You probably already know Carl Bishop, but you don’t know that you know him. You may have heard him in your ear, murmuring about beer or shampoo. He’s urged you to vote for Hillary Clinton, he’s narrated training videos for the Army, he’s informed you about chronic bronchitis medication, and he’s the voice of the counterterrorist named Bandit in Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six.
A voiceover artist, Carl exudes warm, masculine confidence — but for the first half of his career, he says, every time he landed a new gig he’d think to himself, “Ha, I fooled ‘em again.” Nobody knew he was gay.
“I played the game right, but then I was like, ‘It sucks that I’ve got to play this game,’” he says. For years, he kept his personal life hidden, afraid that coming out would ruin his career; but now that’s all changed. The voice of macho beer commercials, New York’s Port Authority, and video game heroes can finally be open in an industry that has rapidly transformed — not to mention in front of fans, thanks to a growing TikTok following.
One of the biggest surprises of his career, Bishop says, is just how fast the game industry has changed in the last decade. A few years ago, game fandoms were overtaken by conservatives who pushed a sexist, right-wing harassment campaign called Gamergate; now, that campaign has almost entirely fizzled. Bishop says that the game industry has grown so much more inclusive in the last few years that other media has now been left behind.
Bishop’s work is most concentrated in the commercial world — home care products are his main topic of expertise, like soap and detergent. He often plays the doofy husband, a foil to a more savvy wife. The fact that he landed in that niche early in his career made him anxious about opening up.
“When I first signed with my agent in New York in 2006,” he recalls, “there were two of us at the entire agency who were working gay voice actors who could sort of pass.”
Playing straight presented an additional challenge, he says: Getting into the head of a straight person was tough, as was playing to commercial expectations of how a heterosexual consumer of sports, cars, and fast food should sound.
“All this stuff that’s young straight male,” he says. “I had some imposter syndrome with that.”
Gradually, he came out to colleagues he trusted, and was met with acceptance. Getting the job done is what mattered most, he found.
But one job he never anticipated was becoming the voice of a German soldier in the Ubisoft game Rainbow Six. Because of the secrecy around game production, Bishop had no idea what he was recording — he only got a description of the character, and then spent a few hours reading lines from a murmur to a shout in a German accent.
It wasn’t until six years later that someone messaged out of the blue on Instagram: “Are you Bandit?”
“I said, ‘I don’t know, who’s Bandit?’ They sent me a link to a clip and I was like, ‘Oh my goodness, I’m Bandit.’”
The voice that’s served him so well in commercials earned him something of a following before he even realized it, and now he delights fans over on TikTok with videos where he goes about his day as Bandit, commenting on various slices of life. (My favorite is this recent one where Bandit visits the New York Historical Society and talks about the gay history of Fire Island.)
TikTok’s user base is overwhelmingly young, and unsurprisingly Bishop’s sexuality is no big deal. “I only got encouragement when I came out to the TikTokers,” he says. “I said ‘my husband and I,’ threw the h-bomb out there.” That was just fine; the only controversy he encountered was when he recorded a message urging everyone to wear a mask.
Now, Bishop’s hoping to direct his work more towards fantasy games. He played Dungeons & Dragons as a kid, he says, and misses the graph paper, dice, and imaginative escapes of his youth. He’s been nudging his agent to connect him with fantasy projects — a far cry from stentorian declarations about locking scalp moisture.
But no matter what the future holds, having an insider’s view of the game industry has given Bishop some perspective on just how much it’s changed.
“I’m sure you remember Gamergate,” he says, a bit of a groan in his voice. I can’t help groaning too — Gamergate was a dreadful amorphous social-media pile-on, starting around 2014, that targeted women and minorities. Though the phenomenon had no leadership or coherent agenda, it was nebulously focused on complaining about inclusive gaming and politics perceived as progressive.
Gamergate waned around the start of the Trump administration, with some of its participants wandering over to a similarly conservative (but far less prominent) campaign in comic books called Comicsgate. Others pivoted their attention to politics, with Steve Bannon noting that he’d used Gamergate to recruit followers for Breitbart.
For its part, the game industry has rapidly evolved since those dark days, Bishop says. Where once he saw casting specs focused monotonously on 30-to-50-year-old men, now they’re much more diverse so that players can enjoy far more options.
“Now it’s like, ‘We want to hear not just men and women, but we want to hear nonbinary,’” he says. “And trans voices! It’s really expanded outward. It’s encouraging to see.”
But commercials still lag behind. Games, Bishop says, are “the most developed and accepting” of the fields where he works, while radio commercials still tend to lean on creaky old gender tropes. His hope is that other media will take a cue from the games industry and catch up — which may be likely if his hunch, that the change is driven by economics, is correct.
“The largest buying segment is 18-35,” he says. Game companies “want to appeal to these younger folks who are more accepting.”
And as for those gamers who so ardently opposed more inclusive game content in the twenty-teens?
“The people who were in that Gamergate thing aged out of the main gaming populus,” Bishop says. “Nobody gives a shit about them now.”