The curious case of H. Jon Benjamin

H. Jon Benjamin
This man is the star of three television shows. No, really.

You likely know his voice, for which deadpan is too lively an adjective, but otherwise it would be hard to pick H. Jon Benjamin out of a lineup. Heck, I’ve seen interviews with the guy and an episode of his new Comedy Central show, Jon Benjamin Has a Van (which airs tonight at 10:30), and I’m still not sure I’d notice him if he were walking down the street.

Point being, the dude is nondescript. But how many people in this world are the leads — the title characters, in fact — on three television shows at once? He’s H. Jon Benjamin is the voice of Sterling Archer in FX's "Archer"the voice of the egotistical super spy Sterling Archer on FX’s Archer, the salt-of-the-earth restaurateur on FOX’s Bob’s Burgers, and now he leads a group of comics through absurdist sketches (of vastly varying quality) on Van.

You’ve also heard his voice on Family Guy, American Dad and, if you go back a ways, Home Movies and Dr. Katz. His onscreen resume is relatively scant, though he did log some quality time on Important Things With Demetri Martin, often under heavy disguise.

How did this happen? I know I’ve thus far called him anonymous and one-note (literally), but I really don’t mean any disrespect. It’s just one of those amazing, unlikely Hollywood stories that could evoke inspiration or anger, depending on who you talk to. Does this guy deserve it? Is he really that funny? H. Jon Benjamin in FOX's "Bob's Burgers"I’d say he’s just funny enough, and that he is the perfect example of being well-cast and making the roles his own.

Once H. Jon Benjamin voices a character, with that can’t-be-bothered tone resembling an indignant slacker taking your order at a fast food joint, it’s impossible to imagine anyone else doing it. And though Sterling Archer and Bob Belcher speak with the same voice, they are equally convincing as a sex-crazed secret agent and a harried family man trying to run a business.

Part of me would like to ask him about all this in an interview, but from the chats I’ve read with him, he seems rather incapable, or unwilling, of providing a serious answer. There are a lot of one-sentence responses and joking around. But he even says in this chat with The Onion‘s A.V. Club that he doesn’t enjoy working, because his body just kind of gives out on him. So add lazy, or perhaps work-averse, to nondescript and sonically limited, and apparently you have the perfect formula for success. Nothing about this makes sense.

Who knows if Jon Benjamin Has a Van will stick around. Comedy Central sketch shows aren’t exactly known for their longevity, but I have little doubt that Benjamin will continue to find work. He’s got that enviable quality of being able to make people laugh just by showing up, even if it’s just his voice, which seems designed to take the piss out of any situation. You look at him long enough, or just hear his voice come out of Yoda’s body (as it did in a recent Family Guy) and it gets a chuckle.

BTW, something else I’d ask him is what the “H.” stands for, even though he’s gone on record as saying it stands for “the sound H makes.” It seems a bit of a pretentious affectation for such a laid-back guy. Then again, maybe that’s the joke. My theory is that perhaps his first name used to be spelled “John,” but the H got all uppity and decided it wanted its own space. … All right, it’s funnier if you imagine H. Jon Benjamin saying it.


Photo: (Jon Benjamin Has a Van) Credit: Jason Nocito; (Archer) Courtesy of FX; (Bob’s Burgers) © 2010 FOX BROADCASTING

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