0 25 min 2 mths

This is Dean Rogers, reporting for Channel 20 news at TRR. No, I’m kidding. We welcome you to the latest edition of SNAPSHOTS. On today’s episode, I have those rare moments where a reporter like me gets to interview another reporter from my childhood. Our guest today is a voice that we know from mine and many of our childhoods. From 1987 to 1996. She played the voice of the amazing reporter that is April O’Neil on the classic cartoon, “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles”.

She has also voiced characters in numerous cartoons like “Its Punky Brewster”, & “My Little Pony” among others. She has a unique distinction of being in a rare club that is being a contestant & a character on two different game shows. Most importantly, she is one of the honored guests coming to Big Lick Comic Con – April 13-14th at the Dulles Expo Center! Click HERE for tickets and information.

Let’s give a news welcome to Renae Jacobs.  

Renae, welcome to SNAPSHOTS!

Thank you. Thank you for having me on. I’m very excited to be here with you and excited to talk about the upcoming convention we’re going to be doing together.

In fact, when you called me out of the blue, and I heard your voice, I was freaking out. It was I cannot believe a voice of my childhood is calling me on my phone. And it’s April O’Neil. It’s Renae Jacobs. I was very excited to hear from you.

Thank you. That’s, that’s great. I’m excited to talk about our Comicon that’s coming up together and some other things I think you wanted to talk about. And you know, I just love meeting everyone. I appreciate that you were excited to talk to me. And so here we go.

What did you realize that you can do a variety of voices?

Oh, my goodness, well actually began when I was about six years old. I was I lived in Michigan, in East Lansing, Michigan, and we had a basement. We don’t have basements in California. But I had a basement and my parents had created this, I would call it like a playroom. There was a couch. There were toys. There was a record player. And my father had one huge set of children’s records, mainly Disney Records, and then records from Broadway shows. I would play those and then mimic the voices.

I would line up my stuffed animals on the couch. And I would perform all of the Peter Pan and the Alvin and the Chipmunks, and you name it, I would mimic it. And one day, my mom came down to the basement and she thought I had people down there with me, but it was actually me doing all the voices. So there was a woman who did kind of a public broadcasting show for children, kind of a pre Romper Room, and she would do puppet shows on her show.

So my mother enrolled me at six years old in a class that she gave for children. And she taught us how to open up the back of our stuffed animals and create puppets out of them and then do voices. And at the end of this course, she said to my mother “Renee is very talented, and I think she’d be great on my show. And I think she’d be great coming with me to teach children in schools, how to do these things.” So, my mother agreed, and by that time, I think I was seven years old. And I did puppetry on her show for Michigan State University, and then went around to different public schools and taught children how to create puppets and how to create characters. And it just came naturally to me. I loved it. I didn’t know I was doing voiceover. I just knew I was having fun and creating characters.

Well, it’s so wonderful that you were able to attend that course and the teacher recognize your craft your gift, and you’re able to share with the world.

Well, thank you. It was a way to escape. You know, nothing was bad about growing up in Lansing but you know, there wasn’t much there. And I was very creative. My mother said, I started talking when I was like 11 months old, mimicking voices. My mother always played music. And my mother always played the radio. And she said, I was always mimicking what I was hearing. So it was a way for me to just play. That’s what it was.

And one of the things that amazes me about you is that you actually got to do your talent to the national audience, not only within the old cartoons, but you were contestant on $ale of the Century, which, as I told you in our phone conversation, that is my favorite game show growing up in the 1980s especially got Jim Perry, Summer Bartholomew, Jay Stewart, it was the basic How did you come about being a contestant on $ale of the Century?

Well, I love the show, too. I still listen to game shows. I mean, every night, it’s Jeopardy! and Wheel of Fortune. And my husband’s constantly surprised about how many questions I can answer. I did I say know a little bit about a lot of things. I did then two and I thought it he said “you should go on that show.” I said “Naaah, not going to go on that show.” “No, you should go on that show.” So, he kept encouraging me. And so they had open auditions, I would call it for the show and I was selected.

And you know, a lot of young actors starting out, did game shows. It was a good way to try and make money. And any way to get on TV was a great thing. In fact, Cam Clarke and Townsend Coleman first met on a game show, I think it was celebrity “Password”. And they tell the story of how I think Cam won a year supply of pantyhose. I don’t know what Townsend won, but it was something that we did. Like I said, we were trying to get our faces known. We were make trying to make money. We were having fun.

And I didn’t win and I answered most of the questions wrong. You know, it’s a big difference when you’re sitting in your home watching TV and when you’re in the studio. You got all these lights, all these people, you have a buzzer, you have to answer fast here, you know. Even though somebody in Jeopardy buzzes in, you still have a couple of seconds to think of the answer. It’s completely different when you’re doing it in person, but I had fun. I think I won a watch for my husband and add a little bit of money. And I still have we still have the watch. It’s so 1980s kind of watch. But it was it was fun. You know, I loved it. And I like I said, I still love game shows. Sometimes if I’m home sick or something, I’ll watch “The Price is Right.” You know, I love these shows. They’re fun!

