Entertainment Spotlight

  • Catching Up: Santana, Taj Mahal and a déjà vu ‘Blue Christmas’

    Posted by Ben Fong-Torres

    By Ben Fong-Torres It’s short shrift time. I have a life that’s ripe (and slightly wrinkled) for blogs and tweeting; for facebooking and updating. I’m just no good at it. My last column here on AsianConnections was about the memorial in late July for my sister Shirley. My last posting on the authors’ site, Redroom, was about a radio promo tour I did (20 stops, all on the phone...

A Super Day in Hollywood, Impersonating an Impersonator

Ben Fong-Torres

A Super Day in Hollywood, Impersonating an Impersonator

Showbiz, like life, is unfair.

This rather obvious fact was brought home as I made my way around a studio in Hollywood one recent day, getting made up as an "Asian Elvis Impersonator" for a new series on Spike TV, and then wander - ing around, in big wig, Elvis shades, a caped red, bejeweled jump - suit, and high-heeled silver boots.

Makeup artists, crew members, fellow cast members would ask, "Where do you do your Elvis act?"

Nowhere. I don't have an Elvis act. I'm not an impersonator.

"How long have you been singing?"

I'm not a professional singer.

"Have you acted long?"

I'm not an actor. A couple of bits here and there, but, no...

And yet, here I am on a show starring "Super Dave," the faux daredevil superstar (created and portrayed by Bob Einstein). Others on this particular episode include Larry David, creator of Seinfeld and star of my favorite show, Curb Your Enthusiasm ; Bob Saget, Carrot Top, Jimmy Kimmel, and a bevy of beautiful girls in scanty bikinis (as if there are any other kind).

How dare me? In this business called show, where hundreds of actors line up to audition for any one tiny bit of work, here I am, wobbling around, set to portray the King of Rock and Roll. And I did nothing to get the part.

Just a couple of days before-on a Saturday morning-I got an e-mail. It was from Julie, a casting director, asking if I might be available Tuesday to play an Asian Elvis impersonator. I thought I was being punked, and told her so. She called to assure me that she was serious, that an actual AEI had fallen sick. (This I did not believe. If I were an Elvis copycat, nothing -- nothing -- would keep me from getting onto a TV show.)

Being an expert at not getting work, I told Julie that I was not an Elvis impersonator; I just liked singing his songs. But she'd seen a video of me singing "Treat Me Nice," originally shown on TV in San Francisco, and now a videoclip on Asian Connections. I'd done the song at Yet Wah, a restaurant with a karaoke bar. They just needed an Asian who sounded like Elvis, Julie said. I'm also not an actor, I warned. She wouldn't give up. "The show is mostly improvised, like Curb Your Enthusiasm ," she said. "You just work off an outline. Mainly, you'll sing 'Amazing Grace.'"

Not exactly an Elvis standard, but they needed it for the storyline.

Julie e-mailed the outline for the show. It was hilarious, in a Spike TV kind of way. (The channel is aimed at men, if you know what I'm sayin'. Thus, the babes in bikinis.)

I began singing "Amazing Grace" around the house, then jumped onto a plane for Hollywood, where it became an amazing race. In mid-morning, I arrived and was shown to my own trailer. It was marked "ELVIS," but it was mine. I relaxed for about a minute, and was summoned to hair and makeup, and then, back in the trailer, with some assistance, worked my way into the star-spangled jumpsuit and those goddamned boots. Then off to the studio for miking, and, of course, the waiting.

Soon, Bob Einstein, in a Super Dave baseball cap and a pullover with "Super" embossed on it, spotted me and came over. "Where do you go from a f---- writer to THIS!" he exclaimed in his trademark hoarse voice. I believe it was a rhetorical question. He told me the show, Super Dave's SPIKE-tacular , would be airing in November on Spike TV.

He ducked back onto the soundstage, where he was doing a scene with a wrestler. I wobbled into the dressing room with "BEAUTIFUL GIRLS" on the door. Several women who appeared obviously qualified for their roles -- and all demurely dressed in robes -- sat around, including Lauren Hayes, who said she'd be introducing me to "Super." She'd be calling me "Aaron Cook," she said.

Odd name for an Asian Elvis Impersonator, I thought. And when we got onto the set to do the scene, I told Einstein that the name was strange for an Asian.

"Really?" he said.

"Well, actually, my dad WAS a cook," I said, but he didn't get the joke. His mind was on a half-dozen other things. (I later learned that there's an Aaron Cook associated with the series.)

Lauren went over the action with him. We'd enter; he'd protest that he'd seen enough impersonators already; she'd insist on introducing me, and I'd launch into "Amazing Grace." He'd respond with some putdown, and we'd walk off, with me still singing. We did a few takes, and on the last one, I did a bit of improv myself. After Einstein listened to-and denigrated-my singing, I said, "Thank you," ala Elvis. He glared at me momentarily, then continued with his line.

"Cut!" And we were done. Einstein declared himself happy, complimented my singing (now that the scene was over), and it was time for lunch, with the kind of food Elvis would love -- meaning lots of it -- and then rode back to the airport.

What could be easier? Especially when you didn't even go out for the job?

I know; it's unfair. But I'll take it.

ON THE RADIO: Last year, I lost my radio show on KFRC-FM here in San Francisco when CBS Radio dropped the music format and switched to all-news. Now, I'm back -- online, anyway. And it's mainly pre-recorded DJ chatter on www.KYAradio.com, an oldies tribute to Top 40 station KYA. Cool music, jingles, a couple of vintage commercials every hour, and I add snippets of classic DJ airchecks and jingles from other stations over the years. I'm on 7 to 9 p.m. Pacific time Monday through Friday. Be there or be square!