Famed impressionist Rich Little might be accused of stealing other people’s voices. But that’s probably OK. In some cases, he knew those voices’ owners.
“I like to do [Ronald] Reagan a lot,” says Little, who is bringing his cornucopia of impersonations to the Arlington Music Hall on Saturday. “I had a great friendship with him, and performed at the White House a lot when he was president. So I have very good memories of him.”
Although many remember Little as doing send ups of primarily actors and singers, his Arlington show will be decidedly presidential.
“I do about seven presidents,” says Little, 78. “I am doing Trump now, and that is getting a good reaction.”
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Little met some of those presidents, in addition to Reagan. Just as he knew some of the celebrities he mimics, like John Wayne.
“He is one of the few actors that a lot of young people do know more than the rest of them. He’s larger than life. I knew him pretty well,” he says. “I show some clips [in my show] of John Wayne commenting on me.”
Young people are really into their laptops and their phones. I appeal to people who remember the golden age of comedy and the movie stars of those times.
But, surprisingly, Little says that knowing his subjects does not always help in constructing an imitation of their voice.
“You have to use the movie, not the person. The audience doesn’t know what their voices are like in real life,” he says.
Little, a Canadian by birth who makes his home in Las Vegas, began developing his impersonating skills while working as a movie usher in his native Ottawa.
He says his Saturday show will offer a look back at his career as an impressionist and comic. And it will also showcase another one of Little’s talents that is not as well known as his abilities as a vocal mimic: Little has long been an avid sketch artist.
“My show is just a lot of history my career, a lot of film clips and a lot of my art,” he says. “I drew before I did impressions. I’ve done hundreds and hundreds of sketches. I’ve got sketches of almost everybody I do in the show.”
And patrons at Saturday’s performance will have the opportunity to take some of that art home, and support military veterans.
“When the show’s over I sell everything — my art and my book and my tapes. And that money goes to the Wounded Warriors,” says Little, alluding to his 2016 book, “Little By Little: People I’ve Known and Been.” “I’ve always been interested in doing things for the troops. They haven’t been looked after. They don’t get what they deserve. So if I can help in any way, I will.”
Although Little continues to update his repertoire of voices (Trump is an example), his Saturday show will be abundant in the impressions that made him famous.
“My show appeals to an older crowd,” he says. “Young people are really into their laptops and their phones. I appeal to people who remember the golden age of comedy and the movie stars of those times. And also singers like Frank Sinatra, Neil Diamond, Tony Bennett and Sammy Davis Jr.”
In the early days of his career, Little was competing with a number of other impressionists. But his style of mimicry is rarely seen today.
“There are not as many [impressionists] as there used to be. I think movie stars get harder and harder to impersonate. They are not as distinctive as the older ones. It’s hard to imitate Brad Pitt, or George Clooney, or Matt Damon,” says Little.
The comedian also feels the world of stand-up comedy has fundamentally changed.
“I see a lot of the young comics at the Trop [the Tropicana Hotel in Las Vegas, where Little often works]. They are observational comics. They are not telling jokes anymore. A lot of them don’t have act. They just come out and talk to the audience. But that is a very hit or miss thing to do.”
When asked about high points of his long career, Little cites his performances at both Reagan inaugurations, having his own show on NBC in the mid-’70s and his frequent appearances on the television variety shows of that era.
“Probably my favorite was ‘The Julie Andrews Show.’ They used me a lot on that show. That was a great time for me,” says Little, who also was a frequent guest on “The Tonight Show,” where he filled-in as host a dozen times.
But there are more highlights ahead for Little.
“I am very lucky to be performing at my age, so I want to take advantage of that,” Little says. “Getting out there occasionally and doing shows across the country is great because you reach people who can’t come to Vegas. As long as I have my health, I will still be working.”
Little sees proper rest and avoiding the sniffles as the keys to his longevity on the stage.
“You’ve got to get sleep, and try not to get a cold. When I get a cold, everybody gets a cold.”
- 7:30 p.m. Saturday
- Arlington Music Hall
- 817-226-4200; www.arlingtonmusichall.net