Translation – Springfield, Mexico
[Daniel Alarcón, host]: Welcome to Radio Ambulante from NPR. I’m Daniel Alarcón.
(SOUNDBITE FROM ARCHIVE)
[Guy Incognito]: Homer? Who is Homer? My name is Guy Incognito.
[Homer]: Oh, my God! This man is my exact double. Oh! That dog has a puffy tail! (laughter) Here, puff! Here, puff!
[Daniel]: And you might recognize that voice. He’s Homer from the animated series The Simpsons. Well, he’s the original Homer, the gringo. There’s also the Spanish one, from Spain.
(SOUNDBITE FROM ARCHIVE)
[Tipo de Incógnito]: ¿Homer? ¿Quién es Homer? Yo me llamo Tipo de Incógnito.
[Homer]: ¡Mosquis! ¡Cómo se parece a mí este hombre! ¡Uy! ¡Ese perro tiene la cola rizada! (risa) ¡Rizitos! ¡Rizitos!
[Daniel]: For many Latin Americans, that Spanish accent sounds strange. Especially coming out of Homer’s mouth, because for most Latin Americans the Homer we know and remember is Mexican.
(SOUNDBITE FROM ARCHIVE)
[Cosme Fulanito]: ¿Homero? ¡Ay ! ¿Quién es Homero? Mi nombre es Cosme Fulanito.
[Homero]: ¡Oh, Dios mío! ¡Este hombre es mi doble exacto! ¡Oh! ¡Ese perro tiene la cola peluda! (risa) ¡Ven aca perrito, ven aca perrito!
[Daniel]: This one’s a lot better, right? Homer in Spain becomes Homero in Mexico. Tipo de Incógnito transforms into Cosme Fulanito. “Mosquis”, no clue. It’s better to say, “¡Oh, my God!
And the fact is, dubbing can make or break a show or movie. When the dubbing is good, you almost don’t even notice it. When it’s bad, you can’t stand it
Dubbing is a hard job, where subtlety is essential. You have to make one person’s words and voice come out of another person’s mouth. You have to know how to express what the other actor is saying and doing with just the tone of your voice. It’s almost like forging a signature. Getting it to look and feel believable is very hard.
With cartoons, it’s different, of course, because they aren’t really moving their mouths. You aren’t changing a person’s voice. It’s freer and more creative, but it still requires enormous effort. As this man will tell you…
[Humberto Vélez]: I’m Humberto Vélez, at your service. I’m a voice over actor.
[Daniel]: Homer Simpson’s original Mexican voice.
[Humberto]: It’s not just a matter of showing up and opening your trap. No, you have to open your trap a lot of different ways when you’re doing dubbing, you know?
[Daniel]: Of course, you wouldn’t recognize Humberto if you saw him on the street. But in dubbing circles and among real cartoon fans —the ones who go to conferences— Humberto is royalty, a star.
Homero Simpson is more than just a fictional character in Latin American. For several generations, he’s an icon. He feels so much like he’s ours, we forget he’s a gringo. A representation of our most shameless and relaxed side, but at the same time a friend that makes us laugh with his foolishness and moves us with his good heart. And a large part of that is because of Humberto and the show’s translators’ work. His fans are all over Latin America…
[Woman 1]: I would go as far to say, if it isn’t the best, it’s one of the best dubbed series.
[Man]: A lot of the phrases that Homer says that we really like in Mexico are, well, a product of the dubbing or at least the translators.
[Woman 2]: Sometimes there are jokes that clearly you see on the… on the show and really because of the words they use when they dub it, it works.
[Man]: “Me quiero volver chango.” [I want to turn into a monkey] When he says… the episode where… I don’t know, something happens to his car, and he shouts…
(SOUNDBITE FROM ARCHIVE)
[Homero]: ¡Me quiero volver chango! ¡Mi auto! [I want to turn into a monkey! My car!]
