Arts

Eric Bauza, a.k.a. Bugs Bunny, reveals the hidden messages of his favourite shows in Stay Tooned

Stay Tooned, a new show on CBC, takes a deep dive into the cultural significance and psychology of beloved cartoons from the 1980s and '90s.

'If you were a kid in the '80s and '90s, you were just like a lab rat in front of a monitor'

Eric Bauza in front of Los Angeles Comic-Con in Stay Tooned. (CBC)

You may not know Eric Bauza's face, but you definitely know his voice. The Scarborough, Ont.-born voice actor has been in the business for 20 years, and has voiced such beloved characters as Marvin the Martian, Stimpy, Bob Belcher Sr. and, since 2018, Bugs Bunny.

But in Stay Tooned, a new series premiering on CBC and CBC Gem on Dec. 2, Bauza steps out of the recording booth and in front of the camera to examine the cartoons that he grew up watching through a more analytical lens, looking at how these shows framed things like sexuality, gender and politics.

Bauza talked to us about what he learned, how "the Reagan era" of the 1980s changed children's television and how the shows of his youth were surprisingly loaded with subliminal messages.

How did this project come to be? Why did you come back to Canada to do this show for CBC when you're down in the States making Bugs Bunny money now?

I was just minding my own business here in Los Angeles as a voiceover artist, and I got contacted by the Fathom Film Group in Toronto. They asked me if I was interested in hosting a pilot of a show that all revolved around animation, but not necessarily a nostalgia show — more of a peeling back the layers of an onion of the fever dream that was animation in the '80s and '90s. So I thought, "I'll do the pilot. I'm sure it'll be overlooked. No one will want to watch me on TV."

And then the CBC came knocking and I went, "Great. Now I have to work. Now I have to memorize lines and look nice on camera."

I really was meant to be a voice actor, a face made only for radio. But this has been an incredible experience. And both CBC and Fathom Film Group have been so supportive. And I'm very grateful for this opportunity to host a TV show that revolves around something I adore.

So, break down what the show is about for me.

It's about how animation has shaped us. It is a deep dive into representation in cartoons — anything from public service announcements to sexual representation and queer coding to moral panics to consumerism and capitalism. Whether those lessons and messages were blatantly there in our faces or [happening] subliminally, it's something that this show is going to examine. 

So, you make your living as a voice actor — do you have any experience in front of the camera?

Less on camera, but I've been a moderator and interviewer. I have over a decade of San Diego Comic-Con and New York Comic-Con experience, moderating panels, where I've been asked to moderate in front of a live audience of over a thousand people, and then we had a lot of Comic-Cons over Zoom in the pandemic. And of course hosting and MCing all of my cousin's weddings. You know, you want to know where the bathrooms are right before you start an interview and what the rules are, and if there's an open bar. 

Saturday Night Live alumnus, actor and voice actor Bobby Moynihan in Stay Tooned. (CBC)

How was interviewing on TV vs. at a Comic-Con?

At first I was like," Oh boy. Am I up for this?" I really do credit the fine hosts and MCs and presenters and on air personalities that do this every day. I only had to do it for a very limited time. And it's a very demanding career choice. To those who make it look easy, my hat's off to you, and I promise not to stay longer than I'm welcome.

But if they get a second season, I have no choice but to stay. If the six episodes is all I have, then, damn it, I'm very proud of these six episodes. It has a lot of my friends in it and a lot of people that I grew up watching, not thinking in a million years that I would be working with them, and then another million years interviewing them on my CBC show. I'm very, very thankful.

So you said this show focuses a lot on the 1980s and '90s, which is when the FCC in the United States changed the rules around children's TV under Ronald Reagan. That opened the door to cartoons becoming enormous toy ads. What did you learn about that era?

If you were a kid in that era — in the '80s and '90s — you were just like a lab rat in front of a monitor, and they were flashing these images at you. Boy, did my parents' bank accounts drain when Transformers was on TV because, you know, it worked. 

At the same time, it was a very important part of my childhood, and whether or not they were toy commercials in disguise — as opposed to robots in disguise — I still have a soft spot in my heart for these characters. At the end of the day, as much as they were trying to sell you things, [the shows] were very entertaining and they were artfully done. There was a lot of real creativity that went into something like Transformers or G.I. Joe. And again, the voice acting for me was a huge influence on who I am now. 

That [also] inadvertently caused an artist renaissance in the '90s, and that was the creator-driven cartoon, right? People went overboard with [toy-driven shows]. And then it kind of caused a rebellion that gave birth to shows like Ren and Stimpy, Beavis and Butthead, Johnny Bravo, Dexter's Laboratory. But, you know, consumerism always wins, because no matter what happens when something becomes popular — whether it was created to be a toy or not — boy do those Powerpuff Girls T-shirts look good, right? Ren and Stimpy figures sold out in the '90s.

What did you learn that surprised you the most?

It was kind of challenging just to look back at everything and just be blown away that something that was supposed to be kids' entertainment may have had political undertones. Like Cartoon All-Stars to the Rescue. Everyone wants to see Garfield and Alf, the Chipmunks, Muppet Babies, Ninja Turtles, Slimer, Huey, Dewey and Louie, Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck in an anti-drug cartoon. As a kid, I was kind of like, "Yeah, I'm not going to do drugs. I just want to see this cool cartoon." 

Lake Bell, the voice of Poison Ivy in Harley Quinn, being interview by Eric Bauza in Stay Tooned. (CBC)

Did you get to talk to any of your voice acting heroes?

Yeah, Cree Summer and Tara Strong, both Torontonian voice actresses. There's people that I've never worked with that I got to meet, like Lake Bell and Lamorne Morris. These are people that I admire and I love what they're doing with animation and voiceover work.

I know there's been a lot in the news lately about celebrities vs. voiceover artist in feature [animated] films, but the ones I have on the show are so passionate about it. Someone like Lamorne Morris or Lake Bell or Ben Schwartz or Bobby Moynihan or Ken Jeong — these are celebrities that are huge animation fans and don't just want to do their own voice. They want to actually create a character.

Anything else you want to add?

I hope the audience really gets into this show, and I feel like it's something that hasn't been done with animation anthology shows. I used to desperately look for those "behind the scenes" or "making of" shows about cartoons when I was a kid. And I feel like there really hasn't been one since a good friend of mine — John DiMaggio — did I Know That Voice, which was a documentary on voiceover artists. But I feel like Stay Tooned is a pretty unique show in that it's going to expose you to things about your favourite shows that you probably missed.

Stay Tooned premieres on CBC Gem on December 2nd.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Chris Dart

Web Writer

Chris Dart is a writer, editor, jiu-jitsu enthusiast, transit nerd, comic book lover, and some other stuff from Scarborough, Ont. In addition to CBC, he's had bylines in The Globe and Mail, Vice, The AV Club, the National Post, Atlas Obscura, Toronto Life, Canadian Grocer, and more.

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