|First appearance||"The Series Has Landed"|
|Last appearance||Futurama: Worlds of Tomorrow|
|Voiced by||Billy West|
|Occupation||Staff doctor at the Planet Express delivery company.|
|Relatives||Harold Zoid (uncle)|
Doctor John A. Zoidberg (referred to only by his last name Zoidberg) is a fictional character in the television series Futurama. He is a Decapodian, a lobster-esque alien who works as the staff doctor for Planet Express, despite his poor understanding of human physiology and allusions to his questionable credentials. His character parodies the supposed wealth and automatic respect of modern doctors—for example, his incompetence at human medicine makes him extremely poor despite his profession, and he is implied to be frequently homeless when not at work. The Decapod (named after the actual Decapoda order of ten-footed crustaceans) are an extended parody on Yiddish culture—the bigger joke being that shellfish are not kosher. The writing riffs on the marine theme in a playfully absurd way, with just about any marine Arthropoda or Mollusca being implied to be akin to Zoidberg. Zoidberg is voiced by Billy West, who performs the character with a Yiddish-inflected accent inspired by actors George Jessel and Lou Jacobi.
Zoidberg is named after an Apple II game that David X. Cohen created in high school called Zoid, similar to the game Qix. The game was rejected by Brøderbund. One of Cohen's inspirations for the character of Dr. Zoidberg was the fact that Star Trek character Leonard McCoy, the ship's doctor, frequently administered medical treatment to aliens such as Spock, so Cohen wished human characters in Futurama to be in the uneasy situation of being treated by an alien doctor.
During the first season, jokes surrounding Zoidberg usually focused on his incompetence as a doctor, his poor understanding of human anatomy, and the fact that all of his co-workers hate him. His incompetence is aggravated by the fact that he believes himself to be an expert on human anatomy, and will blithely attempt to treat human patients as he would his own species. One of his running traits is his pronunciation of the word "robot", pronouncing it "RO-bət". His use of English grammar and idioms resembles the stereotypical speech of Jewish people living in the northeastern United States, and elements of Jewish humour, and playful reversals on it, are a theme. As the series progressed, writers gradually introduced the themes that Zoidberg is also poor, homeless, friendless, smelly, undignified, and repulsive—comically opposite the idea that a doctor stereotypically occupies a respectable, wealthy, and romantically desirable role. Regardless of these traits, Zoidberg is often sweet-natured, and will help the crew when the situation calls for it. Zoidberg also generally attempts to make himself look refined, successful and important in front of others, though this illusion is quickly dashed when pointed out.
Zoidberg is the company doctor at Planet Express. Although he claims expertise in human medicine, particularly internal medicine, his knowledge of human anatomy and physiology is poor. He has been shown as unable to tell the difference between robots and humans (or human males and females), believes food is digested in the heart, and that humans have multiple mouths and a dorsal fin. His only knowledge of humans seems to come from television advertisements, although his skills as a physician generally vary: in "Put Your Head on My Shoulders" he manages to successfully transplant Fry's head onto Amy's body after Fry's body incurs massive trauma in a vehicular accident that requires extensive repair, but in Into the Wild Green Yonder he incorrectly declares Fry dead only for him to wake up a few seconds later. In Bender's Big Score, he performs several limb reattachments to moderate success. It may be assumed that advances in medical technology have made limb and head reattachment a simple process, as in "Bender's Big Score" head reattachment is shown to be little more than applying a paste to the area and placing the head back on (a process that works even if the head is on backwards, as shown). In "Parasites Lost", due to his incompetence as a physician, he comes to the conclusion that Fry, who is frequently injured, is a hypochondriac, an accusation he makes when Fry sits before Zoidberg with a pipe through his chest. He claims to be an M.D., but states in "A Clone of My Own" that he lost his medical degree in a volcano. However, he later states in "The Duh-Vinci Code" that his doctorate is in art history (as opposed to medicine). Other intimations to his dubious medical training include the episode "Teenage Mutant Leela's Hurdles", in which he comments, "I'm no doctor, but this machine guy could really use a lozenge."