[Man]: “¡Me quiero volver chango!” I mean, obviously, he said it in English, well who knows what he said, you know?
[Woman 3]: I mean, there’s nothing like Mexican jokes for me. No, I mean, I think they’re the funniest, the cleverest. No. They’re the best.
[Daniel]: So, many of the fans were surprised when after 15 years of being the voice of Homero, in 2005, they fired Humberto and hired a new actor.
(SOUNDBITE FROM ARCHIVE)
[Homero]: Bueno, si seremos totalmente honestos, ese dibujo que hiciste de mí cuando tenías tres años no se parecía en nada a mí. [Well, if we’re being honest, that picture you drew of me when you were three didn’t look like me at all.].
[Daniel]: Maybe for someone who watchessThe Simpsons from time to time, it wasn’t so obvious. But for the true fans, changing the voices felt like a betrayal. Because they didn’t just change Homero’s voice, but almost all of the characters on the show, too. And it was no minor change in actors. Behind it, there were legal issues and labor disputes that changed the dubbing industry in Mexico. The industry had its golden age, but now it’s in a precarious state.
Victoria Estrada, our editorial assistant, brings us this story.
[Victoria Estrada]: It all started in 1990. When Twentieth Century Fox, the show’s producer, put Audiomaster 3000 —a Mexican dubbing company— in charge of doing a casting for the main characters of The Simpsons. And that casting was going to be supervised by Matt Groening, the show’s creator.
It was unusual for the show’s creator himself to be so involved in the dubbing. Especially at a company that was as renowned as Audiomaster, which at the time was the biggest dubbing company in the country. And being big in Mexico means being big throughout the region. There’s no country in Latin American that does more dubbing.
But Matt Groening…
[Paco Reséndez]: Was very demanding because it was like his child, his baby.
[Victoria]: This is Francisco Reséndez, or Paco, as he’s known in the industry. He was the dubbing director who was in charge of the series, and he told us that the casting took a very long time, much longer than it normally took for any other dubbing.
[Paco]: We spent three months… doing tests of… of… of the famous Simpsons.
[Victoria]: They sent them Matt Groening, one cassette after another, after another, after another, with different actors auditioning for him to choose from.
But he still wasn’t satisfied, so he traveled to Mexico —along with other Fox executives— to make the final call on the voices and give instructions on how they had to do the dubbing. He spoke with the directors at Audiomaster. He spoke with Paco and, after a few days in Mexico, he went back to the US, confident that everything was going ok.
So, in May of 1990 —after the three months of casting— they called in all of the actors in room 11 at Audiomaster at nine in the morning to record the first episode. Although Matt Groening wasn’t there anymore, some other Fox executives had stayed to supervise.
The actresses that were going to play Marge —the mom— and Lisa —the daughter— arrived, and for Bart —the son— they had chosen a child actor, but…
[Paco]: The kid never showed up.
[Victoria]: And that wasn’t the only problem.
[Paco]: The famous Homero… The actor who was going to play Homero… The day before was the anniversary of ANDA…
[Victoria]: Of the National Actors Association, the most important actor’s union in Mexico.
[Paco]: And he stayed at the party and arrived in the morning, from… he came here from the party.
[Victoria]: He reeked of alcohol. He wasn’t presentable. Paco and the Audiomaster 3000 directors started to panic. After months of testing voices, it seemed like everything was falling apart. So they thought fast: they took that actor out of the studio and started looking for someone to replace the actors they were missing.
Just then, Humberto Vélez…
[Humberto]: I was running from one place to another… coming out of a room where I was dubbing who knows what to another room where I had a call to dub who knows what.
[Victoria]: Which was very common in the dubbing industry: going from studio to studio, without a break, dubbing different characters. In one of the halls, he came across one of the Audiomaster managers.
[Humberto]: And he was desperate. He grabbed me and said, “Oh, it’s so good to see you.” And he took me by the hand, and I said, “Hey, hold on, I have a session in that room.” And he said, “Wait, you’re with the manager. I’m telling you you’re not going to the session.”
