Becoming Batman: Talking to Diedrich Bader

Diedrich Bader - Newest Voice of Batman

Yes, you probably know Diedrich Bader as Oswald Lee Harvey for his run on The Drew Carey Show. What many don’t know is that it wasn't his first regular gig.

Bader actually voiced the title character in the animated series Project Zeta four years before he hit it big in Cleveland. Since then he’s picked up a lot of steady animation gigs including Hoss Delgado on Billy & Mandy, Captain Slash in The Batman, and Fiskerton on The Secret Saturdays, just to name a few.

Still, his biggest starring role starts this Friday at 8:00 p.m. on Cartoon Network. That’s when he dons the cape and cowl and voices the title role of Batman: The Brave & the Bold . Not bad for a guy who had to sneak off to summer camp to read The X-Men.

Here’s what Bader had to say:

Newsarama: When people think of Batman, they usually think of Michel Keaton through Christian Bale. You’re now part of another interesting chain of performers that includes Kevin Conroy, Rino Romano and, in New Frontier, Jeremy Sisto. How do you feel about that?

Diedrich Bader: I knew there were big shoes to fill. There is kind of a type of voice people expect. To do something completely different, well it wouldn’t be Batman. So the perimeters are sort of set. Essentially, what I bring is a bit of lightness and sense of humor that others either shied away from or weren’t allowed to pursue.

NRAMA: Hadn’t you worked on some of the past animated series?

Brave and the Bold Animated Panel
Brave and the Bold Animated Panel
Batman, Green Arrow and Blue Beetle

DB: I did. I worked on a number of them. One thing I found when I watched them was little kids couldn’t really watch them, particularly the violence. They were great shows but my son is five year old, and they didn’t appeal to his demographic. He’s actually the primary reason I did the show. I wanted to be on a show where Batman, who I think is an icon who can appeal to anyone and thus is a great character to play.

NRAMA: This Batman is lighter in tone. So how did you switch things up yourself?

DB: He’s still the Dark Knight. What we do is have Batman’s sense of humor come from the narrative, when he talks about the guest stars. He has a different guest superhero every week. Sometimes two. That is a lot of people. We really reached deep into the lexicon of DC and brought them out. I think many of them have been virtually forgotten. We also imbue many of them with a sense of humor. Still, it’s Batman’s sense of humor and his sensibility, which is one of irony. He’s a witness to the craziness these guys bring. I think that’s what makes the show interesting.

NRAMA: Would you say your work in improv and with Drew Carey helped?

DB: Definitely. Working on a sitcom and improv improves your comedic chops. If you do it long enough, the one thing you learn to do is listen to the other characters. It helps move the story along. In improv, it’s called ‘yes, and…’ It’s agreeing to what the other person brings. It’s something I’m able to do with Batman that I think is productive.

NRAMA: So did you do the voice work in isolation or radio style?

DB: We do it radio style, at Andrea Romano’s insistence. First though, we rehearse. Which in TV is extremely rare. Then we record all together. It’s really difficult to do the show without reading the whole thing. If you just read the script cold, you really don’t get it. Also, it’s really fun to create it all together.

NRAMA: So how about if Michael Jelenic or James Tucker comes down and hands you a script. You read it and come up with something you think is better. Do they give you the freedom to try it out?

DB: Yeah. They’re open to that. What’s interesting is that’s one of the best things about being on a series. They really start listening to your voice, especially for what works and what doesn’t work. I would say in the beginning I pitched a lot more than they took. Then they kind of got to understand what I bring to Batman.

Then again, writers do that. They pay a lot of attention and listen to what is happening. That’s how it evolves. For instance, in the first year of the Drew Carey Show, Oswald was really smart. After a while, he got dumber and dumber. In the end I couldn’t figure out how he qualified for a driver’s license. With this Batman, the sense of humor has also changed. It took 26 episodes but I think we’ve found his voice.

NRAMA: So the pilot episode, “Rise of the Blue Beetle,” was that an early episode?

DB: That was an early session.

NRAMA: So how does your Batman differ 26 episodes in?

DB: I think he’s actually a bit less light. Frankly, when I saw the final episode I thought Batman kind of skips along. Now he has a little more gravitas, and that actually helps the humor. It’s made the humor a little more ironic, a little less joker-y.

NRAMA: I loved what Dee Bradley Baker did with the aliens…

DB: Isn’t he fantastic?

NRAMA: I especially liked how they constantly referred to Batman as Blue Beetle’s sidekick.

DB: Exactly. Isn’t that hilarious? What you’ll notice is he plays along with being the sidekick. That’s part of the humor. The one thing that’s constant is Batman has his ego in check.

NRAMA: That’s something you don’t expect from the Dark Knight.

DB: Definitely. I think that’s a good view of the overall arc of the show. By the end of each episode, the two characters have helped each other through something. Things one is deficient in, the other compensates. They make up for each other. That is one of the points of the show. It’s a really nice element.

NRAMA: Has there been any particular person you really enjoyed working with?

DB: Dee Bradley Baker comes on a lot. Otherwise, you’ll have to check it out because we have different guests every episode. I don’t want to spoil anything. I will say it has a cast that anyone who watches cartoons will be excited about. There are also a lot of people coming in to do the show that you never would have thought of doing animation.

NRAMA: When I started, people making a career out of animation voice work was very rare. Yes, you had Mel Blanc, June Foray, and the immortals. These days, it seems a lot more common. You seem to be doing it.

DB: That’s true. I love it. For me, it’s like playing. You get to do all these different characters and you don’t even have to dress up for them. One of the defining things about my career on camera is I like to play different characters. That gets difficult to do. People don’t trust you to do something different.

In animation, it’s all about trust and how far can you go away from yourself. It’s a really marvelous environment that’s extremely creative. As you said, it’s a little larger than it used to be but it’s still pretty small. So you see the same people all the time, and they are really pleasant. In fact, no matter how talented they are, they have to be pleasant. They kind of get drummed out if they aren’t.

That said, I also don’t like to work that much. So I try to focus on what I really like to do. My children are really thrilled that I’m doing this. That’s one of the reasons I’m focusing on animation. My son is so excited about it he’s fair-to-bursting.

NRAMA: His daddy is Batman…

DB: I mean c’mon! Yeah. Very few five year olds can say that.

NRAMA: What do you think of the visual style James and crew came up with?

DB: I really love it. I genuinely do. The first glimpse I got of it was when I was at Comic-Con. It was just overwhelming. I love the over-saturated colors and the fluidity of the animation. It’s really cool. The music is really good too. I hope animation fans will really like it. It harkens back to the traditional stuff we used to love, not that CG stuff.

NRAMA: Did you read comics when you were young?

DB: Only when I was in camp. I wasn’t allowed to read them when I was home. I used to love the X-Men.

NRAMA: Haven’t you worked on any of the X-Men series?

DB: No. I wish. Then I got Batman so I’m really happy.

NRAMA: Now you are also a cat in Bolt. Which one?

DB: My part is smaller than Mittens. It’s basically two scenes. You’ll figure them out. They’re both pretty funny. It’s been so long since I did the session I don’t remember the cat’s name. I really don’t have much memory of it.

QUICK NOTE: The debut of Batman: The Brave & the Bold has been moved from Friday, November 14 @ 7:30 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.


Review: The Brave and the Bold Debut Episode

Ben Jones - Directing The Brave and the Bold

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