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Bad Impressionists

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Impressions have been a staple of comedy for quite a long time, and a staple of bad comedy for about five seconds shorter. Ergo, when one of your characters is a comedian, impressions tend to crop up. If your character is a bad comedian, though, his impression is likely to be sub-par at best. Want to point this out to the audience? Couldn't be easier. Simply have him do one or more of the following:

  • Having them say who they're impersonating, either before or after they do so.
  • Have them sound nothing like the guy. When a male comedian impersonates a female (or vice versa), this can be chalked up to voicebox difficulties.
  • Butchering the impersonatee's accent. Giving a Cockney celebrity a Scottish accent in your impersonation is firmly this trope. Exaggerating for comedic effect (making the Cockney celebrity speak in full rhyming slang while, normally, he or she just pronounces words in a decidedly Cockney way) is just caricature.
  • Doing the voice properly, but misquoting the celebrity in question. Badly. Even if another character corrects him, make sure the impressionist continues to screw up.

If a comedian does this intentionally, it's not this trope. Neither is it if he lampshades the fact that his impressions are terrible and otherwise doesn't make them a big part of his routine.

See Stylistic Suck, and subtropes such as Bad "Bad Acting" and Hollywood Tone-Deaf. This trope is not about bad Impressionist painters.


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    Comic Strips 
  • Calvin and Hobbes: When said characters imitate each other, they do the "I'm so and so, DURR" variety. One time, Calvin's mom cut it short by calling him back to the house, leading to this exchange:
    Calvin: Leave it up to mom to interrupt our repartee.
    Hobbes: Just when I had you writhing within the crushing grip of reason, too.

    Fan Works 
  • The Bolt Chronicles. In "The Funkmeister", Rhino’s attempt to mimic James Brown's athletic dance moves ends in failure, capped by his extremely inadvisable try to do the splits.
  • In Extended Family is Still Family, both Mirabel and Dolores rail on Camilo's hammy, vaudevillian impression of Bruno, since both Mirabel and Dolores are up-to-date on their uncle while Camilo is working off of memories from an earlier age. Even his mother Pepa, who's hearing Bruno's name is a Trauma Button for her, can't help but burst out laughing when she sees it.

    Film — Animation 
  • A brief gag in Toy Story involved this when a random toy shark peeks out of the toy box, Woody's hat happening to have landed on it. Woody is not impressed.
    Shark: Look, I'm Woody! Howdy howdy howdy.

    Film — Live Action 
  • In Help!, Superintendent Gluck, trying to negotiate with a cult that wants to kill Ringo Starr, decides to impersonate Ringo over the phone, telling The Beatles that he also does an excellent impression of Cagney. He puts on an absurd Scouse accent and peppers his sentences with then-popular mod slang.
    Superintendent Gluck: Hello, this is the famous Ringo, gear, fab. What can I do for you, as it were, gear, fab?
    George Harrison: Not a bit like Cagney.