(Renae before April O’Neil as a contestant on $ale of the Century)

They are so much fun. And what was your impression of interacting with Jim Perry and Summer Bartholomew on the show because Jim Perry by far is one of the connoisseurs. The dean of game show hosts even though he did it in Canada first and then the United States for a number of years. But he is the epitome of game show host himself.

Ah, he was very nice, you know, in between breaks, they walk off, you know, it’s not like they’re interacting with the contestants. I think that I was funny because I kept like going again I think he mimicked me doing my finger thing and it was it was good. It was fun, it was just being on set with all those lights and being in with all the colors and the audience. It was really fun. And the other thing too is when you’re on a game show, you’re not the first necessarily up. They usually film like, 10 shows in a row host and whoever’s there, they change what they’re wearing.

So, you get really friendly with the other contestants, and you’re rooting for them. And even though you’re on when you get called in your panels up, you’re rooting for each other. You know, you’re friendly. You’re excited and thank the woman who won she, I think she won a number of times. And she was super sweet. It wasn’t competitive at all.

Now that I mentioned, since we talked about $ale of the Century, you are now the second contestant I’ve interviewed from the show.


The first one was Charles Esten. He was on in ’89. And the craziest thing is, he’s actually from my area, Alexandria, Virginia, originally and now he’s a country superstar. But you have the distinction of going from being contestant to actually be a character on another show “Masters of the Maze, which was on The Family Channel, which is now Freeform. And you were on in the first season. So talk about your experience of being the Lady of the Maze.

Yeah, it was interesting. You know, I really don’t remember how I got that show. I think somebody knew me who was on the show and suggested me. I don’t know if it was JD Roth, who was the emcee? We are with the same agency. But I really don’t remember auditioning for the show. I just remember getting a call from my agent saying you’ve got the show. It was on the Warner Brothers set lot. And they, they put me in this in this wig with this wild blonde curly thing and, and rhinestone earrings and major makeup.

(An episode of the first season of “Masters of the Maze”)

So, this was an interesting show because this was way back in the day. And it was kind of a live video game for kids to play, like you were inside the video game. They had to go through this maze. They had to answer questions. And, there was a clock. And so, they had to beat the time. And when they got to a certain point, then they came to me and I gave them directions on how to proceed. And then they would proceed and you know, there would be it’d be a win.

One of the things that I remember that happened, I had that script, it wasn’t like I could, you know, a little bit I would play with JD Roth a little bit. But there was a set script and I kind of had to stick to the strip now. Now I’m JD Roth is brilliant. For those of you who don’t know, he was a game show host. He’s a producer, brilliant guy. And so, he had cue cards for the questions and everything. And one of the shows, they completely screwed up on purpose, the cue cards. JD went through the entire show, without real cue cards and knew exactly what the questions were. And at the end of it, he got a standing ovation, because everybody on the set in the back knew what was going on. And he just performed like a real professional. He was amazing. I think after what he was a little miffed, but I think he finally laughed

Unfortunately, the second season, I guess they wanted to appeal to a different demographic or something. I don’t know why they would replace JD. I mean, he was brilliant but Mario Lopez took over and then there was a young woman who took over as well. I don’t know if they did her as live or if they did her more of an animation.

I watched religiously back when it was on The Family Channel when I was in my teens.  I’m so glad you got to be part of two of my shows. And, you did Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles for 10 years. And then 25 years after it initially began, you were called back to the franchise this time was under Nickelodeon. And you got to voice Mother Krang and Mrs. O’Neil, your character’s mother, which is mind blowing, to say the least. What went through your mind that you got a chance to step back into the franchise after many years later?

it’s very, very exciting. The opportunity to get in back into the studio and be part of Ninja Turtles was amazing. I had never had a chance to work with Andrea Romano. She was over at Warner Brothers. I didn’t do any of the” Animaniacs” or any of those shows. I had met her before but never had the chance to work with her. She’s a dream director. She was kind and patient and gave me exactly what I needed in order to do what she wanted. The Nickelodeon studios were beautiful and fun.

The only difference was that when we were recording Ninja Turtles, we were all together in the studio. So, we sat in the studio, we had our scripts, we would rehearse. And then we would record and a lot of what I call the “secret sauce” in the success of our show was the sparks that flew between the characters which were created by Cam Clarke & Townsend Coleman & Barry Gordon and Rob Paulsen. Those characters were really truly developed by those guys. And it was their friendship and their playfulness, and their ability to, to think out of the box really. They did a lot of ad libs. A lot of things that I think really launched Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles into the giant franchise.

It’s a great property. And I’m not saying I’m not taking away from what the creator’s created. But, it was really these guys that put the heart and soul into these characters and that kids fell in love with and then wanted to see over and over again. So being in the studio with them was fun and funny. I know, my face hurt every, you know, at the end of the session, I’d be holding my face from laughing so hard, being able to sit next to James Avery. You know, this amazing giant of a man with so kind and so fun and so intelligent. And then the guests, we had Jim Cummings, Tress MacNeille. We had huge, wonderful voiceover friends that would come and join the cast and do the ancillary characters. I don’t think we appreciated how special that was until it stopped.

