Every once in awhile, the Internet gives rise to a brand-new star or company, one whose video clips go viral in a mere matter of seconds. So it goes with the duo referring to themselves as Punchy Players, whose impeccable parodies of the greatest female and male stars of today are matched only by their flawless and, one will daresay, genius ability to bring their vocal impressions to life through side-splitting animations generated by computer. The two will only disclose themselves as Chris and Jeff, and this reporter was fortunate enough to reach them via e-mail from their home in Dallas recently:
Chris hails from New Orleans, and Jeff is a Texas native, and while the latter is still a proud card-carrying member of Equity and pays his union dues faithfully after five years of living in New York City, the former's only true exposure to a life in the theatre was a brief period spent designing scenery for theatrical productions. And neither had the slightest idea that anything like Punchy Players would happen. "When I was in school," Jeff tells me, "I got a lot of laughs because I could sound like some of the teachers. But I've never done impressions onstage." He adds, "Punchy Players grew out of our collective sense of humor. We laugh a lot together about pop culture and performers we like, especially the stars of Old Hollywood. We talk back to the TV a lot...we invent dialogue. We play "what if" a lot, such as 'What if Lucille Ball played Mary Poppins?" and that kind of thing. Eventually, I recorded some of these "What ifs" on audio. It's Chris who said he could turn the audios into videos. I suppose you could say this is a private thing that went very public." Chris adds, "Long before Jeff and I started making our videos together, I mentioned to him that he and I should work on something together. I knew his wonderful talent and felt that our combined abilities could produce something fun. One day we were on the subject of Cream of Wheat (which I love to eat and he doesn't), and he said he knew the old theme song and he sang it to me. Later on he sang it as Judy Garland which just floored me. I died laughing. Then I urged him to make a recording of it, since I knew it would make a wonderful skit that I could put some visuals to."
How exactly to the videos come together? "Well," Jeff chuckles, "I do the recording and Chris does the animation.The audio comes first. It is almost like improv when I record them. I don't know when I record what Chris will do with it visually, so the finished product always surprise me, and makes me laugh. Take the little Mary Poppins hats he put on the screen testers in the recent video. I had no idea they would be so funny. Chris' part takes much longer, but is certainly worth the wait." Chris quickly counters, "One of the reasons Jeff and I make a good team, is that we have strengths in different areas and both share a similar sense of humor. We do collaborate on much of it and laugh A LOT. On building the visuals, I usually have a general idea and theme at the start, but most of the specifics and details happen as I get to that particular section. Sometimes," he finishes, "they surprise me."
What is the ultimate goal of Punchy Players, and what do they hope to accomplish? Chris replies, "We are huge fans of the celebrities we parody. It's our way of paying tribute. I feel that the goal is to share the affection we have for our subjects with those who appreciate them as well and hopefully bring some laughs. Another large part of my drive to do these projects is to share more of Jeff's talents and humor with everyone. He keeps me and all of his friends in stitches. I wanted to have a vehicle to share that with more people. Punchy Players is a way for me to do that and to share my passion for showcasing these icons through my abilities as well." Jeff chimes in, "Originally the goal was just to entertain ourselves. I would say to Chris, "Nobody will get this but us." Boy, was I wrong! I don't think there is a master plan except to entertain. But it would be wonderful to get paid someday to do these things. One thing we do accomplish is to celebrate these personalities and not slam them."
Have the two ever considered using other celebrity impersonators and voice-over artists? "At this point," Chris replies, we're keeping Punchy Players "in-house," so to speak. But we are open to other possibilities for projects in the future." Jeff says, "We finally employed Chris for some voices in our last video, but at this point it will stay between us. It's such a personal collaboration. But we do listen to friend's ideas. One of our videos, called Audrey Airlines, was inspired by a friend mentioning Audrey being at an airport." And what's their favorite collaboration so far? "My answer," Jeff says, "was Judy's Cream of Wheat until we posted the Poppins one. The public has certainly liked Cream of Wheat. But we are a 'you either get it or you don't' proposition; we hope the others out there in the world who know the work of these stars will share in our humor and affection for them."
Finally, what advice would they give to those who wish to have a similar success as Punchy Players? "My advice would be to go with what you are passionate about," says Chris. "Invest time in whatever is in your heart, and means the most to you. Experiment and play. That is what we've done, and it's brought us lots of joy. And it's an honor that others find joy in it as well." Jeff concludes, "If you are a performer, looking for an outlet, this is a way to perform and have a day job, too. If someone is creating parody, don't forget to celebrate the subject. For me, it is less about trying to sound exactly like any of these people...or poking fun at them. We are really trying to share our admiration and love for these stars of a bygone era."
Share the love they do, in copious amounts. Keep an eye on Punchy Players on YouTube and elsewhere, just for the mere joy of saying you knew them when. Because Chris and Jeff are, without question, going places.