ATLANTA, Ga. -- The setting is a studio in Midtown Atlanta, where professional voiceover talent go to intone for commercials, TV and radio productions. One day in April, a buttoned-down local TV news guy strayed in to give voice to a cartoon.
"Anderson Cooper and Wolf Blitzer both shot us down," deadpanned Dave Willis, explaining why the creators of Squidbillies settled on yours truly, a local news goon with WXIA-TV.
The creators of Squidbillies, an Adult Swim production on Cartoon Network, needed a voice to play a character depicting a local news reporter. To keep things uncomplicated, they called the reporter "Doug Richards," reporting from a fictional north Georgia spot called Dougal County.
"His name is Russell Cuyler. But police are calling him 'Kid Squid,'" I uttered in a too-fake Walter Cronkite-style newsman cadence.
"Let's get another one," Willis says from outside the booth. This begins a series of flawed takes on what seems like a simple handful of lines in a cartoon script.
"Maybe do it a little tongue in cheek," Willis says following another take. "Like, real dry."
Another flawed take follows.
"Maybe just even -- dry," Willis says again, trying to mask his frustration.
The show is set in rural north Georgia. Russell "Rusty" Cuyler is the teenage son of the main character, a sociopathic squid named Early Cuyler.
"The theory (behind the show) is that the waters receded in the north Georgia mountains and the cephalopods were somehow able to survive on land," Willis says during an interview later. "And they just continued to inbreed until they finally formed their own very tight, very genetically flawed clan."
In the script, Early Cuyler goes on a crime spree, then forces his teenage son Rusty to take the fall. Early Cuyler becomes jealous, however, when Rusty gets all the media attention.
It turns out the creators of Squidbillies like to rewrite their scripts on the fly.
"There's the script as it's written. Then there's the script as it comes out of our mouths," says Bobby Ellerbee, a voiceover actor from Winder who plays a regular role on Squidbillies as the sheriff.
"Do it with just the teeniest disapproval in your voice," instructs Jim Fortier, as the TV reporter continues to struggle with the script in the voiceover booth. Fortier is a co-creator of Squidbillies.
The voices in the ensemble cast are each recorded individually. Early Cuyler's voice is recorded by a country music singer called Unknown Hinson. He does most of his work in a studio near his home in North Carolina. Another actor, Dana Snyder, voices the character named Granny from a studio in Los Angeles.
"It's hard. It's difficult to do," Ellerbee says about pleasing the creators during voiceover sessions. "Sometimes we get scripts that we've never seen before." He adds that he prefers to see the script for the first time while in the recording booth, however. It contributes to what he calls "the freshness" of the delivery of his lines.
"More on 'Kid Squid' as this story breaks!" says Fortier, suggesting an improvised line of script. He asks me to rewrite the line to my liking. I have no pen and paper, so I try to rewrite it in my head. It takes longer than it should.
"Maybe more on the story of Kid Squid, or more on Kid Squid as the story develops," Fortier suggests again.
"Stay tuned for the very latest on the Kid Squid story," I reply with a measure of lameness. The creators decide my rewrite will suffice.
The episode airs at 12:15am Monday August 20. The reporter's part is mercifully short.