WRAPPED ATTENTION

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This week we completed five days of shooting MORE material for season one of The Impression Guys this week, and I came away feeling really wonderful about the project.

Finishing up work a show can be bittersweet, you’re exhausted, spent, your clothes are all over the inside of your car, you’ve drunk too much coffee for too many days in a row, and you feel that you can’t stand to be with your fellow actors a second longer. 

Happily, in this case, only the part about clothes and coffee were true.

The Impression Guys is the brainchild of filmmaker Ben Shelton, who I met through mutual friend Skyler Caleb.  Ben has thrown himself into this project with incredible energy, balanced by hard-won knowledge of film, and sprinkled with a terrific sense of humor and fun.

My other half in this series, Ross Marquand, is a brilliant and facile impressionist on one side of the ledger, and a strong and convincing dramatic actor on the other.  I’m very lucky to have him to play beside, and I’m always impressed by the reality, and the choices he brings to his role.

The other cast members have entered this process with the same enthusiasm, and their performances are top notch.  Piotr Michael, Tamra Meskimen, Dana Delorenzo, Amy Castle, Angela Kinsey, Christina Bianco, Skyler Caleb, Tom Ayers, Tiffany Hutson, Dylan Mooney… you are doing to love getting to know them.

The crew are… just delightful.  I’m crazy about them.  They work really hard, they know their business, and they keep it light and fun.  How the heck they do it, I don’t know.

But that’s all behind the scenes.  All you need to know is that the show is fun, funny, has many surprises, excellent guest stars, and a ton of impressions.

When can you see it?  I’m reluctant to say… today.  There have been a lot of strategy meetings and changes in the release schedule.  But I will let you know as soon as it is confirmed.  Believe me!

In the meantime, just know that we have a fun series from SoulPancake for you to binge-watch very, very soon.

Thanks again for reading!

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These Shorts Are For A Younger Person, Wouldn’t You Say?


By now, unless you watch television that is thoroughly scrubbed for commercial content, you may have seen me in an ad for Sprint where I play an impatient, fault-finding German boss, criticizing one of his employees. I was very fortunate to book this job. The director, Randy Krallman, is a talented young guy who knew of my ability to do this kind of character, because we had done some very elaborate shorts for Volkswagon about 8 years ago with me in essentially the same persona. I auditioned, and Randy had to be very persuasive to get the client to sign off on my unusual approach. The part had originally been created for an American, possibly even a female. I can tell you, it is rare for American actors to be permitted to do any sort of foreign accent in an advertisement; it used to be common, but the “politically correct” wave of the last couple of decades had been quite thorough in expunging this kind of performance from the small screen and radio, too. (Something about the “Frito Bandito”, if memory serves.) So, I was surprised and delighted by the possibility of playing this part, and also crossed my fingers that it would even run on television at all. The last national commercial I acted in, for another telecom company, coincidentally, never saw the light of day. We improvised a lot of variations on that last line… I can’t recall who came up with the memorable, “These shorts are for a younger person, wouldn’t you say?”  I did improvise the “uuh.”  I do remember that. Amazingly, the spot has really “saturated”, as they say. The spot started to run on all the major TV shows like Survivor, American Idol, The Apprentice etc. I have had many friends text me from cinemas saying they just saw my commercial before the blockbuster movie they were there to see, even in iMax theaters, which is a scary thought. When I first started in commercials, with Quality Inn’s “Man in a suitcase” spots back in 1986, a national commercial had considerable airplay, on the then three major channels, and the budding cable outlets, of which there were maybe about five. Now, a national spot can show up on planes, movie screens, on smartphones, mobile devices, YouTube, Facebook, and of course TVs. That’s a lot of platforms. It’s a whole new game. One that I was beginning to think I had been invited “Out” of. If by some chance you haven’t yet seen this spot, it’s on YouTube, and I invite you to watch it and comment how wonderful it is, and how actor Jim Meskimen needs to be used again and again and again, in all his various personas, not just the uptight German one. Click here, and thanks for watching: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=drRTJWbxRzg And of course, come see the JIMPRESSIONS live show, info at http://www.jimpressions.net

Published in: on August 31, 2012 at 10:27 am  Comments (9)  
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ACCEPT IMITATIONS: A Beginner’s Guide to Performing Impressions, Chapter Four: VIEWPOINT

If a useful definition of acting is “Knowingly taking on another viewpoint”, then the subject of doing impressions is just another facet of acting, because more than anything else, your performance will live or die on this one point.

