Interview With Larry Kenney: Part One: Thundercats Has His Tongue
During the summer of 2009, movies based on two very popular 1980s properties hit the theaters. Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen and G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra were based on the two Hasbro toy franchises.
But one 1980s property is still waiting to see its big screen debut and considering the e-mail the star of the cartoon series gets, fans want to see it.
The story, of this franchise, is about a group of feline looking people who rocket to earth from a doomed planet and set up shop on Earth.
The Thundercats were a stable of just about every cartoon fan in the 1980s.
Pick up a stick, broom handle or anything that can be used as a sword, and the kid inside every comic book or science fiction fan will either make the noises of a lightsaber, write a "Z" in the air or do something "by the power of Grayskull."
Still many children of the 1980s will shout what voiceover actor Larry Kenney made a career saying, "Thundercats, ho!"
For the better part of three decades, the New York City based, Kenney made a name for himself as the host of the local show Bowling for Dollars, a regular with radio star Don Imus and now Kenney's voice can be heard announcing VH1's Best Week Ever and Skittles candy, "Taste the rainbow."
However, Kenney admits fond memories to playing Lion-O, the leader of a surviving band of were-cats from the doomed planet Thundera, stranded on Third-Earth where they defend the local inhabitants from the forces of evil.
Kenney spoke with CosmicBookNews.Com about his career and possibilities of a future Thundercats feature.
CosmicBookNews: It is common knowledge that your daughter is Kerri Kenney-Silver one of the stars and creators of Reno 911! on Comedy Central. She had a son in 2005, how is it being a grandfather?
LARRY KENNEY: He's doing great thank you! I just got new pictures of him standing on a surf board with a wet suit and a year and five months old and he already has his own surf board.
They are out in Malibu and the rule is you have to have one [a surf board].
CosmicBookNews: Are you going to get him interested in the Thundercats?
LARRY KENNEY: We'll see how that works out. I never push it on any of my kids. In fact I remember when my youngest son, Tanner, he’s now an adult, was 8 or 9 years old and he was going through some old video tapes and he found tape labeled Bowling for Dollars.
He comes over to me, "Dad! You hosted a game show on TV?" I said, "Well, yeah."
And he said, "Why didn't you tell me?" I said, "It never came up it was 20 years ago." [LAUGHS].
A lot of people ask me, "When you read to your kids when you were little to do you all the voices?"
It is funny, because when I first started to read to my kids I would say, "And the big bad wolf said, [WITH A GROWL] 'I'm going to eat you..." And the kids would say, "Dad, just read the story [LAUGH], "Don't do the voices!"
"Get to the good part!"
LARRY KENNEY: Yeah!
Everyone else in the world says, "Do one of your voices for us!" and these kids just go "Dad, you're embarrassing me!"
CosmicBookNews: Oh that's funny!
I imagine your kids had easier time growing up with a celebrity, like you could come walking into a classroom and say, "I am here to pick up my kids" as opposed to some celebrity like Madonna.
LARRY KENNEY: Yeah! Yeah it's true and I've often thought about that celebrity is nice and everything but that's the part of it (paparazzi and such). Especially these days…um…some people recognize me from my "Imus" days but usually that is an older crowd.
I mean teenagers don't tend to "Imus in the Morning" [now on 770 WABC in New York City].
The people from my generation that talk to me are people on the train or in the mall.
Some 50 year-old will come up and say, "I enjoy your work" and walk away they won't tear your clothes off.
But when I was doing Bowling for Dollars when I was in New York, everywhere I went people would say, "Hey Larry! Bowling for Dollars how are ya?"
Being a celebrity was never a drain on me and I wasn't a movie star, I was just a guy they saw on television every night. But from that, I came to think, "Imagine you were really the idols to people who wanted to tear your clothes off day and night! You would have to live with that!"
I don't feel sorry for them, they chose that life, but I am glad I don't have that. I like the "kind-of-being-known" without all the bad stuff that comes with it.
CosmicBookNews: And for readers of CosmicBookNews.Com, they know you from Thundercats.
So let me ask, "Are Thundercats on the move?”
Are the Thundercats lose?"
LARRY KENNEY: They're always on the move, hence, their charm.
CosmicBookNews: [IN A MOCK PENSIVE TONE] Larry…
…do you feel the magic?
Do you hear the roar?
LARRY KENNEY: If I thought you were being serious I would hang up the phone right now. [Laughs]
I always hear the roar I wake up hearing it. I'm afraid of a Mumm-Ra. [IN MUMM-RA'S VOICE] “Ancient spirits of evil...”
CosmicBookNews: Who did the voice of Mumm-Ra originally?
LARRY KENNEY: It was Earl Hammond, who was the best by the way, I had the great pleasure on the Thundercats DVDs which came out from Warner Bros. DVD…[ANNOUNCER VOICE]…available in stores now!
