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Features / Animation

Between the buns: an interview with Bob’s Burgers creator Loren Bouchard

Words:

Lucy Bourton

Bob’s Burgers is an animated television series that has viewers chuckling the world over. It stars the Belcher family who run a restaurant consistently on the edge of success and failure, touching upon both family and business relationships, and the ridiculous antics of the Belcher siblings.

The show has always listened to the requests of its cult following and is about to release one of its most exciting side projects, The Bob’s Burgers Music Album. Acclaimed label Sub Pop have signed a record deal with the geniuses behind Bob, Linda, Tina, Gene and Louise, creating an album of 107 songs on a condiment-coloured vinyl boxset with sticker packs, a lyric book, music sheets and much more for Bob’s Burgers fanatics.

To celebrate this release It’s Nice That was lucky enough to ask Loren Bouchard, creator of Bob’s Burgers the questions we’ve always wondered about the show and afterwards we chat to Sub Pop’s creative director Jeff Kleinsmith on how you tackle designing a record for a show you love.

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What were your initial ideas for Bob’s Burgers?

I’ve been thinking about doing a show on a family that works in a restaurant for a long time. I love the fact that you get a family and a workplace all in one. Nobody bats an eyelid because all over the world there are kids that work in their parents’ restaurants. Fox was in the business of doing stories about families, The Simpsons established that very firmly and there’s a lot to be said about doing an animated show about a family, we learnt that early on. There was a brief moment when we thought they would also be cannibals…but we took that out.

Each of the characters in Bob’s Burgers were written with specific actors in mind, how was that decided?

I’ve worked with John Benjamin who plays Bob for over 20 years. I’ve only ever done shows with John in them, I don’t even want to know what it’s like to do a show without him. I knew I wanted him as the dad and we built the family around him. I knew that John Roberts, who plays Linda, could do that voice, and that Kristen Schaal should be Louise. I’ve always wanted to work with her, I knew she would be an incredible little girl. Eugene Murman, the voice of Gene, is an actor who again I’ve been working with for a long time, I knew he would be great. The only person I didn’t know was Dan Mintz. John Benjamin recommended him, saying, “you’ve really got to hear this guys voice, it’s so funny,” and we cast him as Tina. Although originally we cast him as a boy, it was only after the pilot episode and Fox’s feedback that we realised the character wasn’t quite there. So we kept the voice and actor, but changed the gender. He was thrilled!

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There is a large writing team working on the show, how does that work?

This is my first time working with a writing staff so I’m not an expert but, I’m gonna go out on a limb and say I think this the best staff ever assembled in the history of television.

I truly feel like we’ve got this perfect writing staff and we’ve managed to keep our people over all seasons. They’re the reason the show is on the air, the reason it is good along with the cast obviously, and the entire production crew, but the writers are really special. They will come up with the story ideas, we develop them until it either seems like it wants to be an episode or it wants to be killed. They work so hard, sometimes we’ll rewrite an episode four times, right up until the show is about to air, we’re still tinkering with it. That’s what’s great about doing an animated show with Fox in particular, the budget allows us to take our time with an episode, no less than nine months and sometimes a year from start to finish. In the last big push we’ll all get in a room together and put the episode on a screen. You use all the brains in the room as if they’re your brain.

Who is behind the animation and illustrations for the show?

We have a fantastic crew who does all of the design from the production company Bento Box. Originally, the character drawings the show developed from were by Jay Howell and background illustrations by Sirron Norris. They were the two lead off hitters in a long stream of artists who have touched the show. Sirron was a muralist whose work I saw in my neighbourhood, he was drawing the Victorian buildings around San Francisco, giving them this wonderful life. Jay was actually working at the coffee shop downstairs from my apartment. I found out that he was an artist and saw some of his work, it is just so, so funny. Those two sent us off in the right direction straight away. Bento are always putting their fingerprints on the show too though, it’s a big group effort at this point.

Why are they called the Belchers?

Two reasons: Because of belch, the silly stupid joke. So silly and so stupid. Secondly because my name is French-Canadian and we wanted them to have some ethnicity but couldn’t settle on what. So, we picked a French-Canadian sounding name and I loosely decided that Bob has something like my heritage. The first time I wrote it, oh this is really stupid, I wrote Boygas…bad idea.

