the Television Critics Association meetings last month, Colbert said Bergman was “great,” while noting that he and showrunner R.J. Fried initially ” had a little bit of a disagreement at first about what this voice should be like.”

“We needed a voice that you could live with long term, so we looked at hundreds of different Trump impressions, and there’s some really wonderful ones out there, many of them who are already on the air, but we felt like his was the most real and had the most humanity within it,” Fried said of Bergman.

“The realness actually plays so nicely against what is, in reality, cartoonish behavior by our actual president. So the realer you get to him, the more highlighted the inappropriateness of his behavior,” Colbert said.

Bergman’s secret may be that he tries to approach the president the way he would any role. “I don’t judge the character,” he said.

He did study him, however.

“When I approach a character that’s an impersonation, whether it be President Trump or Ronald Reagan, or you know, Robert DeNiro, or any personality, you kind of look at like what are the distinguishing features of their personality?” he said, but Trump “was already kind of a caricature of himself, which I don’t think he was [earlier], looking at footage of him on The Apprentice, or back in the 1980s. … He was just more understated in the ’80s and ’90s.”

As for Trump’s distinguishing features, “There’s a bravado, a positivity that he has — he’s a salesman. But he does it in like a subtle way. There’s an interview type of Trump, and I’ll give you an example [he moves seamlessly between his own Philadelphia-accented voice and Trump-like tones], ‘Look, I’m very, very proud of myself. … I mean, we’ve done tremendous things with our company, and I’ve made a lot of fantastic deals with China, and Mexico, and Japan, and look, I mean we’re doing so many incredible things.’ And look, he’s a non sequitur kind of person, and so within the non sequiturs, he changes his pitch a little bit and kind of buries his excitement. But he jumps around from one thing to another.

“But there is like an interview-intimate kind of Trump that I like to get. That was the first one that I kind of locked into. And then there became [his voice changes again] rally Trump – ‘How ’bout those tax cuts, eh? The tax cut’s incredible, right? Do we love that? Tremendous. Unbelievable.’ And then there’s the 14 words that he knows [including] tremendous, amazing, fantastic, incredible, believe me, a lot, China,” Bergman said, laughing.

Maybe it was because I knew Bergman had done Fred Flintstone and Homer Simpson voices on Fox’s Family Guy, but I thought I detected a touch of traditional cartoon dad in his Trump, too.

“As we do the show, you kind of find these little gems, and that’s where I’m having fun as an actor, where we can tend to maybe push it a little bit, for comedic purposes. So, yes, I would kind of think there is an animated [sensibility] to some of the line reading. We kind of get a little goofy with it,” Bergman said. “People really don’t want to hear any one thing too much, so we try to layer it. … We give you a lot of different Trumps, I think.”

Though he’s been based on the West Coast since 2008 — he records his part of the show in a studio there, while the show’s writers listen in from New York — Bergman was still on a high Wednesday over the Eagles’ Super Bowl win.

Bergman and his now Boston-based brother, Lawrence (known here as Huggy from the old WYSP Matt & Huggy Show) “were texting during the game,” he said, and both wishing they were in Philadelphia.

“This is such a proud time,” he said.

Our Cartoon President. 8 p.m. Sunday, Showtime.

Ellen Gray, Television Critic

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