No one views the world from exactly the same position in space as anyone else, at the same time.  Even the famous Bunker brothers Chang & Eng, the so-called “Siamese Twins” who were co-joined at the chest, had to turn to one another and ask, “Is my tie on straight?”

The thing that makes Bogart, Johnny Carson, Barack Obama, or for that matter Bart Simpson unique and recognizable as voices has as much to do with how they view the world as the frequency of the sound waves they produce in our ears.

Indeed, some child performers or women, whose voices are much higher than those of most adult males, can do a great job of creating impressions of famous men even though their tone is completely inaccurate and would never be mistaken for the real thing.

They do this by sufficiently embodying the character and presenting it to us with whatever sonic ability they have.  You are aware they are a young person or a female, but mainly that they are also BEING the person imitated.

It’s still quite entertaining.

It might be wise to observe at this point that “Voice” has several meanings, and that one of them could be said to be, the expression of personality.  Part of that is how they sound, but that also includes WHAT they would say, based on their own unique viewpoint.

We sometimes hear about the “voice” of an author, for instance, whom we perhaps have never actually heard aloud, but whose opinion and style is nevertheless well known.

This is very valuable information: HOW the celebrity sees the world.

How do we find this out?  By study and observation.  These days that is rather easy to do by making use of the web and the limitless collection of recorded performances of actors and public figures.

Of course, direct and personal contact is the very best and most reliable method.  The best mimics of celebrities are, naturally, their former personal assistants, which is precisely why so many famous people require their assistants to have their tongues removed once they leave their employ, and rightly so.

What is done with the tongues of former personal assistants?  I have no idea.  But I make it a habit never to eat at any deli in Beverly Hills, or if I do, I order the tuna melt.

There is a secret about taking on the viewpoint of the character you are playing, and that is this: it’s much easier to do it that way than to simply “imitate”.  Being the character is a quick and direct way to present the person, and is the only way you can be assured of really achieving a convincing and effective portrayal.  This not only applies to celebrity impressions, but doing Shakespeare, Ibsen, Molnar, or a guest spot on “The Suite Life with Zach & Cody.”

Try this: walk around your home with the viewpoint of someone you would like to imitate.  DON’T say anything, just walk around and look at your surroundings from their point of view.

How would they regard your bedroom?  What might they think of your furniture?  What would draw their interest on your shelves?  Would they be bored or interested in your home and possessions?

This is actually the bedrock of your impressions; the sound vibrations they make when they talk are built on THIS fundamental element.

It’s also a lot of fun to do and nobody has to even know you are doing it.  You can do it in a crowded place, like a party or a concert, or at your job at the Pizza Hut.  Just practice looking at the world from the eyes of your subject.

Like I said earlier, it’s the most important element of the whole skill, so it’s worthwhile spending some time on and will help you develop the raw materiel of your act, when you decide to create one.

The other important point about becoming familiar with the point of view of your subject is that once you know it very well, you can depart from it for comic effect, simply by doing something intentionally that that person would never do or say.  That is, I believe, part of the strength of my now famous “Shakespeare in Celebrity Voices” video, which features 25 celebrities doing that speech from Richard III that most of them would never, EVER be heard reciting.

Especially not George W. Bush.  I mean, come on.

So, it cuts both ways.  The key is KNOWING the viewpoint so that you can do what you like with it, either by honoring it exactly as to intention, or departing from it entirely for laughs, or some other brilliant use that I haven’t stumbled on yet.

ACCEPT IMITATIONS: A Beginner’s Guide to Performing Impressions, Chapter Three: How to Practice

Unlike Ocarina players, most impressionists discover their own individual way to perfect their art and do not cleave to a certain, specific method.

Ocarina players are dogmatic and inflexible people who, like lemmings, are content only when they are treading on the exact same path as their robotic predecessors.

Jim Carrey, whose path to film superstardom began with his impressions of celebrities, famously practiced in front of a mirror for hours.

