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The Untold Truth Of Bob's Burgers

Since quietly debuting as a midseason replacement in 2011, Bob's Burgers has gone on to become one of Fox's most acclaimed and popular shows. An anchor of the network's Sunday night "Animation Domination" block of edgy animated series, the show depicts the low-stakes and hilariously relatable adventures of Bob Belcher, proprietor of a small, just-barely-making it, burgers-only joint in a seaside town populated by tourists and many wacky locals. He's supported by his optimistic, perpetually singing wife Linda and their three kids: hormone-driven and butt-obsessed teenager Tina, keyboard-toting decadent Gene, and rebel in the making Louise. (She's the one with the bunny ears.) Sometimes Bob succeeds, sometimes he fails, but the family unit never falters and he will never, ever make nice with rival restaurateur and sworn enemy Jimmy Pesto. Created by Loren Bouchard (Home Movies), the series mixes silly stories, puns, heart, and music to make for a truly original and happy viewing experience. Here's a look under the buns of Bob's Burgers.

Fox asked Loren Bouchard to create a show for them

The way a TV show gets made is pretty straightforward ... and difficult. A writer comes up with an idea for a show, writes a pilot script, and, if they've got enough credits and clout in Hollywood, they've got an agent, and that agent gets the pilot into the hands of the executives at TV networks who decide what shows they might want to make. This is not how Bob's Burgers originated. Creator Loren Bouchard was actually approached by Suzanna Makkos, the executive vice president in charge of comedy at Fox, and asked to create an animated series for the network. Makkos was working on developing another animated series and was looking at demo reels by animation houses. One of them included some clips of Lucy, the Daughter of the Devil, a macabre comedy that had briefly run on Adult Swim. Makkos liked the animation fine, but what she really liked was the show. She thought it was funny and had an assistant track down its creator, Loren Bouchard. He was living in San Francisco at the time and flew down to meet with Makkos about making a show that same day.

Tina Belcher was originally a boy named Daniel

Because cartoons are so expensive and complicated to produce, some will forgo making a complete 30-minute pilot in favor of a "pilot presentation," a short, roughly animated film of just a few minutes that gives network executives a good idea of what a completed series would feel like. Bouchard and producer Jim Dauterive made one such pilot presentation for Fox. Fox entertainment head Kevin Reilly liked the overall concept and feel of the show, but he had some notes. Among them were that the three kids' personalities were not unique enough from one another. At that time, the Belcher kids consisted of one girl (Louise) and two boys, Gene and Daniel. While Bouchard had to admit that Reilly was correct, neither he nor Fox wanted to let go of Dan Mintz, who played Daniel. The solution: change Daniel to a girl named Tina, keep Mintz in the part, and don't have him change his voice or approach to the character at all.

The initial premise was extremely dark

The last thing that Bouchard had worked on before Bob's Burgers was Lucy, Daughter of the Devil, for Adult Swim. That show was about the battle between good and evil, and so at the time, Bouchard had trained himself to skew his comedy on the more twisted side. That led to a very dark initial premise for Bob's Burgers: The Belchers were going to run a burger joint ... but they were cannibals. "I had this kind of more occult-y, sort of darker edge to the way I was thinking then," Bouchard said. Ultimately, Fox loved everything about the show, or rather everything except the cannibalism. (Suzanna Makkos talked Bouchard out of it, pointing out how difficult it would be to do "100 episodes' worth of cannibal jokes.") Elements of the original concept remains—Mort's Funeral Home next door was possibly going to be a meat supplier for Bob's Burgers.

John Roberts was cast straight from YouTube

The voice cast was initially populated by veteran professional comedians and voice actors. But that's not the case for the actor who landed the role of boisterous, prone-to-singing Linda Belcher. A lot of people start making YouTube videos with visions of stardom. The dream has only come true so far for a relative handful—and John Roberts, who voices Linda, is one of them. His videos, such as "The Christmas Tree" and "Jackie & Debra," in which he played overbearing older women, went viral and led to appearances on a number of shows playing those kinds of characters, such as on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, where he played the host's mother. That all led to a meeting with Loren Bouchard, and a role on Bob's Burgers playing a character much like the ones he created online. In 2015, Roberts became the first member of the Bob's Burgers cast to earn an Emmy Award nomination for outstanding character voice-over performance.

