In case you missed it, an all-new live-action puppet comedy series called The Barbarian and the Troll premiered last Friday, April 2nd, on Nickelodeon. It features the voice of Spencer Grammer (Rick and Morty) as Brendar, described as "Gothmoria's most feared and revered warrior," as well as Drew Massey (Sid the Science Kid) as Evan, a bridge troll that would honestly rather be a singer. ComicBook.com had the opportunity the day of the premiere to speak with Grammer about everything from voicing a puppet to Rick and Morty to anime.
If you're curious about what the show looks like, you can check out the trailer above, or the poster below:
More specifically, Nickelodeon's The Barbarian and the Troll was co-created and executive produced by Mike Mitchell and Massey. As noted above, it stars Grammer as the voice of Brendar and Massey as Evan the singing bridge troll. Additionally, Massey is joined by fellow puppeteers and voice talent Colleen Smith, Allan Trautman, Sarah Sarang Oh, Nicolette Santino, Peggy Etra, James Murray, and Jeny Cassady. The show also features the voices of comedian Gina Yashere and Phil LaMarr. You can check out all of our previous coverage of Nickelodeon right here. And keep reading to check out the full interview with Grammer!
The following interview has been lightly edited for clarity and length.
ComicBook.com: Tell us about Brendar! I've seen the first two episodes, but obviously, that isn't everything.
Spencer Grammer: Well, you've seen one more episode than I have. I've obviously seen all the episodes, but not fully put together with my voice because I've been working sort of as they're finishing, and it's a very exciting show. I've always loved puppetry and puppet work. I loved the idea of the tangibility of an object, and being able to film it as a live-action series is really, really fun. But it's also voiceover, which I absolutely adore as my profession.
So it's about Brendar the barbarian and her troll friend named Evan that she meets in the pilot episode. Evan doesn't want to be a troll, really. He doesn't want to work on a bridge. So he burns his bridge down and pursues a music career. And Brendar is on this quest to find her brother Kendar who has been taken by the demon Alvin. And on her quest she meets Evan at a tavern and he thinks she's really cool because she kicks some butt, and they become quest friends, and they meet a few more friends along the way. And there's so many fun, silly episodes. And a lot of really funny dad jokes, I like to call them, which are the ones that make me laugh super hard because I'm kind of a dork. I legitimately have had moments where I've been working on this show where I'm laughing so hard. So it's been a pleasure. Honestly.prevnext
On Voicing a Puppet for the First Time
Now you mentioned that you were really excited to be a puppet. You've never voiced a puppet before, is that correct?
I have not. You know, and I don't do the puppetry work myself, they shoot in Vancouver. Which is a whole other way of working because you have to have your arm up the whole time. It's very hard. It's very difficult. But I would love to learn how to do that at some point. But yeah, I've never had to do a puppet voice, which has been a challenge in the way that I have to fit my voice into the puppet's mouth as it's moving. Which you have to get good at timing and also sometimes there's extra mouth flaps. So sometimes we have to add another word in, or change a word. So that's been pretty fun, honestly. It's been very collaborative.
Actually, I just got off the phone with Phil LaMarr, who voices Steve the Knight. And he was saying that it helps that they don't have lips.
They don't, that's true. It does help that they don't have lips, agreed. It's just a moving mouth, so you can kind of fit whatever you want into there.prevnext
One of the things that's interesting about the show is that it is very... musical, let's say, and there is a small bit of you singing at the end of the second episode. Can we expect more of that in the future?
We'll see. I sing a little bit more later, which is about the same as the other one. I sing a little bit again later in the season, but apparently... Well they didn't know if I could sing yet really. I'm not an amazing singer. I can get by, I'm good at karaoke. But they're like, “Maybe there might be songs in the future. We'll let you know." And I was like, "OK." I would love to do more singing, it would be super fun for me.prevnext
On Rick and Morty
At this point, you're best known perhaps for voicing Summer on Rick and Morty. What was it like to shift into this more family-friendly role?
Oh, that's true. It is more family-friendly. I know people ask me, "Is it for mature audiences?" And I was like, "Well, I mean, not particularly." It's actually nice because I love Rick and Morty, I love doing that, but I also would love my... I have very young siblings, and friends who have kids, so it's really fun to know that I'm doing a show that I can tell them to watch with their kids. That will also be funny because there's a lot of very talented actors on the show, and the direction was great and there's just some really good old-school comedy that exists. And that's kind of where I started watching. I was really influenced by I'd say Lucille Ball and obviously, my father does comedy as well.