The great Rich Little, who was the most famous mimic in the 70’s and became the benchmark icon of the art form, used a portable tape recorder to help him learn the subtleties of the celebs he presented in his act.

I can speak with confidence, having done the least possible amount of research in this subject, that no two impressionists practice in entirely the same way, because, among other things, no two impressionists will be found to be exactly the same height.

In my own case, I am not possessed of a specific technique of practice, other than I do like to try and A) “hear” the voice in my head, and B) feel where in my head and face that voice might best reside, which is to say, be manufactured.

Then I try and produce that sound and listen to myself.  I usually can tell if it is going to be something that I can perform easily and consistently, which makes it reliable and of interest to me.  If it is something very hard to perform, and perhaps not a sound that I can feel confident I can pull off at any time, then I either avoid it completely or, accepting the challenge, I endeavor to master it.

Mastering a voice that is challenging can be done in many ways, but like a person mastering scales on the lute or the oboe, (but NOT the ocarina) one has to be willing to put some time and concentrated effort into it.  In other words, get ready to drill, drill, and drill so that when it comes to performing the voice on stage or on the Letterman show, you will not have to “take a moment to warm up and find it again”, which is the mark of an amateur.  When one has to 
“take a moment”, one must recognize that one is in fact taking that moment FROM someone, in this case, the audience, and that is bad manners, just as is the voice that tells us, “Please stay on the line, your call is important to us…”

Important to who?  A disembodied recording?  Gimme a break.

Like other forms of exercise, the main enemy to accomplishment is boredom, or embarrassment should anyone see us.  It’s far more embarrassing to be caught talking to oneself in another voice than it is to be caught running laps or lifting barbells.  So, one should pick the time and place very well, especially because of modern psychiatric commitment laws.

I tend to do a lot of my rehearsing in my car, on the way to somewhere else, where I can be assured of complete privacy.  (If you drive a cab or a limousine, you may want to find a different solution.)

Another good idea is to take a voice that you are working on, and pick up a copy of a book and read aloud in that voice for some minutes.  You will learn many things from this, among them what it feels like when the voice sounds, from your point of view, very like your subject.  Perhaps when you read aloud, you will sound like the celebrity only thirty percent of the time, maybe less.  If you keep at it, saying different sentences from the book, then you will isolate the aspects of the sound that, to you, sound most like the person, and be able to increase that percentage.

You can really learn a lot from this exercise.

In the car, I will often listen to the radio and, chiefly to practice certain accents or vocal qualities, repeat exactly what I am hearing come out of the speakers, but just a second or two later.  It’s interesting that one can do this, and then have the sensation that one is slowly closing the gap between the spoken words on the radio and one’s own speech, to a point where it is occurring virtually simultaneously.  At that point you should pull the car over and look at your driver’s license to remind yourself you of your actual identity.

Repeating what you hear, duplicating it as exactly as you can, is something that you want to develop as a skill; it is in fact the main skill of an impressionist.

An impressionist is performing the record of a perception, after all, of something he or she knows his public will be familiar with too, having their own recorded perception of that character.

If EVERYONE could perform an accurate duplication of anything they had ever heard or perceived, then there would be no market for impressionists at all.  So, we acknowledge that this skill, being rare or singular, is of some value in it’s scarcity and novelty.

Right this second, someone somewhere is developing a App that will allow anybody to sound like any famous person, and that will be the end of the world.

But so far, we are still safe…

Practice then, should somehow work its way into your daily routine.  However way that you gravitate toward practicing, that you feel comfortable with and which affords you familiarity and control of your “instrument”, in this case your face, tongue, lungs etc, is the right way for you.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking that you shouldn’t find a way to practice because someone might think you are out of your mind; rest assured that the very people who would jump to such an unlikely conclusion already feel that way about you, and nothing you do will talk them out of it, anyway.

You might at some point feel brave enough to start using a recording device to see what your impression sounds like from the audience point of view.  This will only really be of use to you if you have followed my earlier advice and desensitized your revulsion at the sound of your own voice.

By all means, record and compare.  You can even become very ambitious and rig up a way to play your voice, and then your subject’s voice back to back, so you can shift your attention from one to the other and make a very direct comparison.

But remember too that this is a technical point and at the end of the day is only as useful as any other bit of technique; the sound and it’s exactitude is NOT the main thing that helps to sell the impression.

