ACCEPT IMITATIONS, A Beginner’s Guide to Performing Celebrity Impressions Chapter Six


One technical thing to listen for when working out an impression is the pitch of the voice.  This refers to the physical rate of vibration of the sound, whether of a high frequency or low.  Do you need to understand wave forms and other scientific basics to have an opinion about this?  No.

Basically you want to know if it is a higher register voice, medium or low.

And that of course is relative to your instrument; are you a flute, a cello or a bassoon?  Or the airhorn on the QE2?

It’s going to be easier for you to duplicate voices that are in your natural range, because you will already share the general rate of vibration.  Can you change your own voice to sound lower and higher?  With practice, you absolutely can.  The great stage and film actor Lawrence Olivier, who was a consummate voice artist, master of dialects and vocal characterizations, yet, like me, never guested on The Simpsons, wrote in his autobiography that he was able to very causatively deepen his natural voice with exercises and a lot of practice, to play Othello, since he felt the character required a considerably deeper sound than his own natural timbre.

Conversely, there’s always helium.  Or that other stuff that is heavier than air.  Are they bad for you?  I have no idea.  But there must be a good reason people don’t breathe in a lot of stuff other than air, unless they are doing deep dives on wrecks in the ocean.

Often the pitch of a celebrity’s voice is one of the unusual or stand-out characteristics that “Place” the persona for an impressionist; such as in the case of Truman Capote, Barry White, or Curly from the Three Stooges.

Should a performer eschew an impression that he finds to be beyond his range?  Well, you have to know what “eschew” means first of all.

(“Avoid”.  Eschew means avoid.  Why didn’t I just say “avoid”?  Because this is MY BOOK.)

So, should a performer eschew an impression that is beyond his range?  Not necessarily.  Why?  Because the most important thing is not the technical rendition.  It is the… anyone?  Anyone?

That’s right the… (writing on chalkboard) VIEWPOINT.

But, if you get the pitch really close, the audience will have a greater agreement with your rendition, and they just MIGHT want to buy you a drink after the show.  Or give you some helium.

Published in: on December 29, 2011 at 10:28 pm  Leave a Comment  

ACCEPT IMITATIONS, A Beginner’s Guide to Performing Celebrity Impressions Chapter Five


When you are developing a celebrity impression, or any character, one little thing to look at is speed of communication.

Not everyone speaks at the same rate, or processes information at the same speed.

Some personalities are as fast as a greyhound, others, as slow as a slug. Some, like Harold Camping, who famously predicted the end of the world in July and then again in October of 2011, are almost too slow to effectively imitate; no one will sit through the impression.

Sometimes that has to do with age or education, sometimes it’s just some factor resident in the personality of the individual themselves.

If you study early American movie stars, they generally have a much quicker rate of exchange in their communication than their modern counterparts. My theory is that Americans were in better shape physically and mentally back in the 1930’s and 40’s. They were more decisive and more used to dealing with others face to face than in modern times. They were more literate and relied less on automation to get things done. They were, arguably, more social.

Audiences, too were therefore more able to understand and absorb rapidly spoken language, as they too were more literate and educated than the audience of today.

There also might have been a financial consideration from the studios; they might have been guilty of trying to pack in the most dialogue in the smallest amount of time, to bring movies in at a little over an hour, so that more showings could be scheduled.

Who the Hell knows?

All I know is, listen to someone like Jimmy Cagney, Rosalind Russell or the blisteringly fast talking Noel Coward in films from that period, and then you try talking that fast.

It’s a challenge.

The only reason I bring it up is to get you to take a look at the speed at which your target celebrity delivers his or her dialogue. It will have everything to do with making your impression accurate.

Are they slow and methodical, like John Malkovich, or relatively rapid, like Martin Scorcese or Dennis Hopper? What is the general speed of that actor or character?

It’s sometimes easy to get excited onstage and whip through your voices quickly in your enthusiasm, but you might be missing a critical element in the rendition of that persona.

Break it down for yourself, compared to your own rate of speech, (and here you might do well to actually record yourself and see how quickly you talk compared to others– damn, I really hope you did that step back in Chapter Two) and see if that reveals anything to you.