‘Bob’s Burgers’ Star H. Jon Benjamin on How Bob Inspires Him to Be a Better Dad

‘Bob’s Burgers’ Star H. Jon Benjamin on How Bob Inspires Him to Be a Better Dad

In the very first episode of Bob’s Burgers, the patriarch of the Belcher family gives something of a pep talk to his children. He tasks each of them with something to do for the family restaurant and explains that they need to get it all right. He concludes the not-so-rousing speech by saying, “Listen, you’re my children and I love you, but you’re all terrible at what you do here and I feel like I should tell you, I’d fire all of you if I could.”

While this motivational speech is both funny and memorable, it stands in contrast to who Bob Belcher would become over the next 13 seasons. Yes, he’s prone to negativity and fatalistic thinking, but Bob is actually one of the best fathers on television. Most TV dads are morons, rage machines or both. Bob, though, usually approaches his kids with acceptance and understanding — even if he rarely understands what the three, very strange Belcher children are up to. 

In fact, fans of the Fox series love how much of a caring father Bob is. As does the man who voices him: H. Jon Benjamin. 

Last year when I interviewed Benjamin for an oral history of the Bob’s Burgers Thanksgiving episodes, he made a passing remark about how, as a father himself, Bob inspires him to be a better parent. With Father’s Day fast approaching, I recently reached back out to Benjamin to have him explain exactly how this animated burger chef has influenced his own fatherly ways.

Birthing Bob Belcher

When Loren Bouchard was creating Bob’s Burgers, there was always an eye on it being a very uncynical show. It’s optimistic and that reflects Loren’s creative vision, as well as (writer/executive producer) Nora Smith’s, when they started the show. They wanted to set it apart from the very cynical nature of the other animation that was on the same network at the time.

That goes back to who Loren is, and it’s what he wants for the show and for the character of Bob. I can’t take full credit for the character. I can take credit for the voice, but there was a lot of molding of Bob into something a lot less cynical than what I would have done myself. I’m very comfortable with it now, but I’ll still occasionally get a note from Loren saying “less mean.” 

When Loren was developing Bob’s Burgers, he talked a lot about Bob loving what he does — no matter if it’s fruitful for him financially or not. I think that makes a difference in who Bob is. He’s not a work-a-day guy. He owns his own business and earnestly likes it.

I also remember Loren talking about Kenny Shopsin. Shopsin’s is a diner in New York City, and the original owner was famous for being kind of surly. He was also famous for his insane menu with hundreds of items. And it was very good — it was elevated diner food. One thing Loren took from Kenny was the love of the food. He was like a chef in a cook’s outfit, and Loren wanted that for Bob. “The Burger of the Day,” for example, is very Shopsin’s-esque. Bob really relishes what he does — no pun intended.

Bob’s Parenting Skills

Bob’s passion for what he does is also what makes him a good dad. He’s not checked out of his family, but Bob is focused on what he does and it gives him a cushion from overcompensating in his family life. He leads by example, and lets his children do their thing without judgment or consequences. Because of his love of what he does, it allows Bob to lay off sweating all the details. 

In the first episode, there’s that iconic speech that Bob makes where he says, “I love you, but you’re all terrible.” But over the years, Bob has moved away from that speech. That was probably a relic of my attitude versus what the character needed to become. I don’t think he’d call his kids terrible at this point. He might mumble a little bit, but he certainly wouldn’t speak it aloud. I don’t even think he thinks it. He admires his children, which is also a special quality in Bob. He gives them space and appreciates them for who they are. 

How Bob Belcher Makes Him a Better Dad

When I started playing Bob, my kid was heavily involved with playing tournament basketball, and thinking about it now, if I could go back and do something differently, I definitely would have put a little less pressure on him. I did get too intense about appreciating his skill level, which was high for his age. I got caught up in that. I wasn’t the worst of the worst, but the amount of joy I took from him playing well was toxic. I could have used a little bit of distance, like Bob.

I noticed this way too late, but playing Bob helped me pull out of that. Bob has that unique ability to appreciate his kids from a distance and let them be who they are. Let it play out, and let them fail and make their own mistakes. 

I also like that Bob tries to bring his kids into his world. Like, sharing the movies he likes. That’s a very common dad thing to do — like when he brought Louise to see that Rocky Horror Picture Show parody, or how he shares the “Hawk and Chick” movies with Louise. To point out an embarrassing fact about my own parenting, I showed my kid — who was way too young — the movie that Hawk and Chick was based on, Lone Wolf and Cub. That 11-minute rape scene wasn’t particularly good for him to watch. I’d forgotten about that part. 

The same thing happened when he was a little bit older and I took him to see Saturday Night Fever at the Film Forum. It was such an influential movie from when I was a kid, but I completely forgot about the end and how devastating it was — yet another rape scene. We all think of Saturday Night Fever as this fun-loving romp in the disco world, I totally forgot about the dark thread that ran through it. As a parent, you can sometimes get over-excited about sharing things and conveniently forget about some of the things that are traumatic in movies. 

I’ve said this before, but Bob’s a better dad than I am. But I like that motivation. I’m always striving to be a little bit more like Bob. Bob’s not a cynical man. He’s very grounded and down-to-earth. He earnestly loves his family — not to say that I don’t — but there's a nurturing quality to Bob that I like playing. Sure, he’s sometimes annoyed by his family, but he’s also amused by them and he’s very much a part of their lives. Those are good qualities in a dad. That, and growing a mustache.

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