This week's Washington Post Magazine article "Political Faux" features two presidential impersonators: Larry Graves as Barack Obama and Bob Heck as Bill Clinton.
Graves is actually a teacher, and when recalling how he got into the impersonation gig, he says his students once chased him around the playground while shouting "Mr.President! Mr. President!" He says, "So, I sent my pictures to Cast Of Thousands, and the rest is history."
Bob Heck says that he had chosen to pursue acting, particularly in Washington during Bill Clinton's 1992 campaign. "Doing Clinton was really Elvis with a hoarse voice," he says, "I did Elvis — all the years and all the songs — and then all of a sudden, I got a cold, and I realized, 'Well, there's Bill!' "
Heck says his role of Clinton raises certain popular subject matters. "Women invariably expect flirtatiousness, which I do in a tasteful manner ... because Bill would. I've actually met the president. I did Clinton to Clinton," he notes.
Graves and Heck also worked together in 2008. At the time, Heck played then-Republican presidential candidate John McCain. Heck notes that people treated Graves (as Obama) the way they wanted to treat the actual Obama. Heck recalls a woman who came up to him and called Obama "the Antichrist," spouting off vile remarks. Heck walked away.
What does it mean for America when impersonations can be feasible careers for some people? Graves says, "It means we need to smile more. Laughter helps in the most tense of situations. It's an admirable profession. I love it."
Heck adds, "People need to have a release to the upset of politics, the rancor that goes on where the right and the left cannot even sit down at the same table. So I think you can work out your frustrations and get a good laugh when you hear a political impersonator either make fun of the character, or as the character make fun of others or situations."
MICHEL MARTIN, host: Now we open up the pages of The Washington Post magazine, something we do just about every week for interesting stories about the way we live now. And today, courtesy of The Washington Post magazine, we're speaking with both President Barack Obama and former president, Bill Clinton. Welcome to you both. President Clinton, so good to talk to you.
BOB HECK: Well, I'm so deeply touched and happy to be here. And I just wanted to say that I always remember the last three words you said to me back in D.C. a few years ago. You said, President Clinton, tell me more.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
HECK: And I will.
MARTIN: I guess. President Obama?
LARRY GRAVES: Uh, it is wonderful to be here today. And I'm a great admirer of your show.
MARTIN: Well, thank you very much.
Well, actually, no, I didn't score the guest booking of the century. You probably figured this out now. I'm joined by two impersonators. Larry Graves takes on the persona of President Obama and Bob Heck assumes the character of former President Clinton. And they were both featured in the Post magazine article this week called "Political Faux."
So having established that, Larry Graves, how did you get into this? I understand that you're a substitute teacher.
GRAVES: Well, actually, you know, it was interesting, because my students continually said, Mr. President, Mr. President. They chased me around the playground once. So I sent my pictures to Cast of Thousands and the rest is history.
MARTIN: You know, I can vouch for the fact that there is an uncanny resemblance. I mean, the way you carry yourself, the way you walk, your build, you know, your hair. If I didn't have my glasses on, I would - you know what I mean? I would actually be asking you for debt relief.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
GRAVES: Well, you know, I won two dollars this weekend on the golf summit. That's going directly to the deficit. So...
MARTIN: OK. Now, Bob, you're joining us from our member station in Salisbury, Maryland. So I can't see you.
MARTIN: But I understand that you don't actually naturally look like President Clinton, but you sure do sound like him. How did this start?
HECK: Well, once I left the Federal Witness Protection Program and found my way, I decided to become an actor. And I decided to want to work down in Washington and that coincided with Clinton's campaign in '92. And I discovered that doing Clinton was really Elvis with a horse voice. 'Cause I did Elvis, you know what I'm saying, Michel?
MARTIN: Yeah, I do.
HECK: All the years and all the songs. And then all of a sudden, I got, like, a cold and I realized, well, there's Bill. It's all the same kind of delta thing. And I just want to tell you more.
MARTIN: If you're just joining us, I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.
I'm visiting with two impersonators, Bob Heck, who - as you heard - portrays former President Bill Clinton. He also does Larry King and a number of other voices. And Larry Graves, who portrays President Barack Obama. You know, it's interesting that we're having this conversation because just this weekend a Barack Obama impersonator was physically removed from the stage at the Republican leadership conference in New Orleans. Did you hear that, Larry?
GRAVES: Yes I did.
MARTIN: When, apparently that it was determined that his jokes just went too far. Has that ever happened to you? Have you - is there a line you will not cross?