    Live-Action TV 
  • There are numerous examples in Michael Winterbottom's The Trip (and A Cock And Bull Story) that sees Rob Brydon do a deliberately over the top version of Alan Partridge when making fun of Steve Coogan ("I don't talk like this".)
  • Michael Caine has appeared on chat shows doing impressions of people doing impressions of him (The classic being his supposed "catchphrase" of "And not a lot of people know that").
  • Although it seems to be deliberate to an extent, Keith Olbermann does truly terrible impressions of those he doesn't like. For instance, his Lou Dobbs impression sounds like Yoda.
    • This trope follows Olbermann to Football Night in America whenever he tries to revive this SportsCenter catchphrase complete with bad impression of Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis.
    • Keith is very proud of his Lou Dobbs impression. When Dobbs left CNN his main complaint was that he'd have to retire the impression.
    • Keith can, however, pull off a decent Ted Baxter impression.
  • A unique example of this was Andy Kaufman's Foreign Man persona — whom his audience didn't initially know was a persona. Foreign Man did dreadful impressions of whoever the then-current U.S. president was, Archie Bunker and Ed Sullivan, but thought they were excellent.note  As a result, crowds were nonplussed when Kaufman said he would now impersonate Elvis Presley...and then shocked when it turned out to be a good impersonation, complete with full costume.
  • MADtv used a variant: a geeky white guy gets up on stage and does an absolutely hideous Bill Cosby impression (he even mispronounces it as "Closby") that has the audience in stitches, much to the consternation of a black guy in the audience who we saw earlier doing a decent impression. The black guy tries to go up and show everyone how it's supposed to be done, but he chokes up behind the microphone and can't pull it off.
  • A running joke on both versions of Whose Line Is It Anyway? is that Colin Mochrie isn't the best impressionist in the world. Taken to an extreme during one infamous "Questionable Impressions" sketch, where his Craig T. Nelson impression is... his own voice, completely unaltered. (Both are Canadian.) Making it even funnier is how he announces it's Craig T. Nelson:
    Colin: You got anything for a Craig T. Nelson?
    • Ryan Stiles is hardly any better— in particular, his John Wayne impression is... "unique".
  • Saturday Night Live:
    • In one episode, John MacEnroe is pleading with Lorne Michaels to let him host the show, and attempts to display his comic ability with a Jack Nicholson impression. It's very bad, and Lorne tells him so, causing John to mimic one of his infamous on-court outbursts. "You're deaf, Lorne Michaels! That impression was right on the line!"
    • Also done with a one-shot sketch with Alec Baldwin as "The Mimic", who supposedly could imitate any possible voice, but it turned out he was completely incompetent, except for one impression. When Jameson the butler (played by musical guest Paul McCartney) goes to throw him out, Alec Baldwin says in a perfect McCartney impression, "But I'm you! You can't throw yourself out."
      • (The joke is that Baldwin is actually a skilled impressionist. He does it twice in The Hunt for Red October, for example.)
    • Like the Michael Caine example above, Kirk Douglas did a bit where he imitated impressionists imitating him.
      • And on a later episode when Michael Douglas hosted, he told the audience some advice his father had given him. "He said: [bad Kirk Douglas voice] 'Son...'" (Then he laughed and continued in his regular voice instead.)
  • In Living Color! had an "East Hollywood Squares" sketch where James Earl Jones shows off impressionist skills with such characters as Tweety-pie and Lucy Ricardo, not changing his voice in the least for his lines.
  • Taylor Dedominicantonio from Naturally, Sadie. Her 'impersonations' consist of her describing the person she is 'impersonating'.
  • On Wings, Lowell attempts to do some impressions for Roy, all of which consist simply of him speaking in a slightly gruffer version of his normal voice and saying, "Hi, I'm (celebrity)!"
  • A Running Gag on Nevermind The Buzzcocks is Phill Jupitus supposedly being a Man of a Thousand Voices, but nearly all of his impressions consist of just saying the person in question's catchphrase in the same throaty Bernard Manning voice.
  • Glee: Sam Evans' impressions aren't terrible, per se, but they're not great either. What makes them more awkward is his tendency to try and impress girls with them.
  • James Quall from Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! supposedly makes a living off of horrible impressions of celebrities such as Michael Jackson, Jack Nicholson, and Bill Cosby, and always mentioning spaghetti and meatballs (and usually nothing else).
  • Several times on The Fast Show. One of the "I'll get me coat" social faux pas sketches involves a character doing cliché impressions consisting of just saying the person's catchphrase in their normal voice. Simon Day's builder character does completely the wrong impressions, such as doing a Jive Turkey for an Australian Aborigine or Colonel Sanders for Elvis Presley.
  • It's debatable whether or not Stephen Fry's Michael Jackson performance on A Bit of Fry and Laurie can be called an impression at all. He simply appeared as himself, making no attempt whatsoever to look or sound anything like Michael Jackson. He just claimed that's who he was being.
  • A classic running joke on The Andy Griffith Show was Goober's Cary Grant imitation, which consisted of nothing but him saying "Judy-Judy-Judy" very fast in a heavy North Carolina accent.
  • A regular comment by Paul Merton on Have I Got News for You is that opposing team captain Ian Hislop can only do one impression, that of playwright Alan Bennett, and that he uses the same voice for everybody he "impersonates".
  • An interesting case in The Office (UK), in which David Brent attempts an impression of the fictional paper executive Eric Hitchmo, only to have no one recognize it. When he asks the crowd if no one's heard of Eric Hitchmo, one worker says, "Yes, but he doesn't sound like that." Subverted, however, in an earlier episode, when David does a spot-on impression of Dirty Harry.
  • Spanish (Spain) comedian Joaquín Reyes has made of this his signature style in the "Testimonios" and "Celebrities" sections of the various shows he has created or co-created. They consist of clips of Reyes impersonating a Spanish or international celebrity talking about him or herself in a way that pokes fun at any kind of stuff or character traits associated to them. The joke is that Reyes always does this in very elaborate makeups and prosthetics designed to make him physically resemble the celebrity in question as closely as possible... but the voice he uses is always his default (character) Spanish redneck voice.
  • It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia:
    • Mac in the episode "Making Dennis Reynolds a Murderer" sucks at impersonating Borat and Austin Powers.
    • Dee’s impression of Barack Obama in "The Gang Goes to Hell: Part Two" is essentially her emulating the most stereotypical "black person" voice possible. The rest of the gang calls her out on it.
      Dee impersonating Obama: Ey yo, what up son? What’s up wit’ Congress bein’ all up in my ass and shit, brother?
      Charlie: Oh my god, Dee.
      Mac: That is so racist. Deandra, he is the President of the United States!
  • The Pee Wee Herman Show (the televised version of Pee Wee's stage show, not the later CBS series) does this two ways, both with Jambi the genie:
    • One is straightforward bad impressions of obscure celebrities including Sonja Henie (Jambi, a disembodied head in a box, spins around) and Rula Lenska ("Friends are here from Europe.");
    • Jambi goes into a trance and "channels" historical figures including George Waashington ("George?" "Pee Wee?" "It is George Washington!") and Jimmy Durante. When "Jimmy" does a bit that the real Jimmy didn't do it means "The trance is fading!"
  • A running gag on The Monkees had Mickey Dolenz doing a bad James Cagney impersonation. It was invariable "You dirty rat, you killed my brother!" which Cagney never said on film.
  • Nathan for You features a Recurring Extra who's a Bill Gates impersonator. He looks nothing like Bill Gates and even struggles coming up with information about Microsoft. The series finale implies that he lied about being a professional impersonator just to get himself on TV.
  • Pie in the Sky: In "Who Only Stand and Wait", Barry Wilkes does a Winston Churchill impression that's barely distinguishable from his normal way of speaking, and has to explain who it's meant to be.
  • The Muppet Show: A rather strange example in season 2 as guest star Rich Little was an actual professional impressionist by career, but he is showcased doing impersonations of the Muppets which are downright terrible. His impression of Miss Piggy involves turning up his nose with a finger while saying "Hello Kermie" in a falsetto, his Kermit impression straight-up says "Kermit the Frog here", and his Fozzie impression is putting on a hat and saying "I'm a comedian, I'm the bear with all the jokes" while moving his hands jerkily. (Fozzie admires the latter impression but can't figure out who it's meant to be.) Little's impressions of Hollywood stars fare just slightly better, but even these are called out in-show as bad by Fleet Scribbler.
  • The '70s star impressionist, Mike Yarwood, wasn't exactly untalented, but he did have a habit of making sure by finding contrived reasons to announce to the audience who he was going to "do", just in case they missed it. It becomes apparent, watching archive film of his TV performances, exactly how much of his act depended on clever observation of the subject's body language and mannerisms, backed up by all the resources a TV make-up and props department could provide. Close your eyes, and the actual voices - as opposed to the visual cues - are variations on a theme of Mike Yarwood's own voice, with only sporadic hints of the person being parodied. There's a reason why Yarwood rarely appeared on radio.