LARRY KENNEY: Anyway, during the DVD extras they recorded I had the pleasure of re-creating the voice of Earl's character Mumm-Ra and Jaga for an inner active game you play on the DVD as a special feature.
When I was asked to play the role, I really thought long and hard about it because I really didn't know if I could maintain the standard Earl had set, but once I convinced myself I could do it, and I could carry it, it came out pretty well and I was proud of how it turned out.
CosmicBookNews: You must have had a different mindset when you did the voice of Lion-O for The Family Guy in 2005.
LARRY KENNEY: It was.
But during the recording I was alone. They would put me in a studio all by myself and the producers, on the show, were in Los Angeles over the telephone line and I didn't meet anybody.
CosmicBookNews: Were you nervous about doing the show?
It seemed like the show, while tongue and cheek, was paying respect to the Thundercats.
LARRY KENNEY: Yeah!
CosmicBookNews: I mean using the Sword of Omens to see a girl in the restroom or locker room, what 13 year-old wouldn't want of one those?
LARRY KENNEY: What man in his 60s wouldn't want one of those? [LAUGHS]
Seriously, I had to think long and hard about doing the voice of Lion-O for Family Guy.
When my agent called, he said, "They would like you to do some thing on the Family Guy project."
They sent me the script and I said, "Wait a minute! I can't do that!"
So I started talking to other actors and people who worked on the Thundercats and I started talking to my own kids and they said, “Dad, you are not going to denigrate the legend or the Thundercats.”
They also said, “And 7 year-old kids don't watch Family Guy and it is a hip show and everyone knows it is just fun.”
And they talked me into going ahead and doing it. For a while I wasn't going to do it and I said, “You can't have Lion-O looking at Cheetarah with the Sword of Omens in the bathroom and he says to Snarf, ‘Let's get wasted’.” [LAUGHS].
CosmicBookNews: Right. [LAUGHS]
LARRY KENNEY: Though, I decided if it isn't cool, and I won't do the show.
CosmicBookNews: I was just happy to see them making a joke about a subject I was familiar with.
People must still tell you how much the Thundercats means to them.
LARRY KENNEY: Oh, I gotta tell ya, it's still so heart warming.
It is incredible, because when we recorded the voices all those years ago, I never thought it would be the hit that it is.
And we knew after it aired it was a hit show, but we figured the kids would grow up and forget us, but I get e-mails from all walks of life who tell me what the show has meant to them. And it is really fulfilling.
CosmicBookNews: That is cool people still remember you.
LARRY KENNEY: To be honest, I have got some e-mails from grown ups said that as kids their childhoods were not great and I can tell they were saying. You can read between the lines and know abuse was part of it.
But today when I get the letters, they are from doctors, lawyers, and carpenters and it will say, "Mr. Kenney, I was abused, neglected or whatever and what saved me was going in my room and watching the Thundercats."
They are writing you 25 years late to say thank you. You have no idea, what that feels like.
And I am very protective of the show which is why I was concerned about doing Family Guy.
When I saw the show, the over all effect of the Family Guy episode wasn't “The Thundercats is stupid” or “Lion-O is a dumbass!”
It was with a wink to our old show.
I also noticed the creators behind the Family Guy didn't try to do the original animation style of the Thundercats show. I think I might have been recalcitrant if they had tried to draw him just like our show or used original footage of Lion-O. I think that might have been too much.
CosmicBookNews: Were you afraid you would be “going back to the well” as so many actors who are associated with other roles do?
LARRY KENNEY: When my agent first called me I was familiar with the show but I was not a regular viewer and I had seen it a few times and I thought it was very funny and very well done.
When my agent first called I thought, “Why would they want me?”
And from my family on and everyone I mentioned it too said, “Oh that is the show everyone is dying to be on. Actors are calling them and saying, ‘Use my character’.”
It was kind of like The Simpsons became that show. Everyone from Paul McCartney down wanted to be on The Simpsons so I felt honored.
How could you say no?
CosmicBookNews: And on Seth Green's Comedy Central show, Robot Chicken, they did a parody of the Thundercats, it should be noticed that you did not do the voice for. However, how does this make you feel to see creators doing parodies of Lion-O? However, how does this make you feel to see people do parodies of Lion-o?
LARRY KENNEY: I think it's great. I guess it is more of an indication of how established Thundercats and the character is, in the cultural since.
I guess it is gratifying showing how established you are, when it has reached to a second and third generation.
CosmicBookNews: Speaking of reaching generations, I heard you refer to Lynn Lipton, the voice of Cheetarah, as the original “Thundercats Ho.”
LARRY KENNEY: [LAUGHS] When we, the voice actors and myself, were recording interviews for DVD extras, I said that jokingly and I think she was in the room when I said that. I mean, that's the style of a joking around we did when we were together.
CosmicBookNews: It shows you had a great relationship.
LARRY KENNEY: Yeah, Lynne's great! She's so funny!
Read Part Two of CosmicBookNews.com's interview with Larry Kenney!