Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Imitation Is the Sincerest Form of Flattery!

“The only way around is through.” ~Robert Frost
Happy Full Moon! Today, I have a confession to make and this may surprise you. I'm not a huge fan of "impersonation" or "drag"! As a matter of fact, I hate those two words! Carol Channing says that if it is done without malice, it is a tribute. But so many people who go into this profession will fall into cheap gimmicks to appease the audience.
When a Barbra "impersonator" for example starts crossing the eyes", or when a Bette Davis impersonator starts flailing around a cigarette, or a Cher impersonator starts to warble or roll the tongue around instead of being true to who they are performing as, they are not being true to their subjects and/or their audiences.
What they end up doing is editorializing (putting a spin on their subjects and/or filtering through their eyes). And when they start to be bitchy or catty, they definitely lose me. However, there are many TRUE artists in this profession and THOSE I love! Today, I would like to share some of them with you.

A few years ago, I was in San Francisco for a week that was to honor Carol Channing. I had donated some of my costume collection to The Museum of Performance and Design. They were doing a retrospective on Carol's Life And Career. There were many events happening that week to commemorate this event. However, on the Sunday night prior, Carol fell and fractured her hip.

I arrived in San Francisco late Sunday night and when I got the call the next morning from Harlan Boll, Carol's publicist and friend, I was devastated. I even thought for a moment about not staying the week. Harlan told me to sit tight till I heard from Carol and Harry. When I spoke with Harry, he asked if I could stat till Friday night for the gala evening being hosted by the Museum honoring Carol Channing.
I agreed to stay. Then I got a call from Theatre Rhinoceros.

They were doing a Carol Channing look alike contest the next night(Carol originally was scheduled to be there). They asked if I now would be a judge! At first, I turned them down. I didn't want anyone to think that I was exploiting Carol in any way. Then I got a call from Harlan saying that Carol wanted me to do this for her! Then I got a call from Carol saying she would love for me to be there and speak on behalf of The Foundation (Dr. Carol Channing-Harry Kullijian Foundation For The Arts). I said I would do it as "Richard", not as "Carol". Carol said, "I like Richard, too!".

Well, the next night was a blast! I loved all the entertainers.
They all were wonderful.

Here is the winner: Jordan L'Moore as Carol Channing!When the SF Bay Guardian heralded Jordan L'Moore as being "so beautiful it hurts", they only scratched the surface of this multi talented performer... not only is Miss L'Moore dazzling to look at, she's also an expert safe cracker and master of disguise who will stop at nothing in her pursuit of fast cars, flawless jewels, and fabulous friends.

Thanks to my friend, Sandra Holiday, I've been introduced (on line) to Jacquie Peters.

Jacquie is a flawless tribute artist honoring Shirley Bassey!Jacqui Peters with a tribute to Dame Shirley Bassey at the San Carlos Theater in Key West January 2011 - with her Encore - and Michael L. Waters opened as Dame Edna... Presented by Bobby Green

And here is Carolyn Rowe as Dame Shirley Bassey:

I am probably one of the luckiest guys in the world to have the FRIENDSHIP and support that I have from Carol Channing. That truly is the greatest gift that has come out of my career and means more to me than anything else. There are very few in this profession where that happens. It has also happened to my friend Michael Walters as Dame Edna. He has earned the respect of Barry Humphries(Dame Edna) and with good reason. He IS the BEST! A native of Hope, Arkansas, Michael was delivered by the same nurse who delivered former President Bill Clinton. That nurse also happened to be his late grandmother, Wilma Booker.
Michael began performing as soon as he realized he had an unquenchable thirst to be the center of attention. A natural mimic, Michael began as a miniature Rich Little - doing impressions of the entire cast of The Muppet Show, Archie Bunker and countless other television icons - and he hasn't stopped since. Fortunately, some of the impressions have gotten better over time.As a performer, Michael has appeared in over 75 musicals and dozens of other dramas and comedies from Neil Simon to Shakespeare. Michael has performed for audiences across the country in some of the nation's finest regional theatres as well as for thousands of people a day at Walt Disney World. At Disney, Michael had the honor of appearing for three years in the longest running musical show in the history of the American Stage: The Hoop Dee Doo Revue, which has been continually running at Walt Disney World for 35 years. Michael was an original cast member of FINDING NEMO: THE MUSICAL, originating the role of Bruce the Shark. Michael has toured nationally as a soloist with the Mantovanni Orchestra and with Troupe America's BABES IN TOYLAND.Michael L. Walters starred as Dame Edna in A Royal Audience with Dame Edna at the Golden Apple Dinner Theatre January 4th -16th in Sunny Sarasota, Florida!

