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FIRST IMPRESSIONS : Phil Snyder Has Thrived on Animated Imitations Since He Was a Toddler

June 27, 1991|DENNIS McLELLAN | Dennis McLellan is a Times staff writer who covers comedy regularly for O.C. Live!

When Phil Snyder walks out on stage at Comedy Land in the Pan Pacific Hotel in Anaheim tonight carrying a large box, the audience might suspect it's not going to get the typical stand-up comedy act.

Indeed, who else on the comedy club circuit does Porky Pig singing the Beatles' "I Saw Her Standing There"?

Snyder specializes in impressions--singing, cartoon and celebrity--and that prop box he carries contains all the essential ingredients: everything from wigs and sunglasses to pig snout and a break-away white-shirt-sport-jacket-red-bow-tie outfit for his Pee-wee Herman bit ("The secret word today is Aaaaahh!").

Then there's his oversized white cartoon gloves, the kind with three fingers and a thumb.

"They were bequeathed to me by the Woody Woodpecker that works at Universal Studios," said Snyder, who toured with the legendary woodpecker in MCA's "Magic of Hollywood" national tour in 1989. "I used to have other old plastic gloves that were rather unwieldy."

Snyder dons the cartoon gloves for one of his signature pieces. It's a cartoon rap featuring more than 30 stellar names from the Land of the Animated, including Bugs Bunny, Mickey Mouse, Yogi Bear, Chip 'n' Dale, Dudley Doright, Tweetie and Popeye and Olive.

Another signature piece is Snyder's star-studded version of "We Are the World." He calls it "We Are the Old," and it features everyone from Michael Jackson and Bob Dylan to Tina Turner and Wayne Newton.

Snyder, whose vocal repertoire includes 300 different impressions, did his first voice when he was 5 or 6. Appropriately enough, it was a cartoon voice.

"I remember doing Bullwinkle," he said. "Then I started doing Jimmy Stewart, Tweetie Bird . . . As far as cartoons, (legendary Warner Bros. voice artist) Mel Blanc was my greatest influence. And I was greatly influenced by Stan Freberg's old radio show records."

Growing up in Idaho and Oregon, Snyder appeared in both school and civic theater. Said the comedian, who performed at his first open-mike night at the Comedy Store in Hollywood in 1974: "I was originally interested in acting, but I always ended up imitating everybody else, in addition to the part I had. I never was satisfied in doing just one role."

To master a celebrity impression, Snyder often records the voice and listens to it over and over. "What an impressionist does is look for a hook--something really outstanding: a certain cadence or patter to the voice, or certain key words," he said.

An example?

"Well, Roger Rabbit, he talks sort of like this," said Snyder, taking on the distinctively silly voice of the most famous cartoon rabbit since Bugs Bunny: "He's got a little bit of a lisp, but not overbearing. He has that one where he says, 'P-p-p-ple-e-e-ase.' So you just kind of shake your lips and move your head back and forth: Let the lips fly!"

Snyder says it's easier getting laughs by doing impressions than from just doing a traditional stand-up act "because you have instant identification. You can take a pat phrase. Like you do Paul Lynde and all you have to do is say, 'They're all animals! ' "

Two years ago, the comic's career took an evangelistic turn.

"You might call me a Christian comedian. There are a few of us out there," said Snyder, 38, who is thinking of going into the ministry full time. "I have a Christian version of a couple of things that I do."

That includes the Cartoon Rap, which he renames the Cartoon Revival Rap.

"The idea is some of the cartoons are not being shown on Saturday mornings very often and some of the characters got down and out and then got saved: The cartoon characters are giving their testimonies in a rap."

In the secular version, for example, Tweetie raps, "I taught I taw a poody tat, who had the moonwalk down just pat."

Then Sylvester the cat raps: "Truth is I wanted that Tweetie Bird. I accidentally stepped in some doggy (dirt)." As Sylvester, Snyder then goes into a moonwalk, trying to walk off the doggy dirt.

In the Christian version, Sylvester's part of the rap goes like this: "Truth is, brother, my conscience I was fightin'. What I was doing I called back-slidin'."

Snyder said he has done the Cartoon Revival Rap in churches and in state and federal prisons.

The response from the prisoners, Snyder said, "is just incredible. It's quite phenomenal how these hardened criminals become my friends instantly. Where before I did the rap they might want to cut my throat, now they want to shake my hand.

"That's probably the hottest piece that I do (in prisons). It cuts through cultural, religious and racial barriers just immediately."

Who: Phil Snyder.

When: Thursday, June 27, at 8:30 p.m.; Friday, June 28, and Saturday, June 29, at 8:30 and 10:30 p.m.

Where: Comedy Land in the Pan Pacific Hotel, 1717 S. West St., Anaheim.

Whereabouts: Take the Katella exit off the Santa Ana (5) Freeway and go west. Turn right on West Street. The Pan Pacific Hotel is next to the Disneyland Hotel.

Wherewithal: $5.

Where to call: (714) 979-5653.

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