Dan Mintz of Bob's Burgers on Voicing Tina Belcher and Her Trademark Moan
Geeky standup Dan Mintz is awkward as all get out, and that's not a detriment in the slightest. In fact, the comedian and humorist's ill-at-ease stage presence, deer-in-the-headlights gaze, and ultra-deadpan delivery while performing are all part of his bizarre charm. It also makes the often-surreal non-sequiturs -- including many strange and painfully self-conscious barbs about failed relationships or awkward social situations -- he delivers during gigs seem that much more hilarious.
That's especially true when Mintz's weirdness is coming straight from the mouth of Tina Belcher, the gawky teenage girl that he voices on FOX's animated hit Bob's Burgers. The character, whose the queen of uncomfortably awkward quips, seems like a perfect fit for the comedian and his often-bizarre humor. We discussed Mintz's apt portrayal of Tina during a recent phone interview with the comic prior to his appearance at Stand Up Live this week, and asked him about how he developed his particular comedy style and the upcoming episode of Bob's Burgers that he penned.
You appeared on David Letterman back in February. What was that experience like? It was really exciting. I'd been wanting to do that for a really long time. I had to buy a suit for it. And I didn't realize until like a day before that I needed the suit so it was kind of insanity running out to get one.
Did you get Letterman to laugh at your jokes? I don't know if he laughed at my jokes as I had to look at the cameras the whole time. But hopefully he liked them. I guess I'll find out if I ever get asked back.
Did you interact much with Dave? Or did you do your set and just go back to the green room? Yeah, you just come out and do it and right after he comes and shakes your hand on camera. Everyone says he's just kind of shy and doesn't really talk to people. And then, on my way out I kind of took a wrong turn and ended up running into him after the show. And he was kind of taken aback. He was very polite.
Why are you so droll and deadpan in your humor? That's always been the kind of the way that I deliver. I've always spoken pretty monotone and when I first started being able to make people laugh was when I was in high school. And I just had the voice that I have and I noticed that I would say sexual things in my voice and people would laugh. And I kind of just worked from there. It was less like deciding, "Okay, these are the jokes I'm going to tell, and now how am I going to tell them? Am I going to tell them in this voice or this voice?" it was more like, "This is my voice, what jokes work best with that delivery?"
Why do you think awkwardness and awkward humor is sort of big right now in pop culture? I wonder if it just has to do with that, in general, nerds are cooler now. And everyone kind of has part of their mind stuck back in high school. And it used to be that to be accepted in high school you had to be super outgoing and popular, and now you can kind of be your own person and be different.
And it's also sort of always gone through cycles like that in Hollywood. People like watching one type of person and think that's funny in comedy. And when that gets old, all of a sudden, there's something totally different that people want to see. And since like Arrested Development and The Office, people have really just fallen in love with that kind of comedy and hopefully they'll stay in love with it for at least awhile longer...for my benefit.
How much of your jokes and standup material is an extension of your actual personality? It's not really me exactly, but it's kind of just the way I naturally am when I'm in front of people, 'cause I do naturally have this stage fright. And that was the great thing about starting stand-up, being able to use that and having it work to my advantage. [When] I did debate in high school or if I was a play or anything, I would just be so nervous and not confident and it would just really get in the way. Then all of sudden when I did stand-up, I was like, "Oh, this is actually working for me; The more nervous I am the better."
Comedy has plenty of assholes and insult comics. You seem almost like the antithesis to all that. Yeah, I know. I almost have like a submissive relationship with the audience. If someone heckles me, I'll usually just kind of laugh at it and go like, 'Well, I'll think I'll give them the chance to feel good,' so I laugh at their joke.
Your trademark is to use a completely normal setup before taking screaming left turn and hitting the audience with some surreal or effed up punchline, correct? Yeah. The hardest part is coming up with a normal setup, because it's almost like you don't want the setup to be too interesting. Because you want them to kind of be lulled into, oh, this relatable thing before you twist everything in the punchline.
Do you try to get as bizarre as possible with the punchline and therein lies the humor? Um...kind of. Once I have a premise that I think would work, I kind of just try to look at it from as many angles as possible. You know, you want it to be somewhat bizarre or there won't be any comedy to it, but you also have to make sure its not too out there and there's still some stakes for people to latch onto.
Tina Belcher from Bob's Burgers
Were you cast as Tina in Bob's Burgers because your humor meshes well with that character? I was actually originally cast as a boy, like the second son in the family, and then FOX wanted to change the character to a girl because it was thought to be too similar to Eugene Mirman's character [Gene Belcher]. I was just kept in that because I was friends with Jon Benjamin and he recommended me to Loren [Bouchard], who's the creator. And I think for all of us, he kind of built the characters around us and our comedy.
