THE MAN OF A THOUSAND FACES... AND MORE!
By Marla Santos
Jack Nicholson incredulously asks Robert De Niro: “Did you look at my balls when I was getting in the Jacuzzi? Did you look?” This is just one of the hundreds of humorous lines that Gordie delivers on stage. With facial expressions that mimic these actors to a degree that you’d know them anywhere, Gordie zips in these comments that are true to the character he’s imitating. The list of stars that he portrays in both face, voice and mannerisms is too long to even attempt, but some of my favorites were: Al Pacino, Clint Eastwood, Joe Cocker, Axl Rose, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Presidents Clinton and Bush. The duet he sings between Julio Iglesias and Willie Nelson is “To All The Plants I’ve Smoked Before.” An unfaithful Kenny Rogers sings “She Believed Me!” This multi-faceted entertainer is loaded with talent, charisma and has great comedic timing. He has recorded a CD titled “As I Am” and a book named “Gordie Brown in Caricature” with over 120 caricatures he’s drawn. Without any other costuming, Gordie can put on sunglasses and become Jack Nicholson, Tom Cruise or Elvis.
While Gordie was a political cartoonist in Canada for the Ottawa Sunday Herald, a co-worker entered him in a talent contest that would change his life. Within two years he got the star role in the TV series “Twice In A Lifetime”; became a regular guest on “The Hollywood Squares”; and was opening for Paul Anka, Rich Little, Kenny Rogers, and other headliners in Atlantic City, Reno, and Las Vegas. After touring and opening for Celine Dion, he came back to Vegas to headline at the Golden Nugget with his five-piece band. For an evening of pure enjoyment and laughter, catch Gordie’s show. It will make you smile until your face hurts, and you’ll walk away knowing you’ve seen a great show and a very uniquely talented man. Here with STRIPLV, he talks about how he finds the face for a character, his possible new reality show, and his out-of-body experience.
SMARTY: I loved your show! You have so much comedy running through it and I was splitting my sides with laughter.
GORDIE: I love making people laugh. That’s my number-one way of doing things. I just love making people smile so much and feel their joy.
SMARTY: You’ve performed with so many stars over the years. What do you think keeps you grounded?
GORDIE: I think that’s just inside of me. I love people. That’s why I do what I do. The joy that’s flowing through me is because of what I feel for them. I think that’s why I’m an entertainer. I never think of the money. I’ve never shot for the money. I’ve always shot for a place to play so I can entertain and make people happy.
SMARTY: You do realize that not all entertainers are like that?
GORDIE: That’s why I don’t go out that much. I go out with a very small group and don’t hang out with a lot of entertainers, and I’m kinda shy offstage.
SMARTY: Who did you make friends with initially in the entertainment business?
GORDIE: It started with Paul Anka. I actually met him at this dressing room door, here. Years later, it’s my dressing room, and the showroom is named after me. I wish I’d had a chance to tell Paul. That’s why the first thing you see when you walk in here is a picture of Paul and me. You aspire for these dreams and to see them come about, to be here at this point in my life and look back, and to acknowledge it, is awesome. I’m really grateful to people like Paul Anka and Rich Little.
SMARTY: They were people who helped you with your career and opened doors for you. Do you keep in touch with them?
GORDIE: Paul still says he loves me on the phone. I also hear from Rich Little once in a while. I’ve been to his house for Father’s Day and a wedding gathering. They’ve been super. Celine Dion is a very down-to-earth woman, as well. She and her husband have been incredibly supportive.
SMARTY: Let’s go back to growing up in Canada. When you were a teenager and learning your music, did you learn on piano or guitar?
GORDIE: I learned on guitar first. I wanted to learn piano so I could write ballads on the piano.
SMARTY: Did you take singing lessons?
GORDIE: I did take one. The teacher was a lady who kind of hit on me. She was French and she told me this sad story about how her husband was cheating on her and that she would do anything to get back at him. She tried to give me alcohol and I was only sixteen, so I told her I didn’t drink. I remember how uncomfortable I was. Now that I look back on it, I kind of kick myself because I think: “Wow, that was kinda kinky. That could have been a lot of fun.” But I was really naïve and shy.
SMARTY: Were you ever in a band?
GORDIE: A year later I joined a band named Totem that was looking for a lead singer. I drew everyone on top of each other like a totem pole, and that was our logo. We did a few shows and then I moved to Ottawa, where I was hired to be a political cartoonist.