And so now, you aren’t in the studio with your fellow actors. You’re you may be all over the country. You know, some of these comic cons, the voiceover actors have never met each other. They’re ones in Canada, ones in Texas, ones in New York ones in California. They’re all recorded wild, which means individually. So, you don’t have the opportunity to really play and create. You’re just doing a rather flat performance in a lot. Not criticizing the actors at all, but the ability to have that interaction with each other and really be in the moment is lost. It’s a cost thing. I think that the art of that is sad that we’re not able to do that anymore. It’s just a business, you know?

Especially just hearing it from you.  I can hear the passion that even though those days are long gone, just to hear that all of you were in the room creating this wonderful, amazing cartoon series that is still being talked about today, that launched a franchise that has made movies, TV series and a animated series, and created a whole new fan base and a new generation to enjoy it, and then it could go back and watch the original and say “This is how it was. It’s where it all started.”

Let’s talk about the upcoming convention Big Lick Comic Con NOVA, which, surprisingly, it’s in the month of April. So, we’re celebrating April, we’re having “April” at Dulles Expo Center. What are you looking forward to? And is this your first time doing the convention in the DC metro area?

Yes, it is. I always look forward. I do love comic cons. Some of them are on my own and some of them are with my cast. And being with the cast is really special. You’re really in for a treat, because we’re not always together all of the time. And if you’re fans, this is a great opportunity to come out and meet all of us. It’s like being back in the studio, you know, we’re friends. And it’s actually the comic cons that have brought us together to continue our friendship. It’s just great. So, we all really appreciate the opportunity to meet our fans, and to have the opportunity to get back together again. Have not been in the DC area. And so that’s special and excited to do that. And yeah, I’ve never been to Virginia before.

Since you’ve done it for so many years to voice great characters, what advice would you give anyone who’s listening or watching?

Well, you know, many times people will come up and say, “I don’t know if I should be in voiceover because I have a really good voice.” And I’ll say, “that is a great voice but do you have any others”

You could land a role with that one voice that lasts for 30 years, and kudos to you but that’s pretty unusual. So, the thing I advise is, being voiceover actor is like having a deck of playing cards. So, you know, how you have play cards, and you have to have a hand if you’re playing gin or poker.

And so each character have a card, each voice is like part of your hand. And then you’ll take this card, this card, and this card, you’ll put them together, and you’ll make a new character. So, you have to have many voices. And then, the way you make those voices is you mix them. It could be with an accent or a pitch, or tone, or a gravel or a breath. And kind of have them in your back pocket. So, when somebody describes a character, you can pick which cards fit that character, blend them together, and create that new character.

Then there’s lots of courses online. Susan Blu, Pat Fraley, they offer courses. Nowadays you can audition for anything from anywhere. It’s completely different. You use to have to have an agent and they would submit you. It’s different now. So just be as versatile as possible and play, have fun. And then the other thing I suggested is no matter where you are. there’s probably a local community theater, or a junior college that’s offering classes. And you should go and interact with people and do improv, and have fun.

And, if you never land that big role, so what. You’ve had fun, you’ve done it, you create your own, you can work with other people you meet in your community and be creative and come up with an idea and produce the show and do the animation. And you just never know when something’s going to hit. But you can be creative and still have fun.

Life’s a journey, you just never know where the path is going to take you. You think you’re going down one path, and you end up going down another. I mean, I’m a trained opera singer. I thought I would be on Broadway or an opera. I never thought I’d get married or have kids. There’s an old joke that says, “you know how to make God laugh, right?” So, you make a plan. And of course, it never turns out exactly the way you think it will. but it’s your journey.

And the most important thing is to have joy, and learn and be inquisitive and have fun. And when somebody knocks you down or something knocks you down, you just get the heck up, and you go over it, you go under it, you go around it, you go through it, whatever it is, you just have to, it’s that journey. That’s the excitement, if somebody just handed you everything, you wouldn’t appreciate it. So, you just have to enjoy life. And I know people out there, we all have hard times, and some are having much harder times than others. But it’s how you get over that, that you can celebrate when you’re on the other side of it and realize and look back and say you know what I learned from that it made me stronger. It made me more caring, it made me understand others.

I don’t know how I got on this road but voiceover is joyful. And you should carry that into every aspect of your life. If something’s making you miserable, it’s your job to stop it. Just move around it. You may need professional help, you may not but you stop. If you’re in the middle of something, you figure out “okay, how am I going to deal with this” and ust like the Ninja Turtles, you work with those people that you love. You get help from your friends & you succeed.

If you want to see Renae in person, head down to the Dulles Expo Center. The weekend is April, yes like April O’Neil, April 13-14th. It is Big Like Comic Con NOVA! Tickets are available now. Click HERE for tickets and information.

About The Author