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Dee Bradley Baker has squawked, snarled and squeaked his way through so many jobs that he relies on his Internet Movie Database page to keep track of them.
Even that’s not always right, since his career spans hundreds of movies, TV series and video games over the last three decades.
“I was never involved with the live-action ‘Last Airbender’ movie, and I was never involved with ‘Frankenweenie,’ ” Baker said as he scanned, at The Denver Post’s request, some of his credited roles. “But it looks like most of the rest seems to be accurate.”
It’s hard to be sure. Since 1995, an average of a dozen new projects each year have been released featuring his vocal talents. In some years, it’s more than 30, from well-known shows such as “American Dad!” (for which he received a 2017 Emmy nomination) and “Family Guy” to kids’ fare like “Muppet Babies,” “Steven Universe,” SpongeBob SquarePants” and “The Lion Guard.”
The 58-year-old voice actor, who has become a favorite of Hollywood animation directors, could have watched as his career slipped away during a pandemic that shuttered the rest of show business. Instead, he adapted and is busier than ever, with projects on the horizon including a “Star Wars: The Clone Wars” spin-off, “The Bad Batch,” for Disney+.
With a daughter in high school in the metro area, Baker now splits his time between Los Angeles and Littleton, working with directors through Zoom and recording his voice parts in a makeshift booth in his Colorado house.
“It’s just a bunch of cheap PVC pipe that I cut up and pieced together, then threw some audio blankets over,” he said. “I put a little (sound) rig inside with a Mac computer and a $250 mic. I’m making it work.”
Not only that, he’s teaching other voice actors how to do the same. His website, iwanttobeavoiceactor.com, is packed with advice for people looking to break into the voiceover world, from building a home sound booth to audition tips. Categories include “Agents,” “VO Myths,” “Your Demo” and “Killing Your Career” (sample posts: “Phoning in That ‘Favor’ ” and “Family vs. Acting”).
“I’m very lucky,” Baker said over the phone from his Littleton home last week. “Animation is a uniquely collaborative art form, and by sheer luck, it can be done remotely without a hiccup. … Voiceover’s always been done face-to-face in the past. With big projects like ‘SpongeBob’ or ‘The Clone Wars,’ they’ll even have all the actors together in the room. But we’ve got to adapt.”
Even if he stopped working tomorrow, Baker would continue to watch projects he contributed to months ago, or up to a year ago, hit the market at a rapid clip. The latest is “Phineas and Ferb the Movie: Candace Against the Universe,” a Disney+ animated original that will debut on that streaming service Aug. 28.
Baker admits he’s barely in it, though that’s not uncommon for his projects. He doesn’t typically voice main characters — those are often left for recognizable names, or people who make their career playing leads — but rather the supporting ones, from friends and pets to vicious vampires and demons (but also chickens, talking pastries and robots).
“I remember when the (“Phineas and Ferb” creators) brought me in for an audition for Perry the Platypus, and I just made these three weird little sounds,” Baker said of his role on the show. “They go, ‘We’ll pick one of those, thanks,’ and they reprint that thing in every single episode. I’m always embarrassed by that, but that’s the gag they use — kind of like the Wilhelm Scream. I’m such a small sprinkling of seasoning on that wonderful show.”
Perhaps, but it’s how Baker has built his career — a few minutes of dialogue here, a few seconds of non-verbal grunting and choking sounds there. Due to his reliability and range, Baker’s résumé grew fast after his first big shows, nabbing projects such as 1996’s “Space Jam” (in which he voiced Daffy Duck) and various Disney and Marvel properties long before the latter two were intertwined.
“It gets pretty emphatic,” Baker said of his acting process. “You don’t tear up the room because there’s a sweet spot for the microphones, and you can’t deviate very far from that or else the engineer gets mad. You have to act with your whole body, but keep it right in the zone.”
Baker was born in Bloomington, Ind., in 1962, but grew up in Greeley, where he got into stage performing. He devoured sci-fi shows such as “Star Trek” but also books about dinosaurs and early video games. He fondly remembers playing the 1970s gaming frontrunner Pong on the University of Northern Colorado library’s “ancient” computers.
