GRACED

Image

I’m just taking a brief breath between days of shooting some additional material to flesh out Season One of The Impression Guys, our soon-to-be-released web series, and I’m marveling once again at the serendipity of my life.

We are very fortunate in this latest set of scripts to have some really amazing guest stars, which are bringing the quality of our story and the general mood way, way up.  First, Erika Christensen agreed to do a funny cameo, and she is wonderful.  I have known Erika for years, and she graciously made time in her busy life, in between shooting the popular TV show Parenthood, to play with us.  She may not be an impressionist, but she always leaves a memorable impression.

Then, feisty, funny and talented Christina Bianco happened to be out here from a break in her busy Broadway career and accepted our invitation to play–what else?– an amazing impressionist!  I’ll be singing with her in various voices in an episode we will shoot tomorrow, (you can see us rehearsing part of it when you click this LINK.)

There is another very exciting bit of “stunt-casting” coming up… but it’s too soon to let that cat out of the bag.

But with Erika and Christina, plus our current cast which is already top-heavy with talent, including Dana Delorenzo, Matt Jones, Melissa Villaseñor, Angela Kinsey, Angela Hoover, Eamon Brennan, Jason Lewis, Tom Ayers, Tamra Meskimen, Portis Hershey, Piotr Michael, Amy Castle, Skylar Caleb, Dylan Mooney, Brandon Routh and others, The Impression Guys is shaping up to be an embarrassment of riches.  Which is my favorite kind of embarrassment, frankly.

I’ll keep on keepin’ you posted.  Thanks for your patience.

EVERY MAN, EVERY WOMAN A CELEBRITY

Image

I had a “come to realize” moment today while on my bike: EVERYONE has some grade or ranking of celebrity.

In the Old Days, there were celebrities, and then there was everybody else.  If you were an actor in a movie, you were probably attached to a studio contract, were effectively working in a separate universe, with separate parking, restaurants and work spaces from the rest of society.  You knew movie “secrets”.  You mysteriously vanished from this material culture into another, more ephemeral one, one that flickered on screens across the world, and in which you always looked amazing, albeit colorless.

Now we have so many grades of celebrity that it is truly “infinity valued”, meaning that there are infinite degrees of being known and talked about.

That’s one of the reasons modern information gathering and metrics have become so necessary; people want to know WHERE they lie in the order of things.  Who knows me today?  How much?  Where?

I have my acting credits on IMDB.com, (the Internet Movie Database) a site that is used by the entertainment industry for information on actors, directors, writers and others.  Like all the other actors I know, I have a ranking that ebbs and flows like the stock market.  Last week, to my surprise, after being ranked comfortably just under the 20,000 mark (among the 20,000 most popular searches for persons, living or dead, on the IMDB site) I found myself suddenly ranked #1444!

Was it my appearance on America’s Got Talent that caused people to suddenly look up my credits?  Probably.  Now that I’m off the show, and am just a normal, workaday actor again, my ranking is going steadily down, down, down… at the moment I’m at, let me see… ah!  #4525.

I got pretty excited for a moment there.  What a leap!  That’s what my friends who work on Wall Street must feel when something in their portfolio spikes!  Of course, they have figured out a way to turn that into a new condominium, or a trip to Fiji.  I haven’t got that down yet.

But then I realized, perhaps naively, that EVERYONE is a celebrity to some degree.  To some website, YOU are very important.  To some groups, YOU are a key player.  To some organizations, YOU are vital.  (One hopes that the groups that find us important are not just the IRS or the NSA.)  To your family, well, YOU are pretty irreplaceable.  Even if you happen to be in the doghouse this week.  (That would put your ranking temporarily with the guy holding the “Plese help me” sign on the offramp.)

So, celebrity is a matter of degree.  I guess that’s pretty obvious.  But to me it was a bit of a breakthrough.

