Wednesday, November 15, 2006

I kind of hate impressionists

The past two nights, I have found myself watching David Letterman while taking a break from writing. I'm not really a fan of his, just wanted something to watch that didn't pull me in too much.

Mr. Letterman is currently doing a run of themed shows called "Impressionist Week." Apparently he did "Ventriloquist Week" not too long ago. Last night I watched Rich Little and tonight was a guy named Fred Travelina. I think I got his name right. I hadn't heard of him before.

Impressionists creep me out. I don't know why. I have no problem with people who do impressions. My friend Rich has a decent collection of impressions which make me laugh. I also don't seem to mind impressions as a part of a comedy sketch, or a larger comedy bit. I am not put off by impressions performed by actors in dramatic roles.

I have no problem with the painting movement which shares the name. Some of the paintings created by these people are breathtaking works of art that I admire greatly.

But impressionists in the sense Mr. Letterman means bug me. In the first place, one apparently needs only a couple of good impressions to lay claim to the title. Rich Little mainly does Johnny Carson well, Nixon, Jimmy Stewart, and maybe a few others. He also does a lot of other voices less well, and I squirmed watching him perform these. This is not merely a product of his advancing age. I recall seeing him host an old episode of the Muppet Show, and he did impressions of Kermit the Frog and Fozzie Bear that were perplexingly shameful. Perplexing because Kermit, especially, is not a particularly tough voice to do.

Mr. Travelina (introduced as the King of Impressionists) was, if anything, worse. A huge portion of his act was shameless mugging "in character" as various celebrities.

I noticed that both of them took care to tell us the impression they were about to perform. In a lot of the instances they presented it would not have been otherwise clear. I suppose if I search for something to admire about them, it would have to be the sheer volume of self-esteem it must take to do their job. Especially in the instances where they have to do an impression in front of the person they are impersonating.

Maybe what bothers me (beyond the quality of the impersonations) is that the jokes just aren't funny. Kevin Pollack will apparently be on later in the week, but I never thought of him as an impressionist. I guess I always saw him as a comedian who did impressions. The difference being that if he never imitated William Shatner or Peter Falk again, he would still be a funny guy.

I recognize that I have committed an awful lot of space to this bizarre, rambling attack on impressionists. I apologize. I blame it on two things: Impressionists really do creep me out, and I truly did not want to write another NaNo post.