Towleroad Interview: ‘Bob’s Burgers’ Star and YouTube Sensation John Roberts

TR: What were your earliest performance experiences like?

JR: My very first play was Anything Goes, and my mom was in it, because they did it at this hospital she worked in. It was like in the '70s, so there were all these women in snap-crotch leotards. I remember pissing my pants in the rehearsal, and my mom told everyone it was hot coffee and sent me home to change. My real first play was junior high, and then in high school I got more into community theater. I met the sweetest gay teacher in Cranford, New Jersey — this guy David Christopher — he still teaches. He took me under his wing and put me in all these really cool adult shows, like Brighton Beach Memoirs, The 1940’s Radio Hour. I was like 16, and it just meant the world to me, because my high school theater teacher was giving me like two lines.

TR: Your video 'My Son Is Gay' speaks about the coming out process, what was that process like for you?

JR: I wrote my mother a letter that she still has. She loves it now, but when she got the letter she was in New Jersey and I was going to Long Island to rehearse with this band. She was a little upset, and it kind of took me aback because the letter was good, and I knew she had gay friends and all that. … ‘My Son Is Gay' is from that letter and all that journey. By the time I shot that video, I was in her bed, in her clothes and she was in the bathroom laughing her ass off. So it all came full circle and was very sweet. She's super supportive. She was just more, you know, the typical mother reacton of thinking it's going to be a rough life. It's a rough life for all us, so everything worked out.

TR: Personally, my mother is from Staten Island, and I definitely see a lot of her in your character of your mother. However, I've also noticed when my mom's in front of other people, she tones it down a lot. I've seen interviews with you and your mom, and she comes off a lot less brassy than your portrayal. So spill a little here, what parts would people be surprised to learn are exaggerations and which ones aren't?

JR: First of all, you just missed her in Vegas this last weekend. She was on fire. She just turned 70, and basically she's on like three hours of sleep and still going. She's a very Type-A personality. She's a very hard worker and can be very serious, but also has a great balance of having fun. She loves Christmastime and the tree and she's just so enthusiastic about it. It just brings her such joy, that's really what it's more about. She is from Brooklyn. I have tons of relative from Staten Island and Long Island and Brooklyn, amd it's also just about that humor, that voice and the accent talking about the tree. It's all very real, it is her. But it's me in a wig, I'm still a guy. It becomes this other thing. It's not her, but it's her essence.

TR: There are some parallels between Linda and the character you're doing of your mother. How are they similar and how are they different?

JR: Linda is married to Bobby. We didn't really have a Bobby. I had a stepdad growing up, who is his own character. Linda is more this married mom, and Bobby is definitely a big part of her equation. The similarity I think is that she loves and accepts and nurtures her kids for who they are. She just kind of guides them along the way and accepts all their freakish little quirks and encourages them, which my mother always did. And that’s why I'm wearing wigs and her clothing.

TR: You're not the only female character being played by a male voice. Dan Mintz is doing Tina, David Wain has done a female character before. What does that kind of gender-swap bring to the show?

JR: It just brings fun. Bart Simpson is played by a woman, and it’s been done in animation for years. But me and Jon Benjamin, our chemistry together just as friends is kind of hysterical, too. The thought of us married is even funnier. Somehow there's that underlying thing that happens when we're recording. In real life, I'll take Jon out to The Monster in New York, and we'll sing in a piano bar. He's totally straight, but I think if it were a woman, it might be a little different.


 

TR: In addition to the gender swapping, the show's got a lot of musical numbers, Gene lets out more than an occasional "you go, girl, " and then there's Marshmallow. There's definitely a queer edge to Bob’s Burgers. Where does that come from?

JR: Definitely I've been influencing everyone on the show [laughs]. I'll bring in little rainbow flags or some Cher CDs. There just isn't this macho vibe. I don't know what other writer rooms are like on other shows. I mean, everyone goes to the Dodgers games and drinks beer and stuff, but they're just such cool, open-minded people. It's a lot of young writers too, and I think it just shows that times are changing a little bit. Everyone is kind of a little gay now. Or the cool people are, at least.

TR: What else are you working on outside of Bob’s Burgers?

JR: I have a thing with Comedy Central, I'm working on a presentation for them. I have some things I'm pitching. I did this pilot for FOX called Short-Coms, with Craig Robinson, Shannen Doherty is in it, Kevin Smith. … We shot it on the Carol Burnett stage. I brought all my wigs and was standing right where Carol Burnett stood. … I want to do a new mom video. I've been talking to Debbie Harry, who's in my videos a lot. We're going to get together and do a new one.

TR: How did that relationship form?

 JR: My friend introduced us when my band was playing shows like 10 years ago, and she liked our music. We got to open for Blondie for a bunch of dates. We just became friendly, and I did a remix on a song for her. She's so sweet and such a supportive person. She's very grounded and down to earth. She's just always been very sweet to me. Obviously she’s very funny and fun to play with. When she comes over, my mom's like, “Debbie, do you want some water?” She calls her on a first-name basis. Or she’ll be like "Debbie, you want something to drink?" and Debbie will be like, "It's 10 in the morning, what are you talking about?" She's just super cool, and gorgeous.

My mother just went to Blondie in Atlantic City and went backstage. It was like a big thrill, obviously, and Debbie was very sweet. My mom was so impressed. My mom is like the ultimate starfucker. She's like, "I want to meet famous people!" Now that she knows I'm friends with Amy Poehler, she's like, "I wanna meet Amy Poehler! Amber Tamblyn!" Anyone on my Facebook or Instagram, she's stalking them. The biggest moment, she met Tom Selleck. We went to the set of Blue Bloods, because my friend Amy Carlson is on there. She took “the best picture of her life,” she said. It's just her and Tom Selleck, it's incredible. She actually did that line from Bob's Burgers, before Bob's Burgers started, she said when she dies, “I want you to throw my ashes in Tom Selleck's face.”


 

Comments

  1. KevinSF says

    Why oh why isn’t this John Roberts MORE famous than the dull one of the Supremes? His Youtube videos of “Christmas Tree” and “My Son is Gay” are classics. John’s Linda Belcher is one of the greatest TV moms, Kristen Schaal as Louise is a hoot also. I hope JR gets a lot more exposure, he is genuinely funny and twisted.

  2. CMLion says

    I love Bob’s Burgers. All the characters are great. The first time Linda opened her mouth I thought, “That’s the dude from those YouTube videos!” (I’m very concise when I think about… stuff.)

    John Roberts really should be a bigger star. Here’s hoping he will be… and soon!

  3. finkles2000 says

    If you’re not real, then how come I feel this way, li’l babies . . .

    A.) Bob’s Burgers is the best animated show – nay, best show period! – on TV right now (I’m sorry, Parks & Rec, but you’re a very close 2nd). Anyone who isn’t watching needs to immediately stop what they’re doing and watch it right now.

    B.) John Roberts is so adorable and talented and non-pretentious. SNL’s loss is Bob’s Burger’s (and our) gain. I’m sad that John Roberts isn’t my boyfriend.

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