So I grew up watching those kinds of shows, and he was a big Jack Benny fan, if you know who Jack Benny is. But I've always been trained in that sort of theatrical, vaudevillian, way over the years, because I went to school for theater and I can apply that to this show a lot of the time. And it's nice to be able to share that with the younger audiences. I think it really gives them a great foundation for what they eventually can learn from Rick and Morty when they're old enough. But it wasn't too hard to shift. I have a nine-year-old kid, so my life is pretty PG. Although he's growing up faster than I can keep up with. So he's listening to crazy music and whatnot, and I'm trying to explain to him things I probably shouldn't have to, but it's okay.
It's funny that you bring up that people ask you if Barbarian and the Troll is mature-rated. It is a big couple of months here for you, Barbarian and the Troll today as we're speaking. And then Rick and Morty later this summer.
In June, yeah.
Obviously, you're not going to be recommending Rick and Morty necessarily to The Barbarian and the Troll viewers, but would you recommend Barbarian and the Troll to Rick and Morty viewers?
I would! I like to have variety. I watch a lot of animation and so I like to have a variety of textures. I actually just finished watching Solar Opposites because I hadn't seen that yet. And I really enjoyed it. It's a little bit, very raunchy in certain ways, but also I enjoy that kind of humor as well. But I think if you want to go to an animation that's a little bit different or you want to enjoy something with maybe your younger kids or just some friends, it's good. It's very funny. You can't deny entertainment value, even if it doesn't have sex in it. Do we have to have sex and everything? I don't know. It's around enough, isn't it?prevnext
I have to imagine having a nine-year-old and then being on these shows, just beyond your own space, you have to be watching a lot of animation right now. Is there anything else that you would suggest people check out at the moment that you really enjoy?
I've always loved animation, I grew up on MTV. So I watched Beavis and Butt-head growing up, and Daria, and AEon Flux. And obviously, also I love Scooby-Doo. That was probably another one of my favorite things -- I still watch it now. I don't even know if my son likes watching it as much as I do. We are huge Simpsons fans. We've watched every episode of the Simpsons, probably a few times. I'm trying to think. Solar Opposites is great. I really liked that. I actually think the second season is really strong. And some of the people who've worked on Rick and Morty do some writing on that show, and obviously, producers and Justin Roiland work on that show, and Mike McMann, who are all lovely people that I've known for the last 10 years.
I'm trying to think, what else have I been watching... It's tied between murder shows and cartoons. I'm not really sure what kind of psyche that takes, but apparently, that's how I roll at night. And I'm not alone according to SNL. But yeah, I'm trying to think if there's any other shows that I've been watching, do you have any recommendations?
Are you an anime person?
Yeah, I like anime as well. Yeah.
Well, the new continuation of SSSS.Gridman, SSSS.Dynazenon, started today on Funimation.
I'll go check that out.prevnext
On Voiceover and the Pandemic
How did the pandemic affect your work for the show? Obviously increasingly, voiceover stuff is happening from home and things, but what does that look like for you?
I prefer to be in a studio. I just think I don't want to be acting and worried about my levels when I'm doing my performance. So I've always requested to go into a place and I still do that. We were recording Rick and Morty as well, and there's a lot of protocols in place in New York. And since the virus, this started here pretty big originally last year, we've learned a lot about how to handle the spread. So I go into a studio and record like I normally would have. I'm currently vaccinated and a lot of the people who have to go into a workplace are also. So I know it's even more safe for me to go and work there, but it's just me inside a booth with the doors closed, and a screen and some headphones. And then I'm talking to everybody on Skype anyway.
And I've been doing that for a while now, even while I've been doing Rick and Morty because they record in LA. So when I go to LA I'll record, I'll do a new episode next week, I'm going to Los Angeles next week, but it hasn't really changed my work schedule at all. In fact, I've been doing voiceover now for the last about 10 years. And so I guess I just got the one gig that’s really safe? So it hasn't been totally affected by the virus for me.
Right. Good news! There's a terrible pandemic, and also you have to work all the way through it!
Yeah, no, I was like, "Oh, dang." But I know there's going to be a lot more voiceover work. I know there has been and there will be more shows. Oh you what's another show I loved, I just finally caught up with Disenchantment and I really enjoyed that show. And I think also The Barbarian and the Troll and that show have a lot of similarities. She's got a troll friend as well. So if you liked that show, I think you'll also really enjoy our show as well.
It's funny we were talking about this. It has that long story form as opposed to an encapsulated episode, the way that The Simpsons does. There's sort of standalone moments, but it's all about this entire journey. Which at some point might change moving forward, depending on how the show goes and how that's received. But that to me is really fun. I enjoy when I'm on a journey with a TV show. I think also it lends itself to binge-watching anyway. Just having one super long movie. So if you want to get in on it and watch it all you can. Which I really like about that kind of form of storytelling.prevnext
On How She Got Involved With the Show
How did you first get involved with Barbarian and the Troll? Did they come to you? Did you just get a casting audition from an agent? How does that work?
They actually came to me, and when I saw it, I was like, "Oh, this is rad." I was like, "I'm totally into doing this." And I was just really excited to be a part of the show. Honestly, they came to me, they were a big fan of my voice. I think Mike Mitchell is a big fan of my work and I have a very interesting, odd way of speaking I guess. The Summer voice is very valley girlish and has increasingly become more like that, while keeping sort of my quick-witted sarcastic humor. Which I have in general. I don't know I was married to an Irish guy for a long time. So you have to be pretty on your feet. But yeah, I think that if you've been working in a certain industry for a long time, you learn there's a lot of tricks and things and ways to do well on the work that you've done.
So they were really excited to have me and I was really excited to be a part of it truly. It has always been a dream of mine to voice a puppet. I grew up with The NeverEnding Story, and all those kinds of movies that were really tangible. I always loved Fraggle Rock and had Angelica's... Remember that Angelica's Treehouse?
Eureeka's Castle. Was that what it is?
Is that the one where the bat would fly into the roof of the castle?
Maybe it was Eureeka's Castle. And then there was another one that was... There was this tree, and then I also grew up with the Winnie the Pooh puppet one too. Those were the shows that I watched as a kid. And I think it's just nice we have so much animation at the moment with anime and everything, that to have something that is an actual object on a screen, and you can feel the people voicing these puppets, it's great. I love the little faces they can make, with their chins, when they pull down because they have a little sock situation. It's really funny. There's all these cute things that Evan does where his ears can perk up.
And those were all created by puppet makers, I guess. I don't know, they must have an official name. And apparently, Mike would just draw on a little napkin, what he thought it would be. And then he would send it out to them and then they'd create this thing and send it. And sometimes they'd get really jazzy outfits and stuff that. So I think it's just been an extremely creative process for everyone involved, and a welcome change from just doing animation in terms of the storyboards and when it's drawn and whatnot. And it just takes a really long time, even computer-generated animation. And so this is almost like shooting a TV show. And it went a little bit faster. I mean, hard, hard work and everything. But I think just really fun.
They gave me so many great stories because I would be like, "Oh, it's a really great location, where'd you get this?" Or there's a part where there's a puppet show within the puppet show. And apparently, they'd run out of money. So they went and worked on the weekend and made this whole other thing. And it actually enhances the storytelling so much more, which are the tricks of, I think... I'm in graduate school right now, but they always say, "The less you have, the more creative you have to get." And that really helps the story.
I mean, Marvel's got their thing going and that's great, but when you only have so much, then you have to work harder to make it more believable. I'd say the Blumhouse movies kind of take that on board a lot of the time. And I think it's a really great model to make filmmakers be more efficient and make the stories that much better.prevnext
On Voicing a Puppet at All
So you talked a little bit about the mechanical aspect of voicing a puppet and that being pretty different, but as far as a voice, as a voiceover actor, do you approach voicing a puppet any different than your other roles?0comments
Well, for Brendar, I didn't want her to... I obviously get some of my valley girl in there, but I wanted it to be sort of a lower register for her character. More like the more aggressive parts of Summer that I have. And more close to my voice in general. It's just a totally different way of doing it than voicing Summer because I already had a visual for what I was doing. Whereas when I go in to voice Summer, I come in and I make it up. And then they animate it to me. So that was a challenge, but welcomed, very fun to... It's not much different. You have to jump up and down, it's a lot of work. I love it. Eventually when the shows air, I record myself doing the crazy things that I have to do. Like I have to scream a lot, make all these fighting sounds, which are awesome. And you don't get to do that in real life. You don't go to dinner with somebody, and you're taking your fork and you're like, "Yeah, forks out! Put it in my mouth."
You're not like, "Ooh." And then sawing and making noises which really is one of my favorite things. And you don't get the opportunity to do that in actual real life. So I'd say I don't think there's much of a difference between either of those recordings, but I do get more opportunity to make lots of fighting sounds in The Barbarian and the Troll.prev