Rob Paulsen of ‘Animaniacs’ fame: Laughter is best medicine

Rob Paulsen, the man behind some of the most beloved TV cartoon characters from the 1990s, says he has the best job in the world.

“I work with personal friends on things we get paid very well to do, and get to watch the audience sit there with their jaws open … how cool is it to be able to do that?” says the guy who’s the voice of Raphael from “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,” Pinky of “Pinky and the Brain” and Yakko from “Animaniacs.”

He’s coming to Feinstein’s at the Nikko in San Francisco this week with his friend, composer-writer Randy Rogel, for “Animaniacs in Concert,” a show featuring Emmy Award-winning Rogel’s iconic music from the series (who can forget the exhaustive “Yakko’s World”?) along with clips and fun anecdotes.

The popular show, which they’ve done with just a piano, and also with 40-piece orchestra, is especially timely now, given that Steven Spielberg, the original executive producer, has announced a reboot slated to stream in 2020.

And though “Animaniacs,” which ran from 1992-98 and followed the adventures of Warner Bros. siblings Yakko, Wakko and Dot, hasn’t been on the air in decades, Paulsen says, “the fan base has grown exponentially” and without significant merchandising.

He attributes the success to the “magic” and “genius” of the material, which he compares to that of Looney Tunes and Rocky & Bullwinkle — filled with clever cultural references aimed not just at little kids and meant to be enjoyed on multiple levels.

While Yakko and Pinky are his favorite characters, he also has a soft spot for Raphael, a voice he’s been known to do in calls to children with life-threatening illnesses, working with Linda Stone, who founded the nonprofit Famous Fone Friends.

He says he can’t compare the grace and courage those kids and their families displayed with his own potentially devastating health issue; at 59, he was diagnosed with throat cancer and underwent six months of not necessarily easy treatment.

He’s 62 now, and says, “Ultimately, I’m good.”

Glad he can be an inspiration to others, and to have found a lucrative, stable, positive career doing voice work (he was a “white kid” who moved from suburban Detroit to Los Angeles to be an actor; his first job was in a Jack in the Box commercial), he still adheres to the Reader’s Digest credo of laughter being the best medicine: “You can’t OD and the refills are free,” he says.

IF YOU GO

Animaniacs In Concert
Where: Feinstein’s at the Nikko, 222 Mason St., S.F.
When: 8 p.m. Sept. 28-29
Tickets: $33.75 to $65
Contact: (866) 663-1063, www.ticketfly.com, www.feinsteinsatthenikko.com

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