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How Will Forte Became the Animated Voice of a Generation

With HouseBroken, Forte continues his run of being animated comedy's go-to voice.
  • Will Forte at a voice recording session for Scoob!. (Eric Charbonneau/Warner Bros. Pictures)
    Will Forte at a voice recording session for Scoob!. (Eric Charbonneau/Warner Bros. Pictures)

    FOX premiered its latest cartoon comedy last night, HouseBroken, which follows a living room full of neurotic, horny housepets voiced by an all-star cast that includes Lisa Kudrow, Nat Faxon, Tony Hale, Sharon Horgan, and Jason Mantzoukas. Joining them is Will Forte, the Saturday Night Live alum who's starred in movies like Nebraska and TV shows like The Last Man on Earth. Over the years, Forte has emerged as one of the most reliable, and entertaining voice actors in animation, and while he's not without competition (folks like Bob's Burgers's H. Jon Benjamin or the aforementioned Jason Mantzoukas have racked up quite a few credits themselves), both the longevity of his voice-acting career and the expressiveness he brings to his roles put Forte at the very top of Animated Voice-Actor Mountain.

    To really appreciate all that Will Forte brings to the table as a voice actor, you have to go all the way back to 2002, the year he debuted as a cast member on Saturday Night Live. Ironically, it wasn't the SNL "TV Funhouse" animated shorts that launched Forte's career as a superior voice performer that year, but rather the short-lived MTV animated comedy Clone High, which imagined a Dawson's Creek-esque teen drama if it were populated by the clones of famous figures from history. Forte voiced the nerdy, lovelorn Abe Lincoln in the lead role and imbued him with his signature brand of doofy optimism and off-putting fits of self-confidence. Clone High was a cult hit, not appreciated enough in its own time but remembered fondly enough by its fans that it's being rebooted, coming soon to HBO Max. It was here that Forte established his baseline animation persona as a sweet, often overmatched everyman, and that persona would recur throughout his career.

    It was after his time at SNL that Forte's voice-acting career really took off. He voiced two different characters in the films Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs and Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2; he voiced the school principal on The Cleveland Show; he played another school authority figure in the short-lived FOX animated sitcom Allen Gregory; and in a moment of full-circle completism, he re-joined Clone High co-creators Phil Lord and Chris Miller for The LEGO Movie (and its sequel) to voice, yes, LEGO Abraham Lincoln.

    Forte has also stepped in for supporting roles on pretty much every animated series, large or small (he's appeared on two episodes of The Simpsons, four Bob's Burgers, one each of Aqua Teen Hunger Force and Squidbillies). Over the years, the types of characters he's voiced have also begun to vary, at least somewhat. He played a fairly typically Forte-ian local oddball on Gravity Falls, but then on the Hulu superhero series The Awesomes, he played a supervillain, albeit one with the Will Forte cadence we've all come to know and love. Last year he even stepped into part of Shaggy Rogers (a role originated by Casey Kasem) in the new feature length film Scoob!.

    Most recently, Forte has been shining on the FOX animated series The Great North, from Bob's Burgers writer/producers Lizzie Molyneux, Wendy Molyneux, and Minty Lewis. Forte voices Wolf Tobin, eldest son of the family at the center of the show who all live in Alaska. Wolf is a classic Will Forte animated character, an overgrown kid with lots of enthusiasm and a tendency towards being a doof, making him a perfect fit for the series, which is big-hearted and goofy in its charms.

    HouseBroken almost certainly won't be the last animated series to get a lot of mileage out of Will Forte and his signature vocal stylings. His character, Shel the tortoise, is anxious, narcissistic, and lovelorn enough to fall in love with an inanimate clog. We'd be very surprised if the role wasn't written with him in mind. Just another day in the life of one of the most recognizable and character-focused voices in the business.

    Joe Reid is the senior writer at Primetimer and co-host of the This Had Oscar Buzz podcast. His work has appeared in Decider, NPR, HuffPost, The Atlantic, Slate, Polygon, Vanity Fair, Vulture, The A.V. Club and more.

    TOPICS: Will Forte, Clone High, Gravity Falls, The Great North, Housebroken