What’s the real reason behind Louise’s bunny ears?

I won’t answer. I will say this – she doesn’t have horns. Early on there was a lot of chitter chatter about what’s under the hat. My feeling was always there is a head under that hat, it’s just a little girl with a hat on. More recently, people have started asking why and I can answer part of it: I like the fact that she seems like the toughest member of the family, but a kid that wears a hat everyday is using a security blanket. She’s clearly someone who actually has a lot of vulnerability, so I like that she seems tough but the hat tells you that there is something else there. As to why the pink ears and when exactly she started wearing it, I’m not saying anything.

Will Teddy ever fall in love?

Oh that’s nice. There is an episode where he seems to really fall for a woman who is clearly a murderer, that was very intriguing for us. It ended where it could work out between them but… she’s a murderer! It’s interesting because we haven’t been able to write the next part to that episode because we don’t want him to be in love with a murderer and it seems like she is definitely guilty. I guess it’s up to me, but really I don’t know the answer yet.

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What’s going to happen when Tina, Gene and Louise grow up?

Well, they never will. I wanted to do a show that exists in its own little world. Animated, episodic television means the characters don’t have to age. In a way, they just exist in this ever present moment, it’s kind of Groundhog Day, they’re basically living the same year over and over again, with slightly different Christmases each time. It’s funny the things you do when you’re first making a show that you don’t realise you’re going to be stuck with. For example we actually changed Linda’s shirt a little bit, I mean it looked like long underwear when we started. Louise’s neck is also slightly shorter. A lot of character designing happens so early on that you just say “yeah, yeah it looks good”. But later, you’re like, oh wow, ok, so Gene is just wearing shorts? All year round? Isn’t he going to get cold? But overall, I think we stumbled into a perfect chemistry with this family and now they seem like one couldn’t live without the other.

How did a Bob’s Burgers album come about?

I was in touch with Sub Pop about the Bob’s Burgers Sleater Kinney video and I was asking them a lot of questions, fascinated with the idea of putting out a record. The fans had asked for it over and over again so we had to do it. We never expected this to be a way for us to make money, we actually thought we’d lose money – and we might! But we still wanted to do it. We asked Sub Pop if it was something they’d be interested in and it turned out it was. They’re the kind of company who are really doing it because they think it’s cool. They’re not doing it for any other reason than they like the project.

We want people to understand this is being made because fans asked for it. We spent a lot of time working on a box that would feel special, it has taken so long because we wanted to make sure that no one thinks we just crapped it out. It’s a reward for the people who asked for it, this is the best thing we could think of.

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Creative director Jeff Kleinsmith set up Sub Pop’s art department 23 years ago and has since been “responsible for anything visual,” record sleeves, merchandise, and comedy projects such as The Bob’s Burgers Music Album. Below, he tells us the process of the collaboration with creator Loren Bouchard and the Bob’s Burgers team.

What were your initial thoughts on creating an album for Bob’s Burgers?

I am such a big fan of Bob’s Burgers. When I started to hear rumblings that we might be doing something I was a bit starstruck. I don’t really get that way with bands anymore but when we get a special project like this I do. The show is of such a high quality, I couldn’t actually watch it for a while when we were in production. I was stressing out so much and when that music would come on, I’d be like oh my god I can’t watch this until the box is done.

What was the process of creating the box?

It was totally in collaboration with Loren. I brought some ideas to the table in a constant back and forth but he had a lot of ideas. It was more suggestions, “maybe we could do a book?’”And they would be like “we could do a book! Sticker pack? Let’s do a sticker pack!” It was a collaborative process of “well wouldn’t it be cool to do this?” The team were such good people to work with and their ideas were better than mine, I mean look at their whole show!

What are your favourite items in the boxset?

I like it for all different reasons. That’s the cool thing, boxsets can be done in a million different ways and I appreciate lots of them. This one that is just chock full of cool stuff, like if you were a kid you’d be amazed by it, it’s just fun. I wouldn’t say it’s a pristine elegant box of a packaged product. It’s a boxset of really cool stuff taken from the show.

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