The setting was the 2001 Just for Laughs fest here. The hyper-energetic comedian on stage had just completed a dazzling, near-dizzying performance in which he had condensed the Star Wars film saga down to a palatable two minutes. In so doing, he used more than a dozen dead-on impressions of everyone from Darth Vader to Yoda to ever-growling Chewbacca the Wookie monster. He brought down the house.
A fellow sitting next to me lamented to his wife that he wished Canada could produce such “polished American performers who grasp the entertainment aspect of show-biz.”
Well, once again, folks should never assume. The performer in question, Greg Morton, was, in fact, no Yank. He hails from that show-biz capital of Woodstock, Ont. And maybe because he grew up in a small town where entertainment options were limited, Morton was able to put his imagination to the test and was able to eventually hone one of the most entertaining acts on either side of the border.
Morton does vocal impressions to rival those of anyone on the continent. But he is not merely content to, say, do a 10-second byte of Marlon Brando doing The Godfather. He takes his act to another level and incorporates a dozen voices to create a veritable symphony.
And as the fellow who caught him at the comedy fest can attest, no one leaves a Greg Morton performance un-entertained.
So consider yourselves alerted: Morton brings his act back to town this week for a gig tonight at Bourbon Street West, followed by three nights at Ernie Butler’s Comedy Nest downtown.
Morton is not being boastful when he says he can pretty much imitate any voice he hears, as long as it is in his vocal range. Some say he does Jack Nicholson and Jerry Lewis better than they do. Morton attributes his gift for mimicry back to his upbringing in the quaint community of Woodstock.
“When I was a kid, I was a big lover of cartoons,” says Morton, 50, who now lives with his wife in Toronto. “I was an only child playing by myself. To pass the time, I would draw characters and then come up with voices for them. With my toys, I would do the same and act out little plays.”
It reached the point where Morton wasn’t sure if this obsession with voices would lead him into the entertainment world or therapy on the couch of a shrink. Fortunately, it was the former
“The only difference between over-imaginative kids and comics is that the comics never stop playing. Also, the comics get paid for playing. It doesn’t get much better than that.
“Still, while impressionists like Rich Little were big heroes of mine growing up, I just never dreamed a career like that would be in the cards for me. So, instead, I focused mainly on my drawing, thinking I had a better shot to make it as an artist.”
After studying classical animation at Sheridan College, Morton landed work as a cartoonist and illustrated such hit shows as Scooby Doo and Scrappy Doo and Heavy Metal. But the solitary life of an artist got to him, so Morton started to work as a DJ, spinning discs and spewing one-liners. He then had the brainwave to supply voices for the animated offerings of others.
When he finally found his voice – voices – 22 years ago, he leapt into performing full time. Morton is, not surprisingly, much in demand on the casino circuit in Vegas and Atlantic City. That’s because, Canuck or not, he is a consummate performer. He is also a consummate creator. In addition to his show-stopping Star Wars routine, he has also managed to condense the Lord of the Rings trilogy into just two minutes, showcasing more than a dozen voices and critters – and saving impatient people 14 hours or so of movie viewing in the process.
Greg Morton’s performance at Bourbon Street West tonight is sold out. Some tickets do remain for Morton’s shows, tomorrow through Saturday at Ernie Butler’s Comedy Nest, in the Pepsi Forum, 2313 Ste. Catherine St. W. Call 514-932-6378.