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Impressionist Jim Meskimen and Shakespeare isn’t Hard | Bard in Multimedia

By August 11, 2014 No Comments
Ross (left) and Jim are The Impression Guys, SoulPancake's web series.

Ross (left) and Jim are The Impression Guys, SoulPancake’s web series.

Oscar Wilde might argue that “Life imitates Art” rather than “Art imitates Life,” but for impressionist Jim Meskimen both are true. In his new web series The Impression Guys, where he plays Jim Marshall, Meskimen’s real life experiences creep into the plot lines—albeit exaggerated—and at other times his life is like living an episode from his sitcom.

The concept is that he and his buddy Ross Marvin (Ross Marquand) dream up a 12-step program to wean themselves off their lucrative careers as celebrity impressionists to become serious dramatic actors. Their nirvana is to perform one of Shakespeare’s most famous tragedies, Hamlet. (The show is produced by SoulPancake Productions, owner and founder is Rainn Wilson, who is best known as crazy Dwight from the hit NBC sitcom series The Office.)

The Impression Guys’ writer and director Ben Shelton, also the creator of the web series Flipside, has spent many hours chatting with Meskimen and Marquand about their lives as celebrity impressionists, and he uses his findings to create the story lines.

“I’ve never done celebrity phone interviews with reporters (like in the web series), but one time a Spanish radio station asked me to do a Woody Allen impression for an interview situation.” Meskimen stopped the interview when he noticed that the disc jockey wasn’t telling the audience that he was doing an impression.

“Ross has gone into auditions where they say, “Do it like Matthew McConaughey,” which gave him the feeling he didn’t have a shot because the casting director didn’t want him. Other real-life meets sitcom situations include when Meskimen was asked to narrate a small section for a video to promote an event that Ron Howard was to attend. “I wondered why they just didn’t get Ron to do it. I later asked Ron about it,” and he said, ‘Yes, I heard. I thought I had a cold.’” The cast and crew of The Impression Guys have just shot seven more episodes, which will be available this October. This season’s guest comedians include Weird Al Yankovic and Kevin Pollock.

Meskimen has been an actor for 30 years. He’s known for his reccurring roles on the British series Whose Line Is It Anyway? and The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, on which he played a school teacher who did impressions, and he has worked with director Ron Howard on five films including Apollo 13, EDtv, and How the Grinch Stole Christmas.

Shakespeare has been a part of Meskimen’s world since his early years. “My mother and father were both actors. There was a great love of language in our house.” He grew up listening to LPs of Richard Burton’s Broadway performance of Hamlet. One of his earliest memories at the age of four is watching Olivier’s Richard III on TV. His mother, Marion Ross of Happy Days, has had a long-time relationship with the San Diego Globe, where he saw Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

While he has yet to perform in a Shakespeare play, he is famous for his hilarious Shakespeare celebrity monologues, which have gone viral on the Internet. For these, he goes in and out of numerous celebrity voices in rapid-fire succession. His most seen video (almost a million views) is Clarence’s monologue about his nightmare from Richard III. Easily, he slips through the voices (with great precision) of Woody Allen, Richard Burton, Jimmy Stewart, President G.W. Bush, William Shatner, George Clooney, Casey Kasem, Johnny Carson, Jack Nicholson and many others, taking on their facial features and body language as well as their voices. Currently, he is working on two new celebrity Shakespeare monologues: Hamlet’s advice to the players and Gloucester’s “Now is the winter of our discontent” speech.

What lies ahead, he isn’t completely certain. He does plan to continue The Impression Guys, which he loves because it gives him the opportunity to play a lead character with lots of lines rather than just the typical two-minute roles. Beyond that he is evaluating what he wants to do for the rest of his career. Gigs are plentiful for him. Coming this September, The Impression Guys will be featured in the Burbank International Film Festival. Jim and co-star Ross will attend with director Ben Shelton to discuss the series.

Like his character in The Impression Guys, Meskimen wants to perform in a Shakespeare play, but his dream role isn’t the moody Prince of Denmark, rather the comedic Bottom in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and he’d like to tackle larger roles that give him room to stretch out as an actor.

“I’m an actor who does some impressions. I don’t wake up wondering what impressions I want to learn next.” Rather, he’d like to work on a piece where he could “blend drama and comedy, funny and sad and vexing.”

“If the career isn’t happening, you make it happen. You reach and try something new, you call someone, you put up a show, you write something.” Don’t wait for something to come to you. Learn more about Meskimen at JimMeskimen.com.

Shakespeare isn’t hard:

Four elementary-age kids explain the story of Hamlet in Christopher Gerson's latest comedic video from the Great River Shakespeare Festival.

Four elementary-age kids explain the story of Hamlet in Christopher Gerson’s latest comedic video from the Great River Shakespeare Festival.

Actor and filmmaker Christopher Gerson has become a popular guy with his comic Shakespeare-inspired video creations presented online by the Great River Shakespeare Festival in Minnesota. His latest involves four elementary-school age kids explaining the plot of Hamlet. The comic element comes in as the adult actors mouth the kids words and do a stellar job of adding child-like expressions to match the kids’ voices. The video ends with the titling, “Somethings are hard to understand. Shakespeare isn’t,” and a little long-haired blonde asking, “Wait! What do you mean? Why wouldn’t I understand it?”

This weekly column publishes each Monday and covers books, films, recordings, web content, videos, video games, radio, television, and all emerging mediums. Send all press releases and comments to the Associate Editor for Multimedia, Deborah Voorhees at multimedia@theshakespearestandard.com.

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