Style, jokes make impressionist Gordie Brown’s show unique

It sounds like stating the obvious: It’s hard to be an impressionist and be original.

Understood, those who choose this peculiar profession are by nature pilfering the creativity of other performers. But many impressionists have trod these boards in Las Vegas, and I will tell you there’s a point where they blur into the generic.

Often you see imitations of an imitation, as when Dana Carvey’s indelible George Bush became as familiar as the president’s real voice. Or you might see an impressionist, in the name of accuracy, add nothing beyond the technique of the actual mimicry.

This is all to explain why Gordie Brown is his own man, even though he is many others. The likable Canadian has been doing this in Las Vegas for six years, and he’s honed a style that’s unique, even if the subject matter isn’t, and full of his own jokes.

Brown can charm the ladies because he’s good-looking enough to be a retro crooner, but the men will recognize that kid from junior high who memorized comedy records and "Saturday Night Live" skits.

His terrain is the song parody (the junior high comparison usually applies here as well), and his muse is Robin Williams. He pummels a Golden Nugget audience with an exhausting barrage of material that goes by so fast you barely have time to decide if it’s funny or even if it makes sense. Brown even acknowledges that Williams-like trick when some silliness gets out of hand: "I don’t even know what that meant."

A show that always sprinted now races without a pause. When the five-piece band sits back to wait until it’s needed again, Brown just keeps running in front of them like a comedic meth head.

I jotted down the names of 66 people he mimicked in 90 minutes, and I might have missed a couple. Some of them were very good impressions — haven’t heard anyone else do Morgan Freeman yet — and some didn’t even remotely sound like the person (Barry Manilow and President Obama among them), but they were a means to a joke.

The impressionist’s usual trick of absurd combinations — Willie Nelson getting tax advice from accountants Forrest Gump and Dustin Hoffman’s "Rain Man" — is expanded by a post-modern commentary on the act itself.

The Tony Bennett imitation is actually a lesson on how to imitate the singer. The Green Day bit has him singing that older folks in the audience are begging, "Wake me up when the Green Day impression ends."

Being downtown and not at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas, he was probably more right about Green Day than when he speculated "young people" in the house might not know who Neil Diamond is.

Playing to the age curve could explain why Brown and other impressionists don’t get to the movies very often. Gump and "On Golden Pond" hang on longer in these shows than they do in the collective memory. Brown is a bit more current with the radio, dancing up a storm to Usher and winningly mashing up Eminem with Mike Myers’ Dr. Evil.

Any impressionist will subject you to Jack Nicholson, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jimmy Stewart. But where else are you going to hear Andrea Bocelli and Axl Rose in the same show?

At the risk of sounding condescending, here’s another essential truth about impressionists. Theirs is a vehicle designed to wow the nonjaded, people who seldom see live entertainment, and those who don’t take the sheer effort of the performance for granted.

On any of those counts, Brown is a guy you should want to see in Las Vegas.

Contact reporter Mike Weatherford at mweatherford@ reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0288.

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