How they got Kevin Kline to join the cast

The show's cast consists primarily of young, major players on the "alternative" comedy scene, such as Kristen Schaal (Louise), Dan Mintz (Tina), and Eugene Mirman (Gene), along with voice acting legend H. Jon Benjamin (Bob). Also part of the cast is Academy Award-winning actor and theater star Kevin Kline. Bob's Burgers represents his first major voice work for a weekly animated TV series. They got him to join the cast in a very non-traditional way. Kline's grown children live in New York and go to a lot of comedy shows, and are big fans of Mirman in particular. They brought their father along to some shows, and Kline and Mirman got along. As it turns out, Kline's manager was friends with the Bob's Burgers casting director, so the show went out on a limb and asked him if he'd be interested in the recurring role of Bob's eccentric millionaire landlord, Mr. Fischoeder. Kline read the script, thought it was funny, and accepted. "I don't think any of us were prepared for him to say yes," Bouchard said.

The actors record their lines together

The vast majority of animated TV series, past and present, do not record their actors doing their voice parts all at once. Rather, each individual actor goes into a recording studio and delivers lines one by one. Bob's Burgers is an exception—audio for each episode is collected from the entire cast all at once. It's not quite a table read with microphones, or like shooting a live-action sitcom—some of the actors live in Los Angeles, and some live in New York, so a high-quality ISDN line is used to unite everybody. But it is all done live, with the actors feeding off each other. This gives the show a realistic, conversational feel—with plenty of room for improvisation—similar to Bouchard's previous natural-sounding series, Home Movies and Dr. Katz: Professional Therapist. Even big celebrities popping in for an episode have to work this unique method of production into their busy schedules. "Whoever the guest stars are, we get to basically, generally get to record with them," cast member Eugene Mirman told Complex.

Why Louise wears bunny ears

Denizens of the Internet have a number of theories about why youngest Belcher child Louise always wears bunny ears. It's never quite explained why; maybe she has a bald spot she's hiding (like her father), or the hat allows her to hide from the world in some small way. The real reason is not so emotionally complicated. It was inspired by a manga—and later, anime—from Japan called Tekkonkinkreet. "There was a kid who had this little bear hat, and I liked that weird combination of kid and animal where they become an animal by always being seen wearing these little ears. You get a little cognitive dissonance where you experience Louise both as a little girl and Bugs Bunny at the same time." 

That animal instinct is alive and well in Louise, as are references to Japanese pop culture in Bob's Burgers. One episode features an extended dream sequence/tribute to Studio Ghibli's My Neighbor Totoro, the similarly Ghibli-inspired episode that takes place inside Louise's fever-riddled brain, and Bob and Louise's love of a series of Japanese martial arts films called Hawk & Chick. Whether or not it has something to do with one of those things, Bob's Burgers creator Loren Bouchard mentioned on Twitter in 2018 that the true origin of Louise's bunny ears hat habit will be explained in Bob's Burgers: The Movie, which hits theaters in July 2020.

You can make the burgers for real

One of the most popular recurring features on Bob's Burgers is the daily burger special at Bob's Burgers. Bob always finds a way to incorporate new or special ingredients to make an interesting and tasty new burger, and the name is always an elaborate pun. In 2015, a Bob's Burgers and burger fan named Cole Bowden started a blog called The Bob's Burgers Experiment. He dutifully recreated dozens of burger-of-the-day specials based almost entirely on his own imagination and culinary skills—as on the show, the burgers were little more than brief, passing background gags. In 2016, Bowden teamed up with the show's creative team to release an official cookbook,The Bob's Burgers Burger Book. Along with new illustrations and text from the Belcher family, it includes more than 70 real recipes such as "I Know Why the Cajun Burger Sings Burger," "Sweaty Palms Burger," and "Shoot-Out at the OK-ra Corral Burger (comes with fried okra)."

Each script gets its own original title page

Fan art is a wonderful thing — new art created by fans, inspired by and starring characters from their favorite TV shows. But Bob's Burgers producer and artist Tony Gennaro loves Bob's Burgers just as much as viewers do, and makes what might be described as "fan art" if he wasn't a member of the show's staff. After each episode's script is written and printed out for a table read by the cast, Gennaro makes a special, original title page illustration. None of these images are based on actual stills or animation from the episode, nor any of its promotional materials. It's just an extra little bit of Bob's Burgers fun strictly for the people who make Bob's Burgers. They often mimic a movie poster, or pay homage to the well-known posters used to promote famous movies. Gennaro's title page for "Uncle Teddy" recalls the Uncle Buck one-sheet, for example, while the "Seaplane!" art is a clear send-up of Top Gun imagery.