[Victoria]: He had no idea what was going on.
[Humberto]: I didn’t even know the show existed in the US or that it made it to Audiomaster for its dubbing, you know? And I didn’t know they’d been doing their auditions either, of course, the tests to see who the hell was going to dub these characters, you know?
[Victoria]: But for him, the situation wasn’t so unthinkable. Dubbing is a little like that: improvised. There’s no budget or time for long rehearsals. And Humberto already had quite a bit of experience, so dubbing an episode without knowing what it was about wasn’t so wild.
Once he was in the studio, Humberto saw the operator’s monitor.
[Humberto]: And of course, when you see Homer, well you never imagine that he’s something important when you see him for the first time. You never say, “This is a work of art.” I mean, I didn’t.
[Victoria]: Those of you who have seen The Simpsons know what Humberto is talking about. And for those who haven’t, I’ll describe it to you: Homer is a completely yellow man who looks like he’s in his forties, bald, pot-bellied, with bulging eyes. Hardly a drawing of a hero or a common protagonist.
So Humberto didn’t know what to think. The drawing looked pretty ugly. Even worse, the atmosphere was tense with the Audiomaster and Fox executives there. So then, Paco took the reins and said to the woman who was going to be Marge…
[Paco]: “You’re playing the boy.” Because she had a gravelly voice like that and I said, “You have that kind of rascally quality like Bart.”
[Victoria]: And in the hallways they had found another actress who was told to play Marge. Lisa’s voice stayed the same. And with Humberto playing Homero, they were set. They gave them some instructions. Not many: Homero is the dad. He’s lazy, clumsy, and he likes beer. Marge is the mom. She’s always worried, and…
[Paco]: Marge goes, “Mmmm.”
[Victoria]: Bart is the oldest. He likes to get into trouble. Lisa is the middle child. She’s a bit of a nerd. And Maggie is the baby. She doesn’t speak. So, then they started recording the scene. And to everyone’s surprise…
[Paco]: They were perfect.
[Humberto]: So, the… the gringo… turned around and said, “That’s exactly what I want.”
[Victoria]: The gringo, in other words, one of the managers from Fox said, “That’s exactly what I want.”
And that was it.
(SOUNDBITE THE SIMPSONS THEME)
[Victoria]: The Simpsons were alive in Spanish.
A few months later —on Christmas of 1990, a year after it came out in the US— The Simpsons premiered in Mexico, and soon the show began airing all over Latin America.
(SOUNDBITE FROM ARCHIVE)
[Presenter 1]: The Simpsons every Thursday at nine on Sistema.
[Presenter 2]: The Simpsons, Monday through Friday at five on Venevisión.
[Presentor 3]: The Simpsons, premier. The zaniest, most fun family on TV…
[Victoria]: It was an immediate hit: you saw them all over. In a little more than a year after its premiere in the US, they generated more than 2 billion dollars worldwide in Simpsons merchandise: t-shirts, action figures, purses, mugs, anything you can imagine.
The series was a portrait of a dysfunctional gringo family, and something that made it unique was that it used a lot of cultural references from that country…
[Paco]: Matt Groening told me. He says, “What you have to do is flip the tortilla.”
[Victoria]: The challenge for Paco and the team was, then, to transfer that humor to a Latin American context in a natural way.
[Paco]: The stage is set. But you need to tropicalize the dialogue. You have to make it for Latin America, because the dialogue is completely idiosyncratic to the United States, and that won’t work here.
[Victoria]: “Tropicalize”: that term is often used disparagingly, but in this case, the idea was for the jokes to connect to a Latin American audience.
(SOUNDBITE FROM ARCHIVE)
[Homero]: Cuando tuve yo te tuve, te mantuve y te di. Hoy no tengo, ni mantengo ni te tengo… [Lyrics to the song “Qué vueltas da la vida” by Reyli Barba]
[Victoria]: To accomplish that, they needed total creative freedom.
