Don’t strive for perfection, it doesn’t exist. Push your limits, but don’t obsess over results. I wasted too much time not doing what I wanted because I was afraid of looking foolish or feared not being good enough. I delayed getting started. I published a fun teen adventure novel, The Idiocy and the Odyssey of Tarnation Sparks and Murfles McGee, on Amazon in December, knowing that I’m proud of it now, but five or ten years from now, after gaining new knowledge, I’ll look back and see how I could have done something different to improve the story. That’s life. We can only work with what we have in the moment.
As a part of my interview series with popular culture stars, I had the pleasure of interviewing Devon McPherson. Devon is a voice actor, comedian, actress, and YA author. She has a home studio for voiceover that her dog thinks is its own dedicated doggie bed and breakfast. She’s also performed plays, sketch comedy, commercials, indie films, and improvisation (studying with Groundlings founder Gary Austin).
Thank you so much for joining us Devon! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
When I was around seven or eight, I started improvising characters and recording the voices. I performed satiric sketches. In one sketch, I played a Svengali-like children’s television host. I performed a lot of whimsical, yet dark humor in that vein. When underground zines became the rage in the 1990s, I produced my own homemade social satire magazine. My early acting, voiceover, and writing were pretty dreadful, but I had fun.
After I grew up, I took an acting class. I was hooked. I started doing theater, commercials, and indie films. Eventually, I auditioned for an agent in Los Angeles. He cocked his head side-to-side like a confused dog as I read for him. Then he stared at me quizzically after. I was sure he wanted to kick me out of his office. Then he said, “You’re very charactery. You should be doing voiceover.”
Ah, I realized that’s what I wanted to do all along. It’s what I started when I was in grammar school. Who we are in childhood is usually our authentic self. Those childish interests can become adult career paths if we develop our skills and work hard and listen to our own voice. I eventually came full circle and I’m that playful kid again, albeit with a few more bumps and bruises.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started this career?
When I lived in Los Angeles I got a job as a personal assistant to a comedian. His father was my acting coach and recommended me. It was one of those lovely little life surprises where you never know where you’ll end up, but then BOOM there you are! The experience was a great adventure. I met a lot of working actors and comedians in television and film. There were a lot of behind-the-scene looks into the entertainment industry.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I did a couple of guerilla films that that were so bad they were good. One film used a pool skimmer for a boom mic. That bad. In another film cannibals chased me through the jungle, but I managed to be the lone survivor in our group! I’m glad they were shot in the late 90s before the Internet really took off. Now I can watch them once a decade and have a laugh. They taught me that everything isn’t an opportunity and it’s okay to say no. Now I’m discerning about what I say yes to because we all only get so many hours on this earth.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
I’m finishing up my games and animation character voiceover demo. I’m excited to hear the final production when it’s done.
I’m also starting to do video shorts again with a focus on cultural nostalgia. I have a list of topics and a couple of scripts written.
I’m jazzed about doing anything that will bring a smile or laugh or at least some levity to people, yet reveal deeper truths. The world can be a heavy place. It’s full of suffering. Humor is a panacea. I like when people don’t take themselves or life too seriously.
Who are some of the most interesting people you have interacted with? What was that like? Do you have any stories?
I got to meet actors from children’s shows that I grew up with. I was friends with Kip King who was Tailor Smurf on The Smurfs. We’d go down to the Director’s Guild in L.A. to watch films, and we’d sit with Lucille Bliss who played Smurfette. I got to hear Smurfette live! I met a guy once who knew Billie Hayes who was Witchipoo from H.R. Pufnstuf (and then went on to voice hundreds of characters). This was at a time when I started to focus more on voiceover, so it was wonderful to be meet or hear about so many talented voice actors.
Paul Reubens had great respect for Kip (both were Groundlings and Kip was in the original group), and I got to meet Paul through him. I loved Pee Wee’s Playhouse. It was so madcap, mixing kid entertainment with adult humor. Paul was a nice, regular guy. People aren’t on all the time, unless they’re actually mad.
