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How Cowboy Bebop Helped Steve Blum Land The Voice Of Toonami’s Host TOM

Steve Blum has amassed a host of notable voice-acting roles over his career, though I’d wager many anime fans first caught wind of his talents in Cartoon Network’s long-running block of anime programming, Toonami. Blum voices TOM (Toonami Operations Module), who hosts the program and serves as a segue between the various anime shows featured. I recently learned that his role as Spike Spiegel in the anime Cowboy Bebop actually helped land him the gig at Toonami, and the story is pretty awesome. 

Funimation allowed me an opportunity to talk to the main voice cast of the Cowboy Bebop dub and, of course, we had to discuss Toonami. I asked Blum if he or Cartoon Network intended for TOM to sound identical to Spike Spiegel or if it was something he came up with. Ultimately, I got the story of how his work encouraged CN to seek him out, and how free beer basically led to decades of work as the animated host:

It was both of those things. I had nothing to do with it. They actually sought me out, and it was based on Cowboy Bebop that I landed that role as TOM. I think there was some familiarity to it that they were hoping to achieve, especially since Bebop had aired on Adult Swim at the time. They just liked the way the voice worked for the robot, and I lucked out, honestly. There wasn’t anything that I had intentionally done. I just got lucky, honestly, and they offered me free beer to come in and audition for it. That was all I needed to hear.

So the actor didn’t even have to really apply to get the job at Toonami, it was the success of Cowboy Bebop that led to Cartoon Network seeking him out. He even got free beer to come in and audition for the role, which had to feel like a win regardless of whether he got the job or not.

Toonami’s history with anime is tremendous and helped expose many American audiences to popular shows like Dragon Ball Z and Naruto, among many others. Of course, TOM adds the style that makes it more than just a random television block (which has also included American shows like Justice League). Blum recalled the meeting he took for the job and his initial doubt that he could do what Cartoon Network asked of him:

They wanted to meet me at a convention, I think it was Anime Expo or something in L.A., and they were coming out from Atlanta. They asked me to meet them about possibly hosting a show, and I said, ‘I’m not qualified to do that. I’m an anime voice guy. I have no idea how to host a show.’ And they said, ‘You don’t really need to do anything except talk. We’ll give you the words and just talk in your normal speaking voice and I think it’ll be cool.’

Steve Blum did exactly that and, as time went on, Toonami gave TOM more things to do. This included specials in which the character went up against various threats, as well as the occasional video game review or music night that featured music from artists like Daft Punk and Gorillaz. 

The actor's stint on the programming block started in 2000 and was preceded by C. Martin Croker, who helmed a version of the program as the Space Ghost Coast-To-Coast’s Moltar starting in 1997, and voice actor Sonny Strait who voiced the first version of TOM for a year. Steve Blum is currently still the host, in a run that’s spanned decades outside of the fan-favorite block's cancellation, which lasted from 2008 to 2012.

It’s been a hell of a run for the Wolverine and the X-Men alum, who still works quite heavily in the voice-acting business within other franchises like Star Wars and Mortal Kombat just to name a few. The star commented on the success of Toonami over the years and his disbelief that it’s still going:

None of us really knew what the hell we were doing at the time. They did, maybe, I didn’t. But it was just a stroke of luck at the time that it clicked. It worked. It really worked for the programming, and I can’t believe that we still get to do this every Saturday night, only Toonami.

As mentioned, Toonami is still running on Cartoon Network, though not at the peak of afternoons on weekdays, as it did back in the day. Its current block runs Saturdays starting at midnight, with four hours set aside for top anime curated by the network. As an anime fan, it’s certainly cool to see that it's still kicking even in the brave new world of streaming. And of course, it's even sweeter knowing that Steve Blum is still a part of it. 

Fans can enjoy Steve Blum’s pitch-perfect voice-acting as Spike Spiegel in the Cowboy Bebop anime, which is currently available to stream over at Funimation and on Netflix. Be sure to check that out before or after watching the Netflix live-action series, which has stirred up a healthy amount of debate amongst fans since its premiere.

Mick Joest

Mick likes good television, but also reality television. He grew up on Star Wars, DC, Marvel, and pro wrestling and loves to discuss and dissect most of it. He’s been writing online for over a decade and never dreamed he’d be in the position he is today.