KID IN THE HALL

Jim Large Rehearsal HallI’m now officially in production on America’s Got Talent!

Today I did an interview, met with producers and actually walked around backstage at Radio City Music Hall; haven’t seen the stage yet, but that is coming soon.

I’m amazed by how grand this space is, and how wonderful for New Yorkers to have this gargantuan venue to enjoy entertainment in– it is truly a tribute to how highly this culture holds entertainers, and, to paraphrase Jack Nicholson’s character in As Good As it Gets, it make me want to be a better impressionist.

Even the mural in the men’s room is extraordinary!

So, tonight I will be watching (very soon) as the finalists are announced from last night’s show.  I thought there were some really terrific acts, but it all depends on the voters.  I’m really enjoying meeting these performers from all over the country, and it’s a marvelous bond we have, enduring this process together… a process I would like to continue to endure and endure,… enduringly.

Thanks for reading.  See you on TV next Tuesday night on NBC!

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BUSTING OUT

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I was on a plane most of today, traveling to New York, so I’m taking a day off from reportage on America’s Got Talent to share an essay about voice acting.

I have been interested in voice acting, narration, voiceover and of course, impressions, since I was a little guy.  I was exposed to wonderful recordings as a child, maybe even as a baby, and I learned early on how expressive and delightful the voice can be, in storytelling, poetry recitation, and comedy.

Having been raised by two actor parents who loved to read aloud was a definite advantage.

Now, after thirty years in show business doing almost everything one can do with voice, including singing, radio, audiobook directing, animation, looping, videogames, apps,  narration, sound effects, ring tones, impressions, animal noises, even GPS system voice recordings, I find that I have some definite opinions about voice acting, and some artistic tips for people starting out.

One thing that I think is both vital to understand and practice and also rather easy to explain is the following, which applies to any vocal performance where one is working from a script.

The script should never drive the performance; the actor is in charge of pace, emotion, timing and everything else.

What do I mean?

I think this is best illustrated by listening to a child read anything, or better yet, a digitized voice.  Both are mechanical to the degree that they do not exercise judgement about what they are reading.  One word follows the other in more or less the same pace, the sentences follow without pause, or with identical pauses, just as if a little conveyor belt were feeding the words out.

Obviously, this is not good technique if you want the audience to feel anything or follow the thread of your discourse, whether you are reading Chaucer or explaining how to boost ROI by using a new website dashboard.  It is the ultimate of dissatisfying storytelling; nobody would listen to it.  

Strangely, I have found many examples of computer generated narration of audiobooks on YouTube; it is inconceivable to me that anyone other than another laptop would ever listen to such a recording for more than a minute.  It’s torture!

We can easily see by this example what the wrong thing to do is, and that is to just read the words with the same weight of importance and emphasis, and let the symbols themselves do all the work.

When we stop letting the WORDS be in charge, and take the necessary micro-seconds to form an opinion about them, and DECIDE how to deliver them in order to convey the scene, not becoming a slave to the assembly line on the page, then the performance gets more under our control and we really begin to tell the story.

Observe some people on the street or at a party talking about something that interests them.  They don’t ever sound mechanical, or like they have to say things at a certain set rate.  They pause, they consider, they stop to see if YOU are still following them, and if you agree.

The most interesting speakers take time to let the listener digest what was said, then speed up or get loud or color the words in a million different little ways to get the point across…. because that IS the point– to GET A POINT ACROSS.  Not to “Talk single file” at a proper rate, (that’s what they do on newsradio– everything is of equal value, the train wreck that killed hundreds and the latest appearance of a Kardashian at a mall opening) but to COMMUNICATE SOMETHING.

So, an exercise I recommend is to read a page of something aloud, just read it through, without paying particular attention to the rate of speed or the delivery, then read it AGAIN several times and exercise your own control over the time you take saying the words, and especially the pauses in between sentences and phrases.

See if you can take control.  If you feel in any way “Tugged along” by a section, then break up the rhythm on purpose, whether or not it makes sense to.  Do whatever you can to break out from the domination of the lines of text that seem to demand you not stop in your delivery of the next syllable, and the next, and the next…

The shared font size of letters seem sometimes to demand that all words are more or less equal, or should be stated similarly; for example this quote from Oliver Wendall Holmes:

“The sound of a kiss is not so loud as that of a cannon, but its echo lasts a great deal longer.”