  • Eminem, a Man of a Thousand Voices whose vocal range is one of his strongest attributes as a performer, could easily have done a realistic impersonation of Christopher Reeve if he'd wanted to. Instead he gives him a Machine Monotone that serves to indicate his total lack of research - and therefore the fact that it's not really personal.

  • On Chapo Trap House, the hosts occasionally don't bother to research the actual voice or accent of someone they're making fun of, just doing it in a stereotypical voice or accent in order to show how little they respect them.

  • On Hello Cheeky, Barry Cryer does all sorts of impressions of varying quality. Sometimes, however, he just sets them up for himself, such as 'a discussion on the German economy between Adolf Hitler and a horse', or 'World War II'.
  • One of Eric and Ernie's skits revolved around Ernie doing an impression of a newspaper salesman and a butcher. They both sound the same.
    Eric: It's the same fellow what runs both shops.
    Ernie: What a shame the audience have never met him, otherwise they'd know how good that is. Exactly like him.
  • Mark Kermode's impressions of movie-industry people on his radio show are so bad they go past good and back to bad.
  • St. Louis radio personality Frank O. Pinion's show has these as a large part of the show's charm. Frank himself likes to do impressions of Karl Childers from Slingblade, Marlon Brando, Tony Bennett, Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis. Cohost and producer Dan Strauss does some good and some bad impressions. Strangely, the best impressions on the show are from the show's other cohost, Ian Geiss, who does a dead on Louis Armstrong, Jay Leno, and Homer Simpson. Although that may be because he hardly does them and only does impressions he's good at, unlike the other two, who do the bad impressions all the time because it's fun.

