[Movie trailer voice] In a world, on an island … a long island, there is a man, a curly-haired man, on a bold and courageous journey to create the best column ever written. Will this Jonah-Hill-looking fellow overcome his childhood lisp, will he make audiences laugh, find out in the next exciting chapter of OPEN MIKE: The Column.
To quote the late great Robin Williams, “I do voices.” What does that even mean? [Yoda voice] Ermm, master of voices I am, make you laugh I shall [Yoda laugh]. This fascination of mine first manifested itself at the young age of 5, shortly after my youngest sister was born, leaving me with a horrendous case of middle child syndrome. My parents literally learned to tune out my voice, leaving me with no option but to invent and discover new ones.
My first real character voice was an impersonation of my Uncle Jean Pierre. His thick Parisian accent was like nothing I had ever heard before. So I began to replicate it. Weeks later and after a few thousand attempts, I figured it out. My face scrunched upward, my nose lunged toward the sky, and his voice came out of mouth — (in heavy French accent) [French laughter] “Bonjour my name Jean Pierre, and I am proud Frenchman!” this caricature version of my uncle became a hit at family parties.
From then on my range of voices grew 10-fold. Every movie I watched, every video game I played, every foreign accent I heard, I absorbed and replicated. Character voices became an outlet for this otherwise socially awkward child. There’s no better feeling than brightening a room and having the power to produce laughter. No matter your age there’s no way not to laugh at the dueling Michael Myers characters Shrek/Fat Bastard bursting into a room shouting: “Get in my belly, you stupid fat donkey!”
Voices weren’t always for an audience though. Most of the time they were just for me. One year while re-watching the “Muppet’s Christmas Carol” (arguably the greatest film ever made), I became obsessed with learning the Muppet voices — starting with Kermit, Fozzie Bear, Beaker, Dr. Bunsen Honeydew, and inevitably Miss Piggy. Learning Miss Piggy was the first time I ever made the connection between voices and voice actors. Frank Oz, who famously gave life to Master Yoda in “The Empire Strikes Back” also played the sassy frog-loving pig we know and loathe. [In Yoda voice, then Miss Piggy voice] “Ermm, pigs, pigs lead to pork, pork leads to bacon, and bacon leads to the dark side, Kermie, don’t you love mwah?” How stunning, to hear how the voices connect to one another.
But truthfully with time and practice anybody can do a line or two. What distinguishes professionals from amateurs is the ability to carry out any kind of dialogue, conveying any kind of emotions, and being able to do so without a second thought. Rehearsing this looks like pure insanity but is beyond rewarding. My favorite example is of Andy Serkis, who played the dual personalities of Gollum in “Lord of the Rings.” “Frodo’s our friend! Yes Yes! GOLLUM! GOLLUM! Stupid fat Hobbit(es)!” After hearing his voice, I knew I needed to up my game.
There’s literally voice recordings on my phone of every character you can possibly imagine, communicating with one another! That’s my favorite part honesty, having great historical figures and pop culture icons interacting with one another. For example:
Richard Nixon: I don’t know Bill, that wife Hillary of yours strikes me as a real crook.
Bill Clinton: Oh Rich Nixon you are so funny. If candidates were metaphorical fast food items, my wife Hillary would be a Big Mac.
Jack Kennedy: Do you mind if I chime in here? Rich you look like you sweating again.
Richard Nixon: I bet you think you’re SO hysterical Jack Kennedy.
Fozzie Bear: Wakka Wakka!
Richard Nixon: Why is there a Muppet in this scene!
Kermit: Sorry about that everybody, wrong sketch! Although while we’re here, I’d lobby you about an issue I’m passionate about, it’s not easy green!
Bernie Sanders: Hello, adorable green frog. My name Senator Bernard Senators and the top 1 percent of mammals are being treated better than 99% percent of all amphibians. I like to wave my arms in the air like an inflatable tube man at a used car dealership.
In my life I’ve been blessed to have performed in front of thousands of people. One of the most rewarding experiences was performing a musical parody of Disney characters on a stage once graced by Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker, The Joker), Billy Dee Williams (Lando Calrissian, Harvey Dent), Jim Cummings (Winnie the Pooh, Tigger), Warwick Davis (Wicket, Professor Flitwick) and so many other vocal greats. There is nothing more magical than the look in a child’s eyes when they hear their favorite character speak to them, calling them by name. One can only hope it inspires them the same way my [in accent] French Uncle Jean Pierre did!
So, as my former employer Mickey Mouse would always say, “Thanks folks, see ya real soon! Buh-bye!”
TBR Interactive: This column is the first in our interactive series. Hear the column come to life by scanning the QR code or use the link featured below.