What’s Up, Doc?: Q&A with voice actor and Pitt alum Jeff Bergman


Image courtesy of Lesley Bohm and John Rivoli

Jeff Bergman has voiced many characters throughout his career, such as Fred Flintstone, Yogi Bear, and more recently, Bugs Bunny.

By Jessica McKenzie, Staff Writer

Jeff Bergman has voiced countless Looney Tunes characters since Mel Blanc’s death in 1989. Throughout his career, he has voiced many childhood favorite cartoons such as Fred Flintstone and Yogi Bear. Most recently, he voiced Bugs Bunny in “Space Jam: A New Legacy,” which came out this summer.

Bergman talked with The Pitt News about how he went from impersonating characters on a student-run radio station at Pitt to voicing classic cartoon characters on the big screen. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

The Pitt News: How did you discover your talent with impressions?

Jeff Bergman: When I was growing up, there were certain impersonators that were on the Johnny Carson Show and The Ed Sullivan Show — Frank Gorshin, Rich Little, George Kirby — these were the impersonators of the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. I thought they were magicians. When they would change their voice, I thought it was like pulling a rabbit out of a hat. I’d never seen or heard anything like that. I thought, “Wow, I’d love to be able to do that.” I was only seven or eight, and when you’re that age, your voice hasn’t matured yet. It really wasn’t until high school that my voice started to lower and I was able to start to sound like some of the people that I wanted to sound like.

Back then, I did a little bit of local stand up and parties here and there. I was trying my hand at seeing if this was really going to work and you know, I kind of had some moderate success with it. But it didn’t necessarily feel like stand up was going to be the total fit for me, but stand-up is how I started to do [impressions].

TPN: Did you ever expect to make a career out of voice acting?

JB: No, I never even knew what those words in that sequence meant. I didn’t even think that there was anything like that. But in college, I joined Pitt’s radio station. Really the only people that were hearing our broadcast were the people in the Towers, but we thought we were the “it” guys. We gave it everything we had. Soon after, I started to do commercials for the Pitt station by impersonating different characters.

At Pitt, there was something really cool that happened — they had internships that you would be able to have accredited towards your degree. They were offering a six credit internship at KQV, old news radio, and WDVE rock station. At the time, the stations were linked together, and they were on the same floor in the same building, so I ended up doing an internship with them. Once the account executives found out that I could do all these different voices, they asked me to write commercials and voice them. When I started to do that, they ended up getting more clients for the radio station. And that was the beginning of my professional career in my early 20s.

TPN: How did you land your first Hollywood gig?

JB: I was still taking my finals at Pitt, but I decided to take a trip to New York. I took a tape, it was a segment of Evening Magazine, which was a show that aired in Pittsburgh and went national. The tape was a story that they did on me while I was getting my degree — the producer followed me around and I did different voices of the day — E.T., and Tootsie. They put together this really cool video of me in the studio recording in different voices. And with this video, I ended up getting an agent at the William Morris Agency. 

But it wasn’t until 1989 that Steven Spielberg’s “Tiny Toon Adventures” was holding auditions for the voice of Bugs Bunny and all the Looney Tunes characters. Mel Blanc had just passed away, and they were in trouble. They had to try to find different actors that could fill those roles for this new series that they were doing. And in those days, we had to make a tape with cassettes and send them to the agent. So I did. I auditioned for Bugs Bunny, got a call back and went out to Los Angeles in late July 1989. And then I got booked. It was really sort of stunning. I auditioned for Daffy Duck, Sylvester, Tweety, Foghorn and Yosemite Sam, and I took those voices as well. And it was pretty competitive. I had just turned 29. So it seemed like it happened fast, but yet it didn’t.

TPN: How do you organize all those character voices in your brain? They’re so different. 

JB: It’s kind of like if you haven’t been on your bike for a while. You start to pedal, and it’s a little wobbly for a second, and then boom, you’re doing it. It’s like that with the voices, because I grew up with them. I was 6 or 7 years old watching the Flintstones and Bugs Bunny and Yogi Bear. So it was something that formed my childhood.

TPN: Are there any voice actors who you admire but have never met or worked with?

JB: I would say Paul Frees. Paul Frees is not necessarily a name that people would know, but he was the voice of the Pillsbury Doughboy and Toucan Sam. He’s also the voice in the Haunted Mansion in Disneyland. He is so many voices, it’s unbelievable.

TPN: If you could tell your 20-year-old self one thing what would it be?

JB: So many things. But I guess the first thing that will come to my mind is just relax. Stay calm. Enjoy the ride. Have fun, and just keep doing it, keep loving it. I remember when Mel Blanc came to Pitt, he was giving a lecture performance at David Lawrence Hall. It’s just by chance I showed up, and it changed my entire life. And I got to meet him that night. So I’m very glad I took that opportunity the University gave me.

TPN: Did you maintain a relationship with Mel Blanc after you met him?

JB: I wish I had, but unfortunately, we spent about 45 minutes together and he passed away eight years later, oddly enough on my birthday. And a few weeks later, they were auditioning for roles for Steven Spielberg’s “Tiny Toon Adventures.”

Oddly enough, though, at the audition, I met his son, Noel Blanc. And he, in the nicest way, gave me an endorsement by saying, “You’re really good. If you ever need any representation or anything, let me know. Give me a call,” and he handed me his business card. So that was really kind of cool. You know, a lot of people don’t believe in fate, some people do, but I think that’s a little too coincidental.