Jon Lovitz is singing for his supper this summer.
And he’s not pathologically lying about it this time. Nor is he ACTING! Lovitz is one of the competitors in ABC’s summer celebreality stunt, Sing Your Face Off, which debuts Saturday night with back-to-back episodes from 9 to 11 p.m. Eastern/Pacific.
In those first two tries, you’ll see Lovitz fully inhabit the characters and voices of Elton John and Pavarotti. The following Saturday, he’ll take on Billy Idol and Meatloaf.
But why? And why singing and not, say, high-diving literally?
“I just felt it was something I could possibly do, you know, half-decently,” Lovitz told The Comic’s Comic last week. “I like to sing. I’ve been singing my whole life. It’s like on Saturday Night Live, they’d say you’re playing real-life people like David Crosby or Michael Dukakis. So I’d say its something more in my wheelhouse.” Certainly more than doing any other type of “reality” TV competition such as dancing, surviving on a tropical island, or high-diving (which was last summer’s big splash).
“I really wasn’t looking. They asked me to do the show. I wasn’t seeking to do a reality show, trying to find one to do,” he said. “I mean, Dancing With the Stars, they asked me to do it a couple of times. I can do it OK, not like a professional. And then I watch the show. I was so impressed with the dances they do. I couldn’t do that! Oh my God. It was unbelievable. I’ve talked to people who did it. They said it was the greatest thing.”
Lovitz said his friends also suffered broken ribs, other fractures and bruises doing it, too, though.
“I like to play tennis and golf. I don’t want to go on a show and break my leg or hip. Because they have them dancing 8-9 hours all day every day. That’s too much. That’s too much physical activity, period,” he said. “I never exercised eight hours a day. I used to ride my bike to the beach and back when I was 15. Twenty miles each way, did it like it was nothing. Play tennis three hours with my dad and ride to the beach. I’m not 15 anymore. I’m 56. Anyway. I didn’t want to do something where I’d be mediocre.
“This is kind of what I do. What I did on Saturday Night Live. Imitate people. And I like to sing. And the other thing: If I’m Elton John. You get to pretend you’re a rock star. They have the whole band and the audience is going nuts and you’re playing the piano with a full band pretending to be Elton John. That sounds like a lot of fun. And I tried my best. Some I did well, some I did not so well. When it went well, it was quite thrilling.”
He added: “That being said, it was a lot harder than I realized. You weren’t just playing the person. The whole goal was to make you do a double-take…You had to sound like them! So it was a real challenge.”
In his five seasons on SNL, Lovitz made his name more for his original characters such as the lying Tommy Flanagan, the Master Thespian or Hanukkah Harry — although he also did appear as Ringo Starr, David Crosby and Harvey Fierstein.
“Dana Carvey was more the guy who was doing most of the impressions of people, but that was his strength. Aside from how funny he is, he’s a great mimic, he’s great at it. I could do the people I was asked to play, but it was a thing. You had to study them. The cadence. And the show was more about having fun. The competition was last on the list. It wasn’t really about that.”
Even on Sing Your Face Off, it’s competitive, but it’s also entertaining, he said.
And he’s facing another SNL colleague and master impersonator in Darrell Hammond as one of his judges, along with singer Debbie Gibson. “That’s an impressive combo,” Lovitz said.
He also had great things to say about the other entertainers competing with him. But he shouldn’t sell himself short. Lovitz has, in fact, sung for years on and off-screen, whether we were paying attention at the time or not.
Here he is as Jimmie Moore, a colleague of Adam Sandler’s Robbie Hart in 1998’s The Wedding Singer, performing “Ladies Night”:
A few years later, Lovitz dueted with Robbie Williams on “Well, Did You Evah,” for Williams’ “Live At The Albert” DVD:
Looking back on it now, Lovitz said a friend booked him that gig. On Williams: “He was a really nice guy, really funny,” he said. “It’s something when you work up close with people like that. They have this giant talent and it looks like it’s effortless.”
More recently, Lovitz belted out “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” for the Chicago Cubs faithful at Wrigley Field:
To pull off Elton John or Pavarotti, though, Lovitz needed work. Specifically makeup, costuming, choreography and his vocal coach, Roger Love.
Love and Lovitz. Could they make beautiful musical tributes together?
Lovitz said the producers asked him and the other competitors who they thought they could pay proper tributes to onstage, “but at the end of the day, they chose who you’d be doing.”
“I really wanted to do Tony Bennett,” he said. “I think I really could have nailed him well.”
Lovitz really was blown away by 15-year-old China Anne McClain, who also performed on Sing Your Face Off. “I can’t say enough about China McClain,” he said. “She’s literally one of the greatest performers I’ve ever seen in my life. A phenomenon. That great.”
“If she was on The Voice or American Idol, she’d cream them all. You’ll see it!”
Does he get to witness young phenoms of comedy, too, having owned his own namesake club — The Jon Lovitz Comedy Club & Podcast Theatre — in Universal City for going on five years now?
“It’s very rare,” he said. “That’s the thing. The word ‘great.’ There’s only a handful of people who are great. So it’s very rare. It comes along every once in a while…A comedic genius, like Eddie Murphy. When that happened — oh my God. It’s just very rare. But there are a lot of very funny comedians. It’s like when Robin Williams came along and people were blown away. It happens but just rarely.”
His club also plays host to an “all-star blues jam” on Wednesdays, puts on funny rock bands on Thursdays, and stages live podcast recordings for his Jon Lovitz Comedy Network online. “We have clips of stand-up comedians in the club and we show all the podcasts that are on there,” he said. “I do Lovitz or Leavitz.” Stuttering John and Craig Shoemaker also have shows on the network.
Lovitz said he doesn’t get onstage at his own club all that often, but when he is on the road, you will hear him sing. “I play the piano and sing in my act now,” he said. “I’ve done that for 10 years.”
And you may have heard him sing the national anthem at Dodgers Stadium, too.
“Mostly I’m just singing in the shower, though,” Lovitz said.
“It was fun. But I’m not going to lie to you, it was nervous every time,” he said.
Sing Your Face Off is hosted by John Barrowman, with performances from Sebastian Bach, Landry Fields, Jon Lovitz, China Anne McClain and Lisa Rinna. They’ll be judged by Debbie Gibson and Darrell Hammond — with guest judges David Alan Grier, RuPaul, Carnie Wilson, Richard Simmons, Tom Arnold, and Carmen Electra. It’s adapted from Endemol’s global TV hit, Your Face Sounds Familiar.
Sing Your Face Off premieres at 9 p.m. Eastern/Pacific Saturday, May 31, 2014, on ABC.