Download this article as a PDF
CORPORATE & INCENTIVE TRAVEL
The Magazine for Corporate Meeting and Incentive Travel Planners
September 2003, Vol. 21, No. 9
Are You Seeing Double?
By Marie Doyle
Approximately 5,000 employees and spouses were gathered in the Van Andel
Arena in Grand Rapids , Ml, this past December for Gordon Food Service's annual
meeting and awards presentation. Jim Gordon, executive vice president of this
multi-billion-dollar food distribution company, had just finished addressing
the group and announced that a very special guest had taken time out of his
very hectic schedule to be with them.
The house lights were slowly lowered, a spotlight was aimed at a door at
the back of the arena, and the song "Hail to the Chief' began. In walked "Mr.
President," surrounded by four stern-looking "secret service agents!” "The
buzz was unbelievable. Here were men dressed in suits, women in gowns, standing
on their chairs trying to get a better look," says Dave Vickery, senior
manager of human resources for Grand Rapids . Ml-based Gordon Food Service. "A
high percentage of the audience truly thought this was the president, right
there in person. It was completely electrifying. 'Mr. President' quickly took
the stage and gave the audience such a hard look that it was a hoot."
This is the typical reaction California comedian Steve Bridges, a.k.a. "Mr.
President," has been getting since he starting portraying President George
W. Bush two years ago. He wows audiences, including numerous corporate groups,
with his amazingly accurate, not to mention convincing, characterization of
President George W. Bush.
'Mr. President Is Born'
The birth of Steve Bridges' "Mr. President" act began with a phone
call. Randy Nolen of Geneva, IL-based Randy Nolen Artists, called a speakers
bureau and was greeted by a recording of Bridges doing his impersonation of
President Bush. "He was so on the money, that it got me thinking," says
Nolen. "As an agent and a manager, I knew I had to meet him. When I did,
I knew with the help of Academy Award-winning prosthetic makeup artist Kevin
Haney we could bring the president to life."
A writing team was hired and more than $5O,OOO invested in the script alone.
Another costly part of the project was the prosthetics that Bridges uses to
transform into the president. In total, $25O,OOO has been invested in the development
of this project.
Steve Bridges as "Mr. President" is a hot commodity in the corporate
world. He is booked for over 1OO dates this year and Nolen predicts that number
will double in 2004. He has signed an exclusive deal with The Tonight Show
with Jay Leno where he is frequently featured.
Other television shows he has
appeared on include Judy Woodruff's Inside Politics, Good Morning America,
Fox News with Brit Hume, and Hannity & Colmes. "This is so exciting
for me; I know the audience will love the routine. This is a comedian's dream
come true. To know you have a show that always is a homerun. No matter if you
are a Democrat, Republican, liberal, or conservative, this act will make everyone
laugh. It's lighthearted and does poke fun, but not in a mean way," says
Bridges from his cell phone as he was making his way to shoot a new ABC television
series, "Navy NCIS," an offshoot of JAG, in which he plays the role
of, you guessed it, "Mr. President." "The success we have received
is a result of the way I have studied the president and have him down, the
material that is so sharply written, and Kevin's prosthetics that are so real.
I have done stand-up comedy (as himself) at clubs and at corporate functions.
But this is the most fulfilling job I've had by far. It's not just comedy,
but it's acting. I have to actually become the president."
A master impressionist, George W. Bush isn't the first president Bridges
has perfected. He very accurately impersonates Ronald Reagan, Jimmy Carter,
the senior George Bush, and Bill Clinton. His repertoire encompasses over 200
personalities, from broadcasters Tom Brokaw, Paul Harvey, and Rush Limbaugh
to TV characters Barney
Fife , Homer Simpson, and the ever-popular Mr. Haney from the Green Acres
TV show. His routine is around 45 minutes, and the first three or four minutes
are customized for the particular corporation or industry he is addressing.
He uses many of President Bush's mannerisms but in a very exaggerated way to
make it humorous. "Okay, I admit I might not last too long on Jeopardy.
Well, my predecessor wouldn’t last two minutes on Temptation Island ," Bridges
exclaimed during one recent act as President Bush.
He has perfected many of
the phrases President Bush frequently uses. A popular one is, "good people." He
asks the audience, "How many of you good people voted for me? How many
of you didn't? How many of you would like to be audited by the IRS?" Other
jokes deal with natural resources, foreign policy, and pretzels. His show ends
with questions from the audience that have been planted.