Now how would you read it if it was printed like this:

The sound of    a    kiss           is not so loud     

as that of          a    cannon,

but its           echo               

lasts a great  deal  longer.

We don’t print things that way, because we generally are in a hurry to give and take information, but when we are performing text, be it for radio commercials, live poetry readings, instructions on a webpage, or as a character in any story,  we can add a lot by simply exercising our ability to differentiate the relative value of words and sentences. That’s what human beings do.  Machines can’t.

Be less and less a machine in your approach to text, and your work will improve instantly.  Give it a try.

Hope that helps.

Getting Out the Vote

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Okay, here’s the whole deal on the America’s Got Talent voting:

My act will be presented live on NBC on Tuesday, August 6th; the show starts at 9 pm/8 Central time.

I’ll be attempting to do something with impressions that I have never done before.  (I don’t think anyone ever has… and lived to tell about it.)

At that time, if you care to vote for me, you can do it three ways:

• By phone (up to ten times, free from land lines) at the number that will display onscreen after I perform.

• Online at this link: http://www.nbc.com/americas-got-talent/vote/ (also multiple times; there will be boxes one can √)

• By Texting “VOTE” to the four digit short code that will be onscreen after I perform.

(More detailed information is below, from the AGT website.)

I hope you will watch and enjoy my act.  It will be short and sweet, but at least it will my my unedited routine, live and in front of a gigantic audience in Radio City Music Hall, the  celebrity judges, and the millions watching on television.

If you do happen to miss it, you can find it the next day on YouTube at the America’s Got Talent channel at YouTube.com.

The following day, Wednesday August 7th, I will be back on the live show, but this time to get the results of the voting, and find out if I have been eliminated, or will go on to the Semi Finals of America’s Got Talent.

Naturally, I intend to WIN.  This is a rare opportunity, and one I plan to make the most of.

Thanks for reading, thanks very much for contributing to my life, and I appreciate your support.

Onward!
 
Jim

DETAILS:
2. How to Vote:

2.1. Toll-free. To cast a vote using the toll-free phone numbers, at the end of the show simply dial the toll-free numbers displayed on screen during the show relating to your contestant of choice (For example, call 1-866-60-AGT-01 / 1-866-602-4801 for Contestant 1). If you are calling during your valid vote window you will hear a message thanking you for your vote. There is no cost for voting via the toll-free number if you are calling from a landline. If you are calling from a cell phone, airtime and applicable roaming charges will apply. You may only vote up to 10 times per originating telephone number. Any calls made after your 10th call will NOT be counted, regardless of the fact that the audio message will still thank you for your vote. Outside of active voting windows, you will hear a busy signal or local carrier error message, and your call will not count as a vote. A vote window is determined by the time zone (as defined above) applicable to your phone area code. Calls from payphones will be blocked, so to vote, use a standard landline or cell phone instead.

Power dialing occurs when individuals unfairly influence the outcome of the voting system by generating significant blocks of votes using technical enhancements. Producer will have in place monitoring procedures designed to prevent this type of occurrence on America’s Got Talent. If Producer believes that power-dialing or block voting attempts were made, it reserves the right to remove these votes from the final tally. Note that these monitoring procedures apply to online voting and AT&T SMS as well as toll-free.

2.2. AT&T SMS/Text Messaging. In order to text vote, you must:
– Provide your own wireless device capable of 2-way messaging and
– Be an AT&T wireless service subscriber with text messaging service.
To vote via text, send the keyword VOTE to the 4 digit short code relating to your contestant of choice, as shown on the weekly performance episode of “America’s Got Talent” each week. For example, send the keyword VOTE to 4801 for contestant 1 or send the keyword VOTE to 4802 for contestant 2. Message and data rates may apply. To cancel, text STOP, QUIT, CANCEL, END or UNSUBSCRIBE to any 4 digit short code relating to America’s Got Talent. To get help with voting by SMS, Text HELP to any 4 digit short code relating to America’s Got Talent, call Telescope customer service at 1-888-782-2180, or email info@telescope.tv You will receive a confirmation text message for each valid vote. Only votes received in a valid vote window (a vote window is determined by the time zone as defined above) applicable to your cellular phone area code will be counted. If you send a text message vote outside of the valid vote window, you’ll get a text message back letting you know that voting is closed. You may vote up to ten (10) times per originating phone number via SMS text messaging. Any vote attempts above 10 will not be counted as valid. Message and Data Rates May Apply.

