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Morris's presidential parodies are sound but too safe

Doing political impressions is tricky. People in positions of authority are prime targets for parody, and everyone watching is familiar with their mannerisms -- the way they speak, arch their eyebrows, cock their head, or flutter their eyelids. And even after a comedian has all that down, playing up certain traits like, oh , say a president's tendency to forget what he's talking about in the middle of a sentence, he then has to come up with witty things to say that make fun of the person he is pretending to be -- and maybe even give his audience new insight.

This is the challenge facing Framingham native Jim Morris in his ``Presidential Follies" act at Jimmy Tingle's this month, a nearly two-hour show beginning with Morris's incomprehensible high school English teacher and ending with Ronald Reagan visiting a napping George W. Bush in a dream. ``This is a democracy," Morris said, wearing a suit and tie and standing beside a podium with a presidential seal. Then he checked his watch. ``Still is."

If you've heard Morris's dead-on, put-you-to-sleep Al Gore drawl on the radio ads, you know he's a talented impressionist. He's also a thorough one. He crooked a lame right arm at his side as Bob Dole and set his lips in a surprisingly Tom Brokaw-like way. He nailed the caught-in-the-back-of-his-throat voice of Al Sharpton, embodied the stiff-armed, no-neck look of Richard Nixon, and jabbed his thumb in the air in the style of George H.W. Bush (pronouncing Yale with two syllables: Ya-el ).

The second act was devoted to the younger Bush, beginning with a commencement address in which the smirking, shrugging president, dressed in a cap and gown, told the inspiring family history of Curly from ``The Three Stooges." Then he made a three-word statement -- ``911; terrorism; Al Qaeda." -- and opened it up to questions from the audience.

Morris's Bush is his best impression -- from the eyebrows to the swagger to the intellect, or lack thereof -- and the audience ate it up. But as a whole, his act didn't go far enough. His material just wasn't that clever, and some of it was downright groan-worthy. He had some funny jokes, such as the Rene Descartes -- or was it Neil Diamond? -- line: ``I think, therefore I am, I said." But many of his routines felt shallow and safe. A look at his client list on his website suggests that he must be a hoot at corporate events. At a one-man show in a small theater, though, Morris might want to try loosening his tie and really digging in.

The night could have used more unexpected moments, such as the bizarre bathroom scene in which Reagan saluted his urine as he flushed it down the toilet. Did Reagan really do this? Who cares? A political impersonator has no obligation to stick to the facts, but he should at least try to put his First Amendment rights to the test.

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