USA Network’s new competition show First Impressions pits up-and-coming comedic talent against each other for a weekly prize of $10,000 bestowed to the best impressionist. Not bad for a day’s work -- even if it takes a lifetime of practice to get there.
To shepherd the contestants, First Impressions has brought in one of the greats: SNL alum Dana Carvey, who will serve as the expert-in-residence to mentor the competitors week over week. Carvey will be joined by a celebrity guest mentor in each episode -- look out for Steve Carell tonight -- and the show’s host, Freddie Prinze Jr.
USA Network chatted with Carvey and Prinze during a conference call with reporters and learned some interesting facts about the show and its talent, such as:
It captures the vibe of a comedy club…
...because it is a comedy club! Prinze Jr., who grew up around comedians, felt right at home of the set of First Impressions, which was filmed in a Los Angeles-based comedy club.
“When this came up, it was like, ‘Hey you're going to basically be in a comedy club with Dana Carvey, hanging out with comedians and impressionists who are seeing who the funniest one is that night.’” Prinze Jr. recalled. “As a little boy, Budd Friedman used to parade me around the Improv when I was 11 years old… and I would get to watch like all these old-school comedians do their thing. I clearly have a soft spot for comedians but this was very much [like], ‘Hey, do you want to be 12 years old again?’ and that was an easy ‘yes.’”
The impressions are so good, it’s a little scary!
“Some impressions are just so eerily accurate,” Carvey admitted, joking that Prinze Jr. gets a little frightened by them. “I mean, they are scary,” the comedian added. “I've definitely gotten frightened by Frank Caliendo a couple of times doing Morgan Freeman. Is this sorcery? This should not exist in nature!”
Prinze agreed that some of the impressions are so spot-on that his jaw dropped. “I'm sure they'll cut to angles where you see me in the background with my mouth wide open,” the First Impressions host teased. “You'll see a couple of kids on the show where you're like, ‘Oh my God, that kid has got it and I can't wait to see what happens next for him… I genuinely got uncomfortable quite a few times because it felt like the person was in the room and no longer looks [the same].”
Dana Carvey has a Trump impression -- and a Hilary impression
It’s not a proper election year without celebrity parodies of the candidates and, of course, First Impressions’ expert-in-residence Dana Carvey can imitate a number of them. Not only does he have his Trump down, he’s been working on his Hillary too.
“I couldn't really do a Hillary,” Carvey explained, “but now I do because her voice got kind of hoarse... My angle is that she has an ear piece and Bill's behind the scene, [saying in Bill Clinton’s voice] 'Big Dog to Little Hill! Big Dog to Little Hill! Come in, Little Hill. You’ve got to slow down, baby. You've got to slow down. You can't empathize everywhere, baby!'”
The performers do amazing impressions of the opposite sex
Gender seems to matter less and less when it comes to impressions -- and not just for Carvey’s Hillary Clinton.
On the show, men are doing versions of famous women and vice versa with ease and accuracy. “Anytime one of the impressionists was literally able to switch sexes -- and it happened quite a few times,” Prinze Jr. remarked, “we had girls doing Owen Wilson, we had guys doing Sharon Osbourne -- and every time that happens, it's unbelievable; it's magic.”
“I can only do men because of my kind, you know, oversized masculinity,” Carvey deadpanned, “so it's hard for me to do women.”
Changing your voice actually changes your face
For some impressions, nailing the voice can also mean perfecting the face -- though most people don’t think about it that way.
“I didn't notice it until Dana had said it on the show in one of the episodes,” Prinze Jr. explained, “but a lot of times when the voice comes out, your face begins to take the form of the person you're doing.”
The host elaborated, saying that when Carvey does his Trump impression, his face starts to morph like Clayface from the animated Batman series. “It just like transforms into this squished version of Donald Trump,” Prinze Jr. added.
Carvey, who never practices in front of a mirror, noticed that his face was imitating Trump without even trying because he has to shape his mouth a certain way to sound like the presidential hopeful. “You can't do Trump without sort of making your mouth into that -- whatever that is,” Carvey laughed. “It's like a little trumpet. That's why he's called ‘Trump.’”
Ready to see some jaw-dropping impressions? Tune in tonight when First Impressions premieres on USA Network at 10:30/9:30c with special guest Steve Carell!