Late last year, a writer friend encouraged me to audition for an upcoming game show (?) hosted by Dana Carvey called “First Impressions.”
Now listen, I am the first to tell you: I never considered myself to be much of an impressionist. Yeah, I made some videos for YouTube that went viral of me pretending to be Tony Soprano, Jack Nicholson, Gary Busey, etc., but it never felt like a craft or skill I was particularly admiring of. Instead, I chose to look at it as an opportunity to explore video-making. YouTube was more about expressing yourself creatively at that time and I was DAMN PASSIONATE about getting my stuff out there as a guy hellbent on paying respective homage to the great actors and characters who inspired me growing up and otherwise. So I deemed these creations “channelings” – which may have came across as pretentious – but it really about methodically inhabiting these personas as if I was some unhinged lunatic literally POSSESSED by the spirit of, say, Tony Soprano. A fictional character, no less! I mean, I WORKED on those videos. It was a JOB to me. I took them SO seriously.
And it was a great run.
The success of the videos brought me a lot of awesome attention, but I also felt it pigeon-holed me in many ways. Like when I started to come up with original characters I’d channel, it seemed a third of my viewership just wanted Tony Soprano over and over and over again. I couldn’t understand why. But now I see, in a post-James Gandolfini world, just how beloved and historic the character was. I mean, I’m not saying I was the next best thing, but let’s face it, Tony Soprano is the greatest television protagonist of ALL time. And when Gandolfini died…in many ways, so did that part of me.
So you can imagine my hesitation to go out for this Carvey project. As it was, I had prepared an entire Christmas scene I was going to do for my try-out in December. But on the very DAY of my scheduled appointment, the super-sweet casting director called to alert me that they had to move offices…and so we had to re-schedule for January. Well, there goes my Christmas scene. Maybe Nicholson can show up at the Bing to wish Tony and Sil a Happy New Year? It was back to the drawing board.
Finally, on the day of my audition, there was a TERRIBLE storm raging. I mean, I could barely get out of my car to go in, it was so windy and rainy and bluster-y. But I valiantly forged through the tempest, nearly breaking my umbrella, and did my thing (oh, I should mention I had also received last-minute instruction to not have a scene featuring a bunch of guys talking to each other. So I basically had to wing everything. If only I was more confident at improvisation.)
I gotta say, I was proud of myself. For pushing myself OUT of my comfort zone and just…going for it. I really didn’t WANT to audition for an impressionist show, be it a game show, reality show, competition show, whatever…but I DID. And if I got accepted, I would go the distance. Give them whatever they wanted. LIVE it. Be OPEN. Why the hell not? FREE exposure! And if it didn’t work out, well, it wouldn’t, like, CRUSH MY SPIRIT or force me into early retirement from performing. Because what the hell else would I even DO with my ridiculous life?
It would just be…another audition. And I. Have. Had. Hundreds.
Well, next thing you know, I got a phone call saying that I was on a “soft hold” for this week. That the “producers loved me” and I had to fill out a ton of paperwork. And it was a LOT. But it was also kind of fascinating. Especially the 17-page background check form. Never had to answer any of those sorts of questions before. (No, I have never been a male stripper.)
Meanwhile, I would check in with a few other dudes I know who were involved, and one definitely got in and had been scheduled to shoot this week. I was very proud and happy for him. But where was my call…?
Well, it came today. In the form of an e-mail. My “soft hold” had been cancelled and I was thanked for my time and participation and told that I would be considered again in the future. I wasn’t going to be a player (?), contestant (?), Tony Soprano channeler (?) on the new Dana Carvey show.
And you know what? I’m really okay with it.
Listen, I’ve been bouncing around this business since I was a scruffy kid in a Newsies cap. I’ve had dry spells longer than Howard Hughes’ fingernails. Sure, they didn’t want me, after all, but it coulda been for ANY reason: He’s too old. He’s too fat. He’s too funny. He’s too unfunny. His impressions suck. His channelings are creepy. WHATEVER. I just know I’m not licked yet. I wish the show all the best and absolutely plan to check it out when it debuts. It’s still been a good few weeks for me. I have NEW episodes of “Kung Fu Panda: Legends of Awesomeness” airing on Nicktoons all this week, starting tonight (I play Master Mantis), I worked on a Nickelodeon animated film last week (got to voice 3 characters), my horror screenplay that I wrote with my buddy Brett is in the hands of a dude over at Lionsgate Films, who’s had some very kind words for it so far…and BEST OF ALL, I get to go in for a COLONOSCOPY next Monday! What could I POSSIBLY have to complain about???
Y’know something? It’s a lotta work being me. And I’m still the guy so many people in Hollywood just don’t know what to do with. After all these years, I’m still getting it all the time: “We love you, Max…we just don’t know what to do with you.”
WINE PAIRING: Maybe I’ll drive up to Wine Impression in San Francisco tonight. Never channeled a bottle of WINE before. Could be interesting…
(Photo by Jen Goller)