For four seasons of Fox’s hit animated series Bob’s Burgers—the fourth season ends May 18—John Roberts has been making viewers laugh as the voice behind Linda Belcher, the matriarch of a New Jersey hamburger restaurant and mother of three.
What makes Linda so special, considering the long line of animated TV moms—from Marge Simpson to Lois Griffin—is Roberts’ personal connection to his character: His Brooklyn-born mother Marge.
Five years before the show premiered, Roberts was making millions laugh with his YouTube series about a New Jersey mother seemingly attached to her landline phone. The first of the videos—which featured Roberts as a mom obsessed with her Christmas tree—became an instant Internet classic, eventually landing on VH1’s Best Week Ever and garnering a broadband Emmy award nomination.
“It was 100 percent me doing [an impersonation of] my mom,” says Roberts, who made numerous online sketches based on real life scenarios, including the trees (“My mom really loves her Christmas trees”), and his own coming out.
“I wrote my mother this letter when I was 18 or 19,” Roberts explains when asked about the inspiration behind “My Son Is Gay?”—during which his mom repeatedly asks herself that single question. “That was her whole journey within that monologue.”
Even though Marge took a beat when Roberts first came out, she’s become his biggest fan, hamming it up for the crowds at his live comedy performances—something that’s strikingly familiar to Linda.
The character, while a doting mother, enjoys her own time in the spotlight. In season one, Linda beamed as she took center stage during a dinner theater performance. Since then, she has become an eccentric personality with a passion for entertaining.
That passion is something Roberts hopes to explore even more of as a writer for Bob's Burgers. “I’m actually writing an episode now,” Roberts confesses, explaining that he wants to go deeper into Linda's zany personality. “I love exploring that Lucille Ball part of her." According to Roberts, Linda first started off as a wife among a family of cannibals then became a matriarch based on Roberts’ own work before breathing life into a completely original character that’s full of song and dance.
“When you're doing animation it could totally become this other thing,” Roberts says. But no matter how far removed Linda becomes, there will always be a part of her that’s based on Marge—and maybe that’s why fans love the character so much. Linda is not just an animated character she’s a real mother—even if she's voiced by a man.