SHAKESPEARE IMPRESSIONS GOES VIRAL!

Well, this has been quite a memorable week!

The response generated to my little short, Shakespeare in Celebrity Voices has been overwhelming.  After 140 little films generating about 6,000 views total, to have something that goes truly “Viral” was a thrill and a half, and may have launched me into a new career strata.

The way it happened; I was trying to make this video about two months earlier, but found that I couldn’t pull it off– not enough time, running out of light, a bit too exhausted to really hold it all together.  Incorrect estimation of the effort needed to actually do it well.

In the past, I’d always had a volunteer in the audience throw out celebrity names at random, while I was doing the recitation, then I would quickly make the change of viewpoint based on their choice.  I never had to choose; they did it for me.  Suddenly having to work it out myself turned out to be kinda tricky. So, I bailed.  Pulled the ‘chute.  Moved on.

Then, Monday the 18th of July, I came home from a full day of auditions, all dressed up, handsome and feeling chipper, well rested and, thanks to Tamra, well fed, and went in and successfully recorded the performance.

It took a little extra time to edit it, so that the celebrity names came up at the right time.  Then, as YouTubers around the world do by the millions every day, I clicked on “Upload”.  Then linked to my Facebook and a few other sites.

The next day, Tuesday was the day of my stepfather Paul Michael’s funeral.  It was really a nice ceremony, very well attended and warm. He was so beloved, and I felt his presence there throughout.  Sigh.

The next day on my video I noticed the usual smattering of views, a bit more than usual.  A few hundred.  That night, Wednesday July 20, my wife and I went out with friends to see Eddie Izzard in concert at the Hollywood Bowl.

We love Eddie and he did not disappoint. I guess I am like a lot of people, misfits and others, who get a lot of inspiration and encouragement from watching Eddie do his marvelous material.

One thing that impressed me a lot and made me kind of love the guy forever is when he comes out, he acknowledges the crowd, says hi to the front row, does the walk around the little elevated platform around the best seats, slapping hands and giving the rich folks some love…

Then, he acknowledges the rest of us in that huge crowd of 17,000 plus people… including the VERY back row, which is probably about a quarter mile away from the stage, up a million stairs…

And then he says, “Of course, one COULD run up to the back…”

And then he RUNS to the BACK.  Over the posh seats barricade, up the million stairs, all the way to the top/back/far reaches of the Hollywood Bowl.  And then back down again.  Took him ten minutes–I timed it.

And THEN, he does his two hour set.

As Craig Ferguson (who was also there in the audience, I discovered later) would say, “I  KNOW!!!”

Okay, so, that was the beginning of the concert and I don’t really need to go over what he does in his show.  Go see for yourself.  Rent “Dressed to Kill.”

BUT, the thing I want to share: I was looking at that huge crowd, marveling at how a stand-up comic had FILLED the Hollywood Bowl, how he had an audience of 17,000 people, and I thought to myself, “Hell.  I WANT to play to an audience of 17,000 people!”

What fun THAT would be!  Kind of made a little, quiet decision about it…

Great show, lots of laughs, getting chilly in the night air, we drive home.  Come in to the house, go to the computer.

Check out the views on my impressions video, see what we are up to… before the concert I think I had about 801…

WHOA.

17, 582 views.

17,000 plus viewers.
Helluva coincidence, don’t you think?

From there, of course, the video really took off, when the NYTimesMag.com, Buzzfeed,  Huffington Post, AOL.com and loads of other sites began to feature it.  And YOU all started passing it around.  Craig Ferguson and Stephen Fry Tweeted it, Juliette Lewis… it was a love fest.

It’s currently at over half a million views now and a LOT of very complimentary comments.  My upcoming shows at The Acting Center are selling out.  I’m talking to people about touring the world.  And, surreally, I’m featured on E! Entertainment and set to do an interview on NPR… I tell you, it’s a whole new deal around here.
Eddie Izzard says it.  You have to believe in your dream.  Then, others will believe too.  And it will happen.

So, thanks very much for being part of MY dream.  I am delighted to count you among my friends and fellow strugglers in this batty world.