What IS the main thing?  Well, in my opinion, the important thing is a little something called POINT OF VIEW.  Point of view is key to character.  And I think we had better take that up immediately in the next chapter.

ACCEPT IMITATIONS, a Beginner’s Guide to Performing Impressions, by Jim Meskimen, Chapter Two

KNOWING YOUR OWN VOICE

If you were a Las Vegas building contractor, and someone hired you to put up a huge hotel/casino in a specific location, and you accepted a lot of money upfront and got workers on the site with all the materials without ever bothering to find out if the building site was on a mountain, a desert or in a swamp. you would shortly find yourself immersed in slowly drying concrete as part of a highway overpass.

That is NOT the way to attract the opposite sex.

Which, we recall from all the anthropological data that we so wisely skipped in the introduction to this book, has everything to do with why grown men imitate things.

To review–HUNTERS.

So, we would be guilty of the same error if we began to imitate things, willy-nilly, or Milli Vanilli, without first getting very familiar with the lay of the land, I.E. our OWN voice.

How DO we sound?

You may recall that when you FIRST heard a recording of your own voice, the experience was an unpleasant one.  This, as far as I can tell, is universal.  Anyone who says they loved the sound of their own recorded voice the first time they heard it is lying and should not be allowed to drive you anywhere in an automobile.

The reason, I believe, that hearing one’s own voice, particularly for the first time, thru the apparatus of a recording machine is so shockingly disagreeable is because we never hear our voices that way; we hear a much fuller, much more expressive and tonally rich sound, through both the vibration of the air outside our bodies, and from the vibration of our bodies themselves.

The recording just peels off the thinnest sound waves off out of the air and totally ignores all the more robust, deeper waves that make you sound sexy and irresistible.

When I first heard my voice on my father’s old reel to reel mini-recorder (and I can pinpoint that upsetting memory to the day, hour and place) it was as if some awful sorcerer had set up a ghastly puppet to taunt me, a little boy, with vengeful malice, by imitating in a thin, weedy and insubstantial mockery my own, euphonious voice.

Years later, I took a tape player and pulled the same exact stunt on my own daughter.

Are all men devils?  Shut UP.

So, as performers, one thing we really need to work through is the awful reality of our own voice as it sounds to others.  And luckily, it’s not that hard to do.

You simply have to record yourself a lot and listen until you no longer break out in hives, or want to jump out a window.

How long will that take?  I don’t know.  Hours?  Days?  I just told you I DON”T KNOW.

But I do recommend you get on it right away.  It’s actually important.  That’s why it’s part of Chapter Two, not Chapter 66.

(By the way, there IS no Chapter 66.  This isn’t an eBook on How to Understand Women, this is Accept Imitations, the Guide to Doing Celebrity Impressions for Beginners.)

Now, If you have an iPhone or any kind of recorder that you can hold in your hand, make it your business as soon as possible to record yourself talking to others.  You don’t need to tell them you are doing it, just make sure you destroy the recordings before they fall into the wrong hands.

At first, you will be self conscious and, like a sixth grader who knows he is being watched by his babysitter as he pretends to do his homework, until she leaves the room and he can get back to World of Warcraft, you will not speak naturally.  Your voice will be “on its best behavior” and you will be “a phony sounding person” and a “weirdo” and your companions will say, “What the hell is the matter with you, you sound like a bad actor!  Are you recording us?  You better destroy those recordings before they fall into the wrong hands!”

And then you will have fewer friends, again VIOLATING all the social/psychological reasons for doing impressions that we wisely avoided addressing earlier.

Simply record yourself and then listen to the whole thing from start to finish.  You may NOT fast forward or Scrub forward or stop until it’s done.

At the end of that horrible experience, you will either feel older, younger, or about the same.  If you feel older or younger, start from the beginning and do it again.  If you feel about the same, then sober up and try it again.

Again, once you have heard the whole recording for a second time, judge your reaction.  Are you considering a vow of silence?  A career as an underground explosives expert?  A camp counsellor for the deaf?

If you answered any of the above, YES, then go back and listen to the whole thing again, and again and again until you no longer have a reaction of any kind and can be comfortably familiar with how you sound.

Like I say, this can take hours.  Or days.  Or possibly longer.