[Paco]: The two of us made The Simpsons together. Between Paquito Rubiales, him as the translator/adapter, and me as the director of The Simpsons.
[Victoria]: It was a job they didn’t just do in the studio or during work hours…
[Paco]: He would talk to me sometimes at three in the morning: “Listen up, tocayo [a person with the same name], this… what are we going to call the dog.” “Well, what’s the dog like?” “Well, he’s skinny.” “Ah, well, call him Huesos [Bones].” “Oh, that’s good, yeah. See you tomorrow.” “Awesome.” but that’s how it was.
[Victoria]: Bones. And that’s what they did with all the names. With all that work and all the changes they made, they arrived at jokes that became legendary…
(SOUNDBITE FROM ARCHIVE)
[Marge]: Homero, aquí hay una familia de zarigüeyas. [Homero, there’s a family of possums here.]
[Homero]: A la grande le puse Cuca. [I named the big one Cuca]
[Marge]: Mmm, voy a ver al señor Mandino. [Mmm, I’m going to call Mr. Mandino (originally Lyle Lanely).]
[Victoria]: In English, the possum Homer is referring to is called “Bitey.” Nothing too memorable. Maybe a lot of you don’t understand where this is going, but mention that phrase to any dedicated fan of The Simpsons in Latin America, and they’ll know what you’re talking about. For example, I have a friend who has two dogs and he named the big one Cuca.
But adapting the translations is just part of what they were doing. When they got to the studio, the actors also…
[Bardo Miranda]: We had the freedom to… to put things into the script that they gave to us already translated. A joke or a tease that involved… a co-worker.
[Victoria]: This is Bardo Miranda, a voice-over actor who also did a voice on the show…
(SOUNDBITE FROM ARCHIVE)
[Barney Gómez]: Mi nombre es Barney Gómez. Tengo cuarenta. Soy soltero y soy ebrio. [My name is Barney Gómez (originally Gumble). I’m 40 years old. I’m single, and I’m a drunk].
[Victoria]: Bardo told me that in the ‘90s —when they started dubbing The Simpsons— all of the actors who were in a scene had to record together with the same mic. And that was…
[Bardo]: Really hard because sometimes there would be as many as four or five actors around the podium.
[Victoria]: In other words, they didn’t record each voice on a separate channel, so…
[Bardo]: If it was my turn to start, I was really lucky. The unlucky one was the last one because if they messed up… you had to record everything again from the top. And so… you know, the insults: “How did you mess up! “Do you see how difficult this scene is and you…” And: “No, sorry, sorry. We’re going to record it again.” And, record it again!
[Victoria]: But recording like that had one advantage. The actors could improvise and try out jokes with one another to see if they work in the moment…
[Bardo]: For example, Humberto Vélez, I remember one time he mentioned himself.
[Victoria]: They were recording a scene in which Lisa had gone to spend the night at the power plant with Homero. And the two of them…
[Bardo]: Start confessing things to each other, right?
(SOUNDBITE FROM ARCHIVE)
[Homero]: Bueno, te toca. [Ok, your turn.]
[Lisa]: Secreto. [Truth.]
[Homero]: ¿Estás enamorada de alguien? [Do you have a crush on anyone?]
[Lisa]: ¡Papá! [Dad!]
[Bardo]: And then Lisa says…
(SOUNDBITE FROM ARCHIVE)
[Lisa]: Pero dijiste que no ibas a decirle a nadie… [But you said you weren’t going to tell anyone…]
[Bardo]: Humberto Vélez says something like…
(SOUNDBITE FROM ARCHIVE)
[Homero]: Ya hasta se me olvidó su nombre… ¿Beto Vélez? [I already forgot his name… Beto Vélez?
[Bardo]: No one said anything to us. In fact, they thought it was funny.
[Victoria]: They were having a good time, and that gave it an air of spontaneity that was fresh and elevated the performances in the show.
People really liked what they were doing. So much so that after The Simpsons was on air for a few seasons, something happened that Humberto Vélez, even with his long career, never could have imagined.
[Humberto]: I got a call from Ibero one day.
[Victoria]: The Ibero-American University, a private university in Mexico City.
[Humberto]: To tell me to come present at a conference. And I said, “But what do you mean a conference?” And I was like, “Why me? I’m not an academic. I’m an actor.”
[Victoria]: He didn’t know what they were talking about.
[Humberto]: I thought it was… one of two things, either they were joking, or they were setting a trap to kidnap me. Because that was when the kidnappings were starting.
[Victoria]: It seemed more believable to him that they wanted to kidnap him than invite him to talk about dubbing. That kind of thing just didn’t happen.
[Humberto]: It was stupid for them to talk to me. I mean, it wasn’t logical for them to call a voice-over actor to present at a conference at a university as important as Ibero.
[Victoria]: So, he did what made the most sense to him.
[Humberto]: And told him yes so he would leave me alone because I hung up and he called me again. Then I said, “Well, I’m not going to get him off my back.” So, I said, “Ok, I will.” He gave me the date, and I didn’t go.
[Victoria]: Of course, to avoid being kidnapped. But the day of the conference, that same guy called him again.
[Humberto]: And when the time came, the guy was crying: “We’re waiting for you. What do you mean you aren’t coming?” Right? So I go.
[Victoria]: They convinced him that it wasn’t a joke. So, he went to the university.
[Humberto]: When I got to the auditorium, well, people stood up and applauded me, and when they introduced me… well, the ovation… I’ll never be able to get that out of my head, no. And it was so incredible… so thunderous that… that I froze right on the stage. I didn’t know what to say, you know?
[Victoria]: Humberto had no idea what a success the show was, because, well, it was the ‘90s. There was no Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, all of the social media we know today. It wasn’t easy for fans to speak to actors. Besides, Homero Simpson was just one of the many characters that Humberto did. He wasn’t something he really thought about much. So he was there, in the auditorium, but he didn’t really know what they wanted from him.
[Humberto]: Because on top of that I hadn’t prepared anything. And even if I had prepared something, anything, it wouldn’t have mattered with a reaction like that, right? So basically, what I had to do was tell them, “Listen, tell me what to do or tell me what to say. What do you want to know, because I don’t know what to say.”
They told me that the dubbing was really well done. They told me that that the show was perfectly done and that was a miracle, you know? What a strange thing.
[Victoria]: Humberto couldn’t believe it because you have to understand something: dubbing has always been seen negatively in the field of acting. It’s like the ugly duckling.
[Humberto]: Screen actors have always looked down on voice acting because that’s not acting. Acting is appearing in person.
So I said, “What is this?” I mean, nothing had happened to me. I didn’t expect anything to happen. That was the first time I was given the rock-star treatment.
[Victoria]: He says “the first time” because after that they started inviting Humberto and also the other voices from The Simpsons to more events. They went to comic conventions. They signed autographs. You saw them on TV.
(SOUNDBITE FROM ARCHIVE)
[Presentor]: I think they’re placed very well, but in a certain way, not physically. We’re here with Marina Huerta and Humberto Vélez.
[Marina Huerta]: Hello, old man.
[Presentor]: There it is.
[Humberto]: Hello, hello.
[Presentor]: She plays Bart.
[Humberto]: How are you? How’s it going?
[Presentor]: And here is Humberto who plays Homero.
[Victoria]: From the mid-‘90s until the early 2000s they reached levels of success they had never imagined. Which was very strange for them, being accustomed to being behind the mic.
Humberto felt like it was the best time in his career…
[Humberto]: I, uh… want that pace to keep going for the rest of my life because I’m very good at doing that kind of work and the money was good, but that ended the day the company just disappeared. From one day to the next without telling anyone, not even the clients, let alone the actors.
[Daniel]: After the break, the moment Humberto dreamed of was over.
We’ll be right back.
[Daniel]: We’re back with Radio Ambulante. I’m Daniel Alarcón. For Humberto Vélez and the rest of the show’s voice-over actors, it was almost 15 years of success. Of fame they never imagined. Humberto was at the height of his professional career and all of a sudden it seemed like it was all falling apart.
One ordinary day in 2003, the actors went to the Audiomaster 3000 building, to work, like normal, like always, but the doors were locked…
[Humberto]: We knocked on the door, but no one answered. At the Televisa offices, they didn’t tell us anything.
[Daniel]: They called Televisa because that was the company that owned Audiomaster.
[Humberto]: They said, “No, well, they’re there.” “Well, yes, they’re there, but they won’t open the doors.” So, it was very weird, you understand? Very weird. So we went home. And well, we’ll see what happens, well we have to wait, right? We don’t own this thing, right?
[Daniel]: And that was precisely the problem. They didn’t own anything.
Victoria continues the story.
[Victoria]: Like we said at the start of this story, Audiomaster 3000 was the largest dubbing company in Mexico. They were in the business of quantity: produce a lot of dubbing, even if you sell it cheap. But they were lowering their prices more and more, and that brought financial problems. Their business was becoming unsustainable, and finally, they closed. One important detail is that neither Humberto nor any of the other actors on the show knew about the company’s economic troubles. So when it vanished, it was a surprise for them.
So, The Simpsons didn’t have a studio, but they needed to record soon —Fox had distribution contracts across Latin America that they had to uphold. It was a completely uncertain situation.
[Humberto]: A few days later my phone rang, and a Latin America dubbing representative from Fox called.
[Victoria]: Humberto had never had direct contact with Fox, but, at the time —besides being the voice of Homero— he had been the dubbing director of The Simpsons for several years. Paco had left the series after season seven.
So, that Fox executive called Humberto directly to see if he knew what was going on with Audiomaster.
[Humberto]: And I say, “You don’t know anything?” He says, “No. And I’m the client.”
[Victoria]: Humberto responded that they hadn’t told him anything either. He had just shown up there, and the studio was closed. But, well, what was happening with Audiomaster didn’t seem to matter to that executive, because without thinking much about it, he said…
[Humberto]: “Ok,” he says. “Then I assume at the moment that that company doesn’t exist anymore. So, we’re going to change. We’re taking the dubbing somewhere else.”
[Victoria]: Humberto told him the best option was to take The Simpsons to a smaller studio —called Grabaciones y Doblajes— but it’s better known as Estrellita. Humberto had already worked there, recording Futurama, another Fox series, and he recommended that studio because…
[Humberto]: It was really great working there because that company was particularly friendly.
[Victoria]: Friendly toward the voiceover actors. In other words, Estrellita had a good relationship with the National Association of Actors, ANDA, the same union we mentioned at the start.
And you have to understand the working conditions for voiceover actors. We spoke about the fame, and the invitations Humberto and the other Simpsons voice actors got. But everything we mentioned before is unusual. Really, voice-over work is more like a maquila [a duty-free factory operated in Mexico] than Hollywood.
For example, in the early 2000s, they paid Humberto about 600 pesos for each episode of The Simpsons —or 60 dollars at the exchange rate at the time— and that’s because he was dubbing Homero, the show’s main character, because if you were a supporting character the pay was even less. You couldn’t live off of dubbing just one character, so, actors had to record as much as they could each day to earn a living wage.
[Humberto]: You got in at eight in the morning and you left at eleven at night every day with one hour to eat. And you go home dead tired to sleep and get up the next day at six and be there every day, you know?
[Victoria]: That’s why the day they pulled in Humberto as an emergency to do Homero’s voice —remember?, when the other actor came in drunk— well, Humberto was in the halls at Audiomaster. It was normal, routine. It was always like that.
