Sometimes you have to outside to go inside.
When I was in theater school at USC, there was an acting exercise where you would exaggerate your interpretation of lines, which would help you discover new colors and dimensions for expression that wouldn't be apparent to you without stretching. I've used that exercise regularly to get outside of my preconceived notion of my voice for singing.
I mention this exercise, because it also holds true for finding new dimensions to your humanity. Sometimes you have to leave your house, go outside, walk by water, be off the clock, lose your cell phone, etc. to be able to center yourself.
And that brings me to Penny Youngman. Three years ago Penny was born out of a wig and a great party. I was at an annual gathering of friends. A ridiculous somewhat square-shaped-headed blonde/pink wig with braids was available. I put it on to be funny, and then proceeded to be seriously ridiculous. At this gathering there was an annual Hootenanny for friends to perform, and I proceeded to do a small stand up act. It was decided in the moment. I would re-tell Henny Youngman's jokes. Reading from my cell phone, in this ridiculous wig, I read the jokes, and as the outdated words spilled from my mouth I found myself yelling a loud "WHAT?" in response, followed by that familiar rim shot sound, the live drum punchline response. Penny's first performance also included an element of slapstick; I think this first year involved me setting the microphone so preposterously high that I had to jump to tell these jokes.
The next year's gathering came. There was that same wig and there was the microphone. I decided I would cartwheel on and off the stage and tell 2 or maybe it was 3 jokes. The first involved allowing the audience to watch me work hard to get as close to the ground as possible with my body and the microphone. Then, after a beat, Penny said "I call this "How Low Can You Go". I can't recall her second joke that night. The closing joke involved lying on my back with my feet and legs in the air - feet adorned with socks pulled up and placed in flip flops. I did a little 1-2 scissor dance with my legs and then in the microphone whispered "SOXY!"
This year, Penny would be a premeditated act. One day as I was jogging to Justin Timberlake's Mirrors, the lyrics seemed too perfect for the times we are in. It was settled. Penny would impersonate Donald Trump in an outrageous dance routine, singing to himself in the mirror, "You reflect me, I love that about you. And if I could, I would look at us all the time." Midway through this comedy, Trump would transform into Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and begin to sing to the audience "Yesterday is history. Tomorrow's a mystery. Oooh!" finally making an ultimate transformation into Princess Leia singing "Girl you're my reflection, all I see is you. My reflection, in everything I do."
It would be incredible, hysterical, and seriously ridiculous.
And it was.
And then, later in the Hootenanny set, I played an older song of mine, with fresh openness. A clarity that wouldn’t have been there had I not allowed Penny Youngman all of the room to stretch.
Here’s Penny from her 2016 set. A fool in her prime, a fool all the time.
P.S. Don't forget to watch the new Robin Williams doc.