We caught up with the famous celebrity impersonator to talk writing, Johnny Carson and The Dean Martin Celebrity Roast.
Rich Little knows a thing or two about making people laugh.
The master mimic from Ottawa, Ont. boasts an impressive career in showbiz that spans 50 years and more than 200 impersonations. He's even been nicknamed "The Man of a Thousand Voices", a unique distinction he shares with the late voice actor Mel Blanc. And now, at 78, Little shows no sign of slowing down. After a successful run of one-man shows in Las Vegas last year, he recently inked a deal for more performance dates at the Tropicana that will carry him well into the early months of 2018.
"Some of the people in my audience are older; they're my generation. Sometimes when the show is over, they don't stand up and give me an ovation because they can't stand!" he laughs. "I had one guy, a few days ago, who was so enthused with the show that he stood up and fell over. He looked close to 90 and he just toppled over—I thought he'd died!"
But Little isn't speaking in jest—well, not entirely anyway. The notion of an audience member dying during his show—albeit with a smile on their face—is something of a hard reality for the veteran comic.
"That actually happened to me at the Royal York Hotel in Toronto," Little recalls during a recent interview with Zoomer. "It was way back in the 1960s and I was imitating the Prime Minister of Canada [John Diefenbaker] and somebody actually laughed so hard that they keeled over and died. Afterward, his wife came over to me and apologized for her husband dying during my act! And then she said to me, 'Well, he died with a smile on his face.'"
Little pauses, chuckling softly to himself. "I don't know whether he died from laughing so hard or just had a heart attack, but that doesn't happen too often thankfully."
It was on the strength of his early years performing in small venues across Canada and his two subsequent LP releases (titled My Fellow Canadians and Scrooge and the Stars) that landed Little a much-coveted guest spot on an episode of The Judy Garland Show in 1964. It was from there that Little solidified his reputation as a master impersonator by appearing on the variety show circuit throughout the 1960s and 1970s, accumulating 24 appearances on The Dean Martin Celebrity Roast and semi-regular trips to the sets of The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson and The Julie Andrews Hour.
The seasoned pro continues to pack houses with his 90-minute one-man show at the Tropicana. "I've played in most of the casinos in Vegas," he says. "I started back in the 1960s, doing two shows a night with a 24-piece orchestra—now it's a smaller room with just a synthesizer and one show a night."
And, like any comedian, Little still deals with his fair share of hecklers.
"I'll get people talking to me during the show because they drink too much, but there are little tricks you can do," he says in a conspiratorial tone. "If someone is annoying you, you say, 'There's a bus leaving the casino in about 20 minutes—be under it!'"
Little lets out a throaty guffaw. "Or say, 'I'm going to imitate Lassie next—and you're going to be the tree.' That's always a good one. And the other night there was this older man muttering to himself in the front row and I said, 'Hey, haven't I seen you at the Nuremberg Trials?'"
Master mimic, master comic. There's no denying that Little's sense of humour is as sharp as ever.
We caught up with Rich Little to talk writing, Johnny Carson and The Dean Martin Celebrity Roast. Click through to read the full Q&A.
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