For several years in Vegas, there was the Fil Jessee's IGCITA (International Guild For Celebrity and Tribute Artists). I went for three years. The organization, unfortunately, disbanded and fell apart. I won a Cloney Award and I hosted three different showcases. One of my greatest gifts from that experience is my friendship with Shaon Daniels. One of the best impressionists around! Sharon Daniels is an unusually talented and versatile comic impressionist and celebrity impersonator. At an early age she exhibited the ability of vocal mimicry by duplicating the voices of teachers, parents and friends.(Just like Carol Channing!) Honing her skills in stand up comedy clubs, Sharon has developed a wide range of hilarious impersonations of comedians, actors, vocalists, and well known personalities, both female and male. Her range includes not only celebrity voices, but duplication of foreign or regional accents. She has a successful show of impersonations, comedy and singing... does radio and TV spots... and was featured on the Oprah Winfrey Show, was a finalist on 30 Seconds To Fame, and had a recent spot on the Tonight Show. Sharon was awarded the "Cloney" in Las Vegas for Best Female Celebrity Impressionist by the International Guild of Celebrity Impersonators and Tribute Artists in 2003 and 2004.
Sharon Daniels is also a lyricist. She enjoys writing poems on all subjects and for all occasions, and recently wrote and sang lyrics to a tune that was just released by World Domination Music Ltd. in 2007, called "Building Dreams". Music by Barry Watson (www.barrybwm.plus.com), Lyrics by Sharon Daniels.

I appeared with Randy Roberts in Atlantic City at Trump's Taj Mahal for eight weeks. I also saw Randy this summer in Provincetown. A TRUE artist! DO NOT MISS HIM!
Nationally known female impersonator Randy Roberts will return to New Hope on May 28 with his newest version of "Randy Roberts Live!," a multimedia tribute to some of the world's most loved performers.
Roberts' uncanny impersonations of Joan Rivers, Cher and Bette Midler have kept him in the spotlight for the past 20 years. His roster of famous and infamous ladies also includes: Mae West, Joan Crawford, Carol Channing, Ann Miller, Phyllis Diller (an act which landed him on "The Jenny Jones Show" with the real Phyllis Diller), and a bevy of original ladies, including Gypsy Rose Lee, to whom he pays tribute, and audience favorite, Consuela-The Latin Showgirl. This time around, he'll also be bringing with him a version of Lady Gaga.
Roberts closes every show with a mini-lounge act, allowing the audience to ask him questions. But he's not just an impersonator.(Source: Naila Francis)

My idol, the one that I aspire to be as good as is Jim Bailey! I remember the very first time I saw Jim Bailey on television. It was shortly after Judy had passed on and it was on the Ed Sullivan show. I was blown away. I have been lucky enough to see Jim perform live several times!
Jim performing his Judy tribute Judy Garland for Prince Charles on British television singing Over the Rainbow from the Wizard of Oz.
for more visit www.jimbaileyweb.com
“One of the most astonishing acts ever”. . .
San Francisco Chronicle

“Defies disbelief, uncanny and classy”. . .
London Times

“Overwhelming…hypnotic... A supreme consummate performer!” New York Times

“Jim Bailey is one-of-a-kind, an authentic original!”. . .
Los Angeles Times

“Watching Bailey is like watching Hal Holbrook as Mark Twain, Robert Morse as Truman Capote or Julie Harris as Emily Dickinson. His work is in that class.”. . .
Boston GlobeJim performing 'Before the parade passes by' from 'Hello Dolly' on a tv special.
This is one of my favorites.

