Frank Garcia-Hejl is disproving the adage that there's never a second chance to make a first impression.
The master of mimicry will get to pluck from his entire arsenal as he competes in USA Network's comedy competition show First Impressions on Tuesday (9:30 p.m. USA). Eighteen celebrity impressionists will go head-to-head to get the honor of being named favorite impressionist and a prize of $10,000.
"It's kind of like improv games as celebrities," Garcia-Hejl said.
Freddie Prinze Jr. hosts the series that features Dana Carvey, known for his impressions of Johnny Carson and George H.W. Bush during his time on Saturday Night Live. There are other celebrity guests, too, including Jon Lovitz on Tuesday. Garcia-Hejl (pronounced Garcia-Hail) entertained our questions before his big break airs.
Tell me about Ennis.
I was born in Houston and lived there for about four years. We got broken into a lot. My mom was like, ‘Let’s move back to my hometown.’ And that’s how I grew up in Ennis. ... It’s changed a lot since I grew up there, that’s for sure. There was really nothing to do when I grew up. That was part of the itchiness to be creative and get out, you know. Now there’s a lot of stuff there to do, to keep them occupied. When I go back, I just love seeing family.
How did you get on the show?
I live in New York now and I was in LA for some other auditions for San Francisco Sketchfest and I had my reps contact them to see if I could audition since I was in town. I heard about it online and I’m such a huge Dana Carvey fan and I love doing impressions that I wanted to get in any way I could.
Your list of influences include '80s and '90s SNL. That’s vintage Dana Carvey. Meeting him must have been a highlight for you.
I just tried to be as respectful as possible because when you meet your heroes, you don’t want to push too much. I’ve had experiences in the past where I’ve met heroes of mine that didn’t turn out too great. But Dana was amazing. He was everything that I had hoped for and more. And he was super nice. During breaks … he would come over and talk to us … about anything, which was really nice. He was very helpful. He was incredibly generous and kind and he was everything that I could hope for. So, I was very, very happy.
Do you remember the first impression you did and the inkling that you could be good at it?
Imitating SNL characters that I really liked or characters that I really liked on SNL, SCTV, Kids in the Hall, stuff like that. And then just imitating cartoon characters and family and friends and teachers. I’d get, kind of, laughs from that from my peers … I wasn’t the most popular, but whenever I’d do that stuff, they liked me. So I figured, ‘Ah, there’s something here.’
Any special plans on how you’ll watch your episode of the show?
I might have to work that night. ... When you’re in the moment … it goes by so fast that you don’t have time to really think about it. I’m looking forward to go back and watch it and take it in and hopefully not cringe.
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Angie Tribeca, the series from Steve and Nancy Carell, debuted with a 25-hour marathon. They knew what they were doing. It's strangely addictive, with each episode just flowing into the next so much so that you feel like another character on this silly and irreverent show. Rashida Jones stars as the titular character, a jaded LAPD detective who carries a world-worn air. The parodies fly fast and furious around the precinct, my friend, and you might need to binge again -- and again -- just to get 50 percent of them. Get some Angie Tribeca: The Complete Season One in your life.
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