Today’s Guest: Fred Travalena, impersonator, comedian
By Bob Andelman
September 30, 1985
In the last 14 minutes of his show, comedian Fred Travalena went nuts.
That’s okay because he’s paid to act that way.
Of course he was the class clown in school, Travalena was saying. And to prove it, he had a list of sound effects and impersonations he would do.
Rapid-fire, he served up: “Beep-Beep!” the Road Runner; mandolins from The Godfather; Marlon Brando as the Godfather; Clint Eastwood (scrunched up face and all) daring the Godfather to “make my day”; Richard Nixon as captain of the Titanic (Crewman: “What was that noise?” Nixon: “Nothing. We’re just stopping for ice.”); Bill Cosby; the entire Roots saga in 45 seconds; Lawrence Welk; Willie Nelson ,(with ponytails and bandana); Mac Davis; Paul Williams; a delightfully obscene Henry Kissinger on his honeymoon; and Johnny Mathis.
TRAVALENA’S HUMOR, rarely off-color and remarkably wholesome, seemed perfect I for the mature crowd of 700 which greeted him at Ruth Eckerd Hall on Saturday night. A younger audience might have found the comedian a touch bland in this day of Eddie Murphy and Richard Pryor, but Travalena repeatedly hit the mark with his older fans.
Before the show, two men and a woman in the auditorium gossiped about Travalena.
“He has the smallest mouth, this guy,” said one man.
“No lips,” tsk-tsked the woman.
“He’s not that young, y’know,” said the man.
“He looks old,” agreed the second man.
“Must be the people he does,” said the first.
“Must be from wrinkling up his face when he does people,” concluded the woman.
Supported by a 14-piece orchestra, Travalena’s gimmick is to contrive situations in which he can tell jokes and do impersonations in dialogue and song.
For openers, he sang “One of a Kind” and interrupted himself to do Redd Foxx in charge of troops at the Battle of Bunker Hill (“Don’t shoot – ‘til you see the whites!”).
AN EXAMPLE OF how well Travalena knew the composition of the crowd came when he mentioned Myron Cohen. His imitation of the old comic storyteller drew hoots of laughter.
Travalena’s best impersonations were the ones when he had the personalities down well enough to do visual as well as audible characteristics. Suggesting Jack Nicholson as Clark Kent in Superman VII, Travalena worked his jaw back and forth, affecting the actor’s expression perfectly beneath sunglasses.
Some bits, such as Ronald Reagan doing Michael Jackson, didn’t fare as well.
One particularly clever bit was a comparative impersonation of Frank Sinatra as a young singer in the ‘40s and as a Gray Panther in the ‘SOs. Hundreds of folks who likely saw Sinatra through his entire career loudly appreciated Travalena’s work.
“A DAY IN the Life of John Doe,” a collection of reactions to the comments of an announcer, was a clever highlight, inspired by a 5O-yearold movie. In Travalena’s well-played version, he’d start jogging pnly to hear a disembodied voice warn of shin splints. Then he’s going to get a suntan but is cautioned about skin cancer. “Maybe you better just go back to bed,” the announcer suggests. “But don’t oversleep – you could get bedsores!”