    Video Games 
  • Final Fantasy X: Partway through the game, Yuna will try to lighten the mood by imitating Wakka's accent.
    Yuna: A lotta fiends here, ya?
    Lulu: Don't talk like that.

    Web Animation 
  • Homestar Runner:
    • In "Halloween Potion-ma-jig", choose to do a "Reagan impression" for Bubs:
      Homestar: (leaning over, in a low voice) Well... well... Nancy and I... economics... well... rap music... jellybeans... well... we... probably had a... pet...
      Bubs: That's the worst Ronald Reagan impression I've ever heard!
      Homestar: Ronald Reagan?! I was doing my Keanu Reagan!
    • And then later, at the end, click on Homestar:
      Homestar: Hey Strong Bad! (adopts "shady drifter" impression) Let me get a few dollars. I'm trying to catch a train. My wife, she's pregnant. I got thirteen kids. I'm on hard times.
      Strong Bad: Well, at least your shady drifter impression is better than your Ronald Reagan.
      Homestar: Ooh! I can hit you with some more of that, too! (adopts Ronald Reagan impression) Well... well... Oliver Cromwell...
    • Another time, having accidentally broken up with Marzipan via answering machine, Homestar quickly replaces the tape with a fake he recorded. In the fake messages, he does horrible impressions of several characters, including himself.
    • Another answering machine has both Strong Bad and the King of Town trying to impersonate each other in order to accuse the other as the prank caller. Both do an absolutely terrible job as sounding like the other and frequently slip out of character only to transparently try to cover it up.
    • A meta example is the "Powered by The Cheat" shorts, where in keeping with their Stylistic Suck tones all the voices except The Cheat are usually deliberately-bad impressions of the other characters done by Mike Chapman.
  • A Youtube Poop by NPCarlsson, Get Silly in Front Of a Brick Wall, edits one existing example to Shout-Out to another while being an example in itself.
    Jay Leno: (in Jay Sherman's voice) Howdy Howdy Howdy.
    McBain: Beautiful Woody impression.

    Web Comics 
  • Parodied in Concerned: Gordon Frohman's impression of Gordon Freeman is... well first of all, the latter never speaks, so impersonating him is officially impossible. But his line is "I'm Gordon Freeman! I never say anything! Blah blah blah!"

    Web Original 
  • An early running gag on Cracked After Hours was Dan O'Brien using the exact same loud, screechy voice to impersonate various celebrities. Michael and Katie don't seem to be impressed (when Dan attempts to imitate Goldie Wilson, Michael retorts "You sound like a blender!"), but Soren is bowled over every time.
    Michael: ...You've been sitting on that Lazenby this whole time?!
    • And subverted when Sick!Soren gives Daniel grief over an abysmal Krang impression that was actually spot-on.
  • Both Jake and Amir have done bad impressions in their videos.
  • In Monster Factory, Justin's Dark Souls Walkthrough narrator character always has a weird Cockney accent, which then, as a Running Gag, becomes the accent for Will Wright (who Griff is "pretty sure" isn't British) and then Shigeru Miyamoto (which reduces Griff to tears).