You ARE important, of course, whether or not you are listed on the IMDB.  You would be important if you weren’t listed anywhere on the Internet, although that’s now hard to fathom.  Your importance is in the eye of your beholders, the minds of the people you deal with every day.  The thoughts of your family and friends.  You are important to me, heck- you read my stuff!

Is this too sappy?

You can rate me at SappyBloggers.com.  I think I’m currently… let me see,… Ah!  #44,561!  Wow!  I’m up from #60,000!

The Day Before THE DAY

Image

So, what did I do on my “day off” before I go on TV tomorrow night on America’s Got Talent at Radio City?

After a brief, somewhat perfunctory hair appointment, I had lunch with my very old friend from elementary school, Coleman Gregory, and we had a good New York kibitz in a diner on Madison.  Who comes walking by but another (younger) old friend, Benjamin Welch.  That’s a typical New York thing; I had just been wondering what random friend I was going to run into.  Check!

Then I walked up Park Avenue thru Grand Central Station, which looks marvelous, very clean and spiffy, and arrived shortly at the Waldorf Astoria hotel, where my mom was having tea in the lobby, having just arrived on a plane from Atlanta.

She is here to support me, and I’m delighted that she came out.  It’s heaven to have such a generous and supportive, loving mom.  If someone ever offers you one, don’t hesitate.

Tamra arrives in a little while, so I had to clean up my room, get some flowers…  I had also set up a temporary sound recording studio in the room, making creative use of the hotel pillows, cushions and ironing board, so that had to go:

Image

Now I’m going to go over my act a little bit more, tomorrow is THE DAY, so I have to be much more than ready, I figure I have to really be beyond ready, especially if I want to win and take home the Golden Fruitcake, or whatever the prize of this show is.

I guess this is as good a time as any to thank you for reading and for being interested, and if you vote and tell your friends to watch the show and vote, too, I will be much in your debt.  If I have to pawn the Golden Fruitcake to pay you all for your trouble I think I can manage that.

So, you may not hear from me tomorrow on this channel, but you WILL hear from me on NBC, tomorrow night, 9 pm East and West coast, and 8 pm in the middle of this great land of ours.

Onward!

Thanks again!

WHAT’S TAKING SO LONG?

Image

DAY FIVE IN NEW YORK CITY:

You might wonder, what the heck takes so long that you have to be in New York City an entire week prior to the broadcast of America’s Got Talent?

Well, it’s a BIG show.  I’m just a tiny, tiny part of it, but on the night all elements have to come together and work like a well-oiled machine.  So, it’s nice to leave a lot of time, and frankly, I’m happy that I have had five days to re-acclimatize myself to the pace and energy of this city.  Nothing against Los Angeles, but compared to a New York minute, LA’s is still rooting thru the drawers in the kitchen looking for the stopwatch.

Tomorrow will be my first day of actually walking on the stage at Radio City to block and rehearse my bit with the crew.  I expect it will be somewhat sobering, if not paralyzing. Once again, I’m glad I’m here early enough to be defibrillated in plenty of time for Tuesday’s show.

I’m now preparing by doing some research, watching YouTube videos of the great celebrities I will be paying tribute to in my set.  God, I love YouTube.  You can really see the span of a great performer’s life, and get an intimate sense of who they have been over the years.  It makes me love them all the more.

I do better impressions when I love the actor, I find.  They have something to teach me, and I’m grateful to be in their presence, even if only on my laptop.

So, tonight I prepare to bring my various beingnesses to the stage, and tomorrow, I get to find out what it feels like to actually stand where generations of Rockettes have stood, tapped, and, in that wonderful Toy Soldier dance, fallen backwards in a long line.

I’ll let you know tomorrow what it feels like.

Thanks for reading.

America’s Got Talent, this Tuesday, August 6 (Holy CRAP– that’s three days from now!) on NBC at 9/8 central.

 

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!

BUSTING OUT

Image

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

Image

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

Image

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.

 

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

Image
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

Image
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.)