Seth Rogen is now the voice of public transit in Vancouver and Toronto. We’re nominating these stars do the same thing in other cities.
In Hollywood, his grizzly chuckle is unmistakable from miles away. Now in Vancouver and, most recently, Toronto, Seth Rogen’s signature laugh is gracing the ears of morning commuters as he becomes the temporary voice of two of his country’s public transit systems.
His laughter accompanies public service announcements calling out people on bad rider etiquette. And judging from the promotion video from Vancouver’s TransLink, Rogen does not hold back.
To that lady whose bag has taken up a highly-coveted seat? “I know your bag is probably very nice, and you care deeply for it, but that doesn’t mean it needs its own seat,” he quips in his raspy voice. And that guy with his feet up? “Very nice sneakers, but kind of a horror show on the sole, so get those feet off the seat. My mom might be sitting there one day, c’mon!”
It started out as a joke, with Twitter users nominating Rogen to replace Morgan Freeman (who is facing allegations of sexual harassment) as the voice of Vancouver’s Skytrain. Now it’s a reality, and Rogen, an unabashedly proud Vancouverite, seems beyond excited for the gig. “Any opportunity to enrich the lives of the Canadian people is an opportunity I will take,” the actor, known for movies like Neighbors and Pineapple Express, said in a video—right before bursting into laughter.
It turns out that Rogen, a genuine public transit fan, is perfect for the job (though some in Toronto disagree). He famously posed for what was supposed to be a candid photo of him taking the airport shuttle in Los Angeles. And he proudly claims in the video that he grew up using public transit and still rides the Canada Line every time he’s in Vancouver.
Public transit announcers have gained local celebrity status in cities around the world. In 2016, Londoners mourned the death of Phil Sayer, who was best known for reminding riders to “mind the gap”on the London Underground. In other instances, musicians and actors have lent their voices to the greater good—like Jarvis Cocker, frontman of the British band Pulp, who re-recorded streetcar announcements in Sheffield, England, with his seductive voice.
Rogen’s announcements got CityLab writers thinking: What other celebrities would we like to see follow his lead, and where should they do it? Here’s who we’re nominating:
Judi Dench for the London Tube
Judging by the history of public announcements on its Tube, Londoners like being shouted at.
Since 1968, the authoritative voice of Oswald Lawrence has been scaring the bejesus out of people getting on and off trains at Embankment Station, even though his hectoring tones have been phased out elsewhere. Couple this with London Tube drivers’ habit of berating people who block doors over the in-train intercom and you have a city that’s used to—indeed, has a tradition of—receiving instructions in no uncertain terms.
This would make Judi Dench the perfect candidate. She’s so long established that she’s been shoehorned into the role of British “national treasure” for several decades already, and has a voice that would be recognized even by many tourists. Now that she’s known internationally for playing M in the James Bond movies, having her order Londoners to mind the gap would also tickle that part of the British soul that dearly loves being chastised by a contemptuous-sounding, well-spoken woman. It’s no less than we deserve.
The Roots for the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority
There’s no dearth of hip hop talent in the City of Brotherly Love—from Will Smith to Meek Mill—who could lend their voice to the SEPTA. But the Roots crew seems like the ultimate match to the versatility of SEPTA, which is one of only two U.S. public transit systems that boasts all five major forms of terrestrial transportation. The agency already has the honor of getting spelled out in the opening verse of “Push Up Ya Lighter,” where lead emcee Black Thought narrates a trip on the El to City Hall. Just imagine Questlove’s soft-spoken announcement on a trolley pilgrimage or Roots beatboxing-alum Rahzel remixing stop callouts on the city’s forthcoming redesigned bus network. It might take a lot to get the very busy Tonight Show band back in the studio to record directions, but if Jay-Z can save Made in America’s claim to the Parkway, maybe we can hope.
Lily Tomlin for the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority
New Yorkers are known for their fast-paced lives and no-nonsense attitudes, which doesn’t jive well with city’s troubled subways and buses (the slowest in all of America). That’s why those who tolerate the delays and shutdowns could use a good laugh, especially given that they live in the capital of America’s comedy scene. And who better to deliver snappy one-lined service announcements than Broadway’s treasure and “comedic chameleon” Lily Tomlin—who just so happens to also be the original voice of Ms. Frizzle in the beloved Magic School Bus series. There’s no guarantee that she will transform MTA buses into rocketships, but if she enthusiastically says, “OK, bus, do your stuff!” maybe—just maybe—the bus will inch forward and get straphangers where the need to be in a more reasonable time.