SMARTY: What kind of contest did your co-worker enter you in?
GORDIE: It was a lip-sync contest. It was based on how well you portrayed that character. I was Elvis one year, and the next year I was Michael Jackson, so I won first place two years in a row. I thought that if I got hired I could do these 2-minute routines and then one day I got to open for Corey Hart and I did the lip-syncing to Michael Jackson. The promoter in town saw me and started booking me as Michael Jackson. I started opening for bands and I thought if I was to accept this gig, I would do Michael for the first two sets and then I would come back as me, doing other impressions. That’s where Willie Nelson came from, Stevie Wonder, and everything I did was with a guitar. I realized that if I was singing Willie and Stevie, I could sing Michael, too. It all started from there. Then I saw the Rich Little show and that’s when I said: “Wow, I can really learn a lot more of these and then put a really big show together, because I want to do that!”
SMARTY: Your singing voice is terrific, and we were amazed at how fantastic your facial expressions were while singing at the same time during your show.
GORDIE: I think that comes from the cartooning side.
SMARTY: When learning a new character, do you do it in front of a mirror?
GORDIE: Yeah, that’s a good way to do it. There are other ways that you won’t need a mirror, if you study somebody enough and they were in your subconscious enough, then you could see inside your mind’s eye, and then you can feel what that is and mimic it. When you do feel it that way, then you know you got it. Then suddenly you are Ray Romano, and you are Gary Shandling. Barry Manilow is the latest one for me. That was purposely done with me looking in the mirror and me going: “I’m just going to make a ton of faces and see if I see anybody in there.” I made a face all over the place and then I made a face and I thought: ‘That looked just like Barry Manilow,’ and then it took me over 20 minutes of making faces again to try and find it. I didn’t know where it was, because I was going through a series of faces so fast, and then it was: “Okay – I’ve got it.” Then it would hurt so badly, because my muscles weren’t used to performing that way. You have to go through this every day, until it becomes natural and doesn’t hurt anymore.
SMARTY: You can go from one character to another so fast. Like from Clinton to Bush and sometimes from Clinton to Gordie to Bush.
It’s not just the voice, it’s the face – and it’s not just the face, it’s the voice.
GORDIE: That’s something I picked up from Robin Williams that I wanted to incorporate in my show – to be the center person between two characters commenting on something. Every character has their own take on it. Nicholson might say something, but Eastwood’s completely different and has a different take on it. To me, that’s a lot of fun. When you can start painting that picture of the character’s perspectives, that’s awesome. When I step into the character, my perspective also changes as that character. To me, that’s the magic of it.
SMARTY: Your own voice is so good – doesn’t it frustrate you that you became famous using other people’s voices?
GORDIE: There’s no frustration at all. I honestly feel that I’m doing what I was meant to do. I’m not a Celine Dion singer or an Elvis singer. I can emulate, but those incredible famous singers have the heart and soul that music needs to pass through, and it just comes out naturally. I have a mind for songwriting and feeling that music, but I don’t interpret it at that level like they can. I realize that and I know that I can make it this way, the way I’ve chosen to do it. God blessed me, but he didn’t bless me at that level. My voice is something that I constantly have to work on, but I’m an entertainer and I can do things that they could never do.
SMARTY: Where’s your favorite place to be: in the recording studio, on stage, acting on a show like “Twice in a Lifetime”, or appearing on shows like “Letterman”?
GORDIE: Oh my God, they were all amazing, but I love being on stage every night. That’s my #1 thing! I loved having my own TV show where my crew was dependant on me and we were all together as a team. That was awesome, and it was the hardest work I’ve done in my life, because I was also doing my corporate shows. At that stage in my life, I totally wanted to be on stage in Vegas. Being on “Letterman” was a dream come true. I’d say: being on stage, in the studio, TV show, and then “Letterman”. They’re all very high to my heart. When I walked out on Letterman’s show, my manager was much more nervous than I was. I was just so ready that I just felt this peace come over me, this amazing spiritual thing. I remember being nervous, nervous… try to calm down and get your thoughts together… but the moment I stood on stage with Paul Shaffer’s band playing, everything was just so calm. I just knew what I was doing.
SMARTY: Are you a spiritual person?
GORDIE: Yeah, more than anything. I never knew what that was earlier, so I had to figure that out. I’m not religious. I have nothing against it, because they all do good things. I’ve never been so at peace than when I was in church, so I’ve been on a journey like a lot of us are. It led me more and more to being spiritual. Night after night, I’d look on YouTube at near death experiences. I’ve left my body, and I knew that there was way more to life than what we were living. It happened in 1992.