I got to see Jane Withers when she got a lifetime achievement award at the San Fernando Valley International Film Festival. She was so humble, yet, effervescent, talking about her time as a child star working with Shirley Temple and playing the rambunctious counterpart to Shirley’s sweet girl. When I was a kid, I wanted to be Shirley Temple, now I realized I wanted to be Jane, instead.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Connect with friends and family. Get out in nature. Live life. Have adventures. Try something new. As passionately as I love what I do, I won’t be on my death bed lamenting, “if only I had spent one more hour locked in the studio instead of having a hike, watching wild critters, and sniffing the spring flowers with a friend. I like to balance work with outdoor activities.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I’m skeptical of movements. Sometimes they change the world for the better, sometimes they go off the rails. But I’d take the chance. The world currently needs a movement to restore free speech. People are being censored, banned, and de-platformed online for having politically “incorrect” views. Governments are arresting people for jokes. It’s a dark time for comedy and democracy. Freedom of speech and expression are cornerstones of free societies. I’d like a movement that convinces people to choose liberty over tyranny.
I’d also like to start a movement to preserve wilderness areas and protect wildlife from being driven to extinction by humans. My soul would wither without wide, open spaces and fresh air. People need un-polluted environments. There’s a balance to nature that needs to be maintained.
I don’t know what influence I have. I have more questions than answers. I try to use humor and I hope that helps. People don’t like to be preached to, but if you can point out life’s folly in a more humorous manner, or in a fun way, an audience is more likely to listen.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
1.) Don’t multitask. Focus on one or two goals at a time. Our brains didn’t evolve to process the constant barrage of information in our modern world. My most productive, joyful, creative times have been when I’ve been able to shut out superfluous information and worries.
2.) Don’t strive for perfection, it doesn’t exist. Push your limits, but don’t obsess over results. I wasted too much time not doing what I wanted because I was afraid of looking foolish or feared not being good enough. I delayed getting started. I published a fun teen adventure novel, The Idiocy and the Odyssey of Tarnation Sparks and Murfles McGee, on Amazon in December, knowing that I’m proud of it now, but five or ten years from now, after gaining new knowledge, I’ll look back and see how I could have done something different to improve the story. That’s life. We can only work with what we have in the moment.
3.) Don’t expect a clear-cut life or career path A-Z. Do what’s right for your own life and be open to unexpected opportunities. You never know where you’ll find yourself. Growing up, I was taught, go to college, get married, have kids, get a 9–5 job, retire. If that works for you, then great. If not, go your own way. I was too passive when I was younger and let others push or even bully me into decisions. I had to grow a spine. It’s important to stand up for yourself and take responsibility for your own life.
4.) Don’t compare yourself to others. There will always be someone funnier, faster, smarter, prettier, wealthier, or more successful. Always.
5.) Don’t be intimidated by others’ success. I used to be in a writer’s group, with writers from Saturday Night Live, and other professionals. I didn’t bring enough of my own writing in for critique because I worried I couldn’t measure up. Those were missed opportunities because of fear. Now I try to put my ego on hold and welcome constructive criticism if it will help me improve in any endeavor.
6.) (Six, because I learned life the hard way!) I wish someone had given me practical advice. Platitudes like “believe in yourself” are okay, but useless unless you have a plan and take action.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I don’t have one. That classic poster with the kitten clinging to a branch and the quote, “Hang in there” comes to mind. I’ll adopt that as my Life Lesson Quote. I’ve spent enough of life rolling on the hamster wheel, so learning to hang in there and keep going is relevant. Keep going through the hard times, the depressing times, the boring times.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I could fill a book. Since this magazine isn’t War and Peace, I’ll narrow it down to my current voiceover coach, Chuck McKibben, who was Mel Blanc’s personal audio producer. He’s taught me more than voiceover and audio editing, he’s been a mentor and a friend. He’s helped me navigate the business end of the industry — something that was rarely taught when I started in acting. He’s regaled me with stories from old Hollywood. A paragraph doesn’t do my appreciation justice.
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. 🙂
The name isn’t as important as the person. I’d love to have lunch with anyone who is creative, rational, passionate, funny, intellectually challenging, and loves to discuss ideas. Unique people with elan. People who are independent thinkers. There are a lot of folks who are unknown, yet are interesting and have much to contribute to the world.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Personal website: https://www.devonmcpherson.com
Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational!