by Ryan Meehan
John Di Domenico is one of the busiest corporate entertainers in the United States today. His powerful, customized content-driven comedy – as emcee, game show host presenter, or as a cast of hilarious celebrity and original characters – is expressly chosen to exceed the expectations of any event. John has performed his celebrity impersonations for corporate audiences all over the world, and has been seen by millions in the FOX feature film Meet the Spartans as Donald Trump and Disaster Movie as Dr. Phil and The Love Guru. His hilarious Austin Powers impression has been recognized as the best by People magazine, and his viral comedy videos have been seen by thousands of people and garnered rave reviews and comments at his YouTube Page. His most recent Red Eye appearance definitely made an impression on us, and that’s why he’s our guest today in 10 questions.
RM: Who was the first comedian you can remember seeing on television as a child that really made you become interested in the art form? How long after that did it take you to realize that this might be something you could be good at as well?
JDD: The first person who really made me interested in comedy as an art form was George Carlin, and in his early days he was still doing character voices…I would see him on all of the talk shows. As a kid I saw all the different impressionists/comedians of the day on all the talk shows: Rich Little, John Byner, Fred Travalina and Frank Gorshin who I met years later. The first person that really made me sit up and take notice with regards to impressions and impersonations was David Frye. He went beyond just the voice and physicality…his material was brilliant and it was long-form. The first album I ever bought was George Carlin’s “Take Offs and Put Ons”, and the second album was David Frye’s “Richard Nixon: A Fantasy”. It was incredible that I learned so many voices from listen that album. I also learned how to write material from listening.
RM: How much research do you do on a particular firm before doing a corporate gig? What percentage of your set would you say is individually tailored to comment on the company’s day-to-day work environment?
JDD: Too much…I’d say easily 90%. I’ve painted myself into a corner – I could more stock material but then it would feel like I’m cheating, so I learn as much as possible in the time that I’m given. I’m a very curious person and I enjoy learning about companies, their brands, their marketing, their advertising, and the people who sell or make the products.
RM: What was the first impression that you really felt you really aced? Why do you think you ended up crushing that particular impression in the first place; and when did you know that you had the ability to do multiple impersonations as opposed to just one?
JDD: As a kid it was Groucho Marx. Groucho was so childlike he was funny and disobedient and silly and irrepressible. I heard something in his voice and I thought “Oh, I can do that”. I wanted to sound like him, move like him and have every come back that he had when he interacted with Margaret Dumont. He was very musical in the way that he spoke and moved. I noticed I was able to do impressions from the time I was about five years old. My family and neighbors encouraged me to do voices, as they thought I was very entertaining. I actually found it easier then speaking in my own voice because I had a severe speech impediment. From first grade through eighth grade I had speech therapy two times a week, and then through high school I had monthly sessions. Speech therapy actually helped me to understand vocal production better. It taught me nasal placement, throat placement, and physically forming my mouth in the proper shape. I attribute my Donald Trump impression to my Speech Therapy. His voice was extremely difficult to crack.
RM: What was the best part about getting to interact with Tom, Andy, and the rest of the Red Eye Panel on your appearance back in July? Do you get the feeling you’ll be asked to come back on the program in the near future?
JDD: Since we started the interview process I’ve actually already been back on the show. The best part about being on Red Eye with Tom Shillue, Andy and the rest of the panel was the fact that Tom gave me so much creative latitude. I was on for almost a entire hour without any kind of a script. He was just throwing questions at me. For a comedic performer to be on national television and to have that kind of freedom is pretty exhilarating. I attributed that to the fact that Tom trusted me as a performer since we were in an improv troupe together and did some theater in the early 90’s.
RM: What do you think of Darrell Hammond’s Trump; and what areas of his impression did you specifically recognize as being aspects of the impression that you could improve upon?
JDD: Darrell Hammond is a national treasure and has an amazing ear. He’s extremely precise in all of his impressions and impersonations. He seems to somehow absorb who he’s impersonating through his skin. He really has the throatiness of Trump down along with the way he forms his lips, and even how he narrows his eyes.
RM: Your Trump seems to have evolved quite a bit in the seven years since this video was uploaded to YouTube…How much of the difference between that clip and what we see you doing today is a result of how his persona has changed, and how much of it is due to the fact that you’ve just gotten a lot better at what you do?
JDD: It’s definitely evolved in the same ways Trump’s speeches have evolved. I’ve noticed changes in his vocal pattern, especially with his 90 minute candidate speeches. When he was on “The Apprentice”, things were very structured. These current speeches – they’re much more free form and he speaking extemporaneously so I’m seeing another speaking style emerge. I really enjoy it when he interrupts reporters in the middle of a question. It’s something that I’m definitely going to be adding when I can. I’ve been spending a lot of time listening to a lot of his new material to fine-tune my impression/impersonation. Also the more I do this as a vocal artist I think the more I improve, so hopefully my ear and my abilities are getting better.
RM: How do you manage to keep the humor light when the individual you are impersonating is discussing heavy subject matter much in the way Trump has done in recent months? For example, now that he’s attacked Senator John McCain – a former prisoner of war – how do you go about discussing that in character so it doesn’t affect your career in a negative manner? Even though most people are smart enough to separate the comedian from the impressionist, do you ever worry something you say as a character will end up being misconstrued as your own personal opinion?
JDD: This is a great question. As long as the individual doesn’t go “toxic” or become outrageously divisive you can usually work around something. Of course if you’re a Bill Cosby impersonator…you’re screwed. For the most part I find that there is humor in just about everything, and for the remarks about McCain the way Trump positioned himself by saying “I don’t like people who get captured” he built in a comedy escape hatch right there. I never worry about anyone misconstruing my opinions with any of my characters. I make a point to be apolitical and non-opinionated professionally. Having said that, after the two Red Eye with Tom Shillue appearances I have had quite a few interesting positive tweets, direct messages and Facebook posts were people think I am in-line, in all areas with Donald Trump.
RM: What have you learned not to do by watching other people do impressions that you aren’t very fond of?
JDD: Oddly I’ve learned that less is more. It’s more important to be precise in the impression or impersonation than to blowout one element of the person’s vocal style. Having said that, I do make conscious choices with some of my characters to try to be exact, and other ones I do an over-the-top version on purpose because their real style lends themselves to that. The best example would be Dr. Phil, I try to play him as a real human being who is just NOT self-aware making him a little bigger than he actually is.
RM: One of the things I’ve noticed about impressionists who aren’t as talented as yourself is that some of them have the tendency to overact or attempt to sell the impression too much…Is this caused by lack of experience, or just a lack of understanding with regards to the way this art form is supposed to work?
JDD: First, thanks for the compliment and I just wired you five dollars via Facebook Messenger. I can’t speak for other people but as for myself I trained as an actor, was in a theater company, performed off-Broadway and I performed in multiple improv companies in New York City for years. I don’t approach Trump or any of the characters that I do as an “impression” or “impersonation” (even though these are the most used terms) because to me I’m playing a character, I need to speak in that character’s voice and know that character inside and out. Also, it’s my job to make the character relatable. Since most of the time I perform these characters over the course of a number of hours and sometimes days at corporate meetings, they have to be able to work in a long-form scenario.
RM: Out of all the great things that have happened to you over the course of your career so far, which one means the most to you and why?
JDD: I’ve been very lucky and blessed to be in feature films, national commercials and have the opportunity to perform all over the world, but one of the greatest things so far is the relationships I’ve built with the production companies I perform for and the end clients. The best example is MAACO (auto body repair and painting) I’ve done MAACO’s national sales meeting and convention for 12 years, and I’ve become personal friends with many of the franchisees all over the country. The franchisees have been incredibly supportive of me beyond my performances at their meeting. I’m truly honored to be called back each year to host their meeting and spend time with wonderful people and that means a lot to me.
RM: What’s up next for you in the remainder of 2015 and beyond? Anything big in the works that we should know about?
JDD: Well, I just signed a deal with HBO and I will be receiving HBO Go for free for the next 3 months – The negotiations were intense. The rest of the year is falling into place with corporate sales meetings all over the country with well known national brands. I’m sure after the first Republican debate, I’ll probably be doing a lot more Donald Trump and making more appearances on Redeye with Tom Shillue! This is been a great interview. I’m honored by your interest. Thanks First Order Historians!
Official Website: http://johnnyd.net/
John Di Domenico on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/user/didonyc
John on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=110396497724
John on Twitter: http://twitter.com/Johnnyd23
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