    Western Animation 
  • In the Corner Gas Animated episode, Mother Father Figure, Emma is upset nobody gets her impersonation of Oscar (which is actually decent). Everybody loves Oscar's impersonation of her, which is this trope. He simply says he is Emma and mocks her.
  • Family Guy:
    • Peter once said "This is my impression of John Wayne at the first Thanksgiving. 'Happy Thanksgiving, Pilgrim!'" He then does impressions of John Wayne Bobbit (a man who famously... lost his penis to something very sharp) and John Wayne Gacy (the infamous serial killer), using the same John Wayne voice.
    • This was subverted in "From Method to Madness" with a stand-up comedian who did impressions of his friends and family, which all sounded exactly the same (a stereotypical New York accent). In the next scene, we see him talking to his friends and family and they actually all really do sound the same.
    • Peter's impressions of Sir Winston Churchill all involved him asking for something British without even faking a British accent: "Would you like a crumpet? I would because I'm Winston Churchill!"
    • Carl the gas station attendant once did his impersonation of Sterling Archer from Archer and Bob Belcher from Bob's Burgers. The joke being that all three have H. Jon Benjamin's natural speaking voice, but Carl doesn't do anything to imitate the way they talk ("Hi, I'm that guy, Archer!")
  • South Park: This is a staple of Jimmy's standup routine.
  • The Simpsons:
    • In "The Blunder Years", a hypnotist makes Homer impersonate Emily Dickinson. Since Homer apparently has no idea who she is, he confuses her with Angie Dickinson, and his impression consists of him prancing around the room saying "Look at me, I'm Angie Dickinson! Out of my way!"
    • Part of McBain's unfunny stand-up comedy turn in "A Star is Burns":
      "Now, my Woody Allen impression: (voice stays exactly the same) I'm a neurotic nerd who likes to sleep with little girls."
  • On The Magic School Bus, Carlos' attempt to be The Ahnold leaves something to be desired.
  • Batman: The Animated Series gives us Superman's attempt at covering for Batman when the latter goes missing. His voice was perfect (thanks to super muscular control of his larynx), his attempts at Batman's mannerisms were not.
  • King Julien's impression of Mason (a chimp) in The Penguins of Madagascar is bad enough ("Ook ook! I sure do love the tire swing!"), but when asked to do one of Private (a penguin)... "Ook ook! I sure do love a stinky fish!" His impersonation of Maurice is slightly better; he puts on a deep voice, stretches his ears out to the sides, and says "Uh, hey, everybody, stop having fun, because I am boring!" Maurice protests that he doesn't talk like that:
    Maurice: "Now that's just your robot voice."
    Julien: *sulky* "End. Transmission."
  • The Futurama episode "Bendless Love" illustrates that Bender can't do a believable impression of Flexo, his exact double whose voice is identical to his own. At least, he can't imitate Flexo's voice when he tries to — when acting natural while impersonating Flexo he's much more convincing.
  • In American Dad!:
    Francine: I pity the fool, who don't think I'm cool! Get it? I was making a Dr. T reference!
  • In Dan Vs. "The Ninja", Chris acts as a decoy for Dan by standing in the park and saying things like "I'm Dan! I get mad at everything, then I yell a lot. I sure don't appreciate my friend Chris."
  • On the SpongeBob SquarePants episode "Opposite Day", SpongeBob decides to act like his complete opposite, Squidward. Patrick wants to be Squidward too, but while SpongeBob's Squidward impression is spot on, Patrick just sings "I'm Squidward, I'm Squidward, Squidward Squidward Squidward!" in his normal voice.
  • A running gag with The Chameleon from T.U.F.F. Puppy can change any shape but apparently can't disguise his Peter Lorre voice. For example, when he disguised himself as a French Poodle, he uses his normal voice while adding French Stereotypes. (Croissants, Eiffel Tower, Napoleon)
  • Jeremie Belpois from Code Lyoko tries to impersonate Jim, but it sounds bad enough to be mistaken for the principal. It gains laughs from the gang.
  • One episode of Kaeloo had Kaeloo, Quack Quack and Stumpy try to do impressions of Mr. Cat and ask him who did the best impression of him. Kaeloo and Quack Quack do horrible impressions that are almost nothing like the actual Mr. Cat. Averted with Stumpy, who actually did a pretty good job, but was disqualified anyway because Mr. Cat found the impression too embarrassing.
  • In the Ren & Stimpy episode “Stimpy’s Fan Club” Ren makes himself a Stimpy suit and tells the mailman not to give him any more fan mail, he does a terrible impression of Stimpy’s voice, other than saying “Duh” he pretty much uses a slightly higher version of his natural voice.
  • In the Rugrats episode “Angelica Breaks A Leg’’ Angelica does impressions for Didi; while she does attempt to sound like Arnold Schwarzenegger, her impression of Popeye is just her saying “I am what I am, and that's all that I am” in her normal voice.
  • The Will Vinton Claymation short The Great Cognito stars a comedian whose vocal impersonations (and jokes) are mediocre at best... but whose face shapeshifts in amazing ways.