As Hollywood voices go, there are few with a more instantly memorable cadence and tone than that of actor Patrick Warburton. Booming and rich, Warburton’s voice was built for animated voiceover work, while his muscled physique similarly inspired characters such as The Venture Bros. Brock Samson, Family Guy’s Joe Swanson, or the beloved Kronk of Disney’s The Emperor’s New Groove. Of course, Warburton has been just as visible throughout his career on the live-action side of the spectrum as well, memorably appearing as recurring player/quote machine David Puddy on Seinfeld, Jeff Bingham on Rules of Engagement, and the titular character in the first attempt to bring The Tick to live action. Throughout it all, Warburton has cemented his reputation as one of those performers whose presence makes any comedy a little bit better.
For the last 13 years, though, the actor has also been following through on another major passion project: Raising millions and millions of dollars for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Since hatching the idea for a celebrity golf tournament to benefit the hospital in 2011, the subsequent 12-year total has generated more than $22 million in donations, structured around an annual weekend tournament now known as “The Warburton.” Last year alone, The Warburton and its associated events raised more than $3.9 million in a single year, breaking their own record. And this year, more than 75 stars and musicians will attempt to take that record past $4 million, in the name of funding more treatment and research to combat devastating childhood diseases.
In a last push for donations for the tournament, which runs Feb. 23-26, Warburton sat down with Paste for a conversation on not only the importance of St. Jude, but also his sprawling Hollywood career, the upcoming Venture Bros. movie that will close out the series, and even a cameo by Movie 43.
Paste: How did the golf tournament first come about? You’ve raised an incredible total, and 13 straight years of The Warburton is an amazing run.
Patrick Warburton: Well, my wife and I have always wanted a big project like this to invest our time and efforts into, outside of our family. We’re blessed with four healthy kids, and we have that good fortune. My perspective on St. Jude is that if you don’t have the fortune of health, at least you have the fortune to live in a day and age of a St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
We’ve always been inspired by what they do, and how they do it. They’ve pioneered therapies and cures for catastrophic pediatric disease since they opened their doors, and they’re non-proprietary so they share everything with the rest of the world. It’s such an inspirational place. Of course when they opened their doors, the cure rate for childhood leukemia was something like 4%, and it’s more like 94% today. Much of that has to do with the work St. Jude has done.
So I started this event, and by year three we were the number one tournament in the nation for St. Jude. I can’t take any credit for that at all, the credit for that goes to our chairman Clark, our amazing board, and the wonderful people at Coachella Valley. That’s why it’s become the special event that it is. Last year we set a new record at $3.9 million, and this year we’re gunning to break that.
Paste: When the yearly totals get up close to $4 million, how do you even approach trying to surpass those totals on a yearly basis? It seems like that bar would just get harder and harder to clear.
Warburton: It does get harder. Each year there we were just breaking our record from the previous year, and we knew that wasn’t sustainable. So there have been a couple of years where we weren’t able to break the record, but then the following year we do. We have some amazing families, and some wonderfully generous hearted folks who have helped to carry us. St. Jude inspires so many of us.
The team with last year’s check for more than $3.9 million.
Paste: Were you already an avid golfer?
Warburton: I’ve always loved the game, but I’ve never been great. I finally joined a club a couple of years ago, which I knew would probably improve my game—it would have to—because it’s a challenging course. At that point, it’s basically you improve or you’re just miserable. But I’ll never really be a great golfer, and that’s okay, because the game has so much to offer. It attracts everyone from business, to sports, to music.
Paste: It is sort of the game of those who enjoy being frustrated.
Warburton: It really is! But it also offers hope, especially when you’re playing well. It’s forever challenging, which drew me to it. It’s a lovely distraction.
Paste: It’s hard to believe it’s been 20 years since the beginning of The Venture Bros. It felt surreal to see Jackson Publick posting about that the other day. It was hard to accept this was a show I started watching at the end of high school.