GRAVES: Well, first of all, let me say that I totally respect the office of the presidency and there are certain things that clients or participants at the party's events want me to do that I will not do.
MARTIN: You won't do anything sexual or anything.
GRAVES: Or I just find it tasteless and...
GRAVES: Yes, sir?
HECK: Don't you remember when we were doing the campaign together in '08 and I played McCain and people would treat you the way they would like to have treated Obama both positively and negatively.
MARTIN: Oh, is that true?
GRAVES: That is true.
MARTIN: Oh, you've worked together? The two of you have worked together?
GRAVES: Oh yeah.
HECK: We've worked together many times.
GRAVES: Exactly. Yeah, he played McCain also. He's a great McCain.
HECK: I had a woman come up to me - do you remember this, Larry? We were doing a convention in Washington and this very strange woman came up to me. And I'm McCain. And she comes up to me and she goes, you know he's the anti-Christ.
GRAVES: Oh, I think I...
HECK: And I said, oh, thank you so much. And have a great day. So you never know.
MARTIN: You mean, who's the anti-Christ? She said that Obama is the anti-Christ?
GRAVES: Obama was.
GRAVES: I distinctly remember this because she looked at me and started spouting off bile. And I walked away.
MARTIN: So people are projecting onto you.
GRAVES: Oh, yes.
MARTIN: That's interesting.
GRAVES: As the president said - positive or negative. And you kind of run with it or run away from it.
MARTIN: Bob, tell me about that. Tell me a little bit more about that.
HECK: When you do, Clinton, OK, obviously there are certain subject matters that everybody knows about. So when I do Clinton, Michel, invariably, women especially expect flirtatiousness, which I do in a tasteful manner. Because Bill would. 'Cause I've actually met the president. I actually did Clinton to Clinton.
And when they introduced me, you know, a Marine - it's at the White House ceremonial room, and they go, Mr. President, Robert Heck. And you feel like a fourth grade kid being introduced by a teacher. And he looked at me very bewildered, like, oh my god, what have I gotten into here? And I just walked up to him and I said, Mr. President, never let it be said that this administration does not have a sense of humor. How am I doing? And he went, damn, that's good.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
HECK: And Hillary laughed, is what happened. And then the line stopped and then I could feel the buzz behind me that the press knew this was unplanned. And that guy does look like Clinton. And then he put me together with Gore and said, uh, this is the new administration. Go on and answer their questions. And I did.
MARTIN: Finally, before I let each of you go, what do you think it means that you have this job? I mean, what does it say about us as a country that there is actually a career doing this? Is this, I mean, I'm just trying to think, you know, in some countries what you're doing would be illegal, you know? You know?
GRAVES: That is the beauty of our country, first of all.
MARTIN: Yeah. But what do you think it means that there's kind of an appetite for this? Larry, why don't you start? And then, Bob, I'll give you the last word.
HECK: Thank you.
GRAVES: Well, first of all, I think it means that we need to smile more. We had the golf summit. Hopefully, there were a lot of smiles on the 18th hole because this is going to be a tough week with the GOP and my administration, or to say, Obama's administration.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
GRAVES: So I think that laughter helps in the most tense of situations. So therefore I think this is an admirable profession. I love it. I love it.
MARTIN: All right. Bob? What do you think it means?
HECK: People need to have a release to the upset of politics, the rancor that goes on, which I know, Michel, you would agree is probably the worst you've ever seen it - where, you know, right and left cannot even sit down at the same table. So I think you can work out your frustrations and get a good laugh when you hear a political impersonator either make fun of the character or as the character make fun of others or situations.
MARTIN: Bob Heck is an actor, an impersonator. President Clinton and Larry King are among the people that he can inhabit.
HECK: Thank you.
MARTIN: He was kind enough to join us from member station Delmarva Public Radio in Salisbury, Maryland. Larry Graves is a political impersonator who impersonates President Barack Obama.
GRAVES: Thank you. Thank you.
HECK: Barack, have a great day.
GRAVES: And you too. You have a great day, also, Mr. President.
MARTIN: He joined us in our Washington, D.C. studio. If you'd like to read the piece in its entirety - and we hope you will. It's entitled "Political Foe." It was written by Sally Dadisman. And we'll link to it on our website. Just go to NPR.org. Click on the programs tab and then on TELL ME MORE. Gentlemen, Mr. Presidents, both, thank you both so much for joining us.
GRAVES: Oh, thank you very much...
HECK: Thank you.
GRAVES: ..and let me just say that I'm looking forward to that game with the president.
HECK: All right. Then I'm looking forward to it too. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.