There is an ancient story that Native Americans tell about the owl, much revered in their culture.  His continual lament of “WHO?” they claim, comes from a time in the incredibly distant past when the very first owl heard his voice on a Sony answering machine, and demanded to know the true owner of that voice.  All these many centuries later, the owl, much revered by Native Americans, still demands to know “WHO?”

He clearly needs to record and listen to his own voice more, if he is ever going to become revered for his celebrity impressions by the Native Americans, as well as his keen eyes and appetite for rodents.

ACCEPT IMITATIONS, a Beginner’s Guide to Performing Impressions, by Jim Meskimen

The following is the Introduction and Chapter One of my new eBook about creating impressions.

I hope you enjoy it and share it with others who love to do impressions.

INTRODUCTION

How tempting it is to start this eBook out with the phrase, “Since the dawn of spoken communication between members of the our species, celebrity impressions have had an undeniable impact on human relations.”

I’m very proud of the fact I was nearly able to suppress the urge to write that.

But, having evoked that idea, it perhaps does have a little bit of relevance to the subject, if only that imitations of the sounds of other living creatures by mankind has long been a significant part of human existence, for example:

1)  Hunters mastering the calls of birds and other wild beasts.

Okay, that’s actually the only one that comes to mind.

But YOU are interested in it, and I am interested in it, so why don’t we just cut to the chase, forget the probably very noble but entirely irrelevant historical, sociological and psychological background section, and really dig in and ACCEPT IMITATIONS.

Chapter One

Who Do You Love?

Before we discuss the technical aspects of creating and performing impressions, it’s a good idea to have a look at why to do them in the first place.

Of course, YOU already know why: because you WANT to.

That is actually reason enough, and is the way ANYBODY begins.

There is something inherently amusing about creating an impression of another person.  It’s like a magic trick: how can somebody sound like a completely different person?  Isn’t that against the law?

It IS against the law.  But luckily, the law is hardly ever enforced, except in Yemen.

Intent is usually the deciding factor; are you imitating somebody so that another will believe you truly ARE them, and will then turn over valuable documents, sexual favors or some other difficult to obtain item or service?  Or are you just trying to make somebody laugh until milk comes out of their nose, provided they were drinking milk in the first place?

If I know YOU, (and I most likely don’t) you are hardly the sort of person that would use the art of mimicry, and the intensely valuable information in this eBook, for such an ignoble, illegal and dangerous purpose.  So let’s just put that possibility as far from our minds as possible, shall we?

An imitation can be many things, a comment on the target personality, an homage, a criticism, or an attempt at an accurate and convincing portrayal for some artistic purpose.

Actually, the only thing demanded of an impressionist is that the target be IDENTIFIABLE.  Technical precision is a means to an ends, and actually is not the most important, key factor in “selling” an impression.

What then is THE most important, key factor?  WHAT?

Well, how about you be a little patient, huh?  Would it kill you to let me go on a bit about this and build my argument?  Huh?

In comedy clubs, variety shows and on construction sites, one sometimes observes what might be considered poor entertainers evoking celebrities by no more clever or sophisticated trick than pulling their hair back and smiling broadly, or squinting their eyes and gritting their teeth.  This style of mimicry might best be labelled, “Caricature.”

We have all seen and been very patient with fellows who, in presenting their imitation of, for example, Arnold Schwartzenegger, hoarsely blurt out some line from one of his classic roles in a passionate, but inaccurate rendition, which in the end evokes not much about the actor’s actual sound, but DOES convey perfectly the concept, “I am now doing my imitation of an imitation of an imitation of Arnold.  I am proud to report that I have invested the least possible effort, care and investigation in creating this performance for you.  Please laugh uproariously and offer to buy me a beer.”

This is the same sort of fellow who, as a little boy, made the grass in his classroom paintings green, the sky blue and the sun yellow, right out of the tube.  He went on to marry a woman with enormous breasts, blonde hair, the waistline of a whippet and the mind of a bottle opener.

Compare the common paltry Schwarzenegger rendition, so prevalent today, with that of the great Arnold impersonator Josh Robert Thompson, who researched his subject exhaustively, practiced diligently, and, with his already similar pitch and vocal register, developed an impression that is world renowned.