Warburton: You know what’s funny, when I did The Tick, that show meant so much to me. It was such a tremendous opportunity. And when Venture Bros. came along, it was like a year after that, after we’d all had our hearts broken by Fox, not getting a fair shot with The Tick. And when Chris McCulloch pitched Venture Bros. to me, I remember just thinking really casually “oh sure, I guess I’ll do it.” Little did I know how much fucking fun it was going to be, and what a supergenius creative venture it was on his part.
Paste: Do you remember what the pitch to you was, in terms of who Brock Samson was and how you wanted to play him?
Warburton: Oh yeah, when I saw who Brock was, I was sold immediately. I loved the concept of the show immediately; I think they described it “like Johnny Quest on acid.” And that was all it took to get me on board. Throughout the years, they’ve done such an incredible job keeping it engaging and fun, building on its mythos and satire and everything.
The Swedish Murder Machine himself.
Paste: I think fans were relieved that the Venture Bros. film is progressing along, after the eighth season was canceled, because I think there was some fear out there that the story might not get a truly final conclusion.
Warburton: It’s always been a long process, making The Venture Bros. But I’m pretty sure that I’ve done all my recording for it.
Paste: Are you ready to say goodbye to the character?
Warburton: Never! Although one year I decided to go to Comic Con down in San Diego, and I decided to go as Shore Leave instead of Brock. I was with my son Shane, and he went as Shore Leave too, so we must have looked really kinky together. Nobody even recognized me; people were getting pictures thinking I was just a fan dressed as Shore Leave.
Paste: How do you think Brock would want to retire?
Warburton: If he retires, I see him getting somewhere way out and remote. Just chilling away from all the violence and super science. Just not having to babysit those boys who never grew older would probably be a good vacation for him.
Paste: You’ve had such a rich voice-acting career. Is there a moment that stands out as particularly challenging?
Warburton: The toughest voiceover work I ever did was having to narrate something in front of Roy Disney. Roy was about 90 years old at the time, and his great passion was sailing; you know he would do the Transpacific Yacht Race to Hawaii. And he had requested I narrate his documentary, which was a huge, huge honor. But when you’re voicing a character like Brock Samson, or Kronk, or Joe from Family Guy, or anyone I’ve played, you’re immersed in a character and having fun. There’s really no right or wrong, it’s just experimentation. But the most intimidating voiceover work ever was just being expected to provide my own voice, as narration, with a 90-something Roy Disney, chin upon his fist, listening to every word I said. It was absolutely terrifying.
So to break the ice, I told him the story of how I jumped off the people mover when it was moving at Disneyland when I was 21 and ended up being chased by the guards and put in Disney jail before being kicked out. He seemed to get a kick out of that, and it was already too late for him to replace me as the voiceover of his movie.
Paste: Is there a dream role you’d love to play someday, something you’ve never had a chance to do?
Warburton: I think just to play a sardonic Batman would be a lot of fun.
Paste: Is there a line of dialog you ever get sick of people quoting at you? Something from Emperor’s New Groove, maybe?
Warburton: Honestly, no. I don’t want to say “sick,” that would always be the wrong word. It’s better to live it, love it and embrace it because it’s not going anywhere. That will always be my Seinfeld character, probably. I did nine episodes of a sitcom about 25 years ago, and that’s still in perpetual rotation. People think I did more episodes than I did, because there’s really not that many episodes of Seinfeld compared to other classic sitcoms.
Paste: I wrote something recently on the infamous comedy anthology Movie 43. Do you have any memory of appearing in that sketch with Chloe Grace Moretz, or is that the kind of job you just forget the second you walk off the set?
Warburton: Hah, I do actually remember it. It was genuinely fun working with her, knowing that there were big things in her future. I remember going to the premiere, though, and thinking “woah, there’s a lot of garbage here.”
Paste: I can’t even imagine what that would have been like.
Warburton: It was brutal, but memorable.
For all the latest TV news, reviews, lists and features, follow @Paste_TV.