Despite his career as a physician, Zoidberg is repeatedly identified as living in poverty, lonely and desperate for friendship and attention. The crew are often disgusted by his foul habits, such as squirting ink or eating from trash cans, though he is mostly oblivious to their true feelings about him, having referred to Hermes Conrad and Bender as friends. Hermes seems to have the most intense dislike of Zoidberg, seeing him as even more expendable than the rest of the crew. However, when Fry reads Hermes' mind in "Into the Wild Green Yonder", it is revealed that Hermes sees him as "pathetic but lovable". Zoidberg became a hero to all of Earth when he saved Earth from enslavement to his own kind in "A Taste of Freedom". Fry and Professor Farnsworth are usually the only ones to refer to Zoidberg as a friend, and in Bender's Big Score, in which Zoidberg says, "He was the only one of you who never struck me!" while attending Fry's memorial. Zoidberg has ambitions to be a stand-up comedian, but he is entirely unsuccessful at this endeavor. In one episode, his uncle, the silent hologram star Harold Zoid (a parody of Harold Lloyd), advises him to give up on comedy and finance a film whose script Zoid is writing.
The reason that the Professor continues to employ Zoidberg as the staff physician, despite his apparent incompetence is revealed in the sixth-season episode, "The Tip of the Zoidberg". The Professor is under the impression that he had been infected with the fatal disease hyper-malaria, contracted during a covert quasi-military mission for Mom. The Professor asked Zoidberg to promise to kill him when the latent disease would manifest itself in later years. Zoidberg agreed to kill the Professor. In that episode it is also explained that Zoidberg is, in fact, a very competent physician for all other races except humans. Mom, whom Zoidberg knows on a first name basis as "Carol" stated that Zoidberg was "the best in the business" when it comes to alien anatomy; "at his price level". Unlike all of the other characters, Mom addresses Zoidberg with great respect and admiration. Mom once told Zoidberg that he could have been a millionaire with his own research lab if he had worked for her. Mom also asked Zoidberg why he stayed with Farnsworth through the years; Zoidberg replied that it was because Farnsworth is his friend.
When frightened or fleeing from danger or trouble, Zoidberg makes a high-pitched whooping sound, similar to Curly of The Three Stooges, or squirts ink at his attacker. It is revealed in "The Cryonic Woman" that one of Zoidberg's fantasies is to become a grandmother. "A Taste of Freedom" and Bender's Game indicate that Zoidberg harbored a childhood dream of working in show business as a comedian or song-and-dance man, but that his parents pushed him to become a doctor.
Zoidberg is depicted as being ignorant of human customs, and socially inept, to the point of inspiring great aggravation in others. In "Where the Buggalo Roam", during his stay at the ranch of Amy Wong's parents, he bathes in their champagne, breaks their television, fertilizes the caviar before Amy's father eats it, draws mustaches on several portraits around the house, tears up their couch, fills their pool with brine shrimp, and refers to the ranch as "Rancho Zoidberg", enraging the Wongs.