“As a boy in Colorado, I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life, but that didn’t panic me,” Baker said. “What served me well was pursuing things I was curious about and liked.”
Those included plays, musicals, opera, stand-up and children’s theater. After Baker finished at Greeley’s University High School in 1981, he received a Boettcher Scholarship and attended Colorado College in Colorado Springs, where he graduated with a BA in philosophy. His passion for performing brought him to Orlando, Fla., in 1989 to work at Disney’s Epcot Center (specifically, in a sketch comedy group inside the Wonders of Life pavilion).
His first big TV role arrived when he provided the booming voice for the “giant talking rock-god” Olmec on Nickelodeon’s “Legends of the Hidden Temple” game show, which lasted a whopping 120 episodes over three seasons. With that and other major studio projects under his belt, he left for Los Angeles in 1994.
His career since then reads like a shortlist of the most influential and beloved animated series of the modern age, including multiple roles in “The Wild Thornberrys,” “Dexter’s Laboratory,” “The Powerpuff Girls,” “Johnny Bravo,” “Justice League Unlimited,” “Dora the Explorer,” “Teen Titans,” “Ben 10,” “Batman: The Brave & the Bold,” “Scooby-Doo,” “The Legend of Korra,” “Curious George,” “Mickey Mouse Clubhouse,” “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,” “Robot Chicken” and dozens more.
And those represent just one-third of the work he’s done.
Baker also has acted in dozens of feature films (“Happy Feet,” “The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies,” “The SpongeBob Movie”) and iconic video game franchises that have collectively earned billions of dollars worldwide, such as Halo, Spider-Man, Call of Duty, Metal Gear, Kingdom Hearts, Final Fantasy, Doom, Minecraft, Destiny, Overwatch and nearly every Star Wars game that has been released since 2003 (including the Lego Star Wars games).
Dipping into the Star Wars universe, in fact, has been one of his favorite pastimes, with major roles in the “Star Wars Rebels” and “Star Wars: The Clone Wars” — the latter as fan-favorite characters such as Captain Rex and Commander Cody.
He’ll likely be returning as those characters for “The Bad Batch,” a “Clone Wars” spinoff that’s slated to hit Disney+ next year. But, as is usually the case with anything Star Wars, he can’t really say.
“I’m not sure at what liberty I am to discuss it, since it’s still so secret,” Baker said. “But I’m very much involved and very excited about it. As typically happens with Lucasfilm projects, we’d been working on it for a long time before anything official dropped about it.”
Baker will again work with Dave Filoni, the Emmy-winning “Clone Wars” director who parlayed that success into co-creating “The Mandalorian” with Jon Favreau — among other Star Wars projects that Baker has also contributed to (“Rebels,” “Forces of Destiny,” etc.)
“Dave was really George Lucas’ right-hand man during the creation of ‘Clone Wars,’ and the only person who could say ‘no’ to Dave Filono was George Lucas,” Baker said. “It’s a wonderful and shocking thing to be a part of, especially for a kid who dressed up as a Jawa in 1977 when Episode 4 (a.k.a. the original ‘Star Wars’) came out.”
Still, Baker is not limitless. He gets a workout performing fighting monsters and vampire sounds, “really violent screaming and that kind of stuff,” and the many, many animal noises he has mastered. He only has so much gas in the tank before he needs to give his voice a rest, he said.
“It’s not too far off from being a musician,” he said. “You’re not going to jump right into the solo when you start recording, so you pace yourself and go with the mood of the song or story. You don’t want to blow out all the drama you’re building toward for the payoff.”
ST. LOUIS – Former Cardinals skipper Tony La Russa is returning to manage the Chicago White Sox. La Russa and World Series wins are no strangers here in St. Louis.
Cardinals broadcaster Mike Claiborne, a La Russa friend, believes the Hall-of-Famer will do well in Chicago.