But somehow or another, the work paid off if you were a member of ANDA. They gave actors like Humberto benefits that the dubbing companies didn’t cover: health insurance, childcare, funeral costs, and a retirement fund. On top of that, they negotiated workers’ salaries. It wasn’t a perfect union. They had corruption problems, but thanks to ANDA, the voice over actors could live stably.
Humberto, then, proposed that the Fox executive take the dubbing for The Simpsons to Estrellita, and he responded…
[Humberto]: “Done,” he says. “Because we already are waiting on a bunch of episodes from Adiomaster, so it’s done, right?”
[Victoria]: Soon they started recording, and season 15 of The Simpsons aired on schedule, in the summer of 2004. It seemed like the crisis was over.
But toward the end of that year, Estrellita changed their attitude toward the union: they had always worked exclusively with workers with ANDA, but now they wanted to negotiate a new deal in order to hire independent actors or members of other unions. This would reduce costs, so, those 600 pesos I mentioned could go down even more. That’s the difference between negotiating with a union and negotiating with independent actors. For ANDA, that was unacceptable.
[Humberto]: And so, there was a terrible fight which was precisely the fight… known as The Simpsons strike.
[Victoria]: Humberto and several other members of ANDA stood in front of the studio, blocked the entrances and hung black and red flags. The actors who did the voices for The Simpsons tried to use their fame, their visibility to gain support: they appeared on the media and appealed to Fox directly to step in on their behalf.
But a year earlier, Fox had dealt with a similar issue: in March of 2004, the voices for The Simpsons in the United States had gone on strike when they weren’t able to come to an agreement with Fox over a salary increase. They were already making 125,000 dollars an episode —yes, more than 2,000 times what the voice-over actors in Mexico were making— but the show was so popular they asked for more. Fox resisted, but after a few weeks, they reached an agreement.
In Mexico, things were different. Fox stayed out of it. They weren’t interested in negotiating the way they had with the US cast, but they told them to hold new auditions and change the voices of all of the Simpson’s characters. This time Matt Groening didn’t come.
The actors heard about this while they were still on strike.
[Humberto]: They told all of us, “Listen they’re recording The Simpsons now.” And what do you want us to do? Go and drag them out of there? We couldn’t do that either, you know?
[Bardo]: I spoke with the… I think she’s the production manager there at Estrellita, and I told her…
[Victoria]: This is Bardo again, the voice of Barney.
[Bardo]: “Why’d you take away my character?” And what she said to me was: “Well, someone told me that you didn’t want to come in.” I say, “What? You think I would just give up a role that’s so, so, so important to me? So important to my career as an actor?” I said, “No, I was never going to do that. They lied to you.” And she says: “But, well, there’s no way, the damage is done. Another actor is already doing it.” And that was that.
[Victoria]: The new season aired in July of 2005.
[Woman 1]: When they changed the dubbing, I stopped watching The Simpsons.
[Victoria]: A lot of the most faithful fans noticed the change in the voices immediately, and they didn’t take it well.
[Man]: Well, yeah, I said, “Ok, well… I’ll try, try to get used to it.” But, ah, no. Get out of here.
[Woman 1]: It was hard because it lost… All of a sudden it wasn’t funny anymore.
[Woman 2]: It was like a double rage, you know? I mean, seeing that product get… get messed up and knowing that the people who do such a good job are being so mistreated.
[Victoria]: Some of them tried to organize online, to boycott the show until the original voices came back, but it didn’t work. It seemed like most of the audience didn’t mind the change. If Fox wanted to demonstrate that voiceover actors are replaceable, they did.
The biggest consequence of the strike was that now for Humberto and many other actors, it’s hard to collectively negotiate their working conditions. Yes, ANDA and the other unions still exist, but their strength has practically disappeared…
[Humberto]: So we can’t make any demands because they always tell us, “Do whatever you want.” “You haven’t paid me.” “Well, do whatever you want.” I can’t go on strike to get paid anymore, understand? Not for a raise. Not for anything.
