Interview With ‘Big Nate’ Star Ben Giroux

Photo by Bing Putney Photography

You may not get to see his face very often, but there’s no doubt you’ve heard Ben Giroux’s voice –  especially if you’ve tuned into Nickelodeon any time in the last ten or so years. He’s had audiences giggling (and sometimes cowering in fear) from adult baby supervillain, The Toddler in the Henry Danger series and many other credits as both in front of the camera and behind the mic. 

Now, Nickelodeon has tapped Giroux to voice the titular character in their upcoming Paramount+ animated series, Big Nate. The 22-minute animated series is based off of the globally popular comic and book series and is set to follow Giroux’s Nate Wright as he navigates the ups and downs of middle school.

Join Johnathon and Coryon as they virtually sit down with Giroux learning more about his passion for creating, the feel good vibes behind the scenes at Big Nate and whether or not he stalks fan comments on Reddit!

And the answer to that is yes.

Johnathon: Big Nate is one of the most anticipated Nickelodeon Animation Studio projects, can you tell our listeners a little bit about the series and your role as Nate Wright? 

So Nate is this precocious, mischievous sixth grade kid with this ragtag group of misfit friends, and they get into tons of hijinks and trouble and misadventures. He’s a prankster, but he’s a good kid. He’s still got insecurities that he covers up with this sort of bravado that he has. 

Big Nate is based off of a very successful comic strip and series of books that have been going on since the 90s. So certainly as the title character, I have a responsibility I feel to do justice to the source material, but at the same time really invite in a whole new fan base of Big Nate fans. 

There’s a griminess to the show, and I think that’s reflected through our animation style. One of the things that I think is so cool about the show is it’s a 3D CGI show, but its animation style is quite different in that most 3D shows will light a scene big and bright, and everything’s very glossy. Our show lights a scene practically, so you might see a scene lit with sunlight streaming through a window or a lamp on the table. And I think that lends itself to sort of the griminess of P.S. 38. 

So I really love the animation style. I think the other thing that’s so interesting about our show is that Nate is an artist. He’s a doodler. In fact, I actually was an artist as a kid, so I see a lot of myself in Nate. But some of his doodles come to life in the show as 2D animation segments. So we’re actually mixing multiple forms of animation in the show, which is uncommon, and I think really helps to sort of bring Nate and his adventures to life.

Actually, piggybacking off of that, I think the thing that I love most about our show is that, I grew up watching Doug and Rugrats and Ren and Stimpy, all of the old school OG Nicktoons, and I think our show really harkens back to that style. The thing that I think really stands out to me about those old school Nick cartoons is that there was a real edge to the comedy. There was a bite to it. Adults and kids alike could enjoy it, and it wasn’t as frenetic as sort of modern animation. I think our show feels like, in all the best ways, an animated show from another era because it’s a 22 minute show. So it’s not like we’re beholden to these a little 11 minute segments that a lot of animated shows have to deal with these days, especially in the kids and family space. We have time to sort of pace the comedy to let the comedy breathe, to have an A story and a B story in an episode. Most importantly, our comedy really has an edge to it, which is very much inspired by the source material.

Coryon: The “Big Nate” franchise has been around since the early 90s, what familiarity to the series did you have prior to joining and did you do any research into the role prior to the start of production? 

So I’m 37, so I think I missed the initial Big Nate surge. You know, I talked to people who are 20/21 and they’re like, “Oh my God, Big Nate!”, they know it really well. So it’s actually been a lot of fun for me to sort of retroactively go back and research and understand. There’s a global fandom for these characters that is already in place, and certainly it adds to the level of responsibility.

I will also say my audition process spanned probably four or five months. So once I got that initial audition in – believe it or not – December 2019, then I started really going in and diving in and reading up on Big Nate, the universe of P.S. 38 and all of the wonderful ensemble. It is truly an ensemble of characters. 

You get to know the teachers on the show, the bullies, the older sister and the dad. And it’s just such a gifted ensemble of people, and the show uses all of those characters and relationships from the source material.

I’ll give you a house analogy. The source material is the foundation of the house, and it’s our responsibility now as the show to elevate that material and add floors and rooms to that house. And I think we’ve been able to do that. Our television episodes are all original stories, so you haven’t seen them in the comics or the book series, but it’s using all of the characters and the relationships and the locations that you know and love.

Lincoln Peirce, who’s the original creator, is deeply involved. So much so, in fact, that at the end of every episode during the credit sequence, Lincoln actually draws a hand-drawn comic strip based on the episode.

