Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The Masters of Voice in Stand Up Comedy

I'd like to think that I know as much about stand up comedy as Cole knows about hockey. Since I can't contribute with a sports list, here we go with great stand up comedians who perform vocal gymnastics, whether it's by singing, doing impressions, or throwing their voice.

5. Kevin Pollak
You may recognize this guy from any of several movies. He's been in a ton. But I know him as the guy who does a side splitting, perfect Christopher Walken impression. He also does an amazing William Shatner and Peter Faulk. Although he doesn't have a massive collection of celebrity impressions, the few he does are hilarious and flawless.

What to check out? Like I said ... Walken impression. He does a great bit in The Aristocrats, and YouTube him for more goodness. His radio show appearances made me laugh so hard I nearly threw up.

4. André-Philippe Gagnon
Canada's own impressionist/singer/entertainer extraordinaire. Growing up I always saw this guy on television, especially on reruns of Just For Laughs. His vocal range for imitating various singers, man or woman, is unmatched still. While his humour sometimes falls on the side of "corny", which is the biggest issue I have with most impressionist comics, he doesn't fail to entertain.

What to check out? He does a great human saxophone routine, and is probably best known for his one man rendition of "We are the World". It's impressive to say the least.

3. Jeff Dunham
Probably the most entertaining ventriloquist there is. When most people think of ventriloquists, they think of lame wads in checkered suits with hideous-as-sin dolls on their knee telling jokes so boring and dumb you want to cry, and then trying to sing and drink water at the same time. Well Jeff Dunham makes the whole routine look so easy, you really buy into the deranged characters he wheels out. Each character is unique, and his material feels classic and modern at the same time. Even when his jokes are lame, they are funny because it's such a committed performance. And you can't help but be impressed when he does a routine with 3-4 characters simultaneously.

What to check out? He's been doing comedy for nearly 20 years, but only recently has he gained more popularity with some TV specials. I recommend watching Spark of Insanity, if anything for the first appearance of Achmed, the dead terrorist. It's great stuff.

2. Frank Caliendo
This guy does so many different impressions, it defies reason. When performing, he'll jump around from voice to voice with ease and keep you in stitches. I remember watching him years ago when he was a part of the cast of MadTV, and that's pretty much where his career took off. His most recognizable impression has got to be John Madden, but he does so many others like Jay Leno, Dr. Phil, Robert De Niro, Robin Williams, Rod Roddy, Jack Nicholson, George W. Bush, Rick Moranis ... you name it, he does it.

What to check out? Anything you can find would be worth watching, but I'm most impressed with his routine imitating the cast of Seinfeld, and his awesome Al Pacino. "Liar, liar ... pants on FIRE!!!"

1. Pablo Francisco
An amazing impressionist, yet I wouldn't say he fits so neatly into that genre of stand up. He's like a comic who just happens to be able to combine his jokes with impressions, sound effects, and beat boxing to create a strange alter-reality of characters and situations. He does a huge variety of characters and celebrity voices in his energetic performances: Droopy Dog, Jackie Chan, Keanu Reeves, Chris Rock, Arnold Schwartzenegger, Gary Busey, Danny Glover, Jerry Springer, Dennis Hopper, Michael J. Fox. The list goes on and on.

Many impressionists can be boring for following a predictable pattern of delivery. "Here's an impression of Bill Clinton" (Does Clinton bit). "Okay, now here's Bob Hope" But Pablo Francisco integrates the voices into his stories and makes the whole thing more engaging. His material is erratic, but utterly hilarious. He can pull off spot on impressions, and before you know what hit you, he's on to something else. An incredible performer and vocal talent.

What to check out? His best bits usually involve doing the voice of the movie trailer guy (Don LaFontaine), and it's gut busting. If anything, watch his stand up special, Ouch! You won't be disappointed.


RyHo said...

I recognize a few of the guys on the list. Most notably Kevin Pollak. You're right, his Walken is amazing. If you close your eyes, you might as well be hearing the man himself.

I've seen Jeff Dunham do some Achmed stuff on YouTube, and it's funny that you said when he does stuff that's corny, you still enjoy it because he's so committed. That's my exact thoughts on the guy. Some of the stuff Achmed says is silly, but you still laugh because he's so into it.

Also, I've only seen Caliendo in those commercials he did recently (can't remember what for) but his impressions were mind-blowing.

Great list.

Shane Patenaude said...

I'm glad someone could recognize some of these wacky fellows.

The Caliendo commercials are mind-blowing. His impression of Jeff Goldblum and Richard Dreyfus are wicked.

Cole D'Arc said...

probably Caliendo's most dead-on impression is of Roddy Rod or whatever his name is from The Price Is Right. he's dead now but we've still got Caliendo, thank goodness.