Do you have much input into the writing of Tina? Yeah, once we start recording they encourage us to improvise. So we always, if we think of a good line, get that in. But usually we don't see the script until we do a table read and it's already written. Over time I've really enjoyed when I've had the chance for Tina [to grow]. At the beginning, she was more just kind of monotone and into saying a lot of weird things. So it's been fun when they actually started giving her actual arcs where she had emotions and had a goal she had to achieve. I've really tried to do the best I could at that and show them I could do that, then that allowed them to have more episodes like that.
She used to be queen of the non-sequiturs. Yeah, exactly.
Is it fun being in the same room recording dialogue with comedians like H. Jon Benjamin and Kristen Schaal riffing off each other? Yeah. It's kind of almost intimidating for me being a shy person around these four super-outgoing people. In terms of improvising. I probably would never improvise if it were up to me, but I'm in a scene with them and they go off-script, I kind of have to follow them. And it's fun that I get forced into doing that.
Is there secretly an awkward 12-year-old girl inside you that comes out every time you record? I think there's one inside all of us. But yeah, I guess. I was worried I wouldn't know how to play a female character, but actually because Tina is so kind of straightforward, I think she is easier to play for a man. You usually think of a woman, her sexuality being like super complex and hard to understand, and like Tina's is so simple. She's just attracted to this and knows what she wants.
Do you think she's the breakout character of the show? I would like to think that. When we started I knew that I had a head start because it's just a gimmick to have my voice coming out of a girl. And I think, in many ways, she started out as like as kind of the least-relatable character and she ended up being the most-relatable because she's just someone, I think people relate to having someone that is just a little invisible to the world, but you know, wants to make a connection to people. And I think she's had really like pure emotions and she's happy if she gets what she wants or sad if she doesn't.
Do you have any places you want to take the character? Or are you at the whim of the writers? I'm kind of at the whim of the writers there. I guess, huh...I mean, it was really fun when they started giving her some success in love, like when she has her first kiss. It would be fun to see more of that.
Do you think she will wind up with her big crush, Jimmy Junior? I don't know. I feel like, doesn't that always ruin a sitcom when the people end up happy together?
It depends. Maybe in the series finale, that would be nice.
What's been your favorite episode thus far? Maybe like the "Topsy" episode? I don't know. My favorite episode to do might have been like "Tina-Rannosaurus Wrecks."
Where she's driving? Yeah. And then my favorite to watch -- and Tina plays a small part in it -- was the "Topsy" episode. I think it was just like the music was so good that it just seemed almost like it was too good just for a cartoon. There's just the moment where they were doing the climactic musical.
A lot of people try to imitate Tina's trademark moans. Got any tips on how to do it properly Um...[ moans like Tina for a second ]. It's like way in the back of your throat. [ Moans again ] I'm trying to do it. That's a sound I just have kind of made in my life when I'm frustrated or nervous. And one day Loren said, "Oh, we need a sound for this," and I tried different things and that's the one he picked.
You've been a writer on a number of extremely funny shows that unfortunately didn't last very long... Yeah, I wonder if I'm like a curse on the show.
Well, or is it something like that sort of humor isn't mainstream enough? Well, Nathan For You got picked up for a second season, so I'm excited about that. I just think it's just rare in general in Hollywood for shows to last more than a season or two. It's just the odds are against everything. But yeah, it's the hardest thing to pull off is a show that is different than anything people have seen before but that has the greatest reward if you can pull it off.
Is it frustrating when funny shows like Important Things with Demetri Martin or Jon Benjamin Has a Van don't stick around longer? It's not that frustrating if you're just a writer on a show. It's really painful if it's your show that you created. I mean, as a writer, you feel proud of what you're part of, but you're also like you just kind of walk into every job assuming it's only gonna be a one-season thing and then you move on. And if it's more than a season that's great, but you never think that it will be.
Do you have any desire to write for Bob's Burgers or are you content with just playing a role on the show? Well, I actually just did a script for them, which we're recording next week and that was really fun.
How much of it did you write? Well, it's all collaborative but I was like... each script has someone who's considered the writer of the script and it will say, written by so-and-so. You know, and even then it gets rewritten a lot and at every stage you show them an outline and they give you notes and back and forth. It's hard to say how much made it in to the end product, but I was kind of shepherding it along through each step.
Getting you script dissected by other writers sort of happens a lot when writing for television, right? That's kind of just how it goes. The first time it happens it's really painful and you kind of like, how could I have done everything wrong? But after you start noticing that it's happening to everyone, you just realize that it's just the process.
Dan Mintz is scheduled to perform at 8 p.m. on Thursday at Stand Up Live. Admission is $15.
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