I happen to know that Josh, (or JRT as he is referred to by his girlfriend and by people in the Internal Revenue Service) studied the personality, sound and viewpoint of Mr. Schwarzenegger by listening to the DVD commentary on Conan The Barbarian and other action films in his filmography, until he literally could inhabit the spirit and sound of the man.  That’s why he’s the best.

But why did he choose Arnold?  He was INTERESTED.

Why?

Who cares?  Why are you asking so many questions?  Don’t you think I know my job, that you have to badger me to tell you things?  Give me a break, will you?  This is an eBook, not a game of “Tell Me Before I Explode.”

Josh was interested, I believe in engaging in a little contest, a contest with other voice artists, the physical barriers of his own natural voice and with the perceptions and acceptance levels of other people.  You could say “contest: or you could say “game”; same thing.

He wanted to play the game of “Who can sound MOST like Arnold”, and he thought he could WIN.  I maintain that he did.

Well, obviously, once people start paying you money, tell you you are incredible, laugh at the things you want them to laugh at, gasp with amazement when you really pull out the stops and, best of all, if you FOOL them into thinking they are actually talking to the REAL Arnold, then you have WON.

At least for the time being.  At least, in that voice.

But it all starts with being interested, and choosing some character voice that you feel you COULD pull off, given your age, sex and the general pitch and quality of your naturally given equipment.

So, at this point you can ask yourself, “Which of my favorite celebrity voices do I think I have a chance at duplicating, given my own voice as it is?”

Go on, ask yourself.

And for God’s sake, pay ATTENTION to the ANSWER!  It’s rude not to listen to the other person, and it’s rude not to listen to YOURSELF when you are trying to answer your own question.  Don’t start off your career as an impressionist by being rude to your main partner in this endeavor!  Do you think Edgar Bergen was snippy and critical with Charlie McCarthy?  Heavens, no.  They were thick as thieves.

Who IS Edgar Bergen?  Jesus, who the hell are you, anyway?

It probably is the case, if I know you, (and again, I do NOT) that you already have the barest shadow of an impression in your nascent –which is to say undeveloped–repetoire, somebody that you attempt to perform on extremely rare occasions, such as when you are among close friends or while under hypnosis.

There is, perhaps, some memory of a voice from childhood entertainment that is banging around inside your head and which you wouldn’t mind being able to do for other person, say, a close friend or co-worker.

Is there?

As an example from my own life, (not that I’m putting this forth as something right or wrong, mind you, just as an example of something perfect) one of my first impressions was of the actor Bert Lahr, in his role as the Cowardly Lion from The Wizard of Oz.

After viewing that classic movie at age four, I knew two things, that if flying monkeys existed, I would have to obtain a shotgun, and that I LOVED the Cowardly Lion.

NOTO BENE: (Latin, I think, for, “pay attention, Benny!”) It is easier to imitate something that one wouldn’t mind BEING.  it is easier to BE that which one LIKES.

So, in my case, it became very easy for me to absorb and BE the Cowardly Lion, because he was so doggone cute and funny, and imitating him became a logical extension of my being able to BE him.

You’ve seen little kids do this.  It’s wonderful.  The only time it isn’t wonderful is when they are imitating something that YOU don’t like or want them to be, such as a ninja, or a zombie/ninja, or a vampire/ninja/zombie/alien.  Or a telemarketer.

Going back to the question asked earlier, “Which of my favorite celebrity voices do I think I have a chance at duplicating?” do include, therefore, any voice from childhood entertainment that might pop up.

But don’t do Bert Lahr; that’s MINE.

No, I’m just kidding, go ahead and do Bert Lahr.  If you want.

It’s rude, but go ahead.  Factually, I don’t care.

I really don’t.

I’m so OVER the whole thing, to be honest.  You… you just Do what you have to Do.

By the way, CAN you actually hear The Cowardly Lion in your mind?

You probably have a vast number of recordings in your mental iPod… can you kind of “hear” them?

If you can’t hear the Cowardly Lion, and can’t recall how it felt to kind of “Be” him when you were a little kid watching that amazing movie, then pick one you CAN hear in your mind’s “ear.”

And if you can’t do that, then you have another route, and that is to become a barber.

