(Originally printed by OC WEEKLY, Thursday, June 1, 2006)
Tom Tully travels OC, LA and the USA impersonating former Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous host Robin Leach.
Do enough people still know who Robin Leach is to make this a viable career?
Well, the people I’m dealing with usually have a lot of money, so they tend to be over 30. Maybe younger people haven’t heard of him as much [laughs], but that’s not really my problem. Even if people don’t know his name, they know that voice. I don’t look exactly like Leach—I look like his son, maybe—but the voice is the important thing, and the tuxedo. I was a lawyer for three years in Chicago, mostly because of a promise to my dad, but I really wanted to be a performer. Now I do voice work in Hollywood and Sunday shows as part of the Off the Wall improv troupe at the Eclectic Theatre in Santa Monica. The demand for the Leach impersonation is seasonal. I’ll do three events in a row, then I won’t get hired for three months. It’s impossible to build a career around just this.
What sort of events are these? What do you do?
I do private parties, night clubs, a lot of corporate events, and I get flown all around the country. I’m there to make your party rich and famous. As people are coming in, I’ll be there to shake their hands. [Leach voice] “Hell-o! I haven’t seen you since that night in Montevid-yow! We’re going to have a whopping good time!” I have to get people talking, get people dancing, and then at a certain point I know when to back off. I’ve done bus tours for groups, boat tours, showing them all the glamorous local spots … or the most glamorous local spots I can find, which can be a real challenge sometimes. A while ago I was booked for a boat tour and I got to the dock and the pilot hadn’t shown up. I grew up around boats, so I took them out there on this little putt-putt myself and gave them the tour.
Wow. I thought maybe you’d stand there all night saying, “Champagne wishes and caviar dreams!”
No, you really have to think on your feet. Sometimes I’ll get there and people will say, “You’re our entertainment for the night!” I’m not really a standup comedian, but I’ll have 20 minutes to come up with a whole routine. I’ll find out as much as I can about the guests, and I’ll present nefarious awards based on their quirks. Like, if somebody was caught sleeping at their desk, or if they got a double bogie golfing, I’ll give them some silly award for that. One time I did an event for a Beverly Hills plastic surgeon who’d just been on TV; he was frantic to get everybody to watch the tape, but he couldn’t get their attention. Finally I told them all [Leach voice], “We’re going to need your attention over here, or the doctor is going to show all of your ‘before’ pictures!” Got a huge laugh. I’ll tease people, but you have to use kid gloves—no jokes about somebody being fat or whatever. Y’know, Leach never says a bad word about anybody.
Did anybody ever take offense?
I worked an event a while ago, a post-election thing, after a run-off—I won’t say where. I made a joke about them settling the election in the parking lot with mud wrestling. The mayor was a lady, and apparently she didn’t take too kindly to that. It’s a fine line.
Does doing that loud, high Leach voice all night blow out your vocal chords?
I’m also a singer, and I keep my voice in good shape. I practice an hour a day. You get into the routine so you can practice anywhere. I’ll practice while I’m driving, while I’m paying bills.
Are there stresses to this job that people wouldn’t imagine?
It can be a grind. You’re dealing with new people constantly, and you never know what to expect. People give you vague directions—“Oh, it’s right by the San Diego ballpark, you can’t miss it!” You have to be very clear about how long you’ll be there, or there can be issues when your time is up and they want more. I’ve had to be very insistent about when a gig was over. Sometimes there’s no place to get dressed before the show. I’ve had to change in the parking lot.
You couldn’t put on the tux before you got there?
No, you have to look immaculate, and the tux would get wrinkled while you were driving. Like Dean Martin said, always put on your tuxedo pants right before you go onstage! But y’know, I’ll tell you about the best gig I ever worked. It was an event in Palm Springs, me and a Marilyn Monroe impersonator. We had to get the crowd dancing, so we got out there, and she really did look just like the young Marilyn. She had a fiancée, nothing happened between us, and I’ve never worked with her again. But I’ll never forget that night. I thought, “Wow, y’know, I’ve been flown out here to Palm Springs so I can dance with Marilyn Monroe . . . I have the best job in the world!”