2.3. Online voting. If you are 13 years of age or older, you may also vote online up to 10 times per email address. Log on to NBC.com, follow the links to vote, and enter the registration details. To register, you will need to provide your e-mail address, confirm you are 13 years of age or older, and confirm your acceptance of the terms and conditions. After you have registered, enter your vote choice where prompted. You may vote up to 10 times per email address during the active online vote window.

My Other Biggest Fan

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My mom, actress Marion Ross, has been a fan of mine for a long time.  Since I used to dance around our house in the Valley in my pajamas to Gaîté Parisienne.

The photo above is from breakfast this morning; Tamra made some waffes and mom popped by to visit and to wish me luck on America’s Got Talent next week.  I leave in two days.  OMG.

When I was in High School (Taft High, Woodland Hills) Marion mortified me by awarding me the best actor prize at our yearly Creation Fair, for my rendition of Petruchio from Taming of the Shrew.  She was the only judge.  I happened to be the student artistic director of the fair, who also auditioned all the acts, rather like AGT, for their chance to be onstage.  When I “won” the prize that night, thanks to mom, I think I lost a lot of friends.

Her justification, stated at the mic in front of everyone there was, “I’m awarding the Best Actor prize to Jim Meskimen because I taught him everything he knows.”

Strangely, no one ever has said a word to me about this event.  I’m beginning to think that I may have imagined the whole thing.  I hope so.

If I go through to the Semi-Finals in New York, I will have to get mom, Tamra and Taylor out there for it, and maybe mom can have a word with the judges for me… Or not.

 

LATE BLOOMER

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If there is anything you could criticize about me and my career, it’s that I’ve taken SO LONG to get known… That’s the main reason that I entered the America’s Got Talent competition, so that I could finally  get properly introduced to the population and move up and out of the category of “I’ve seen that guy…”

To be honest, it’s my fault.  (But you knew that.)

I have suffered all my life from, not stage fright, but mis-estimation of effort. 

When I first started my acting career in New York, it was really only a short time before I was in the top percentage of actors working in voiceover and commercials.  And it wasn’t really very hard to do, I just had to keep performing and promoting myself to casting directors and anybody else I could think of, and the word spread.

It helped that I was in my twenties, of course.  Who doesn’t want to watch a twenty year old act silly on TV?

I had a blast, and everything seemed to move along inexorably, or what I think inexorable means–unstoppable.  (There, I just looked it up- that is what it means.  Phew!)

I guess you could say at a certain point I took my foot off the gas.

Now, here I am, nearly the oldest person (there’s a comic who is my age) in America’s Got Talent, Season 8, still doing the impressions that got me attention back in the 80’s and got me started in my “promising career.”

I’m getting tired of promising.  Now I just want to deliver.

Some things about being a late bloomer are working to my advantage, though.  I’m much more knowledgeable of how big TV events are produced, I’m not fazed by celebrities, I know the catalog of mistakes one can make onstage, (although new ones develop hourly) and my youthful enthusiasm is still intact. 

So, all in all, I guess I’d rather be me, an experienced talent who still has yet to be put to the acid test, than a younger, infinitely more energetic and appealing, attractive, youthful and zesty, twenty-something (or younger) but with no real clue as to what the whole thing really means.

Like I have a choice!

Once again, I’m very grateful to my mom, Marion– my first mentor, who at nearly 85 is still zesty, youthful and interested in her career and in creating her world.

A confession: when I was younger, I did have a goal of being as well-known and beloved a performer as Marion by the time I was forty or so, the age she was when Happy Days really took off.  I was pretty sure I was heading inexorably to that target, no problem.

Well, we know what happened to that target.  Mis-estimation of effort! And the fact that Marion is a truly incomparable, incandescent talent in a league of her own who would shine brightly in any age.  What an inspiration.

So, we shall see if a late bloomer like me can thrive in the garden of AGT, or if the new, fresh crop will capture the attention of all the bees and get all the water and sunshine and fertilizer and… oh, enough already.