[Victoria]: And that has changed the dubbing industry. Without organizations like ANDA to defend the actors, the studios are now trying to cut costs any way they can. And, well, you can’t lower the cost of electricity and the internet —you can’t control that— but you can lower the cost of talent. The cost of the actors.
[Paco]: Now they pay whatever they want. And whoever wants it goes.
[Victoria]: This is Paco Reséndez, the first director for the dubbing of The Simpsons, who we heard at the start.
[Paco]: Sometimes they say, “No, I’ll give you 90 pesos a session for the minimum call.” And there are people who go.
[Victoria]: Ninety pesos, that’s less than five dollars.
[Humberto]: I can’t go tell the company, “Listen, I need to make more,” because they’re going to say, “Haha. There are 40 guys behind you who would do it for free.” Because there are 40 guys who would do it for free, and we’ve already seen that, right?
[Victoria]: It doesn’t matter if as they lower rates they lose key parts of the process. Those that made the Simpsons’ dubbing so special.
[Paco]: They don’t adapt anymore. Now they just translate it, and the director has to —if they want to— has to adapt it.
[Victoria]: The technology also makes it so that you don’t have to record as a group.
[Bardo]: One person comes in, they record, and they leave. Another person comes in, they record, and they leave. They aren’t together in the way they were before.
[Victoria]: There’s no community, the new actors aren’t learning from the ones who have more experience. And if it was hard to live as a voice-over actor before, now it’s much worse.
Dubbing has always been an invisible job. I think it’s fair to describe it that way, not just in Mexico, of course, but everywhere. Maybe the case of The Simpsons, of those voices that became iconic, is the exception to the rule. It was a golden age. And it’s over.
Or maybe not.
It’s been 15 years since they changed to voices on The Simpsons —since they fired Humberto and the others— and soon the new voices will have spent more time as Bart, Homero, and the rest, than Humberto and the original cast.
However, in a way, Humberto is still famous. They still invite him to conventions, to appear on tv. He has a live show where he talks about his experience with The Simpsons. When I spoke with him, he told me that he was just at an event called “The Simpsons Day” a few days earlier.
[Humberto]: They set me up at a stand and the company charged 40 pesos for the autograph and the… and the photo. Photo and autographs, 40 pesos.
[Victoria]: Or a little over two dollars.
[Humberto]: And then they insisted that I do recordings. I haven’t done recordings of Homero for a long time because it’s terrible to do recordings of him, you know? Because it makes me really tired, and it takes a lot of energy, especially because I’m 63, and I don’t… it’s not so easy anymore, you know?
[Victoria]: But they insisted and asked him to make an exception. And he agreed. On the condition they pay him.
[Humberto]: Then I said, “Alright, ok, but I’m charging you.” Then I said: “Forty pesos, like the photos, right?”
[Victoria]: And to his surprise, people paid him. Happily. And Humberto went home happy, with money in his pocket. And proud. Because for a lot of fans, he’ll always be Homero.
[Humberto]: Victoria Estrada is an editorial assistant for Radio Ambulante and she lives in Xalapa, Veracruz.
This episode was edited by Camila Segura, Daniel Alarcón, Luis Fernando Vargas and Joseph Zárate. The music and sound design are by Rémy Lozano and Andrés Azpiri. Andrea López Cruzado did the fact-checking. Thanks to Lisette Arévalo and David Trujillo for their help on this story.
The rest of the Radio Ambulante team includes Gabriela Brenes, Jorge Caraballo, Miranda Mazariegos, Patrick Moseley, Laura Rojas Aponte, Barbara Sawhill, Liliana Ulloa, and Silvia Viñas. Carolina Guerrero is the CEO.
Radio Ambulante is produced and mixed on Hindenburg PRO. To hear more episodes and learn more about this story, visit our webpage radioambulante.org.
Radio Ambulante tells the stories of Latin America. I’m Humberto Vélez. Thanks for listening. D’oh! Did I say that or just think it?