Narrative Undertones: My Interview with Oliver Wyman

6 06 2011


There are some narrators known for their subtle pacing and subdued reading of the text. Then there are others like Oliver Wyman who just perform the heck out of a novel. Oliver has narrated over 100 audiobooks, including works by Lance Armstrong, Tim Dorsey, Joseph Wambaugh and David Weber. The Novel, Interface by Neal Stephenson and J. Frederick George, which Oliver narrated, was nominated for a 2011 Audie Award in the Thriller/Suspense Category. You can check out Oliver Wyman’s Audiofile profile and his About Me page.



Bob: Let’s start off simple… How did you get involved in the Audiobook business?

Oliver: About twenty years ago, I started to get a lot of work recording ESL programs– audio programs for people learning to speak English as a second language. You know, those tapes where someone says, "Excuse me, is this the soup spoon?" and the listener repeats it. Years later one of the producers that I worked with started doing audiobooks. At first I did a bunch of short stories, but then one day in 1999 that producer called me up and asked me if I wanted to record Lance Armstrong’s autobiography. Lance was meant to do it himself, but he cancelled at the last minute. Of course I said, "HELL, yeah".



     Bob:  You have narrated a wide variety of audiobooks, from memoirs and other non-fiction, to sci-fi and fantasy. Do you have a favorite genre of novel to bring to life? How do you differ your approach when you’re reading Lance Armstrong’s memoir as opposed to something like Practical Demonkeeping, where you’re voicing demons and Jinn?

Oliver: I’m a big fan of science fiction and fantasy really, but any well-written, character-driven fiction is a joy for me to record. My approach to Lance Armstrong’s book was simply to sound as if I were thinking all of it up as I was saying it. When I record fiction in the third person, I try to create a radio-play as much as I can; the theater of the mind, as they say.
Bob: There are some narrators who become the distinctive voice for the character, for example, Dick Hill is Jack Reacher, and most listeners would have quite hard time accepting anyone else in the role. Yet, there is something more happening whenever you read a Tim Dorsey novel. Tell me about your relationship with Serge, Coleman, and of course, Agent Mahoney. Along with that, you have to be kinda stoked at the thought of a Serge Christmas novel.

Oliver: I love recording Tim Dorsey’s books more than you can imagine. Channeling Serge is unbelievably cathartic– and I’m not kidding when I say "channeling". If you listen to the first one I did, Hurricane Punch, you can hear Serge’s personality take over. I had fully intended for Serge to have my own voice. And I think he does start out that way, but as he drinks more and more coffee over the course of the book, I felt compelled to keep up with his caffeine intake, and that and Dorsey’s words just changed my voice. There are people out there who really don’t like what I’ve done with the character. Someone once said that he sounds like Joe Pesci. He’s nothing like Pesci. He’s closer to Daffy Duck. That’s just the way I hear his voice in my head when I read it. As far as Coleman goes, I can’t deny it; he’s a flat-out impression of Ethan Suplee’s character Randy from "My Name is Earl". I admit it. But again, that’s just the way I hear the voice in my head. Same thing with Mahoney. I don’t ever have to think, "How would Mahoney say that?". It’s all right there in the words for me.

Bob: One of the reasons I consider you one of my favorite narrators, is that we listeners can often times hear how much fun you are having. You have provided some of my favorite audiobooks moments, including Serge’s self narration along with Coleman’s “Serge you’re doing it again” and the various Tolkenesque and Lovecraftian creatures of Larry Correia’s Monster Hunter series. Are their any particular moments in your narrating career that stick out for you?

Oliver: Several, really. Getting to record one of my very favorite books, Fred Pohl’s Gateway. Also, that book, along with James Frey’s A Million Little Pieces, Joseph Wambaugh’s The Black Marble, and Jeff VanDerMeer’s Finch, among a few others, have been particularly memorable because of the profound way the material affected me and my performance. Though recording the voice of the shuggoth in Larry Correia’s Monster Hunter Vendetta was certainly one of my favorite things ever. One of the reasons I enjoy working on science fiction and fantasy so much is that it gives me the opportunity to do outrageous character voices.


Bob: You have a term for actors that I find quite intriguing, which is “Psychic Vampires.” Are their any tricks or particular inspirations you use when having to perform in studio, as opposed to in front of a live audience?

Oliver: I don’t really have any tricks, I just try to say it the way I hear it in my head. When you’re working with good writing, it’s almost effortless. It’s when the writing sucks that I have to work hard at it. If there’s no characterization then I don’t hear the character’s voice in my head. My inspiration is just a head full of pop culture and subculture ephemera. For me, performing in front of a live audience is the opposite. That’s all about getting out of your head.

Bob: Let’s say you wanted to tell your life story, but you’re just to busy to do it. Who would your dream ghostwriter be, and who would you like to see narrate your memoir?

Oliver: Alan Moore would write it, and Dave Gibbons would illustrate it. The audiobook would be a multi-cast featuring narration by Stephen Colbert, and Tom Kenny would play me. My friends, family, and acquaintances would be played by David Cross, Jon Stewart, Patton Oswalt, Sarah Silverman, Brian Posehn, Amy Sedaris, Louis C.K., Catherine Tate, and Zach Galifianakis . With a score by Stewart Copeland and original music by They Might Be Giants.

Tom Kenny                                        Stephen Colbert

Bob: And finally, are there any upcoming projects, whether they are audiobooks or anything else, which you are excited about and would like to share with us?

Oliver: I’m just starting the third book in Larry Correia’s Monster Hunter series and then I’ll be working on Thomas Friedman’s new book. Outside of that, who knows? A Serge Christmas novel? That might just be the best Christmas present I get this year.



3 responses

6 06 2011
Jen - Devourer of Books

The question of narrators and their favorite genres is really interesting to me, I always wonder how the narrators felt about any given audio, if they thought it was a good book, etc.

6 06 2011
Interview with the man that did my Monster Hunter audio books « Monster Hunter Nation

[…]…  Oliver Wyman, who has narrated more than 100 audio books, talks about his job.  And Mr. Trash Bags was a career high. Go Team Shoggoth! […]

23 06 2013
Going Public… In Shorts Presents Oliver Wyman Reading Pickman’s Model by H.P. Lovecraft | The Guilded Earlobe

[…] is one narrator that has more than gone out of his way to embrace fans of audiobooks. Make sure you check out our interview, which I bribed him into through a series of veiled threats and pictures of Robot kittens. As an […]

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