America’s Got Talent, Tuesdays at 9/8 Central on NBC.

 

Published in: on July 27, 2013 at 12:24 pm  Comments (15)  

RADIO CITY? SOUNDS FAMILIAR, BUT I CAN’T PLACE IT

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Going back to New York City for me is always a pleasure.

It wasn’t always that way.  When I first moved there in 1983, I was still “brainwashed” about New York being one enormous crime scene in the making.


That was probably typical of kids like me who grew up in the San Fernando Valley and learned everything they knew about New York from watching Serpico or The French Connection.  Or any cop show from that era.

So, when I moved there, I was actually quite nervous for about a week, especially around “bad sections” like Central Park, Times Square, Greenwich Village…

Hilarious.

Now when I go back, I have to remind myself sometimes to be a little cautious; I have so many great memories of things that took place in Manhattan in the ten years Tamra and I lived there, almost one memory per city block.  Some blocks, like 21st and Eighth Avenue, where we worked at The National Improv Theatre, I have THOUSANDS of good memories.

Strangely, Radio City didn’t figure into any of these memories until last December, when we made a family trip to see their Holiday Extravaganza.  It hit me that I had never gone there in all the years we were in New York; I did walk past it every week, but never saw a movie, concert or anything else there.

What a show we saw!  It was overwhelming, frankly.  And the art deco lobby… don’t get me started!

The closest nice memory I DO have to that building is at nearby Rockefeller Center, when I was once hired as an illustrator in 1984 or ‘85 to do quick portraits of Christopher Guest, Michael McKean, and Harry Shearer up at the production offices of Saturday Night Live

I happened to be working as a cartoon character designer for Thundercats just up Fifth Avenue when I got the call, so I took some pencils and a pad of paper and walked down to 30 Rock and drew the Spinal Tap guys. 

I drew them in their incarnations as The Folksmen for a sketch in that week’s SNL show, for a faux record album.  I remember Billy Crystal walking by and glancing approvingly at my portfolio…

So, soon– more memories of Radio City!  Some really wonderful ones!

See you on TV!  America’s Got Talent, Tuesday night, August 6 at 9/8 Central on NBC.

Preparing for the Flames?

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Okay, the countdown to my leaving for New York City has truly started; I will be on a plane this coming Tuesday.  My 90 seconds of fame, give or take a few, will then be a week later on Tuesday, August 6th, then the “judgement episode” follows on Wednesday.

I watched the first group of twelve terrific acts as they performed, got critiqued, and then returned the following night to hear what the voting population determined their fate would be.  There were some surprises among the predictable results, nothing too unfair.  Any contest of this sort will ultimately fall far short of any “fairness” yardstick; talent is not quantifiable, after all.

I did notice that I’m going to have to practice standing there for up to 30 seconds while waiting for Nick Cannon to reveal which performer is going to move up in the rankings and who will be going home… that’s a long time to be on the hook!  Man!

I’m not going to lie, it makes me a tad nervous to watch AGT, especially since I am heading directly into the vortex of it all.But my main purpose has not been to win a million dollars, it’s to bring my best performance in front of the broadest audience, in order to delight and uplift people.  The chance to do that on a grand scale is worth all the inconvenience and discomfort of being a fish in a fishbowl, waiting to hear whether I’ll get to go back into the pond or yanked out and slapped on the grill.

So, when you see me on Tuesday, August 6th on NBC for America’s Got Talent, that will be my goal.  And with luck, I’ll get at least TWO chances to entertain you with my JIMPRESSIONS.

 

Thanks for reading.

Published in: on July 25, 2013 at 4:22 pm  Comments (11)  

FACING IT

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I remember an embarrassing “audition” from days long past…

I was here in this house in Tarzana, where I still live.  I must have been about 6, maybe 5.  Pretty young.

I had the idea to present a little concert with my sister for the neighborhood kids and my mom.  We would sing “I’m Henry The Eighth, I Am” which was a popular song at the time by Herman’s Hermits.

Simple, right?  Repeating lyrics, silly song.  No instruments, probably a minute and change without the guitar solo.

So, I went around our little cul de sac promoting the show.  A summer’s day much like today.  I think we gathered two, maybe three kids.  Eldridge and Beverly Adams, another kid whose name escapes me.  They all gathered in the living room of our house to hear us sing.

Then it hit me: STAGE FRIGHT.

I couldn’t deliver!  The kids were justifiably impatient and not very happy with me for dragging them away from whatever they were doing.  My little sister, Ellen, who was probably three, was FINE.  She actually started to sing the song, to prime the pump…  but I was having none of it.

A classic case of all promote, no delivery.

I think I “solved” it finally by putting a little white sailor’s cap I used to wear… over my FACE.  How’s that for presentation?

Eventually, after a couple decades, I wore out the mechanism on the tiny engine that was producing my stage fright, and I no longer am a sufferer.  Whew!  Otherwise, I guess I would have stayed in Marketing.

I thought of that incident last night as I sat in my living room watching the first live show from Radio City Music Hall, (which the Grand Canyon was modeled after) and seeing what the  other performers were able to bring to that vast stage.  No particular reason…

AND– I can finally announce publicly that I will be heading out to New York next Tuesday, and you can see my performance and vote on the following Tuesday, August 6. 

America’s Got Talent, Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 9/8 Central.

I’ll be the tiny impressionist on that stage.

(Ellen, I might need you out there on stage with me.  And bring a sailor’s cap.)

The Woman Behind The Impressionist

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In less enlightened, (or just more sexist) times, it was said that “behind every great man there is a great woman.”

I’m FAR from being anything like a great man, but behind ME every step of the way is a GREAT woman, my wife, Tamra Meskimen.

(That’s TAMRA, no center “A”.  Pronounced to rhyme with “Camera.”)

In high school, Tamra was a totally charming and award-winning actress.  We didn’t go out together then, but we acted in a play together, Cyrano de Bergerac (she was excellent and really cute.)

When we reconnected years after high school, I fell in love with her on the day– Christmas Day, 1983.  It was truly like an alarm going off, or a bell sounding.  If it had been a cartoon, the balloon would have said “BOING!”

She set in starting to help me immediately.  She’s that kind of person, the kind that makes the world go around.  Not one in a million have that impulse and willingness to just help.

An artistic life is too big for any single person.  He/she needs a team as soon as it can be managed.  Tamra has been on my team since my first beginnings in show business, and I have been on hers.

People often say to Tamra, “How do you live with him?  You must be just laughing all day long!”  Tamra is very polite when she answers that.

She’s seen me in more shows than anybody should ever have to sit through, in the most ridiculous venues and situations.  In the old days, I was forever dragging her off to some weird space to see me perform, (come to think of it, that hasn’t changed much) and I can tell you, she isn’t laughing all day long.  Who could?  But she’s a trouper.

When we were young, broke and in New York, we had a job together at a trade show where we dressed up as Popeye and Olive Oyl.  We had full head masks, gigantic shoes… we really were well cast.  If Twitter had existed then, she would have had a million followers.

She naturally looks out for me in a way that I don’t even do for myself.

There’s the little thing like keeping me fed, taking care of me when I’m sick, helping me bring order to my desk, my accounts, my clothing, taking photographs at shows so I’ll have some good shots to use, giving me my wonderful daughter Taylor and helping raise her to her sane, safe adulthood…   And a million others that she thinks of that I never seem to remember to do.  Tamra is a GREAT friend.  An amazing human being.

A few years ago she founded an improv company, The Really Spontaneous Theatre Company, which specialized in one-act plays, just so we could have something fun to do with our friends, and be actors together.  We did hundreds of shows, each one a new and exciting experience.  She acted in and ran that group, which was like trying to herd cats.

Then, she became a founder of The Acting Center school, a place where actors can get training to become professionals, without the intrusive, critical atmosphere that most “guru-based” acting schools foster.  It’s helping hundreds and hundreds of beginning and veteran actors regain their interest and ability in creating compelling and convincing performances without becoming dependent on an outside “critic”.  I am a student there, and I’ve been getting a lot out of it.

Of course, she’s still a terrific actress who has done tons of plays, web shorts, TV shows, audiobooks, commercials and just about everything there is for an actress to do in legitimate entertainment.

To say I’m her biggest fan is of course, a very true statement; I have seen everything SHE has done, just as she is an authority on all my work.

