Back In Production

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Well, the new year is already speeding ahead like a car you left in the driveway of your old house (after you’d been drinking) without putting the emergency brake on, and it rolls down the driveway until it piles into the bushes of the house across the street and… not that I’ve ever DONE that.

Anyway, we are about to launch into ANOTHER five days of shooting for season one of The Impression Guys, a new web series that I have been told will launch in the beginning of February.  Of THIS year.  So that’s very exciting, because I think, based on the edit I watched last year, it’s pretty doggone entertaining.

As usual, the writer/director, Ben Shelton, who works best under mammoth pressure, has pulled off a miracle and given us some scripts that are full of marvelous opportunities for myself, my talented co-star Ross Marquand, and an amazing group of guest impressionists, actors and even a few celebrities to really have some fun.

I’ll be taking lots of photos and posting them to my Facebook page, so you can keep tabs on us.

The Impression Guys is produced by Rainn Wilson’s production company Soul Pancake, which has its own very popular YouTube Channel, and where I speculate you will be able to watch the entire eight episode season of the show in the comfort of your own laptop or 76” Smart TV. 

I can’t say much about the show, except that I really think it will show off both my and Ross’s talents very well, it will be very entertaining, and… there will be Shakespeare.

Please help us spread the word, if you like.  Here’s a link to the pilot episode: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v4RGvLnhvfo

If you enjoyed it, pass it along to others in your world.

Little by little, we build our massive following… Or not.  But we ARE having fun.

Thanks!

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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.

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.)

ONE YEAR ANNIVERSARY!

Jim Meskimen by Ray Kachatorian

I had to check my iCal calendar, but I was right- this last weekend marked the one year anniversary of live performances of JIMPRESSIONS, my one-man journey through my obsession with celebrity voices.

(Actually, it’s more a strong professional interest, but “Obsession” is much more compelling, don’t you agree? Who would watch a movie called “Strong Professional Interest”?)

I have performed JIMPRESSIONS at least twice a month, sometimes as many as eight times a month since it premiered on March 25, 2011, and as I have noted elsewhere, in cities all over the U.S., as well as Sydney, Australia, Toronto, Canada and London, England.

As you might imagine, I’ve learned a lot along the way.
The best thing about being in a one-man show, particularly one that you have also written, is that you can make ceaseless changes and updates, which with luck are improvements. I haven’t felt the need to ask anyone’s permission, and every show was a learning experience for me, as all live theatre is.

I owe a lot to my friend and director, Tait Ruppert, who has made many invaluable suggestions along the way and knows the show backwards and forwards.

It has also been rewarding to listen first hand to what people have to say about the show, which is always gratifying, particularly when it had some special resonance for them.

One woman thanked me very warmly for directing her attention to the fact that one can always draw forth in memory the sound of a loved one’s laughter; she had recently lost her mother and found a lot of relief by doing that.

Others have remarked that they had no knowledge of particular actors that now they felt interested to seek out in films and enjoy first hand. That’s cool.

Quite a lot of people remark that they think it it entertaining to observe the transitions I go through to rapidly become another person… this seems to be one of the favorite parts of the performance, and that has made me think about what it is that people find so fascinating about this style of entertainment.

I think there is something very helpful to audiences, even perhaps mildly therapeutic, with watching someone adopt different personas and identities. Of course, it’s a sort of magic trick, but it also speaks to a basic ability that anybody has, however un-exercised, to BE someone else on one’s own whim.

It’s akin to watching a dancer and realizing that one has the same physical parts, and that expressing oneself with arms, legs, hands and feet, instead of just thru the voice or the keyboard, is an unexploited possibility.

Of course, actors know how satisfying and pleasant it can be to shuffle off our own personalities and become someone great or stylish or interesting… in many cases it’s that sensation that got us interested in acting in the first place.

In the case of impersonating celebrities, our desires for a better, more fulfilling life come into play I think, in that these individuals symbolize not only the characters they portray, but also, as movie stars or leaders in some walk of life, they come to represent an advance into a state that is closer to immortality. If somebody can BE a movie star, even only for a few seconds, that person seemingly is sipping from some fountain that a lot of us wish we could drink deeply from.

I realize of course that I’m speaking in a very formal way about something which, after all, owes more to the Las Vegas Strip than the Veda, but still…

It just amazes me, having done this kind of entertaining now on and off for almost thirty years, that people are dazzled by the art of impersonation as much as they are.

But then, I’m being hypocritical, too, because I am equally dazzled by brilliant impressionists when I see them. And I’m lucky to know quite a few that are much more talented than I.

But as JIMPRESSIONS is about MY journey, I guess nobody would be able to do a better job of this particular angle of the story as I can, even if some of my renditions leave something to be desired.