SMARTY: Was it during an accident?
GORDIE: No. I was skiing on the hill all day. I was exhausted, but I was in the deepest sleep, yet I was awake, and just came out of my body. I had even been “eating right” back then.
SMARTY: Did it freak you out?
GORDIE: Not at all. For ten years I’d been reading about it. I’d been asking people and finding more and more people who’d had this happen to them, and then one day it happened to me. Two years ago I was in Hawaii. There was a TV show on and it was about people who died and came back to life. I’d already done that first part. I’d left my body, so I knew that part was true. I think people are telling the truth on all this stuff. I’ve heard from six year-old kids to old people, that they leave their body, they went through that part, and they see the light. I didn’t see the light, but that part intrigues me so much. Every year there are numerous people who go through this and now this neurologist went through it. This doctor came from a place in science where you’re not supposed to believe this. You’re supposed to believe that when you unplug it, it’s over. It’s pretty remarkable, so amazing. I never felt such peace as when I left my body and I was blown away. I remember all the things back then and I was talking. It was my voice and it was as loud as this, but my lips weren’t moving. I was like: “This is f…ing amazing.” I remember swearing, and I’m like: “Don’t go back yet! Do a test, do a test.” Everything in my head was so clear. It was like TV, but so much clearer. Now that HDTV has come out, that’s what it was like. The movie Avatar, how clear that is and 3D, and so clear, that’s what it’s like. I just know you never die! I have that feeling like: “Wow, there’s way more to life than this!” That’s how loud I was saying it, and how emotionally I was saying it. For years, I’ve been telling it to anybody who will listen, that it’s amazing. I’ve always felt that I’ve been blessed and I try always to keep it in my mind to find that happiness, because you can get lost. Even when you get things that you’ve been shooting for, and now you’re there, it’s: “Where are my dreams now?”
SMARTY: You’ve had many occasions for that, like “Letterman”, your “In Caricature” book, your music CD.
GORDIE: When I accomplished each of those, it was: “Where are my dreams now?” I had only wanted to do that, and then when I did, I didn’t even go into the realm of wanting to market it. I was just doing it for my kids – to leave them something someday, and to finally have: “That’s my book. That’s my songwriting.” I suppose I could market them, but that wasn’t what made me happy. I always thought someone else should handle all that stuff. I like creating and then bringing it to the stage.
SMARTY: How old are your children?
GORDIE: 18, 16, 15, 8 and 3.
SMARTY: Do you see any creativeness in them?
GORDIE: Yes. My daughter just sent me a drawing and I’m telling her she “has it.” I told her to draw every day. I will always pass on things that I’ve learned if I can. My son wants to play piano now. I told him if he practiced a minimum of three hours a day, he’ll get there. But if he practiced five hours a day, he’ll get there even quicker. And if you practice with songwriting in mind, that means you won’t stop, because you’re constantly problem solving and being creative. Another daughter can sing, so they’re starting to branch out.
SMARTY: Is it true that you don’t have any writers, but write all your own material?
SMARTY: Do you see humor off the stage, as well?
GORDIE: A sense of humor is always there.
SMARTY: When you hone the characters down, do you change their words?
GORDIE: I can conversationally go anywhere. With Nicholson asking De Niro: “In the Jacuzzi, did you look at me?” Then I make the De Niro face that we’ve seen before and lean way down like: “Yeah I’m going to look.”
SMARTY: What’s your favorite way to relax?
GORDIE: It used to be drawing. Now I’ve been watching TV too much; then it was having a martini here and there. Snuggling up with someone who loves you is awesome, but I think it’s still songwriting and playing the guitar. I’m so much in my room alone, and that’s okay, because that’s where I need to be to reach my creativity at the level that I feel I want to. Songs just pour out of me. There are so many other albums that I have in me. My friend Peter Amato is a producer in L.A., and I recreated the studio he had there at my house, so he’d fly to my house and continue a project here.
SMARTY: Where did you go on your last vacation?
GORDIE: Hawaii. It was two years ago. This year I went to Atlantic City to work, because the owner here owns a place there.
SMARTY: Are you able to relax when you take a vacation to Hawaii?