I plan to continue to provide you with the most uplifting entertainment I can possibly pull off.  So, I guess I better stay handsome, chipper, rested and well fed!

See me live in JIMPRESSIONS at The Acting Center, August 26 & 27,  28, and September 9, 10 & 11.  In the Tampa Bay Florida area,  you can find me at the Capitol Theatre on Saturday, September 17th at 8 p.m.

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Paul Michael Remembered

This week we said goodbye to our dear friend and family patriarch, actor Paul Michael.

Paul was not my biological father, but he and my mom were constant companions, and effectively a married couple for over twenty years. They met on a play in Los Angeles and instantly fell in love. They continued to work together, touring the world and enjoying life and each other’s company. He always said, “Marion is my hero.”

Paul was born in Providence, Rhode Island to Lebanese parents. Among his many talents was cooking, and he introduced us all to Lebanese cuisine, which we are all now hopelessly addicted to. Every family holiday get together was complemented by Lebanese dishes which I know how to say, and ask for seconds of, but not how to spell.

He was a hardworking stage, TV and film actor who spent literally years of his life onstage. The last show he did was last summer, performing with my mother in a play written expressly for them by Joe DiPietro. Joe has since won a few Tony awards for other productions, and could have easily won another for Marion and Paul’s play, The Last Romance, had it made it to Broadway. It still may someday, but now, sadly without Paul. (Sadly for audiences, since his rendition of the role was something marvelous to behold.)

Paul was going to be 85 this year. He and my mother did eight shows a week at the Globe Theater in San Diego, two acts with only one other character. It was a crowning triumph of a truly stellar career. And he was SO funny in the role. The audience, attendance by which broke all records for that venue, was crying with laughter or pathos throughout the play.

I never got to act with Paul, but I was lucky enough to direct him in several audiobook recordings, and he was a complete professional, and brought all his characters to vivid life. I’m glad his wonderful voice will live on in those stories.

Paul was a gentle man, but very tough as well. He was very strong physically, even when he was quite advanced in age. Once he grabbed the arm of a pickpocket who was trying to rob Marion somewhere in Italy, and held him unyieldingly against a wall like the buttress of a cathedral until he dropped what he had taken from her purse and was allowed to flee. Paul was probably a good 75 years old then.

Paul was of course also an extraordinary singer, and had enough power to reach the back of large theatrical venues without amplification; he was, in other words, a trained Broadway singer. He in fact appeared in many, many Broadway productions, and in touring companies of shows like Zorba, and Fiddler on the Roof, where he carried the leading roles. He was that sort of actor, a Tevye, a Zorba, a bigger than life character that audiences wanted to watch and listen to.

He would sing anywhere, anytime, and his booming bass voice would resonate in your chest and echo through the house, or the great outdoors. He sang opera to Marion once on one of their trips abroad, in an ancient Roman amphitheater.  He sang to her in romantic places around the world…

He told me one time he estimated he had done professionally over 10,000 live performances.

But he also could have claimed his greatest role was that of Marion Ross’ soul-mate. Only it wasn’t really a role to him, it was a calling, a cherished post and a pleasure.

Paul had many endearing habits and abilities that make him memorable and lovable. For example, puzzles. He would spend time every weekend doing the most difficult puzzles in the New York and Los Angeles Times, and always to completion. His vocabulary was remarkable– he had studied Latin for years in his youth and had a very complete understanding of word derivations and definitions. He would show us the puzzles afterwards, explaining the challenge, and then his mind boggling solutions. He said he did it to keep his mind sharp, which it certainly did.

His understanding and love of words extended across languages, and he was fluent in at least five languages, including Arabic, which he loved to use in his travels and in certain restaurants in the states. He would sometimes eavesdrop on waiters who spoke Arabic and then surprise them by answering them in their own tongue.

His facile mind was also a ready clearinghouse for jokes, which he could tell by the dozens if the social setting was appropriate. He probably knew over a thousand jokes by heart, and could instantly recall them, or adapt them to work them into a conversation.