A talented fan landed himself a job on the show

On July 21, 2017, a Welsh animator named Simon Chong uploaded to Twitter a four-minute video he'd worked on for a grueling seven months: a Bob's Burgers and Archer crossover cartoon in which the employees of Archer's ISIS agency wander into Bob's burger shop. (The main link between the two animated series: H. Jon Benjamin voices the title character on each.) Chong made the whole thing himself, handling all the art and animation and using very carefully selected audio clips from Bob's Burgers and Archer episodes so the plot would make sense and flow correctly. Media outlets were astonished by the professionalism of Chong's work. "His skill and attention to detail is undeniable The video feels like something Fox actually produced," said Charles Pulliam-Moore of Gizmodo.

The clip caught the attention of the people behind both Archer and Bob's Burgers. Amber Nash, who voices Pam on the former, tweeted that Chong's video was "all any of us are talking about" at that year's San Diego Comic-Con. Bob's Burgers creator Loren Bouchard confessed that he was rendered "speechless." After Chong expressed his thanks, Bouchard offered him a job. And before long, Chong started his work on Bob's Burgers as an assistant retake director and retake storyboard artist.

The roles were created for the cast members

Hollywood is full of great actors, but it takes a special eye for talent to match performers to the right part. Casting is a major part of the undefinable magic of a great TV series, but the way Bob's Burgers creator Loren Bouchard assembled his cast was a little nontraditional and extremely optimistic. He wrote every main role with the actor who would ultimately voice those characters in mind. 

"I've worked with Jon Benjamin who plays Bob for over 20 years. I've only ever done shows with John in them, I don't even want to know what it's like to do a show without him," Bouchard told It's Nice That, referring to past projects like Home Movies, Lucy: The Daughter of the Devil, and Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist. "I knew I wanted him as the dad and we built the family around him." He thought the female voice John Roberts did in so many of his videos would work for Linda Belcher, and that Kristen Schaal just ought to be Louise. "I've always wanted to work with her, I knew she would be an incredible little girl." He'd also worked with Eugene Mirman (Gene), before, and wanted to include him in the main family. The only cast member not pre-approved: Dan Mintz, who plays Tina, and was recommended by Jon Benjamin.

Why the Belchers are the Belchers

Bob's Burgers seamlessly weaves the high with the low. Any given episode may present an earnest and emotionally honest plot about the importance of family and being a good person... but then give way to something like Tina Belcher dreaming about sexy zombies, or a song from Gene Belcher about the glory of passing gas, for example. This mix of high-minded and low-minded material is prevalent in an unexpected place: an overlooked bit of basic character information. The last name of the central characters is Belcher. Why did creator Loren Bouchard stick them with that? "Two reasons," he told It's Nice That. First, the "silly stupid joke" of the name appealed to him, but more importantly, it was to provide some kind of cultural identification. "My name is French-Canadian and we wanted them to have some ethnicity but couldn't settle on what," Bouchard explained. He and the writers selected a name that sounded at least a little French-Canadian (in addition to being a burp joke). It's better than the first name Bouchard came up with: Boygas. "Bad idea," he admitted.

The origin of the burger of the day jokes

Bob Belcher routinely marries his two favorite things — burgers and puns — with a "Burger of the Day" advertised on his restaurant's specials board, which invariably boasts a pun-based name. For example, there's the shallot-based "Hit Me With Your Best Shallot Burger," papaya-oriented "Papaya Was a Rolling Stone Burger," and the corn-salsa topped "Mission A-Corn-Plished Burger." In the very first episode, Louise erases the special ("New Bacon-Ings") and writes an offensively fake one in its absence.

According to show creator Loren Bouchard, this was supposed to be a running gag, which he soon abandoned. "It was all about this idea that Louise would mess with the chalkboard when Bob would leave her alone in the restaurant," Bouchard told Vulture. He also realized that a revolving "Burger of the Day" expressed a lot about Bob's character. "You get a sense of Bob that you don't otherwise get, that (a) this is a guy who cares a lot about his food and makes a new special every day," Bouchard said, "and that (b) he's trying to be funny."

Coming up with the punny special falls to the writer of the individual episode. They present Bouchard with a list of about 10 possibilities, and he gets to choose the one that will go into the show. His main rule is that it can't be too silly. "My goal is to have it seem like it could be a real burger."