After leaving the
room, shaking hands in a very presidential manner along the way, he comes
back for at least another hour for photos. Although Bridges' impersonation
of the president is a dead ringer, he really doesn't resemble him at all. As
a matter of fact, he is 15 years younger than the president"
This is where Kevin Haney, who won an Oscar for the age makeup he created
for Dan Akroyd in "Driving Miss Daisy," comes in. The process started
with a creation of a life mask of Bridges' actual face. Referring to videotapes
and photographs, Haney then made a carefully created sculpture of Bush's face.
He then made a negative of the sculpture and filled the negative of Bush's
face and the positive cast of Bridges' face with foam latex that is cut into
nine interlocking pieces.
The challenge is changing the face but not changing
the face's mobility. After the pieces are adhered, which usually takes about
an hour, Haney airbrushes, paints, and touches up with many layers of color.
A wig and eyebrows top off the transformation. Technically a four-hour procedure,
Haney pre-colors some of the pieces and takes other shortcuts, and has the
entire process of transforming Bridges down to about two and a half hours.
What many find surprising is that these latex foam pieces are disposable.
A new set is made by Haney and his assistant for each appearance.
Bridges may sit down in the makeup chair, "Mr. President" emerges. Haney's
prosthetics is a work in progress. He continuously tweaks the prosthetics and
has made a total of 15 revisions in makeup and hairpieces in the last year
and a half. Many people do not realize it is the prosthetics that make Bridges
look so much like the real president. "I've had many come up to me after
the show and say, you look so much like the president that you probably can't
leave your house. I used to pull out my driver's license to show them what
I really look like, but I now carry around a photo."
One of the biggest
highlights for Bridges has been meeting the real President Bush in the
Oval Office of the White House. Although he went as Steve Bridges, he did do
an impersonation of the president for the President during their 20-minute
meeting. The president also asked Bridges to do his impersonation of his dad. "My
hope is that I will have the special opportunity to perform for him one day," says
The New York City-based International Radio and Television Society
(IRTS) Foundation used Bridges for a function they sponsored at the
Waldorf-Astoria last fall and was so pleased that they used him for another
function a few months later, two times within a three-month period, the first
time the society ever did this in its 64-year history. Joyce Tudryn, president
of IRTS, says her group is a not an easy one to please. They are senior level
media and entertainment executives who are always exposed to the most talented
celebrities on a regular basis.
"When Bridges walked into the room there were gasps of disbelief. That
moment of suspended belief was something to really behold. Bridges held them
in the palm of his hand with his customized humor and impeccable delivery," says
Tudryn. Many members of this high-level group also waited on line to have their
photos taken with Bridges The IRTS used Bridges a second time for a holiday
party they were having. He entered the room as a secret Santa. "Who should
emerge from underneath the secret Santa suit but 'Mr. President,"' says
Videotape: Next Best Thing To Being There
Another option of having Bridges as a part of your next corporate function
is to have a videotape prepared. Randy Nolen Artists recently built a replica
of the pressroom in the White House in Washington , DC . Accurate down to practically
the last detail, this new press room serves as a fitting stage for the videos
Bridges makes. The videos are completely produced on-site and include all production
costs - set, sound, lighting, talent, reproduction, and delivery.
production and post-production will be performed at a single location, Nolen
said the final product can be made available to clients in as little as 24
hours. Although Bridges will do most videos solo, Nolen said it's also possible
to include a "spokesperson" from the company or organization. 'We
essentially will have two basic formats - one as a press conference and another
which will look more like a live satellite feed. The finished product will
be fully amenable to many different applications," Nolen said. "The
videos can be used to open a meeting, at a trade show booth, on the Internet,
or via video teleconference."
Bridges prepared a videotape welcoming the
Indianapolis . IN-based International Association of Speakers Bureaus (IASB),
a trade association of speaker’s bureaus, to Washington , DC , for its
annual convention earlier this year. "It went over extremely well. People
loved it," says James D. Montoya, CAE, executive vice president of the
IASB. "Steve Bridges looks like George W. Bush, he acts like him, and
he sounds like him. As 'Mr. President,' Bridges uses humor in a way that lightens
the typical convention atmosphere. As long as President Bush is in office,
Bridges will have material audiences will be interested in. Once President
Bush steps down as president, the demand for Bridges will not be as strong."
Bridges is well aware of this and that is why he says he is supporting President
Bush in his re-election bid. "l will get a "Vote Bush" bumper
sticker and wear it on my forehead," he says with a chuckle.