“He’s got a good team to work with; some good young talent. They need a little leadership,” he said.
The White Sox and Cardinals are expected to meet in interleague play next season.
“Everybody wanted to see Tony do well,” Claiborne said. “And I want to see him do well, except when he plays the Cardinals.”
Claiborne said he texted Tony and congratulated him. Tony replied: “It should be fun.”
At Ballpark Village, there was well-wishes from fans.
“He’s a good guy,” said Armando Sierra. “He’s done good for baseball and for him to get another chance, why not?”
La Russa, 76, managed the Cardinals from 1996 to 2011.
“You’re never too old; you’re never too old,” Sierra said. “That’s just a number.”
Down the street at the Midwestern, more well wishes from Cardinal supporters who believe La Russa will get a warm welcome when the White Sox play at Busch Stadium.
“Probably get the reaction that (David) Freese got when he came back; everybody cheered for him,” said Cardinals fan John Pizzitola.
Claiborne added: “Warm would be an understatement. It will be seismic for sure.”
As businesses tighten entry restrictions because of the pandemic, delivery and ride-share drivers are struggling more than ever to find open and usable restrooms. An app, playfully named Whizz, is trying to help. Described as being developed “by gig workers for gig workers,” Whizz is a bathroom finding app that is partnering with restaurants to provide gig workers with some much-needed relief.
The app displays partnered restaurant locations on a map, currently limited to Southern California and some locations in Arizona and Nevada. Users pick a nearby restaurant and show an employee their phone to gain access to their bathroom. While several public bathroom finder apps already exist, Whizz’s strategy is different in that it’s seeking partnerships with restaurants to provide not only bathroom access, but also deals for users of the app.
Whizz attempts to incentivize restaurants with free advertising in exchange for bathroom access and promotional offers. When you pull up a partnered restaurant in the app, it displays a coupon for a certain percentage off an item or meal. Whizz’s first partnership is with Waba Grill, a rice bowl chain, which offers 20 percent off a chicken bowl and drink through the app.
This interest in partnerships is what makes Whizz’s approach potentially more effective than other bathroom finders, which tend to rely on public bathrooms or large stores like Walmart or Target. Co-founders Keith Crudupt and Robert Logan, who have both driven for Uber, noted that delivery drivers are often denied restroom access, even at restaurants they’re running deliveries for. Logan said he always found this dynamic bizarre: “I’m helping your business, but you won’t let me use your restroom.”
“By partnering with restaurants, our users don’t have to come in and feel like they’re trespassing or doing something sneaky,” Logan said. “They can come in and just be straightforward and go use the restroom.”
Bathroom access is a problem that extends far beyond gig workers. Lack of access to clean, private restrooms has always been an issue for people experiencing homelessness, which has been exacerbated by the pandemic. There’s also the problem of finding accessible restrooms for people with mobility aids and gender-neutral or single-occupant restrooms for trans and gender-nonconforming people. Truly public restrooms are few and far between, and among those that exist, it’s even harder to find ones that are hygienic and in full working order.
Though the app was developed with gig workers in mind, it doesn’t verify that you are one, and Whizz’s site also pitches its usefulness for travelers and “soccer moms.” Because anyone can download the app, would a person who is homeless be allowed access to a restaurant’s bathroom if they showed their phone, or would they still be turned away depending on their appearance? Logan and Crudupt said their main focus has been on gig workers because they’ve been drivers themselves, but they are “open to being a resource for homeless people.”
Logan, who has a background in social work, says he has a desire to help the community at large. The app’s launch had actually been tabled when the pandemic started, but after seeing articles about gig workers urinating in alleys, Logan and Crudupt realized “there’s a need and we should help out.” They’re working on the basics of the app’s function for now, but they have ambitions for gaining more partners and expanding their map beyond the Southern California area. They eventually want to update the app with information about parking, hours, wheelchair access, and changing tables.
The two have been personally traveling to each location on the map, including nearly 200 Waba Grills, to ensure its accuracy. They noted that in addition to the struggle of balancing jobs with app development, it’s hard for them as a Black-owned business, and as older men, to get recognized and raise funds for the app.