Sandra Holiday has also introduced me to Ceri Dupree!


The following article was to announce my appearance in Provincetown this past AugustChanneling Channing :: Richard Skipper on "Carol Channing in Concert"

by David Foucher, EDGE Publisher -

In the world of gay cabaret, female impersonators are ubiquitous - but precious few can say they are adored by those they imitate. When Richard Skipper takes the stage as Carol Channing, he dons both the actresses’ ring and her ringing endorsement of his work.

"We’ve become very good friends," Skipper says of his relationship with the actress he emulates. "We talk all the time, she calls me to ask how I am. She was in New York three weeks ago and we spent the afternoon together. She’s thrilled with what I’m doing."

Skipper admits his is not a usual line of work; he eschews the term "drag" when its used to describe his artistry - but he doesn’t mind telling a willing listener how he was dragged into his career.

"I watched a lot of television when I was young," he begins. "As a kid I mimicked everything I saw on TV. And one of the things I remember really well was Lucille Ball doing her imitation of Carol Channing."

Via television he discovered a yearning to act; and as a young thespian, he rapidly bloomed.

"I started out in musical theatre, of course," he quips. "I was first in ’Mame’ - and no, I was not Mame, I was young Patrick. I came to NYC when I was 18 to pursue this as a career. And had some one then said to me that I would be doing what I’m doing now, I would never have believed it."

But when Skipper was called to sing "Hello Dolly" in a Manhattan piano bar one night, he took Lucille Ball’s lead... and ended up with a startling change in direction.

"I was nineteen," he rcalls, "but I got up and I sang as Carol. The place just went crazy.
Afterwards, someone asked me what my drag name was. Look - I grew up on a farm in South Carolina - I didn’t even know what that meant. She said, ’Well obviously you do this professionally.’"

Her statement was prophetic; he was briefly added to a gay-themed theatrical show performing as Channing - the gig didn’t last, but at its close he had added to his arsenal a critical next weapon: the outfit.

For the span of a few years, Skipper continued to work odd jobs - messenger, waiter, temp - while entertaining crowds each Halloween as the famous actress. He slowly developed a reputation for his high-quality emulation. And then, in 1994, Broadway called.

It didn’t call Skipper - at least, not yet. Instead, Carol Channing returned to the Great White Way in ’Hello Dolly," and the fervent fans in the gay community celebrated her return.
One of the organizations to officially mark the event was the New York Gay Men’s Chorus, who that year produced a tribute to Jerry Herman.

To Skipper, the confluence of events seemed the perfect opportunity. He began researching and preparing a show, and then reached out to the chorus.

"I started campaigning to do a number in that show. I faxed, emailed, everything -= all on deaf ears," he laments. "But a week or two before the concert, a friend called up and asked what I was doing the night of the concert. He was planning the post-party, and Carol and Jerry were both going to be there."

He then asked Skipper to crash the party dressed as Channing, and suggested that Skipper prepare a few numbers in case there was an opportunity to perform. Skipper debated about this unusual chance to meet his idol - but not for long.

"I went down to the Regent that night, and I walked into the bar. The entire place went crazy.
They walked me through to Carol’s table, and they said, ’Carol we have a surprise for you - this is Carol Channing.’"

"I went down to the Regent that night, and I walked into the bar," and here, Skipper pauses for effect. "The entire place went crazy. They walked me through to Carol’s table, and they said, ’Carol we have a surprise for you - this is Carol Channing.’ she looked up and she said, ’Where did you learn to do this?’"