It is a marvelous thing about being together so long with a person (26 years of marriage along with the years prior to that) that one becomes an expert, an authority on, and an advocate of one’s mate.  We’ve been that for one another, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

So as I head into this next evolution of massive attention, it is not as a single artist going it on his own, but as the second of two parts, one visible and seemingly independent, the other working steadfastly behind the scenes to make sure the visible one doesn’t faint from lack of food, have stains on his suit, or a thousand other possible infractions of good taste, good manners or common sense.

Tamra’s always there for me, and I can’t thank her enough.

My Singular Unimportance

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I think I had better keep a daily blog for at least the next few weeks, as I go on through this America’s Got Talent evolution.

I’m in a holding pattern at the moment, waiting to go to New York City.  I’m putting together ideas for what to do to somehow try and fill up the enormous stage of Radio City Music Hall with my JIMPRESSIONS.

Impossible!

And, it strikes me again and again how completely UNimportant what I do is. 

I look at my talent a bit critically, I suppose, (though not as critically as the four judges that I will be facing in New York) and I also tend to look at things from the point of view of an oil painter.  (My other profession, visual artist.)

When you are painting in oils, at least the way I was taught by the Spanish realist master, Miguel Argüello, you always put the same set of colors on your palette every day; it’s a kind of practical ritual.  Two reds, two yellows, three blues, a few earth tones, maybe a green and plenty of white.  (Black you don’t need.  You can make a lovely black with a mix of Alizarin Crimson, Burnt Sienna and Prussian Blue; tube black is too dead looking or dirty.)

Maybe you work on a painting for three, six, nine months.  How often does one actually use that second red?  Or the deep brown?  Maybe there isn’t much green in your subject, or you find that mixing your own green is better; so, what then becomes of that blob of Viridian you have been dutifully putting onto the palette every day?

It gets scraped off at the end of the day and put in the garbage.  Somewhere, the owner of an art supply store smiles.

Some colors you may NEVER use in a composition.

Other colors are completely indispensable.  White, Burnt Sienna, Cadmium Lemon, Cobalt Blue… you are crippled without them.  They are the “Series Regulars” of the painting world.

Cadmium Orange, Lavender, Cerulean Blue… these are the “Guest Stars”, the “Day Players”.  Low salary types, “working for scale.”

So, where in the vast palette of show business does “Impressionist” fall?  Does he get loaded on every day only to be scraped off, unused at day’s end?  Or is he so specialized that he sits patiently for years at a time in the box, waiting for the day when his tone and color are indispensable and nothing but his will do?

(Is it obvious I’ve been watching too many Woody Allen movies lately?)

My “Talent” is one of those things that I know delights audiences, and that’s what keeps me making noise, staying fresh and putting myself out in the spotlight.  Is it so vital and necessary and indispensable?  Well, when was the last time you said, “God!  If only there were an impressionist around!”

So, I think it’s fair to say that mine is a very unimportant role in the game.

Sometimes, that’s an advantage in itself.  Sheer disuse or unfamiliarity makes a forgotten skill seem amazing.  The fact that “Impressionist” has dropped off the face of television almost completely makes it all the more wonderful when it pops up again, like some nostalgic magic trick.

But “important”?  That’s a stretch.

 Luckily, I have other roles, which at least a few consider as important, as I do. “Encourager of artists” is one that I think is still pretty vital.   “Husband” and “Father”, the latter though perhaps dwindling in importance, are very important and NONE BUT I WILL DO.  “Walker of Dogs” is apparently a very, VERY important post, and I get a lot of respect and encouragement there.  If I neglect it, it costs me a favorite ball cap or a pair of shoes.

And of course I guess if you really want to be cosmically broad-vista’ed about it all, we ALL are important, as participants in a vast and infinitely complicated game, in which we are perhaps much more important or unimportant than we will ever fully grasp.  But let’s not talk about that, for goodness’ sake.

YOU are very important, I know THAT.  An idiot could see that.  Without YOU… well, I don’t want to think about it!

But me- I’m not important at all, until someone decides that an impressionist is de rigueur, and then, I guess I’ll do until a better one comes along. 

And then, I’m afraid I’ll figure out a way to imitate them.

Thanks for reading!

America’s Got Talent, Tuesdays at 9/8 Central on NBC.