Johnathon: It’s been a comic strip, a book series and even a musical. Now finally, it has its own animated series which gives off a major 90s animated series vibe from what we’ve seen. What do you think has contributed to Big Nate’s longevity as a series? Is the feel of the show intentional?

I mean, ultimately, I think it sort of goes back to that edginess we talked about. I think kids can handle that. You know, I think sometimes when an animated series launches or when it’s being written, some projects might talk down to their audience. And Big Nate doesn’t do that, whether it’s the show, or the comic strip or the books. It respects its audience. So I think that has contributed to its longevity.

Also, I think there’s a little of all of us in Nate.  Nate sort of projects that he’s cool. He projects that his group of friends are cool. They’re not really cool, but it doesn’t matter. Nate is fearless. He’s confident, and I think it’s that sort of inner confidence, whether it’s faux confidence or not, is something to aspire to. 

Certainly in many aspects, this is a sixth grade do-over for me because when I was in sixth grade, you know, I struggled to make friends. I was a bit of an introvert. Nate, isn’t that at all? He’s confident, even when it’s undeserved confidence, right? Like he thinks he’s the coolest cat in the room but it’s not in a douchey way, right? He’s a good kid and we get to see those moments of insecurity as well.

In fact, one of my favorite scenes that we’ve done in the first season is in our pilot episode. Nate really is sort of questioning his inner confidence, his inner awesomeness, and he has this very sort of mysterious, mystical conversation through bathroom stalls with none other than a character played by Jack Black. First of all, it was a great, you know, bucket list career milestone for me to get to act with Jack. But also it was a great moment to sort of see that Nate’s a real kid with real insecurities and real problems as we all can relate to. So in a long winded answer to your question, I think the longevity is due to the fact that we can all sort of relate to the inner Nate, right, in all of us.

Johnathon: What does the recording process for Big Nate look like, are you recording traditionally in a studio? Or is this done over Zoom? 

You know, if we were not in a pandemic, we would be like all of my other Nickelodeon projects I’ve done. We’d be in a studio together. We’d be recording together as an ensemble. The thing that has made Big Nate so interesting is I booked this show the very first week of the pandemic in March 2020. So the thing that is so astounding in such a technical achievement is that no one from Big Nate has ever been in the same room making Big Nate, and you’ll never know it when you see the end result. So what happens is week after week, we have recorded remotely from our own home studios.  

Typically It’s just the actor and an engineer patched in through source connect or Zoom, talking to each other week after week. Then it’s cut together with all the performances after the fact. Our show is different. Our show records still as an ensemble, a remote ensemble, and so week after week we get on a big Zoom and sometimes there’s as many as 12 actors acting off of each other. And I think that has helped our show become so magical in our eyes because it allows the actors to play off of each other. It allows us to react to one another’s performances. 

And most importantly, I’m an improviser, so it allows us to riff with each other and find those little unscripted moments that could only be possible if we were actually acting off of each other. And I will say my real life writing and improv partner Arnie Pantoja, who plays Teddy Ortiz, was cast as Nate’s best friend. You know, so, so Arnie and I have a real life sort of comedy partnership. We pitch shows together, we’ve been showrunners of projects together, we write comedy scripts together, we improv together, and you will see that real life dynamic come to life as Nate and Teddy. And that could only be possible by us recording as an ensemble over Zoom, and we’re still able to improv with each other. So I feel very grateful for that. It’s really a testament to the hard work of a lot of engineers behind the scenes at Nickelodeon to figure out just how to record as a group when none of us can be in the same room.

Coryon: Nate as a character embodies the young, mischievous rascal in all of us! While he’s not necessarily the good guy, what makes him so likable and relatable? Will the show still touch on tougher topics like children of divorce, etc? 

I would say our show reflects Nickelodeon’s mantra, which is equal parts, hearts, smarts and farts. And I think you’ll see all of those three things reflected in our show in equal measure. We have literally made an 80s rock anthem about butt cheeks. So if that gives you any indication of how bonkers our show is, that should. 

I think that Nate is very much the protagonist and is ultimately the good guy. Yes, he can get into trouble. Yes, he can pull his friends into trouble, but if he screws up, he’ll be the first to admit it. He’s the first to apologize. And so I think that, you know, certainly that’s been, I guess, a level of focus for the writers room to take this prankster who on maybe on face value, it could be like, “Oh, that kid’s a jerk.” He’s not. He’s just fearless. And I think that confidence and that fearlessness is really allowed allows us to sort of relate to him. And then we can contrast it, of course, again, with those moments of insecurity where he’s like, “Oh man.”

