Growing up in the Chicago Suburbs, a boy is practically left to his own devices to come up with role models. Couple that with two parents who gave me total free rein to discover what I loved, an important reason as to why I was able to become an opera singer and not have the usual diatribe pressed against me of my chosen profession not being "practical," and you're left with a mass of confusion the likes of which have been unequaled in the echelons of individual personal growth.
But I was very scientific in my approach: I kept my eyes open and never discounted someone just because they were odd and didn't look like they should be on the cover of National Geographic, let alone Sports Illustrated's Swimsuit Edition (though I think it would have been interesting to give Carol Channing a crack at that. Can you imagine the cover? Hello Dolly: Carol Channing Bares it All on Jamaican Beach. Don't picture that for too long or you might get an aneurysm.) I waded through the waters of comedic geniuses, collecting such idols as Alice Ghostly, Nancy Kulp, Kathleen Freeman, Eleanor Audley, Joan Rivers, and Phyllis Diller, as well as the great Broadway Divas, the ranks of which include Bea Arthur, Ethel Merman, Christine Ebersole, Christine Baranski, Angela Lansbury and many many other brilliant artists. But, there are two who have always appealed to me on a very personal level.
The first is a woman whose voice I first hear as Pearl the Whale, Mr. Krabs' enormous, leaking daughter on Spongebob. Since first hearing her voice, I have sought out every voice acting gig she's every done and have squealed with glee when I've heard her voice in commercial as a talking chameleon selling paint, much to my father's confusion. Her comedic timing is impeccable, her singing voice is gorgeous and earthy and her beauty is breathtaking.
The second is a woman who made me first choke with tears, as I saw her beautiful performance as Judy Garland on Youtube, and then erupt with laughter as I saw her on such shows as Reno 911 and Raising Hope. She even crossed over to my favorite genre of movie, Horror, when she appeared in Rob Zombie's Halloween II alongside Malcolm McDowell. Her spunky acting style, accompanied by a silver-throated singing voice and intelligent role preparations, have endeared her to me more than words can describe.
They are Lori Alan and Mary Birdsong, respectively.
These two women, whether they appear together or apart, have always been beacons of happiness in my life. They touch me in that simple way that I used to feel when I watched I Love Lucy, as they are the comedic inheritors of the comedy Lucille Ball and Vivian Vance so excelled at: a brilliant mix of slapstick, deadpan and irony.
You need only watch them perform together in this absolutely hilarious number to see why I am so enamored by these gutsy women:
Along with those absolute titans I've mentioned, they inspire because, even though they are comedic geniuses, they've stayed humble and down-to-earth. They interact with their social media fans, myself included, with good-natured humor and a passion of the many many fans they've amassed. Their comedic timing is impeccable, crackjack and something I'm constantly in awe of.
This blog has no agenda behind it: It's simply a tip of the hat to two people who taught me that you should never betray your own unique self to "get ahead" as a perform, quite the contrary, you need to embrace the macabre and the silly in order to be well-rounded people! So many people cloister themselves and only like what people tell them, following like sheep and never delving into a world they've never touched before.
As I say in my book, The Mistakes of a Better World, "In my life, I have one gargantuan motto: 'Never close your eyes, because inspiration can come from the most unlikely of places.' " If you don't challenge yourself, if you don't force yourself to open your eyes, you'll never know what might be lurking just out of your periphery.
I've always imagined what I would say to them if I met them at a convention or performance and it is short and simple:
Lori and Mary, thank you for making me laugh, making me cry and teaching me that no matter what your physical appearance, no matter what you are given at birth, if you believe in yourself and never give up, you'll be able to travel to the moon and back if you so wish. People underestimate the power of humor, and I have learned so much from both of you that I will feel eternally grateful. One day, I'll be able to shake your hands and say, "Thank you for being an inspiration to me in more ways than mere words can express."
(P.S. Both of them have websites that you definitely should check out!: