West worked at WBCN in Boston, performing daily on the air on The Big Mattress show, then moved to New York City in 1988, working at K-Rock Radio (92.3 FM WXRK). West became a regular on The Howard Stern Show at that time until leaving in 1995. West moved to Los Angeles, where he found success as a voice actor and performer.
West launched his career in the early 1980s, performing daily comedic routines on Boston's WBCN. He left the radio station in 1988 to work on the short-lived revival of Beany and Cecil, which was his first role in television. He was a cast member and impressionist on The Howard Stern Show during the 1990s, where he gained notice for his impersonations of Three Stooges middleman Larry Fine, Cincinnati Reds owner Marge Schott, and Stern's head writer Jackie Martling. West's most notable film work was in Space Jam (1996), providing the voice of both Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd. He has provided the same voices for other Looney Tunes films and video games.
West's first two high-profile roles, on Doug and The Ren & Stimpy Show, came almost simultaneously and were on two of the first original three Nicktoons (the other being Rugrats). Over his career, West has been the voice talent for close to 120 different characters including some of the most iconic animated figures in television history. He has become one of few voice actors who can impersonate Mel Blanc in his prime, including characterizations of Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck, the voice Arthur Q. Bryan used for Elmer Fudd, as well as other characters from Warner Bros. cartoons. In 1998, Entertainment Weekly described West as "the new Mel Blanc" and noted his ability to mimic well-known voices, though he would rather develop original voices. West's favorite characters are Philip J. Fry and Stimpy, both of which he originated. West has been very outspoken over his displeasure about the influx of movie star actors providing voice-over for films and major shows. West has stated that he did not like the Disney version of Doug and that he "couldn't watch" the show. West was the voice of the show's namesake, Geeker, throughout Project Geeker's 13-episode run. West was the voice of Zim in the original pilot for Nickelodeon's Invader Zim. Richard Horvitz was chosen for the series role because West's voice was too recognizable, according to Invader Zim creator Jhonen Vasquez during DVD commentary. West is the voice of "Red" in numerous M&M commercials as well as the 3-D movie "I Lost my M in Vegas", currently playing at M&M's World in Las Vegas, NV. West also voices a number of characters in the series Rick & Steve: The Happiest Gay Couple in All the World. He does not play a regular character in that series but appears in almost every episode of the show voicing various minor and one-off characters. West voiced the character Moobeard in Moobeard the Cow Pirate, a short animation featured on Random! Cartoons, and reprises his role as Elmer Fudd in Cartoon Network's series The Looney Tunes Show. West provides the voice for the elephant/van Ellyvan in the Playhouse Disney show "Jungle Junction".
West provided the voice of Stimpy in Nickelodeon's The Ren & Stimpy Show from 1991 until 1996, and he later provided the voice of Ren Höek from 1993 to 1996 when Ren's original voice and series creator John Kricfalusi was fired by Nickelodeon for delivering un-airable episodes. West performed other characters on the series as well, such as Mr. Horse (another role that West was issued after Kricfalusi's departure) and the "Announcer/Salesman" of such shorts as the "Log" ads (a voice West would use years later as the Narrator for The Weird Al Show).
According to West, he was originally supposed to do the voice of both Ren and Stimpy (and performed both characters on the tape that was used to sell the show to Nickelodeon), but then Kricfalusi decided to do the voice of Ren himself once the show was sold and he had West on board as part of the selling point. However, West provided Ren's maniacal laughter when John Kricfalusi was the voice of Ren.
West's roles in Futurama include Philip J. Fry, Professor Farnsworth, Zapp Brannigan, Dr. Zoidberg and various other incidental characters. As he and other Futurama cast and crew point out in DVD commentaries, West voiced so many characters throughout the series that conversations are often held entirely between characters he is voicing.
West went into the Futurama auditions and was asked to try out for, as he says, "just about every part"; eventually landing the Professor, Zoidberg, and Zapp Brannigan. West later got the role of Fry, which originally had gone to Charlie Schlatter. While West is known for doing many different and unique voices, the voice he does for Philip J. Fry is often considered to be closer to his natural voice than any other character he has done (in an audio commentary, he states Fry is just himself at age 25). This similarity, West acknowledges, was done purposefully in order to make it harder to replace him in the part along with placing more of himself personally into the role (DVD commentary).
The role of Zapp Brannigan was created for Phil Hartman, but he died before the show started and West was given the role. West has described his interpretation of Zapp Brannigan's voice as an imitation of Hartman, but described the actual vocalizations of the character as being based on "a couple of big dumb announcers I knew."
Futurama was renewed by Comedy Central as four direct-to-DVD films broken into 16 television episodes. West reprised his roles for these films and was signed on for two new 26-episode production seasons (four 13-episode air seasons) of Futurama which aired summers of 2010-2013.
West was the announcer of the program Screen Gems Network which ran from 1999–2001. He was the promotional announcer for The Comedy Channel before it merged with HA! to become Comedy Central. Over his career, Billy West has voiced multiple characters in television commercials. These include (but are not limited to):Red, the plain/milk chocolate M&M (1996–present) (after Jon Lovitz's departure from the role in 1996)
Buzz, the honey nut bee for Honey Nut Cheerios (1990–2004)
An alien for Pentium 4
Popeye for Minute Maid
Babe Ruth, Mickey Goldmill, and Bruce Lee for Brisk Iced Tea
Marfalump, a mascot for Pepsi from 1999 to 2000; created to tie in with the release of Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace
West voiced the Speed Racer character in a late 1990s advertisement for Volkswagen, because the commercial's producers could not locate Peter Fernandez, the original voice of Speed. However, the producers did locate Corinne Orr, the original voice for the characters Trixie and Spritle.