Marion would sometimes play a game with him at parties where she would challenge him, “Tell them the joke about the apple” and he would instantly provide some story that was loosely related to her suggested topic: “Well, there was this circus acrobat that loved apples, and he wanted to leave his wife for the bearded lady…”

One joke that I remember him telling often, (and it was always funny) he said was the great Johnny Carson’s favorite joke:

A man goes to visit his brother in the hospital. His brother has been in a terrible accident, and he is basically just a head laying there, no body at all. His brother says, “Johnny, it’s your birthday, and I wanted to come by and visit, and I got you a present.”
The brother on the bed looks at the present, sighs and says, “Another hat.”

I will never forget Paul’s laughter. It was as robust as his songs. Often, something would strike him so funny he would come apart laughing, tears filling his eyes with delight.

Paul was a gracious advocate of my character, Professor Knestor Jackdaws, and at family gatherings he would always throw out wonderfully supportive suggestions for painting titles for Knestor to describe; The Pharaoh’s Dog was one I’ll never forget.

For the last couple years, Paul has been having health problems and had been on a steady decline. Last year was a very difficult one, in the season following his triumph with Marion onstage in The Last Romance. In truth, he seemed to have been working on a gracious exit from the larger stage of his life since then, and there were numerous emergencies and trips to the hospital, where they patched him up again so that he could return home to Marion and their beloved Happy Days Farm, his puzzles, his kitchen and his cigars.

The final act was what they call a “Classy” one. On the Fourth of July weekend just finished, he cooked an extraordinary breakfast feast of french toast with bacon for about ten people down in Cardiff, where Marion and my sister Ellen have adjacent homes. Take my word for it, it was delicious. The way he made bacon, so that all the fat was baked off… and the french toast… well, it was pretty damned magnificent.

The next day he drove himself and my mother home to Los Angeles. Safely.

Then on Wednesday, July 6th, he enjoyed a cigar in the garden, spoke lovingly on the phone with his son, Matt, said he’d see him that night, then went into the house, took off his shoes and lay down on the couch.

That’s where Marion found him.

So, we are thankful today to Paul Michael for the many years of companionship, love, entertainment, of sustenance, of friendship, and of laughter that he gave us, and the many, many warm memories.

Here a giant trod
Here a great soul walked
Here a spirit dwelt
and ever in our hearts.

THUNDERCATS SCREENING REPORT

July 2, 2011

Tamra and I went to a screening of the new Thundercats show, a one hour “movie” that will launch the new series for Cartoon Network. Why? Because years ago, when I lived in New York, my day job was designing cartoon characters for Rankin/Bass and their new series, Thundercats.
I designed hundreds of characters (apart from the leads, which were already created by the time I was hired) as well as weapons, vehicles, plants and animals of “Third Earth.”

And not too long ago I was delighted to get the call that I would be voicing several of the guest characters for the new series. So, I got to revisit my old show!

The really great news is that having now seen the all-new Thundercats show, I can heartily, HEARTILY endorse it. It is visually exciting, beautifully produced, well-performed, and actually a very interesting story that keeps one guessing. Far better than what I anticipated, and really quite entertaining and exciting.

I saw it in a screening room at Warner Brothers last week, and the quality of the show, even when bumped up to a big screen, was comparable to a movie. So, on a standard TV screen, it’s going to be very rich and impressive.

The voice acting is all top notch, including Will Friedle as Lion-O, Clancy Brown as General Gruene, Larry Kenney (the original Lion-O) as Claudus, and the amazing Corey Burton as Jaga.

My own performances will appear in later episodes.  This hour-long premiere introduces the main characters and provides the backstory.

Andrea Romano directed the actors very ably, and the result is pure gold.

I think the fans will LOVE the new Thundercats, and I’m very proud to be a part of it.

The series begins with the hour-long special premiere event on Friday, July 29th at 8 p.m. (Tivo it, and come watch JIMPRESSIONS at The Acting Center, happening at the same time!)

Thundercats will then air regularly on Cartoon Network on Friday nights at 8:30 p.m. beginning August 5.


Me and Dan Norton, the man behind the new, anime look of the show and the champion behind the rebirth of the series.