Jeffrey Wright for the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority
Washington, D.C., has plenty of homegrown musical heroes who could narrate bus and Metrorail journeys around town, from Ian MacKaye of the seminal hardcore band Fugazi, to Mary Timony of Ex Hex and Wild Flag, to hip-hop stars Wale and Logic. But the voice that would lower Washingtonians’ blood pressure during all-too-frequent Metro delays belongs to actor Jeffrey Wright. Wright, who was born and raised in D.C., portrayed the electronics savant Beetee in The Hunger Games movies and now plays the sincere, befuddled Bernard on Westworld. He has a rich baritone voice that viewers of the animated series BoJack Horseman will recognize as that of Mr. Cuddlywhiskers. The soothing quality of Wright’s voice, in and of itself, would reassure harried commuters that an offloaded train is not the end of the world.
Or… HAL 9000 for WMATA
But then again, D.C. has already decided that the job belongs to robots. When Metro’s gleaming new 7000 series trains arrive at a station, they make their presence known. “This is a 7000 series train,” a robo-voice self-declares at every stop—an announcement that had puzzled riders until this week.
Who is this robot talking? On older trains, operators make on-board announcements themselves. And when doors open and close on any Metrorail train, the prerecorded voice of Randi Miller, a certified human, tells passengers to step back. The cold, halting, feminine computer voice on the new trains doesn’t feel like an upgrade. Does she even have a name, like Siri or Alexa? (Metro doesn’t know the answer; the manufacturer, Kawasaki, supplied the voice.)
As long as robots are conducting the trains of the future, Metro might as well spring for a more familiar voice. Someone—okay, something—comforting. Something state of the art. A known quantity. A friend. HAL 9000 doing Metro 7000 would be a step up over the status quo. And who better to convey WMATA’s #Back2Good message than a robot that knows its own limitations? HAL 9000 is already saying what we expect to hear from Metro: “I know I’ve made some very poor decisions recently, but I can give you my complete assurance that my work will be back to normal.”
Greta Gerwig for Sacramento Regional Transit
California’s capital city is humble, and its transit is no different. Sacramento’s light rail remains under-appreciated due to California’s car culture, but it pulls its weight carrying 40,000 passengers during the workweek. Recently, writer and director Greta Gerwig made “SacTo” a household name with her 2017 blockbuster Lady Bird, her “love letter to Sacramento.” Which is why no one is more deserving of the glory of narrating Sacramento Rapid Transit’s announcements. She could take all SacRT riders on a scenic tour around the State Capitol, around the Sacramento Kings’ stadium (the most high-tech in America), and past the iconic Tower Bridge. As the gold and blue train zooms through midtown, she’ll remind passengers to keep their flip-flopped feet off the seats and to stop spilling their Chando’s tacos de lengua on the floor.
Jennifer Hudson for the Chicago Transit Authority
Chicago already has pretty great announcements, but if we’re looking for some fresh blood, I nominate Jennifer Hudson, who grew up in the Englewood neighborhood on Chicago’s South Side. The case for Hudson, who rose to fame as a finalist on American Idol. But she is perhaps most well-known for her performance as Effie White in Dreamgirls, which arguably even overshadowed her more famous co-star Queen Bey. The case for Hudson is clear: a native Chicagoan who chose to go back and live in the area? Check. Angelic voice? Double check.
Queen Latifah for Newark Light Rail
Without Whitney Houston, the only possible voice for Newark’s city rail is the buttery tone of its own queen: Latifah. Think of the rhymes she can spit! Who would dare disobey her? Newark’s subway isn’t much to speak of—just a few lines, and not even on the well-traveled route between the airport and Penn Station—but Latifah could really bring it to life. Joe Pesci, another native son, can have the buses.
–K. A. Dilday
Rini Simon Khanna and Shammi Narang for the Delhi Metro
The Delhi Metro already has it just right: A female and a male voice call out stations in both English and Hindi, and they’re just about perfect. In fact, the people behind them are already voiceover legends.
Former public news anchor Rini Simon Khanna, was an anchor for the public news channel in India. Her voice reminds passengers to “mind the gap,” but when she took a ride on the metro herself with a writer for Caravan magazine, she wasn’t impressed with what she heard. “That sounds different than me,” she said. Later, she critiqued the pause between her words: “There is too much gap between the name of the station and the word ‘station.’”
The male voice belongs to Shammi Narang, also an iconic broadcaster who was born and raised in Delhi. “My milestone was basically the metro,” he told IndiaTimes, talking about how his career kicked off after being discovered by a Voice of America producer. “People may be thinking that he just does the voice for the metro, but you don’t understand, you all have made my voice immortal.”