Hanna Lafferty ’16 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
Larry Kenney is one of the most iconic voice actors of 80’s cartoons.
Kenney first started in radio in Illinois, and moved on to some of his most famous voice roles as Lion-O in Thundercats, and Bluegrass in Silverhawks. He voiced Count Chocula and Cocoa Puff’s Sonny the Cuckoo Bird in breakfast cereal commercials, and narrated for VH1’s Best Week Ever, which comes back in January.
Currently, Kenney narrates for Discovery Channel’s Tickle, which is a spinoff from the docudrama Moonshiners. In an interview with Emertainment Monthly, Kenney discussed his start in voice-acting, his favorite characters in Thundercats, and some advice for breaking in to the industry.
In his sophomore year at Pekin High School, Kenney took a radio class over typing as a change of pace from writing for the sports section of his local newspaper.
“I really thought at that time that I wanted to be a sports reporter,” Kenney recalled. “It’s sort of surprising that I never became a sports announcer once I got into radio.”
The radio class had a ten minute show every day, which included an interview. A man who worked for the radio station WIRL in Peoria came up for a Public Service show and to talk to the students about broadcasting. He presented a unique opportunity for the students to audition at WIRL. Kenney got the part, and when he asked what time he should come in to the studio he was told, “You’re on in two hours.”
“As soon as I got in, and they told me there was three minutes until I was on air, I knew that this is what I wanted to do,” Kenney said.
He worked in radio for several years, eventually getting his own show where he would sometimes do impressions of famous persons and characters. While he worked in Cleveland, he was paid extra for doing commercials and was excited at the prospect of being able to incorporate his humor into them.
Kenney calls himself the “class clown”; even at school he liked to do funny voices and generally entertain people. Many of the teachers and other authorities in his life often said, “I hope when you grow up, you can make a living out of your little voices and jokes.”
Well, in New York, 1983, Kenney’s agent called him in for an audition, in what became one of his most iconic roles: Thundercats.
Kenney loved cartoons as a child, and the opportunity to actually voice-act like his hero Mel Blanc (best known as the original voice of Warner Bro.’s many Looney Tunes characters) was definitely too good to pass up. What was unique about the beginnings of Thundercats (which aired in 1985 until 1989) was it was one of the first cartoons to be produced in New York, instead of L.A. which at the time was the only place where animated shows were produced.
Kenney was casted to play the part of Lion-O, the main protagonist and leader of the Thundercats. He was also chosen to play a villainous mutant called Jackalman. When asked if his inspiration for any of his characters’ voices came from favorite childhood cartoons, he cited the dastardly Snidely Whiplash from Rocky and Bullwinkle as his main source of inspiration for Jackalman.
“It’s always more fun to play the villain,” Kenney said, “because you get to ham it up.”
His favorite character on Thundercats? “My favorite character to watch in studio was Mumm-Ra (the main antagonist of Thundercats). In the cartoon, you can see that he drools when he speaks. When Earl Hammond (voice of Mumm-Ra) would say his lines, we’d all back up in to the corner with a sheet of plastic!”
Kenney was excited for the reboot of Thundercats in 2011. However, he was also protective of the legacy the first Thundercats had left behind.
“You know, the show means a lot to people. I’ve had people tell me that they had a rough childhood, and just spending an hour watching Thundercats, was their break from it all.”
He loved the script, and once he talked with the producers Warner Bros had set up for the show, Kenney knew it was in good hands. In the new series, Kenney voiced King Claudus, the father of Lion-O. In 2012, the show was sadly canceled due to poor toy sales.
Despite all of his success, Kenney has one regret, that he did not use his impressions to avoid telemarketers.
“You know, for years my friends asked me why I never used one of my characters as a part of my outgoing message. I tried it out many years ago with Lion-O, and my inbox would be full of messages of people laughing and hanging up. People were just passing around my number because they knew I was Lion-O. Kind of a pain!”
When asked for any advice on breaking into the industry, Kenney said, “Take a class! Find one where they have directors and agencies come in. The best ones offer to help you put together a CD with a range of voice talents and an introductory letter.” And, of course, practice. “I’m not going to tell you everything though,” he said, laughing. “I don’t want any competition. Just kidding!”