A great example is our second episode, which is our Valentine’s Day of horror episode, where Nate is really just so focused on convincing the love of his life, Jenny, to be his Valentine’s date. And of course, the whole episode is a zombie apocalypse allegory because he wins a pizza party for the school and everybody gets food poisoning and vomits all over each other. 

So. Wow. So we completely undercut Nate’s romance with just lots and lots of vomit. It’s like it’s really astounding the level of vomit you will see in the second episode of our show. But you get to see him insecure and trying to win over his love despite the copious amounts of puke.

Johnathon: Your company Small Red Cape has been creating a lot of viral content, with you at the helm as directing. What drew you to working behind the camera? 

That’s a great question. Early on in my career, I’m a short guy. I’m 5’2”, I found myself playing quite a lot of Christmas elf roles, and at a certain point, you want to do more with your career than just playing an elf. So I’ve always been sort of creative, right? I think early on I thought, “Gosh, you know, I can’t do anything outside of acting on television because people will think that will complicate my brand in some way. Or, you know, it would invalidate my acting efforts.”

Now it’s the complete opposite. How many slashes can I add to my business card is really the way forward. I think the more avenues we can build for ourselves as entertainers in the entertainment industry, the more opportunities we have to tell stories and make people laugh. 

So, you know, early on in the days of YouTube, I was running a couple of successful YouTube channels like FML, Fred and Fail Blog, and that was allowing me to build an early audience of people online. And I sort of was able to sort of cut my teeth as a director then and understand what it was like working with clients, brands, ad agencies and things like that. I would say a real turning point was I always wanted to start making my own passion projects and I always wanted to make a braggadocious Busta Rhymes=style music video about being short. 

So I teamed up with a hip-hop artist, my buddy Jensen Reed, and we made a viral music video called Little Dude Anthem, which is basically me rapping as an elf and a Smurf for three minutes. It did very well. We had people from American Idol, and So You Think You Can Dance in it and realized, like, “Hey, I’m really starting to evolve my style as a director, whether I’m on camera in this stuff, I’m directing or not.” 

So Jensen and I got together and we said, “OK, well, what?” What else do we really like that we want to focus on as a passion project? And we said 90s nostalgia. So we worked for two years on a project called Back to the 90s, and it went bonkers. It was a big, celebratory music video about everything 90s pop culture, 90s music. We got 100 million views. We charted at number 11 on Billboard. We joined the Backstreet Boys in Las Vegas. It was nuts. 

It opened up because it was a passion project. It opened up so many quote-unquote professional opportunities for me thereafter, so I really started to establish myself as a more traditional director, directing commercials and music videos and TV pilots. And it’s really, you know, spawned into a successful boutique production company. And now I think back to the early days where I was reticent to say I did anything outside of acting, now as a director, as a producer, as a writer, as a voice actor, as a television actor, I just like to tell people I make cool stuff with my friends. 

And beyond the camera that can be behind the camera, that can be in front of a microphone, but at the end of the day, I just want to make people laugh.

Coryon: Congratulations on over 4.4 MILLION followers on TikTok, what do you like so much about the platform? 

TikTok has really been an interesting journey over the last two years. It really has defined the pandemic for me. You know, I think back to the late 90s when I was running around high school trying to make little comedy sketches with my friends on my miniDV camera and then figuring out how to convert it to a VHS tape. It was hard to make stuff back then, or at least harder. Fast forward, I have a production company. I have a team of people I work with. You know, I direct commercials and music videos.

So prior to the TikTok, I was used to being on set with 200 people, a jib crane, a Steadicam and all this high tech stuff. Then the pandemic happened, and all I had was an iPhone, a living room and whatever I had around me to make stuff with. So it really sort of brought me back to my kind of 90s filmmaker roots, I guess, of just hey, let’s experiment and make fun stuff. 

I had the benefit of having already a pretty youthful audience because of my Nickelodeon roles. I’ve played The Toddler on Henry Danger and Danger Force for 10 years on Nick. So I was able to sort of leverage that and start building up an audience and just posting consistently. In the early days of the pandemic, TikTok really was this fun, creative sandbox to just experiment with, try stuff out and connect directly with a fan base.

