Who originated this buffoonish accent.
April 6, 2009 7:32 PM   Subscribe

Skipper in Penguins of Madagascar. Zapp Brannigan of Futurama. Even Mr Peterman of Seinfeld. You know the voice. Sounds like a B list fifties movie star or something. But that's the question- Who did it first?

Kirk Douglas, even John Wayne (sort of) come to mind, but I'm wondering if you have any other suggestions. (And if it was done straight originally, who first made it an intentional joke?) Thanks in advance.
posted by IndigoJones to Media & Arts (16 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I was shocked to hear a voice like this on a (deadly serious) '40s radio program, reporting news about the war, attributed to my grandfather. He never sounded like that to me. I have no idea if it was actually him. But I think this must have been a popular style of radio voice.
posted by grobstein at 7:42 PM on April 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

Zapp Brannigan is a Captain Kirk-type of guy. But I often ponder the penguin Skipper's voice and who it reminds me of. I'm looking forward to hearing ideas about him.
posted by tracicle at 7:43 PM on April 6, 2009

Troy McClure predates all of your references, but I'm sure he's not the first. I think Phil Hartman was doing this character on SNL even.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 7:45 PM on April 6, 2009

Phil Hartman's SNL audition includes a private-eye impression with this voice. I think the accent and cadence are from that sort of radio-ized hardboiled crime fiction.
posted by pmbuko at 8:11 PM on April 6, 2009 [3 favorites]

In this interview Billy West (the voice of Zapp Brannigan) says that both he and Phil Hartman were inspired by
"this real fascination and love for these big, old-time dumb announcers. You know, the guys who have their balls in a wheelbarrow and think that every word is so precious that it's hard to give birth to it, like everything comes out in four syllables instead of one. Guys who think far and away that of everything else in this universe, he loves his voice. So that's what was going on with him. He's modeled after a couple of big dumb announcers I knew."
posted by MsMolly at 8:23 PM on April 6, 2009 [4 favorites]

FWIW, Zapp Brannigan was originally slated to be voiced by Phil Hartman (before his death).
posted by almostmanda at 8:25 PM on April 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

I think all of these voices are examples of the Mid-Atlantic accent, which was in vogue during the first half of the 20th century (and possibly before that -- too lazy to go look at my copy of Bonfiglio's Race and the Rise of Standard American, but there's lots of info in there). The Mid-Atlantic accent is a non-rhotic (= the "r" sound is not pronounced) accent that sounds kind of like a blend of American and British accents. See: Cary Grant, FDR, and a bunch of other examples given in the Wikipedia article.

I think there's more going on than simply the accent, but it's somewhere to start looking.
posted by pluckemin at 8:30 PM on April 6, 2009 [2 favorites]

Sorry, meant to link to the Wikipedia article on the Mid-Atlantic accent.
posted by pluckemin at 8:31 PM on April 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

I'm thinking you'd want to go back to American advertising voiceovers from the 50's and 60's, if not earlier, for the original style and intonation that your examples are mocking.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 9:09 PM on April 6, 2009

Steve Dunne (not Bogie) as the radio voice of Sam Spade from 1946-1951.
Hear it here for a walk down memory lane.
posted by Acacia at 11:47 PM on April 6, 2009

Am I the only one who see the penguin's character as a WWII movie reference? Particularly American characters such as Frank Sinatra in Von Ryan's Express, Steve McQueen in The Great Escape, or even William Holden in The Bridge on the River Kwai?

It's likely that they all predate to something earlier, though, so this probably doesn't answer your question.

I think tracicle's right about the Zapp Brannigan being a Captain Kirk parody. However, I wouldn't be surprised if Shatner got his military-esque persona from the big movie stars named above that were doing the WWII movies around the same time, hence the similarity to the Penguin. Not sure what to make of Mr Peterman. He's definitely the odd one out of the examples. He shares the accent, but not the command.
posted by kisch mokusch at 7:31 AM on April 7, 2009

The Mid-Atlantic accent is alive and well at Julliard and other acting schools as well as at whatever passes for finishing schools these days. For example, Kelsey Grammer and Robin Williams use it non-ironically when they act.
posted by Pastabagel at 7:42 AM on April 7, 2009

WWII Newsreels?
posted by marsha56 at 8:24 AM on April 7, 2009

By George, I think marsha56 may have it. I'm wondering if it can go back further, perhaps even into the twenties, maybe? What is more pompous than the old time news casters? Have to dig up some recordings.

As to mid-Atlantic, I'd have thought not. Seems more American than otherwise, and one of the mock worthy elements of it is the implied lack of high rent. To my ear, at least.

(You're right, Peterman is the odd man out, but I think he would be surprised to hear that he didn't have the command. )

Thanks to all, any further comments of course appreciated.
posted by IndigoJones at 9:12 AM on April 8, 2009

Sorry, command was probably not quite the right term. But his character seems to lend more from the swashbuckled adventurer-type rather than a military-type. Reminds me more of Erol Flynn than the other two.
posted by kisch mokusch at 8:30 PM on April 8, 2009

Flynn. Hm. Didn't come to mind, but I can see your point.
posted by IndigoJones at 5:24 PM on April 20, 2009

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