Zoidberg's race, the Decapodians—from the sandy, beach-like planet Decapod 10—are crustaceans, generally lobster-like in appearance—though they have been called squids, crabs or crawdads—with lobster-like claws, mouth tentacles, a hard exoskeleton, a fleshy, boneless interior, a fin that appears atop their heads during mating season or extreme anger, an ink pouch, two stomachs (one saltwater and one freshwater), four hearts, gonopores, a gland that stinks when Decapodians are bored and a complex system of internal organs, "most of which are either redundant or unnecessary." He is not fazed when one of his hearts is removed by an alien autopsy team of human doctors, saying "Take it, take it, I have four of them!" in "Roswell That Ends Well", and loses various other useless organs in that episode during the autopsy. Zoidberg has been depicted as able to consume things not considered food by humans, such as fish bones, wood, and chess pieces. In the episode "Bendin' in the Wind", Zoidberg produces tie-dye blue pearls after consuming large amounts of dirt. Zoidberg also habitually eats clothing and once, an Earth flag. Given that he refers to clothes as food and considers them a kind of delicacy, it may be that Decapodians themselves consume clothes. In "Möbius Dick", it is revealed that Zoidberg spontaneously grows hair in moments of extreme fright. At one point in all Decapodians' lives, they enter a mating phase, or "The Frenzy" as they call it, which causes them to behave in a neurotic and manic way. During this chaotic time, their behavior is dictated by the tiny brain located in their rumps. They also develop incredible super strength, their head fin comes out for mating displays, their stink glands increase production and the males become saturated with male jelly as the females become engorged with eggs. In the episode "Why Must I Be a Crustacean in Love?", it is indicated that once Decapodians mate, they die, but this could only be from the frenzy, as Zoidberg's parents were still alive after his conception.
The episode "Teenage Mutant Leela's Hurdles" indicates that young Decapodians progress through various crustacean, invertebrate, and fish-like larval forms before reaching their adult form such as coral, a starfish, a sea sponge, and clam. However, in the episode "A Taste of Freedom", a young Zoidberg is seen with his typical humanoid form.
Dr. Zoidberg is also a skilled theremin player, and is the only person ever seen in the series to be 'good' enough to receive a present from Robot Santa. He is an honorary member of the Harlem Globetrotters, and a talented hand-to-claw combatant; he severs Fry's arm in an honor-duel ("Claw-Plach") and eventually fights and defeats the dangerous robot Clamps.
Dr. Zoidberg finally finds happiness in the episode "Stench and Stenchibility" when he meets and starts dating a flower merchant named Marianne, who suffers from anosmia. He performs a "nose transplant" to give her a sense of smell, though he is afraid that once she smells him, she will immediately reject him. Serendipitously, Marianne turns out to abhor the smell of flowers, instead vastly preferring Zoidberg's aroma. She becomes a waste collector and the two continue dating.
By the end of the series, Zoidberg has largely corrected his medical blind spot concerning human anatomy, as demonstrated by Marianne's transplant and his earlier complete re-assembling of Hermes's body from cast-off parts.
In other media
- Zoidberg appears in the Duck Dodgers short Attack of the Drones.
- He also appears in The Simpsons Game with Bender.
- He also makes a brief appearance in the video game Unepic.
- "Billy West: The Many (Cartoon) Voices In His Head". Fresh Air. National Public Radio. July 15, 2010. Retrieved 2010-09-05.
'That voice is a combination of a couple of people in show business that I always found really funny and interesting. ... One was from vaudeville ... named George Jessel, and he was the 'Toastmaster General of the United States,' and he would always have appropriate toasts for every occasion. And he had a kind of a marble mouth. ... And the other guy was an actor by the name of Lou Jacobi. He was in the movie Arthur.'
- Baker, Chris (2007-12-18). "Videogames & Futurama, Part 2: How Zoidberg Got His Name From a Game". Wired. Retrieved 2008-03-28.
- Cohen, David X (2002). Futurama season 1 DVD commentary for the episode "The Series Has Landed" (DVD). 20th Century Fox.
- Cohen, David X (2003). Futurama season 3 DVD commentary for the episode "A Taste of Freedom" (DVD). 20th Century Fox.
- Cohen, David X (2002). Futurama season 1 DVD commentary for the episode "Fry and the Slurm Factory" (DVD). 20th Century Fox.
- Futurama: Bender's Big Score (DVD). 20th Century Fox. 2007.
- "You Only Blog Once: Futurama "The Duh-Vinci Code" Reaction". Adamreisinger.com. 2010-07-16. Retrieved 2012-12-30.
- "Loveable Tramp <3 the Dr. Zoidberg fanlisting". Fan.brokenstar.net. Retrieved 2012-12-30.
- "Dr. John A. Zoidberg" at the Infosphere, the Futurama Wiki.