GORDIE: Yes. My wife wants to do all these activities. That’s why I need to go for two weeks: one week to chill and then the second to go and do stuff. It takes about a week to unwind. I got to Hawaii, and in the limo on the way to the hotel I’m on the phone with a music store there, renting a piano. I’d already brought a guitar and had the keyboard piano brought to my room within 3 hours, so I could write. My wife was down by the pool and I’d meet her and my assistant for dinner after songwriting all day. People would knock on my door all day, not to complain, but to encourage me by saying: “I really love that song.” To write and look at the ocean, it was wonderful!
SMARTY: You recently did a pilot for a reality show.
GORDIE: There are five guys involved: Murray SawChuck, Frank Marino, Marc Savard, Chris Phillips, and myself. It’s about five guys that headline in Vegas that have lives as well outside of their show business. Each of us has a different take on our life. There’s Frank Marino who’s a drag queen, who has a different reality at home than I would have at my home. My home is entirely different than Marc Savard’s home. Murray was just recently married, and Chris is single. In the episode you see all of our five lives, so it’s not all about show business. Then once a week we all get together for an event or something. At the end of every episode, you can see us all together at a fundraiser or something. It’s called “The Real Headliners of Las Vegas”. It’s about showbiz people who do their own shows and what their lives are like living in Vegas day in and day out – not people who fly in to entertain for a week or month. It’s an interesting take on it and we try to make it as real as we can, yet interesting. Each of us has to come up with our own angles and pitch at least five different episodes.
SMARTY: It’s all based on what’s real in your lives?
GORDIE: It’s real. For me, I have an assistant with me all the time, so she’s going to be with me, and how that plays out with the wife and kids. It’s the way my life has always been.
SMARTY: I heard that your wife doesn’t mind you being with your female assistant all the time. Is that true?
GORDIE: Yeah, but I’m not having sex with my assistant.
SMARTY: That’s what I heard was going on.
GORDIE: No, I’m not allowed to do that! She may sleep over sometimes, but we’re not doing anything.
SMARTY: So you’re just insinuating that sex might occur?
GORDIE: Yes, that’s all. In my real life, my assistant does sleep over all the time. That’s my real life! I will insinuate, but I’m definitely not having sex with her. In an episode, I’ll be in the pool all day with my assistant in her bikini and I’m in my underwear probably, and you’ll see my wife come out with martinis. What does that tell you, right? It’s real and the viewers might take it a certain way, but it’s not what they think. I’m not like that guy that has five wives. It will come out in the show that I know so much more about my assistant than I do my wife, because I’m with her three-quarters of my day. I’m with my wife for about two hours and I always have a date night with her once a week. Once a month my assistant comes with us. In Hawaii my assistant came with me. It’s just what my life is like. My friends think: “Oh, you’re doing this, and doing that,” but I’m not.
SMARTY: So you don’t have an open marriage?
GORDIE: Some people think so, but no. I went through this painful divorce with my first wife. One of my very best friends cheated with her while I was doing the TV show. It ripped my heart out. Five years later I walked into this place where I was meeting my new assistant, which was an incredible blessing. I knew right away, that meeting this person, my life was going to change. The friend who cheated with my wife happened to be there too, and as he stood up, I kissed him on the cheek and gave him a hug and it was terrific. Carrying around hate will give you a disease later in life and you can’t be free. I met my second wife and married her within a year. Before I married her, I told her: “I’m never going to be alone. In this marriage you’re going to want to have kids and you’ll want to raise the kids while I’m still doing entertainment on the road and I won’t be traveling alone, and I don’t want you unhappy.” I found the most amazing wife, and I can travel with my assistant and have somebody by my side.
SMARTY: Are some of the children with your first wife?
GORDIE: Yes, three are. My first wife and second wife are friends, too. At Christmas, we had dinner with my wife here and my ex-wife here, and all our kids. We’re all just like one family. It doesn’t mean I want that one anymore, but I want the kids to see our good relationship. When we’re okay, the kids are totally fine. That’s what makes me love my wife Laurie so very much. My first wife, Penny, had a medical scare and Laurie was the first one to call her and help her through that moment. Maybe that will make its way into the reality show, too. I’d like to deeply touch an audience and make them laugh so hard and have that one little spiritual message, not a religion one, because you just can’t go there. That’s why we love music. It fills our hearts with joy!
Gordie Brown performs at the
Golden Nugget Tues-Thurs and Sat & Sun at 7:30pm
(Al Pacino drawing by Gordie Brown