By Trent Rentsch
There’s really nothing worse than making a bad impression, un-less it’s playing that bad impression over and over. I point this out because nothing brings out the worst impressions like a political season. So far this month I’ve heard 78 song parodies, 27 station sweepers, and 3,482 commercials all containing voices that are supposedly President Bush and/or candidate John Kerry. Of the combined total, I’ve counted 6 that nailed the voices. The other 3,581 really must stop.
Worse are those bad impressions of political figures long past. I’ve heard who I assumed was supposed to be Ronald Reagan hawking a Western Wear store and a bad Richard Nixon talking about honest deals for a tire store. I understand hanging your advertising on current events, but with a really, REALLY bad impersonation of someone who has passed away… who your teen audience might not recognize even it was their actual voice?! Please!
Funny thing about Creativity, everybody has their own interpretation of the word. To some it’s crafting clever, provocative words, adding a combination of music and sound and voice in a unique mix, and presenting something completely new and fresh to the audience. To others, it’s a question of how to re-work that gag from last week’s Mad TV into a spot for… somebody, anybody. I contend that this type of “creativity” is the sincerest form of laziness.
I don’t mean to be cruel; perhaps it’s still the Kungaloosh talking, even after several months. I drank it while at the Adventurer’s Club on Pleasure Island, Downtown Disney’s playground for older, ahh, kids. If you haven’t visited the Adventurer’s Club, let me try to explain. It’s a combination bar/improv, where you become part of the show — often, before you realize it. It’s set in the 1930’s, and the Adventurer’s Club is looking for new recruits, possibly you. You wander from room to room where current “members” sing, dance, do a golden age radio show, and pretty much have their way with everyone in the audience. Especially those who have enjoyed more than one of the house drink, the Kungaloosh. I had 3.
Now, when I say it’s a club of Adventurer’s, set in the 1930’s, there are many stereotypes that probably come to mind. I know that I had some preconceived notions going in, most of which were blown away in moments. The “beautiful French Maid” was indeed pretty, but she had a razor-sharp wit and a Southern accent as thick as Country music. The Butler was helpful, but only up to a point, and was condescending not in a snotty way, but jovial. The club curator did in more Kungaloosh than anyone in the audience and hung from the ladder in the library; and the prissy, old maid-like president kept hitting on, well, just about any man. It seemed that all the pieces I expected were in place, but they were nothing I expected. Knowing the House of Mouse, that’s probably exactly how the Imagineers designed it.
The process really isn’t that hard, it just takes an extra step. If you find a concept or gag that you want to use, don’t try to copy it. There are exceptions, of course, parody demands it; but even then it’s better to leave it alone unless you really can pull it off. If you are really set on using someone else’s gag and/or voice, a true Creative says to himself, “How can I adapt this, twist and turn it, and make it my own?” All they did with the Adventurer’s Club was to throw in every little detail from every bad movie serial from the ‘30s, and twist them up into something new and fun. And really, isn’t fun what Creativity is all about? Isn’t it more fun to have people laughing at your characters and repeating your lines than groaning about your bad George W?
I’ve learned the hard way. Remember Carlton, your Doorman from the sitcom, Rhoda? Now that I’ve aged myself, let me explain if you’re too young and haven’t caught a TV-Land re-run that Carlton was a character that was never seen on the show. He was just a disembodied voice on Rhoda’s intercom — a wimpy, goofy, nearly drunk voice provided by Lorenzo Music, who later voiced the cartoon Garfield. I thought it was a great character, and was always reciting his latest line to anyone who would listen. By the time I got into the radio I was convinced that I “had his voice down,” and tried to bring Carlton, your Doorman, to a commercial as soon as I could, complete with several ripped off punch lines. It flopped for several reasons. The show had been off the air long enough that the Top 40 audience I was targeting had no idea who the character was, and even if they did know, I did NOT have the voice down, and frankly, using a Doorman to sell tickets to a stock car race… well, it wasn’t QUITE what they had in mind. After the dust settled, I took a long look/listen to what I had done wrong. Using the wrong concept and blatantly ripping off gags, okay, I saw that mistake right away. The harder one to face was the fact that, no matter how many times I listened to the voice, I could not do Carlton, your Doorman. Yep, it was nothing like it, a completely different character voice… hmmm, a completely different character… and that’s when it clicked. I didn’t have Lorenzo Music’s character, and I really didn’t need it. My own goofy, wimpy voice had a different destiny, and as I began to write for him I realized the satisfaction of creating my own character.
Again, I will never knock someone who does great impersonations and parodies. It is a special gift, and few have it. Which is why I encourage the rest of us to be memorable by avoiding the temptation to be something we can’t be, and create something new from the inside out. I salute your creativity. Or, as they yell at the Adventurer’s Club, “Kungaloooooosssshhh!!”