Skipper has - consciously or unconsciously - begun flawlessly channeling Channing in my presence.

"I said, ’Bennington College in Vermont, you do know where that is Carol? It’s the lower left-hand corner of the map, the part of the state that’s always purple.’ Of course this is material from her act.

"She started laughing, and she asked, ’How long have you been impersonating me?’ And I said, ’Who’s to say you’re not impersonating me?’"

A friendship was struck, and Channing asked Skipper to sit with her. She grilled him on his life, and he responded with hers, in complete character. "She said I was scaring the hell out of her," he brags.

"Well I didn’t want to monopolize her," he continues. "But I did say I wanted to do a song for her before she left. She said, ’You want to do a song for me?’ I said, ’Actually I would like to do my whole show for you, but I don’t think you have the time.’ She said, ’I’ll make the time, you just tell me when and where.’ I said, ’Upstairs in ten minutes.’ And she stood up and she announced to the entire room: ’I never thought I would say these words, but in ten minutes we’re all going to see Carol Channing.’"

She was good to her word, sitting on a stool in front of the nervous Skipper as he performed his new show. At the end of the performance, Channing jumped up on stage and presented him with a ring of hers, placing it on his finger.

"As long as you keep this," she said to him, "I will always be on stage with you."

The audience cheered. Skipper laughs, remembering: "She then told me, ’There are two things I don’t like about your show, you look better and you sound better than I do.’"

With her ring - and her ringing endorsement - in hand, Skipper left behind odd jobs and took his act on the road. Over the past ten years, he’s played from coast to coast, earning awards and accolades, many for his recent production, "An Evening with Carol Channing." He’s not played in New York for three years, and returns this month with a full band and a musical tribute entitled, "Carol Channing in Concert," playing sporadically during Gay Pride month at the Hideaway Room at Helen’s NYC. He describes the show as a loving musical-comedy tribute.

"I call it loving because most people who do impersonations are mean and nasty," he asserts. "Most people who do that are making fun of the people they’re impersonating. They’re putting their own spin on people. I don’t need to put a spin on Carol, she’s bigger than life as she is. I’m 45 now. I present Carol exactly as she was at 45. Imagine her then - she was doing ’Hello, Dolly,’ she had done ’Thoroughly Modern Millie,’ she had a lot of wonderful things behind her and in front of her. And I present her at that point of her life, at her heyday."

The show is also a throwback to the popular supper clubs of the 1950s and 60s. Those who wish to merely see the show may do so; but for those who wish to truly immerse themselves in the experience, a full dinner is held prior to curtain. And then, Skipper tells her story through song. His focus, this time, is on the music... and with luck, a different kind of return to Broadway for Carol Channing.

"I want to do this show on Broadway," he states without hesitation. "The buzz is already great. At my first preview there were three women who said they wanted to invest in the show. I have three theatre companies coming in to see the show. It’s selling out every night. That’s the goal. I want to do this show on Broadway."

With determination and critical acclaim in equal evidence, he may just succeed - which makes "Carol Channing in Concert" a homecoming to remember.

All you have to do today is bask in the LOVE and talent that surrounds you!
Go see a live show tonight at The Metropolitan Room!

Tomorrow's blog will be Michael Holmes...and other suggestions I receive!

Please contribute to the DR. CAROL CHANNING & HARRY KULLIJIAN FOUNDATION FOR THE ARTS: http://www.carolchanning.org/foundation.htm
Richard Skipper, Richard@RichardSkipper.com


  1. Thank you for sharing these Richard! I like you used to watch hours of television and sing along with the Lawrence Welk show, never missed Lucy, Carol, Ann Margret, nor a single Variety show! What treasures you share here! You are a gem and Carol in that interview! Bravo! :D

  2. Thank you, Kristy! You made my day! Please pay it forward! :-) With grateful XOXOXs for your support!
    Richard Skipper