He provided voices for the Eric Kaplan–created webtoon Zombie College, and two characters in Tofu the Vegan Zombie.
West appeared on Ken Reid's TV Guidance Counselor Podcast on January 30, 2015. The episode was recorded live at The Smell in Downtown Los Angeles during the third annual Riot LA Comedy Festival.
West began his own podcast show in July 2015. It features him doing numerous characters per episode, recurring segments such as "Song Demolition" and "Billy Bastard – Amateur Human Being", and special guest Jim Gomez.
Perhaps West's most notable film work came in the 1996 film Space Jam, where he provided the voice of both Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd. West reprised the roles of Bugs and Fudd in subsequent Looney Tunes feature-length films and returned as Fudd in the theatrically released Looney Tunes: Back in Action. In 1998, West starred in the direct-to-video film Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island as Shaggy Rogers, becoming the second person to portray the character (the first being Casey Kasem). He was one of the top contenders to replace Kasem after his retirement in 2009 but lost the role to Matthew Lillard. In 2000, he provided additional voices in Disney's Dinosaur. In 2004, West voiced the classic character Popeye in the 75th-anniversary film Popeye's Voyage: The Quest for Pappy, and made his live-action film debut in Mark Hamill's Comic Book: The Movie. He also appeared in a cameo in Garfield: The Movie. Other films featuring West's vocal talents include Joe's Apartment, Cats & Dogs, Olive, the Other Reindeer, TMNT, The Proud Family Movie, and three Tom and Jerry direct-to-video movies.
West is a guitarist and singer-songwriter with a band called Billy West and The Grief Counselors. They have released their first album, Me-Pod. West has toured as a guitarist for Roy Orbison and Brian Wilson.
In 1982, West sang lead, doing an impersonation of Mike Love, on a Beach Boys-inspired tune, "Another Cape Cod Summer This Year," by studio band ROUTE 28, written and produced by Erik Lindgren on his Arf! Arf! Records label.
West has collaborated with Deborah Harry, Lou Reed, and Los Lobos, and he has played live on several occasions with Brian Wilson, including the guitar solo on the Beach Boys tune "Do it Again" on Late Show with David Letterman, in the mid-1990s.
The Futurama episode "Proposition Infinity" features the track "Shut up and Love Me" which was written and played by Billy West and Greg Leon, under the name Wailing Fungus.
Throughout the 1980s, West provided character voices on Charles Laquidara's Big Mattress radio show on Boston's WBCN. West was one-half of the award-winning WBCN Production team from 1980–1986. From 1989 through 1995, West provided The Howard Stern Show with character voices such as Jim Backus, Lucille Ball, Raymond Burr, Johnny Carson, Johnnie Cochran, Connie Chung, Pat Cooper, Jane Curtin, Sammy Davis, Jr., Doris Day, Louis "Red" Deutsch, David Dinkins, Mia Farrow, Larry Fine, Pete Fornatale, Frank Gifford, Kathie Lee Gifford, Rudolph Giuliani, Mark Goddard, Bobcat Goldthwait, the Greaseman, Jonathan Harris (as Dr. Zachary Smith), Leona Helmsley, Evander Holyfield, Shemp Howard, Lance Ito, Elton John, Don Knotts, Jay Leno, Nelson Mandela, Jackie Martling (as the Jackie puppet), Ed McMahon, Al Michaels, Bill Mumy (as Will Robinson), Cardinal O'Connor, Maury Povich, Soon-Yi Previn, Marge Schott, Frank Sinatra, Rae Stern (Howard Stern's mother), George Takei, Joe Walsh, and Robin Williams until eventually leaving the show over money. West was an occasional contributor to The Adam Carolla Show, a syndicated morning radio show that replaced Stern's show on CBS in LA. On February 19 and 20, 2007, The Howard Stern Show ran a special two-part retrospective of West's work with the show. It marked his first work with the show since leaving after his last show on November 1, 1995. On June 9, 2009, West appeared on Jackie Martling's Jackie's Joke Hunt on Stern's satellite radio channel Howard 101.
Characters most notably voiced by West are perhaps Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd in numerous Looney Tunes video games.
Other video game characters voiced by Billy West include these:Stimpy in Nicktoons Racing (2001) and Nicktoons: Attack of the Toybots (2007)
Dr. Zoidberg in The Simpsons Game (2007)
Additional voices in Spyro: Enter the Dragonfly (2002)
Sparx in The Legend of Spyro: The Eternal Night (2007)
Philip J. Fry, Professor Farnsworth, Dr. Zoidberg, and Zapp Brannigan in Futurama (2003)
Ninja in I-Ninja (2003).
Nash and Zam in Crash Nitro Kart (2003)
Additional Voices, including two voice sets for the player character in Baldur's Gate II: Shadows of Amn (2000).
Murfy in Rayman 3 (2003).
Murfy in Rayman Arena (2002).
Muttley and L'il Gruesome in Wacky Races (2000, 2001, 2008)
Some voices in Mad Dash Racing, for the Xbox
Voice of Red, the red M&M in M&M's: The Lost Formulas (2000)
Hamton J. Pig in Tiny Toon Adventures: Toonenstein
Atomic Bomberman in Atomic Bomberman
Emilio Baza in Gabriel Knight 3: Blood of the Sacred, Blood of the Damned
Bugs Bunny & Elmer Fudd in Bugs Bunny: Lost in Time
The Yak in Nicktoons MLB (2011)
Fire Kraken, Freeze Blade, Food Fight, Chill Bill and Rocky Roll in Skylanders: Swap Force, Skylanders: Trap Team and Skylanders: SuperChargers
Narrator in Minecraft: Story Mode (2015)