North Shore native Ryan Goldsher’s foray into the world of celebrity impressions dates back a few years — “the result of my high school talent show. I went out on a limb and decided, ‘If I can do one voice, let’s see how many I can actually do.’ ”
Goldsher, 19, has been building on that first repertoire ever since. The Glenbrook North High School alum — now a student at Pepperdine University in California — will showcase his talent for mimicking famous folks on this week’s episode of “First Impressions,” the USA Network’s new comedy competition series featuring “Saturday Night Live” alum Dana Carvey and hosted by Freddie Prinze Jr.
The episode with Goldsher competing against two other budding impressionists will air at 9:30 p.m. Tuesday on USA. The winner (determined by a vote of the studio audience) goes home with a prize of $10,000.
“As a kid, I was trying to show off pretty much the entire time,” Goldsher said. “I was performing in kindergarten. I’d jump up on the table and pretend I was Elvis. It’s kind of always been part of me.”
The young comedian’s range of impressions is quite broad. Those include Matthew McConaughey, Nicolas Cage, Jack Nicholson, Mark Wahlberg and Morgan Freeman.
Yet, in a phone interview, Goldsher said his appearance on “First Impressions” came about as something of a lucky break. “I don’t have any kind of management out there [in California]. It was because of the club where I do open-mic nights. They let me know about ‘First Impressions’ and set me up with an audition for the show.”
Goldsher clearly made the cut, and his Tuesday night appearance includes him being watched on the show by Jon Lovitz and Jay Leno — as well as Carvey and Prinze.
“Everyone always wants me to do my Morgan Freeman, because they think it’s my best one. It’s so weird to see. It’s like seeing a zebra running down Michigan Avenue! It’s so unexpected from what I physically look like,” said the slender, preppy-looking white kid from Northbrook.
But it was the most difficult one he initially had to master. “It took about a month to learn, because it was so much out of my vocal range. It took a long time for me to do it out loud. … Also, my Louis C.K. took weeks to perfect — constantly trying out different things that he said.”
His favorite technique is to research online interviews stars have done. “Right away, I’ll get a message in my head that will tell me, ‘You can do this,’ but sometimes I also get the message, ‘You will really have to work at this!’ ”
The budding comic explained that the “subtler a person is, the harder it is to impersonate their voice.” That’s the reason a lot of people perform what Goldsher called “cartoon voices” — over-the-top vocalizing as we hear from the likes of Paul Reubens’ Pee-wee Herman character or Gilbert Gottfried.
“For example, I’m working on a Ryan Reynolds voice now. He’s not easy, and it takes a lot of work, but I am making progress,” said Goldsher about his pending impression of the “Deadpool” star.
“The trick is, you have to deliver an impression that people have to immediately recognize. That’s the whole thing.”
As for his appearance on “First Impressions”? Goldsher called it “a total blast. It was an impressionist’s playground from start to finish.”