NO!  Not a barber!  No, NO!  What did you think I said?  Omigod– I would NEVER disparage barbers or practitioners of the barbering arts!
NO, what I was SAYING was that if you can’t hear the desired character in your head, you can still get ahold of a physical universe recording, by going on YouTube or a DVD.  THAT’S all I meant.  See, you were all upset over nothing!

By listening to the sound recording, you can study the sound and begin to become familiar with its characteristics, enabling you to make your own version of it with your own voice.

But the first step is, WHO do you WANT to imitate?

That will be a lot easier than attempting someone that you dislike, or can’t understand, or are only trying to do because someone told you if you didn’t do it they would key your car, or make you sit and watch the remake of The Poseidon Adventure.

Chapter Two of this eBook will be posted soon.  Thanks for reading and sharing.

Hit the road, Jim!

Well, my philosophy now certainly contains the concept that, if something is working, do more of THAT.

So, I am working on doing MORE performing, and mainly my impressions, since that is what is currently creating so much of a buzz.

We just finished a sold out series of shows in Hollywood, which was mainly new people coming off the YouTube video, unfamiliar faces that were soon smiling broadly, laughing and some with tears streaming down.

I love performing for people I’ve never seen before… seems like the right thing.

So now off we go to the U.K. to do a group of shows and workshops at an arts festival in East Grinstead, then shows in London and Birmingham… then a few days rest in Cornwall.

You can bet we will shoot a lot of Professor Knestor videos!  I wonder if we can find Oxmouth College…

After that, we head right into another big weekend at The Acting Center and more full houses of brand new audiences.  I’ll do a weekend a month there thru November.

In September I go to Clearwater, Florida to do a night of JIMPRESSIONS at the Capitol Theater for 475 people.  Very excited about bringing the show to Florida audiences!

And I have a new video in the works with more celebrity impressions… coming very soon, if I can finish before we get on the plane to England.

It may seem like a lot, but I feel like I’m just getting up to speed.

Thanks for all the kind words, the support, and helping me attain my dream by watching the Shakespeare video and clicking “Like” and “Subscribe”.  It all helps!

Speak to you soon!

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.

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.

JIMPRESSIONS: review of the new show in Hollywood

Jim Meskimen: A Man for All Voices

By Bonnie Priever The Tolucan Times
May 12th, 2011

Jim Meskimen opens his show, Jimpressions, at the Acting Center in Hollywood, with a pithy, profound statement: “It’s all about the voice!” This enjoyable evening of impersonations and clever humor takes me back in time to Las Vegas showrooms, featuring headliners like Rich Little and Fred Travalena, and their visceral performances of celebrities past and present. As Meskimen succinctly states, “there is an infinity of voices — we have stumbled upon in our lifetimes, and clearly recognize — yet each one is unique and special.” The audience is in for quite a treat, as they get to once again hear the distinct voices of Robin Williams, David Letterman, Jack Nicholson, and President Barack Obama, and many more, as if these larger than life personalities were right on stage themselves!

It’s a true art to impersonate the famous (and infamous!), from JFK to Truman Capote….it’s not an easy process to learn a specific voice, its tone, inflections and accent, yet Jim Meskimen makes it look easy and effortless, while enjoying every moment. His impressions take us into a world of ‘in the moment’ theatre, created by Lee Strasberg, fully immersing himself in the character portrayed. The show covers a range of territories, geographically, from Southern politicians to New York actors. He does a segment, honoring the “New York Greats,” such as Pacino, DeNiro, and Woody Allen; followed by a Presidential walk through memory lane. The audience is transported to another place and time… it’s like fingering the pages of history, and makes one proud and patriotic. In times like today, with the recent death of Bin Laden, we know that we have been graced with the presence of greats, and their voices of hope and courage linger on.

In Act Two, Meskimen portrays a professor of Ancient Art History, with improvised Q&A from audience members. Jim, both passionate about arts, performing and visual, decided to opt for the performing arts. With his strikingly good looks, amazing voice and talent, along with a chance encounter with Harvey Keitel, his professional venue and crowd-pleasing is the perfect choice.

Jimpressions plays one weekend every month through the rest of the year at the Acting Center located at 5514 Hollywood Blvd. For ticket information, call (323) 962-2100 or visit www.theactingcenterla.com/on-the-stage-2.