Anyway, that’s all very sober and psuedo-academic, but the point is, it’s been a year, I have had a blast doing JIMPRESSIONS, and, as people seem to enjoy watching me doing my “Infinity of Celebrity Voices,… I have no intention of stopping.

See you at a performace soon, I hope!

If you are interested in the DVD of my live JIMPRESSIONS show at the historic Capitol Theatre in Clearwater, Florida, visit this site: http://appliedsilliness.com/jimpressionsdvd.html

Celebrity Shakespeare Challenge!

In an attempt to engage you, my audience of friends, sympathizers and co-conspirators, I recently made a video of me reciting a famous Shakespeare speech in the style of nine of the angriest actors I could think of (and imitate) and offer the following challenge:

Visit my YouTube channel, watch the video, and enter your guesses as comments on the YouTube page as to the nine identities I’m attempting to portray. Get those correct (or a majority, if this turns out to be an impossible task) plus the bonus question (WHICH character from Shakespeare, plus Act and Scene of which play) and you will win a FREE copy of the JIMPRESSIONS live show on DVD!

It’s a win-win! Hear Shakespeare! Play a game! Possibly, win a DVD with almost two hours of hilarious impressions, music and improvisation… and it costs you nothing but your spare moments of attention.

Play now, why don’t you- and help me spread the word.
http://www.youtube.com/jimmeskimen

Good luck, fellow Shakespeare lovers!

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

SPEED OF DELIVERY

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.

JIMPRESSIONS ENDS SUCCESSFUL 2011 RUN!

Last weekend, November 4 & 5, was the last of my scheduled shows at The Acting Center, and it was really terrific; great audiences, great response and a lot of laughs!

I began the run of this show in March of this year, and performed about one weekend a month; we knew December was going to be crazy with other demands, so we decided not to have shows after the November dates.

JIMPRESSIONS was an experiment.  When I wrote it and put it on its feet with director Tait Ruppert, we really weren’t sure if audiences would find it worth their while.  It’s a work in progress, and one which we will continue to develop, but so far the results are more positive than we ever expected.

There were ancillary wins, too.  On a whim, I decided to post a video of me doing my Shakespeare Impressions, and it went viral, thanks to the Tweets of Craig Ferguson, Stephen Fry, the Facebook sharings of many of my friends and mysterious others; the tally now is over 700,000 views and a lot of very nice comments.

My other follow up videos have been warmly received too.

As a result, I’ve been in high demand, which is really gratifying, and which I am hustling to honor every day.

My intention was to create a funny, inspiring, very entertaining family-friendly show, based around celebrity impressions and storytelling.  Here’s what a few of you had to say:

“I was able to see your show Saturday, you are amazing! Besides being captivated by your craft, I can’t remember when I laughed so much and so freely. I had a delightful and truly heartfelt experience, thank you for a terrific evening. I can’t wait until next year!”  –Susan Kohler

“I was AMAZED!  The way he artfully wove comedy and a heartfelt, personal story around each of his characters was not only hilarious, but also nothing short of masterful!  I never expected to be so moved by a comedy show, but I really was, and I thank Jim for these gifts he gave us!”  – Jierra Clark

“Jim captures the essence of the celebrities he impersonates — from the tightening of the face for former President Bush, to Garrison Keillor’s odd octave changes and looong inhales, to Woody Allen’s patented phrasing and asides — and he slides from one to the other maddeningly effortlessly.  –John Rabe, KPCC

“Not only did I feel like I was in the hands of a major pro, but my face hurt from all the laughing and smiling! The world needs to see this! It is clever and touching and inspirational and just downright GENIUS!” – Keli Landry

“Jim Meskimen is a giant among impressionists. But beyond that he is an amazing actor. These two skills come together in a truly wonderful performance. I’d recommend seeing it now before he only does sold out amphitheaters.”  – Eric Matheny

So, what’s next for JIMPRESSIONS?

Well, a trip to Australia to perform at a business conference, an appearance on the Australian TODAY SHOW, and a few live shows in Sydney and Hamilton Island on the Great Barrier Reef.

That’s the immediate future.  Next year?  I look forward to returning to The Acting Center, which treated me so well and is such a great home for this show.  And I hope YOU will be in the audience sometime in 2012!

And you can keep your eye out for more YouTube videos, too.  (In fact, I hope you will subscribe!  It’s free.  Like this Blog.)

And when the Letterman show schedules their “Impressionist’s Week”, I hope to be there.

Big thanks and kisses to everybody who came and saw the show and shared the dream with me, my director Tait Ruppert, producer (and incredible soul-mate) Tamra Meskimen this year, and I promise to keep improving the show so that it is even more entertaining for you.

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.