With every episode of Klasky Csupo’s 1994 series AAAHH! Real Monsters now released on one DVD set, it’s likely to attract new fans who enjoyed the "monsters at scare school" premise that worked so well in Disney/Pixar’s Monsters University - but of course with two completely different approaches, styles and characters.
One of the most popular and memorable characters on the Nickelodeon series was The Gromble, a bombastic headmaster who was just as nutty as students Ickis (Charlie Adler), Oblina (Christine Cavanaugh) and Krumm (David Eccles), To get into the head of The Gromble, we spoke with the versatile voice virtuoso, Gregg Berger.
GREG EHRBAR: First of all, modern audiences are going to be attracted to AAAHH! Real Monsters in a way that past viewers could not have imagined: they've seen Monsters University, which is almost an extension of the premise, right?
GREGG BERGER: Well, they certainly share the premise of successful SCARES as a course of study (ha-ha-ha). Our audience seemed to have an instant loyalty to the characters in the show, monsters who just couldn't get their 'scares' quite right because of their inherent niceness, under the tutelage of a bombastic headmaster (ME!) with a very thinly veiled anger management problem and a looming and booming insecurity over things like "do these red pumps make me look fat?!?"
It was so much fun to play and so much fun to watch! Then, now and always. The scripts were smart, funny, clever and not at all tied to any particular time period... so modern audiences embrace it, and additionally embrace it because it's art is so appealingly weird and eternally cutting edge. Kind of an Eastern European Folk Art feel, I always thought, just another part of what made it so distinctive and unique.
GREG E: How much can you share about the concept of AAAHH! Real Monsters? When were you brought in to read for it? How did the producers convey the vision of the show?
GREGG B: Voice Actors are usually the last in and the first out, and yet get a huge percentage of the adulation when a show is successful. Not to understate my/our contribution, but the writers and artists had been at it for months when we were first brought in. We were shown still images and writer’s breakdowns, very much like live action character breakdowns. Lots of clues but all in two dimensions. It then falls to the voice actor to take it all in, gather all the clues, stir it all around and take our best shot at giving it all a voice.
Klasky Csupo, in those days, was set up so that the collaboration was inescapable and the only way to get to the voice recording booth was to weave in and out of the artists and writers cubicles. The result, whether intentional or not, was that we all became one big happy family. Concept was shared as pages of a storyboard that were flipped so we could see images and have scenarios described and comedic situations explained... but it was an extremely creative environment, where we were not only allowed, but also encouraged to play in the booth and "see what happened." The result, happily, was contagious fun and silliness and shows that stand the test of time and still ring weirdly true and often scarily fun.
GREG E: As the series progressed over four seasons, surely the characters became richer and the writers and actors developed a rhythm. How do you think "The Gromble" evolved?
GREGG B: Oh, I think there were many moments where that mean old Gromble showed his softer side and ultimately wanted the best for his students.
GREG E: We’ve got to ask about Tim Curry (voice of Zimbo). Please share some stories.
GREGG B: I'm afraid most of his scenes were done separately due to scheduling problems. When we did work together on Duckman or Ahhh!!! Real Monsters!, all I can tell you is that he is a consummate professional. But you already know that. No gossip. No pranks. Just the brilliant work you would expect. And a smart, fun, funny and nice guy.
GREG E: Sure, sure, Helen Mirren is an Oscar winner and all, but hey, you've been nominated for an Annie Award -- and Cary Grant never won an Oscar and neither did Leo DiCaprio. How likely is it that Dame Helen sat on her couch with a bowl of Cheerios and watched episode after episode of AAAHH! Real Monsters to capture your Gromble nuances?
GREGG B: Well, that would certainly be nice to imagine... but Dean Hardscrabble is pure Helen Mirren and is quite her own wondrous thing. Don't get me wrong... The Gromble remains a great source of pride for me (and apparently for throngs of FANS whom I meet a Conventions around the world at which I am an invited guest!). And thanks for mentioning the Annie nomination. That was for my role as Cornfed in Duckman with Jason Alexander. Come to think of it... it's probably ME on the couch with a bowl of Cheerios watching episode after episode of AAAHH!!! Real Monsters!
GREG E: With all due respect to Ickis and Oblina and their respective voice artists, did it become apparent that Krumm was the most lovable of the three -- or was Gromble the really adorable one, perhaps in his own mind?
GREGG B: I believe The Gromble would feel compelled to instruct that although it is appropriate for each of us to think ourselves to be the center of our own adorable universes... The Gromble should be the center of EVERYONE's universe!!! (Krumm !?! KRUMM !!??!!)
GREG E: It's easy to pick up on the chemistry of all of you as a comedy troupe. You recorded together, right? If not, it sure seems that way.
GREGG B: Whenever possible - and it was nearly always possible. We became GREAT admirers of each other’s talent, timing and skill. It was like getting paid to play. It wouldn't have been the same if we hadn't been allowed to record scenes together. Often, we also recorded sections in "splits" or individually... but actors are happiest and at their best when they allowed to "play" together. All FOUR of us... Ickis, Krumm, Oblina... and The Gromble!
GREG E: What's next on the horizon for the many Berger voices?
GREGG B: I appear in episodes of The Garfield Show as Odie, Squeak the Mouse, Harry the AlleyCat, and Herman the Mailman; in Transformers: Fall of Cybertron as GRIMLOCK; in Guild Wars 2 as Conrad and Duggadoo; in Dishonored as Street Speaker; in Resident Evil: Raccoon City as Harley; and my voice is still featured in commercials and narrations. In other words... the horizon is noisy!
GREG E: If you could do the voice a tree, what kind of tree would it be?
GREGG B: I'll go out on a limb and say... wait for it... The Tree Musketeers! If pressed I will amend my answer to... The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein!