Debi Derryberry is as adorable as her name. As the voice of Jimmy Neutron and countless other cartoon characters, the pint-sized singer (she’s 4’ 10½”!) has recently created a super cute character of her own: Baby Banana. Celebrity Parents caught up with Debi at her packed performance at Bank Street Books in NYC to talk about Jimmy, being a whale rider (!), and all things Baby Banana.
I have to say, it is so surreal to be sitting next to Jimmy Neutron! How did you get your start?
I’ve always written and performed music. Even when I was little, I was writing and singing. In college, I was pre-med, but I loved music so much that I moved to Nashville and started writing country music and jingles.
What did your parents think of that?
They were concerned, since singing is not as certain as a career in medicine. They loved me and they loved my music, so they were supportive.
How did you become the voice for Jimmy Neutron?
I was in Nashville on the set of Ernest Goes to Camp. I was a stand-in for the boys in the movie, and one of the moms there said that I should get into voiceover work. She gave me the contacts I needed and then I returned to L.A. where I got a great voice agent (Jeff Danis of DPN). I started booking cartoons right away.
I was submitted for a pilot which was then-called Johnny Quasar, and then it got changed to Jimmy Neutron. I was comfortable talking like a little girl, but not like a boy. I did the voice in my own way, and they chose me.
Did you ever think that it was going to become this phenomenon?
No. At first, they said, “It’s going to be a series.” Then, they said, “We’re going to do video games.” Then they said, “It’s going to be nominated for an Oscar.” Jimmy Neutron is the role that every actor hopes for. We wait our whole lives for something that people will like. It’s been the biggest blessing.
And we have to talk about you being a whale rider in Free Willy!
They needed a small person who could look like a 12 year-old boy. (Again, I’m a boy!). I am a scuba diver, so they picked me to ride the whale. It was an incredible experience!
Let’s talk about Baby Banana.
Oh, I love Baby Banana! It started as a story that my husband, Harvey, and I would tell our son, River. Baby Banana is five years-old; forever five! His daddy is a gorilla and his mommy is a duck. There is lots of diversity in today’s families, and in Baby Banana’s family, too. It teaches children to accept themselves for who they are, with their own quirks, talents, curiosities, etc. There is acceptance and nurturing in Baby Banana’s family, and one of the messages is that family is the magic; it’s where it all happens.
And since you sing, there is a Baby Banana song that will be featured on a brand new CD coming out on May 5th.
Yes, when I first wrote and recorded the Baby Banana song, it did amazingly well – it went to #1 on the Sirius kids’ radio charts. Everyone liked it so much, I thought “I’ll write a book!” to pursue the adventures of Baby Banana. That’s how my book Baby Banana and The Licorice Tree came to be. My new “Baby Banana” CD has songs all about Baby Banana and his friends and family. It’s got reggae, calypso, folk and jazz-themed songs that I’ve been premiering for live audiences – and kids and grown-ups seem to love the music! There’s even a bonus track on the CD that features me reading the book.
It seems like you’re building a Baby Banana empire!
It’s going to be “the” new thing for the preschool set! We have just recorded four Baby Banana music videos, and our website: www.mybabybanana.com is in the works and will launch in April. It’s a fun website for parents and kids. We’ll also publish a monthly newsletter where people can find kid-friendly, nutrition-based recipes, concert dates, printable coloring pages, and more interactive ways for parents and kids to enjoy Baby Banana’s world.
Eventually, I would like Baby Banana to become a cartoon series, complete with toys, and more books. We’re committed to keeping the prices of the items we sell affordable for families, because today’s economy is tough. I’m a parent, too, so I understand it. And of course, I will do the voice for Baby Banana!
It is truly an organic path that I’ve taken. I’ve always loved music, I’ve always loved the cartoon voices, I love kids, and performing. Who would have thunk that I would be doing this?
A while back, you had formed a group called Honey Pig. What is the difference between performing for adults and performing for children?
I love performing for kids. The quality of music for children has to be really, really good. It can have fun subjects and be kid-friendly, but it can’t be patronizing. Kids are the best audience. The energy I get from the kids is amazing. Like today, at Bank Street Books. We had over 150 kids come today with their families for the concert. It was packed in here. That was the biggest rush for me. It has come full circle for me now; to have my own family and promote this great family-friendly music.
He’s totally unphased by it. River is a great kid. He’s seven years-old, and he’s a great piano player. He has a great musical ear. My grandfather was an orthodox cantor, my mom sang; we always did harmonies together. River is shy to sing. Instead, he plays chess and he collects things, like buddhas, marbles, springs…
Yes, like a slinky spring. We go to the hardware store for a treat. I tell him: “We’ll get you a spring!” (laughs) He’s super excited right now because he submitted a video of himself hula-hooping 15 hoops to iCarly, and his video is going to be on the iCarly Web Awards. And I have a recurring role on iCarly, too, as Miss Vermin, the principal’s secretary.
How did you meet your husband, Harvey?
We met online! We’ve been together nine years, and it’s great.
Now, how do you find the balance between this burgeoning Baby Banana business and your family?
It’s been a challenge. The biggest thing I’ve had to learn is how to delegate and let go. But no matter what I’m doing, by 3:30 p.m., I’m done. I cherish the time I have with my family, and even though I might have a million things to do, I’ll still stay on the bed with River while he falls asleep. Baby Banana is wonderful, but my family is still the most important thing in the world to me.