I’ve had a lucky life. Not many people can say they were raised by a TV Icon mom.
So, that was one lucky break.That she was also a really great mom and always set a great example for me as an actor, an artist and a human being is just icing on the cake.
Since then, I’ve had a series of really wonderful opportunities in my life that have paved the way for me to learn all kinds of valuable lessons and develop my talents in many directions.
In my twenties I was determined to be a realist painter, and studied in Spain with a classical master,Miguel Argüello
Aside from learning how to paint during those years, I also learned something about myself; that painting was not the activity that I could devote my life to – too lonely!
So I moved to New York City to begin a career as an actor.
While I was figuring out how exactly to do that, I supported myself as an illustrator/cartoonist. My big claim to fame back then was designing all the secondary characters for a famous animated TV show of the day, Thundercats. I designed all the guest stars, weapons, animals and vehicles for that show.
Nights, I studied improv and started doing shows in bars, nightclubs and, eventually, theaters.
Pretty soon, it became obvious that I had a talent for impressions. I’d never really thought about that before, because it had never really been of much practical use to me. Now, in a weekly improv show, it became extremely valuable.
Suddenly, I felt like I had a line of revolving credit with no monthly fees!
While in New York I performed in all sorts of venues and situations, onstage at our theater/school, performing musical improv, stand-up comedy, dramatic improv, Improvised one-act plays, improv for trade shows, improv with kids at Paul Newman’s Hole-In-The-Wall Gang Camp, at political caucuses, on cruise ships… you name it.
Ten years of that intense training taught me that I could entertain people with impressions and without any script at all.
During that time I also started getting gigs in TV commercials, as a spokesman for grocery stores in Texas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Florida, North Carolina… using my improv and comedy skills interviewing real shoppers for radio and TV spots that won many awards. I actually made a good living doing it, too. That was a big confidence booster.
I got married, had a child, and eventually moved back to my hometown of Tarzana, California, where I began to get into TV and movies.
My first film was Ron Howard’s The Paper, where I had a great scene with Oscar winner Marisa Tomei. Ron hired me again, for four films since then, including The Grinch and Oscar nominated films Apollo 13 and Frost/Nixon. I did other movies too.
On TV my first role was as Will Smith’s western philosophy teacher in The Fresh Prince of Bel Air. (I still get recognized for that episode, usually while going through security at the airport.)
Since then I have appeared on dozens of TV shows. I enjoy my recurring role on Parks & Recreation with Amy Poehler, because it is a hilarious show, and I play a small town celebrity who is a rather poor impressionist. That’s fun.
I’ve also worked a lot as a voiceover talent for everything imaginable. Imagine something that needs an actor to voice it. Go ahead, imagine. Cartoons? Of course. Movies? Oh, yes. Toys? Yup. Training films, voicemail messages, documentary narration? Totally.
Nav Systems? YES, even that.
I had another claim to fame when I voiced a little animated short that a pair of brothers from New Jersey made about the 2004 presidential election… This Land, one of the very first viral Internet hits, featured my singing impressions of President G. W. Bush, John Kerry,
Bill Clinton and others.
It was introduced on The Tonight Show, was seen by over 80 million people, and put the brother’s company, Jibjab Media, on the map.
It also brought me to the attention of Jay Leno, who hired me to imitate celebrities in sketches, onscreen and off for the next ten years.
Like I said, I’ve been very lucky…
To promote the show, I put up a short video on YouTube called “Shakespeare in Celebrity Voices.” It went viral and suddenly I was in the spotlight again as an impressionist and being called a lot of very nice things.
That video eventually lead to my becoming, in 2013, a finalist on NBC’s America’s Got Talent. There I learned an important lesson: sometimes having talent isn’t enough… to win a million dollars, anyway. (Although, if you read the fine print, they pay it out over 40 years!)
But it was enough for me to perform my improvised impressions for a packed crowd at Radio City Music Hall and get a standing ovation with my wife and my mom in the audience. That was worth a million dollars to me, and I didn’t even have to wait 40 years!
And recently, another lucky break: I was approached by the brilliant writer/ director Ben Shelton to star in an original series on YouTube, The Impression Guys, about two impressionists who yearn for something more. Rainn Wilson and his SoulPancake Channel is producing it, and I get to play with some truly wonderful young actors and voice artists. Already the show has been dubbed, “Best Web Series of 2014.”
There are other lucky things too, but those are some of the highlights.