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Cartoon Spy Spoof Takes Center Stage

January 9, 2013 By:
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H. Jon Benjamin Photo by M. Sharkey

For those who feel that real life needs to be more animated, ­H. Jon Benjamin and his fellow cast members from the FX Network’s cartoon spy spoof, Archer — think a genetic splicing of James Bond, Inspector Clouseau and Austin Powers — will provide a glimpse of worlds colliding on Jan. 11, when they bring “Archer Live” to the Theatre of the Living Arts.

The show, which will combine oral history, Q&A, fan participation and behind-the-scenes information about the show’s upcoming fourth season, will be many people’s first opportunity to put Benjamin’s face together with his voice. That voice has made him one of the most popular voice artists working today — his delivery is well-known to almost every demographic, from kids (he voices characters on the PBS series, Wordgirl) to old-line squigglevision fans (he provided the voice of Ben Katz, the laconically wisecracking son of the titular character on the 1990s Comedy Central series, Dr. Katz) and everyone in between, thanks to his work on two prime-time shows: as Bob on Fox’s Bob’s Burgers and as Sterling Archer (for which he received an Emmy nomination in 2010).

There are few opportunities for Benjamin to inject his self-deprecating Jewish humor into Archer — although his interactions with his mother, Malory, who also happens to be his boss at the ISIS spy agency (and who is voiced by Jessica Walter), will sound familiar to any adult Jewish son dealing with a strong-willed mother. But he does have other outlets.

In addition to using his Twitter account to drop 140 characters’ worth of deadpan humor (“I have the feeling that today is going to be one of those Shabbats”), his 2011 live-action series on Comedy Central, Jon Benjamin Has a Van, featured sequences like “The Were-Jew,” where, after being bitten by a Chasid, he turns into an Orthodox Jew every Shabbat; and “Jew Them Up,” where he and fellow comedian David Cross go into retail establishments dres­sed as Orthodox Jews and proceed to turn one of the most pervasive stereotypes on its head.

Benjamin, who reportedly focused on Holocaust studies in college, isn’t shy about working his Judaism into the real world, either. Most interviews will have at least one quip like this one, from a 2011 conversation with Spinoff Online, where he talks about his childhood influences: “I was into the Torah mostly and into the movie Tora! Tora! Tora! because it fooled me. I thought it was about being Jewish and it was actually a movie about Kami­kazes. As a kid, I was strictly all about Judaism — I didn’t have time for spy stuff.” That has definitely changed.

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