A Little criticism

22Jan07

This New Yorker article about the selection of impressionist Rich Little as the entertainment for the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner, which is regarded as a deliberately safe choice after last year’s eventful booking of Stephen Colbert, contains this nice bit indicating that his act may be a little dated:

He has a vast repertoire of voices. His Web site features a hundred and sixty-three impersonations, including those of eight cartoon characters, three Muppets, and a hundred and fifteen people who are dead.

Not that any of his targets would be bothered to complain about his bland impersonations, but a full 70 percent would be completely unable to, having preceded the 69-year-old Mr. Little into the grave. And he wonders why he hasn’t had much television work in recent years. Not only does his repertoire of presidential impressions include Eisenhower, but according to the article, his Ike is a featured impression on his website. I wouldn’t be surprised to hear he also does a mean Taft and McKinley, among sundry other celebrities of the Edwardian age. His impressions are so dated, they ought to air the correspondents’ dinner on the History Channel instead of C-Span.

If Mr. Little wants to continue working past retirement age, it might be time to freshen up his act. Kids today aren’t exactly clamoring for impersonations of Maurice Chevalier. It’s kind of like how old Bugs Bunny cartoons have him sending up celebrities such as actor Lionel Barrymore and conductor Leopold Stokowski. Those impersonations probably went over like gangbusters in the 1940s, but they’re completely lost on a modern audience. (On a related note, I’m amazed Mr. Little does only eight cartoon characters. Even I can probably do that many. Of course, this number is probably a little ungenerous, as it doesn’t count Mr. Little’s dead-on impersonations of the animated Lionel Barrymore and Leopold Stokowski, et al.)

That said, becoming more relevant to a modern audience may simply be beyond Mr. Little, as evidenced by this other New Yorker quote:

When asked to name a young comedian he admired, he responded, “Robin Williams. He’s just off the wall.”

Read the article to find out which joke won’t appear at the dinner, being regarded by its creator as funny but far too edgy for such a venue. (Spoiler: The punchline is “between I-raq and a hard place.”) Or, if that’s too inflammatory for you, watch Mr. Colbert’s appearance last year right here.



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