Now it’s still certainly that for me, but it’s also a great promo machine for the show. I’m able to directly communicate with fans to show them clips, to give them a little peeks behind the scenes of what we’re working on. The cast is very involved. I don’t think you’ll ever find a more involved cast than we have in terms of the want and the interest in promoting and connecting with our fan base. I love poking around the Subreddit and, you know, talking to the trolls, talking to the fans and taking their feedback because that winds up in the show.

So TikTok is a great way to directly connect with a fan base. It’s a great way to stay creative. I post two times a day. It’s a lot of work, but it’s also leading to other opportunities in my career. I get directing jobs now because I have a TikTok audience. I’m pitching shows because of a TikTok audience. So, I think it’s a really exciting platform and one that continues to evolve and one that has really become integral to so many of the things that I do in entertainment now.

Coryon: #CartoonVoiceBattle is epic! As a Reno 911 fan, I loved the Carlos Alrazaqui battle the most. Is the voice acting community very tight knit? What’s it like being able to create with these other actors outside of actual work?

Cartoon Voice Battle is a series of TikToks that I’ve created and that I’m generating new episodes of as we speak. Initially, in the early days of TikTok and in the early days of quarantine, I recognized that I was one of the, I guess, few voice actors on the platform in the early days that had an audience. I remember there was a phenomenon I encountered early on at my voiceover agency. Over a decade ago, I remember sitting in the lobby and chatting with somebody and I’m like, “Oh my God, I just realized I’m talking to EG Daily, who’s the voice of Tommy Pickles on Rugrats?” Or, “Oh my god, I’m talking to Billy West. I just thought he was this friendly guy in the lobby.” I didn’t realize he’s the voice of Doug. 

So it’s been really fun and certainly the fans enjoy getting to see and put a face to the name of a lot of the animated characters that they know and love, but might not know who the actor is behind it. One of my goals, actually for the promotion of Big Nate, is to really connect the faces of the actors to the characters that they’re playing, because I think that’s something that gets lost in animation these days. I think that it’s important to value the actor behind the role just as much as the character itself. And so that’s something we’re trying to do with a lot of lip sync content on TikTok and certainly through the Cartoon Voice Battles.

Coryon: The Henry Danger fandom is still going strong and loving your past character, The Toddler. What’s it like still getting to revisit that character? How’s it like being welcomed into the Big Nate fandom and seeing it grow? 

It’s crazy because I did the Henry Danger pilot almost 10 years ago, and to think that I have now played The Toddler, the main villain on the show for the past near decade on three different Nickelodeon series:  Henry Danger, The Adventures of Kid Danger was our animated spinoff and now our live action spinoff, Danger Force. It’s just a real treat. 

You know, being an adult on a kid’s show is interesting because all the other adults are these really gifted, funny, improvisational comedians and character actors. So anytime we get to do episodes together and interact, it’s a real fraternity of comedy people, and it’s a blast. At this point, it’s a family. Some of my dearest friends in the world are some of the cast and crew of Henry Danger. Any kind of longevity in entertainment is amazing but to say I’ve played the same character now for almost a decade on TV is pretty nuts, and it’s found some real, I guess, a second life to it. 

With the premiere of Danger Force and also with the fandom on TikTok, many of those early twentysomethings or around that age grew up watching Henry Danger, so there’s a nostalgia factor to the character. And then there’s younger fans who currently watch Danger Force, where The Toddler is a very active character for them in their pop culture lexicon. So it’s a character that has really spanned multiple generations of Nickelodeon fans and one that has certainly established a very strong relationship with Nickelodeon in general, which has certainly helped on the animation side as well. I think I’m one of the few actors that has a pretty prolific on camera experience at the network while also starring on the animation side. Both of those paths have been really satisfying to hone in on and also, The Toddler’s just fun. He’s an evil man-baby. He’s a gangster. I mean, it’s a complete blast. So anytime we’re on set, it’s a lot of fun.

Johnathon: Now that you’re more cemented as a member of the Nickelodeon family, are you looking forward to getting slimed this year at the Kids’ Choice Awards when you take home the orange blimp?

Well, look, I’ve been to the Kids’’ Choice Awards many times, but I have not been slimed at the Kids’’ Choice Awards yet. . I am going to put that out there with you that hopefully, we are back in person soon for events like that because I will very eagerly commit to being slimed,, for sure.

Johnathon K.
Johnathon K. is a staff writer for TV Source Magazine. With a love of soaps, the Super Sentai Series and gaming, John's passion comes through in his writing and as a featured host of the TV Source Podcast, where he also serves as producer. In 2019, John launched his own podcast series "Our Take Media" which gives his take on various things in TV from soaps to reality television.

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