“Can I use your restroom?” shouldn’t be a question that anticipates hurdles. By adding the legitimacy of a business partnership, Whizz has the potential to help people who might otherwise be turned away. As Vice points out, this is a problem that needs a societal solution. But for now, there’s Whizz.
There’s a mournful Peggy Lee song that asks the existential question: “Is that all there is?” Some progressives are asking that when looking at whether to vote this year — Biden or Trump … is that all there is?
First, for me, that’s an easy choice if we want to have even a small chance of making any little-d democratic progress in the next decade or two. Second, no, that’s not all there is. Just scroll down the ballot in most voting districts and you’ll find a choice of solid progressive contenders in congressional, state legislative, city council, sheriff and school board races, and other races for grassroots offices, all of which offer tremendous potential for both big policy changes and for expanding America’s progressive movement.
But wait; there’s more! Scroll a bit lower and you’re likely to discover direct democracy allowing ordinary people — you and me — to make our own policies and laws, rather than hoping that legislators and lobbyists will do right by us. These are “ballot initiatives” — policy ideas and procedural changes that are put directly to voters in a state, county or city. Most are put on the ballot by groups that get enough voters to sign petitions demanding that a particular proposal be listed.
It’s not an easy process, but it has become a more common legislative tool, as shown by the number and variety of propositions on next Tuesday’s ballots. Just counting statewide initiatives, voters in 32 states will be making their will known on a total of 120 ideas. They include such solidly progressive actions as Arizona’s proposal to raise taxes slightly on the superrich to cover an overdue raise in pay for schoolteachers. They also include such blatantly regressive schemes as California’s Prop 22, the attempt by Uber, Lyft and other gig giants to strip health care from their low-wage workers.
Especially prominent in this year of pandemic disease, mass job losses and ever-spreading inequality are citizen initiatives to start restoring worker rights and income. These illustrate the importance of direct ballot lawmaking: When public officials and corporate hierarchies snub people’s needs or carelessly harm them, the initiative is a democratic path for asserting The People’s will. If lawmakers don’t act, the people can!
Here are some big public policies people clearly want but lawmakers consistently ignore: Pay for family leave time; restrict the power of Big Money in our elections; stop rent gouging by greedy corporate landlords; assert real public oversight to stop police abuses.
Now the good news: You don’t have to vote for Sen. Foghorn or Gov. Blowhard in the futile hope that they’ll ever work to pass such progressive policies. Rather, each of the above ideas is on the ballot next Tuesday in various states across the country — do-it-yourself democracy in action!
Of course, democracy can be messy, and bypassing the backroom chicanery of legislative bodies doesn’t necessarily bypass the insider power of Big Money. But at least ballot initiatives force moneyed interests to do their avaricious dirty work outside, allowing us commoners to glimpse their greed.
That’s certainly the case of a money-soaked mega-fight underway in California over Prop 22. Uber, Lyft and other multibillion-dollar behemoths have amassed their billions by claiming that their hundreds of thousands of workers are independent contractors, not employees. Therefore, say the corporations, they don’t have to provide health care or comply with basic labor protections. This year, though, a new California law rejected this blatant corporate ruse, at last allowing employees to get the essential benefits due to them. However, rather than do right by the people who do their work, a cabal of these giants has ponied up more than $200 million to try ramming through Prop 22. This self-serving corporate ballot measure openly asserts that they’re above the law, entitled to exploit their low-paid, no-benefit workforce (and a study says 8 in 10 of gig workers are people of color). If you wonder why our fabulously rich nation keeps sinking deeper into self-destructive inequality, look no further than Prop 22. It’s such a piece of plutocratic nastiness that, to get their way, the handful of profiteers behind it are running the most expensive and one of the most underhanded PR campaigns in the history of ballot initiatives.
For more information, go to the Gig Workers Rising website.
Jim Hightower is a columnist, political activist and author who served as commissioner of Texas Department of Agriculture.
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