Nicholas Arnold is a Jerry Lewis Tribute Artist and Performer in Toronto, Ontario.
As a child, did you want to be an actor, or did it fall into place through other activities?
I actually wanted to be a filmmaker. And did end up pursuing that goal and achieving it to some success. I would say the acting and performing definitely fell into place through other activities. I enjoyed doing it from an early age but it wasn’t something I was solely focused on. I wanted to direct. I wanted to write. At the end of the day, I wanted to tell stories – and I’ve realized that’s all I’m really doing as a performer. At the end of the day, I’m still tapping into whatever that dream was as a young kid. I had done school plays and some community theatre while still in high school but I fell into performing as a professional career when I began doing a Jerry Lewis impression in my late teens and early twenties. I looked like him a little and could sound like him and move like him and it dawned on me that I could potentially turn this into some kind of gig. So by the time I was 21, I was touring a self-written, self-directed one-man tribute to Jerry Lewis to retirement homes and communities. That led to a few more professional bookings, and within a few years I found myself performing in professional theatres and with professional companies across North America backed by veteran musicians. Performing truly was something that just fell into place. And I say performing because I almost see it as less of an “acting” thing. My style of “acting” and performing is pulled directly from the vaudeville and nightclub era, reinvented for a modern audience.
Who inspired you to follow your dream to pursue acting?
I think I’ve always been driven in any project I’ve pursued, whether that’s been a film or a performance piece. When the Jerry Lewis thing started I was always looking for ways to improv upon it and get better; physically and vocally. I suppose I was inspired by those legends of the past – Dean Martin, Jerry Lewis, Frank Sinatra, Red Skelton. I was especially drawn to physical comedians and wanted to figure out how I could replicate or reimagine some of their intensely athletic routines. I always thought “well if Jerry Lewis was 18 and he was able to bend his legs like that, maybe I can too!” The rest is history.
What challenges have you faced in the entertainment industry? What has been your most rewarding experience?
The biggest challenge I’ve faced is not feeling like I fit the mould of an actor. I’m not a musical theatre guy and yet I’ve found myself heading professional musical concerts backed by live bands. I didn’t study acting or music, yet I’m going head to head with people who have. When your “thing” is something that doesn’t exist anymore; in that, the nightclub, variety show is a thing of the past, it can be very difficult for you or your agent to find a place for you or figure out how to “sell” you to casting directors. At the same time, this very unique route I’ve taken has led to me connecting with some incredible people and fortunate enough to land a role in the show, “Dean and Jerry: What Might Have Been” which has been performing off-and-on for the last two years. I count myself incredibly lucky to revisit the Jerry Lewis role in this show amongst a plethora of professional veterans in different venues and to different audiences. That’s so rare. I’m not a standup comic and I’m not an improviser which is the go-to for comedians, yet I work hard to display rapid-fire comedic routines on stage in that. It can be extremely confusing because you sit back and go, “Okay, that show is awesome! And so much fun. How can I do more of that?” And there’s just not that many shows like that out there. It comes down to creating your own work. From there, certain things (like the Dean and Jerry show) fall into place.
What is your favourite type of character to play?
Jerry Lewis! Hah! No, but I do enjoy playing the meek or bumbling idiot. Anything that allows me to do a prat fall or flip over a few tables. That said — and this goes back to what I mentioned earlier — about feeling more like a performer rather than an actor, the moments in “Dean and Jerry: What Might Have Been” when I step out of the role and become ‘Nick’ for a moment, talking to the audience about Jerry and telling his story — that’s when I really feel like I’m doing what I’m meant to be doing. So I suppose that means I enjoy moments where I’m able to bring myself (whether it’s an element of myself or just simply me) to the stage. I’d love to do more emceeing in that regard.
What market do you currently work in? Are there other areas you would like to work?
I’m based out of Toronto and have only performed in a few community shows here. Professionally, the “Dean and Jerry: What Might Have Been” show and various other nostalgia-based entertainment that I’ve been involved in have taken me everywhere but Toronto including Arizona.
What advice would you give to someone new trying to make it in the acting industry?
Don’t be afraid to stumble into things. The Jerry Lewis thing seemed weird at first. And still does when I explain it to people. It’s not an impersonation that I do. I’m Nick on stage. A very Jerry version of Nick. But I’m Nick. But back when I started, in retirement homes and nursing homes, I was doing a straight-up impersonation and it was gimmicky and weird. But it led to me landing my first professional gigs, to some amazing professional relationships and incredible experiences on stage. Listen to that inner-voice. It does not lie.
What fuels your passion?
I love talking to an audience. I love breaking that fourth wall and connecting with them, sitting on the edge of a stage with a microphone, whether I’m singing them a song or telling them a story. I love, love, love it. That’s what keeps me going and keeps me driven to keep doing shows and work like that.
What is something about you that most people would never guess?
I think those that only know me from my live comedy performing would be surprised to know I’ve directed some pretty dark films and those that know me strictly for my filmmaking would be surprised to see me running around like Jerry Lewis. It depends on when and how you know me. Aside from that, I’m actually pretty shy and quiet until I’ve gotten to know somebody. Maybe people wouldn’t guess that?
If you were to do it all over again, would you do things exactly the same? Do you have any regrets? Successes that make you proud?
Yes, I would do things the exact same. Of course! I personally let the past stay in the past. There was no way to predict how some of the cool, professional experiences I’ve had would have come about. They were all the products of a long build up of random events. I just kept saying yes to things and kept trying things — listening to that inner voice. I wouldn’t change a thing.
My biggest success has come from doing a Jerry Lewis Tribute which I initially started out doing at retirement homes, graduating to live theatre and now touring for the last two years with a show called: “Dean and Jerry: What Might Have Been”, a tribute concert examining the partnership between Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis backed by a live band: http://wwwmorrisburgleader.ca/2016/10/26/dean-and-jerry-what-might-have-been-draws-cheers-at-playhouse/
I also talk at length about this in the first episode of my new podcast which I just recently launched. In this podcast, I’ll be telling the stories of 6 nostalgia-based entertainers in North America, including Dan Kamin (a Chaplin expert who trained Robert Downey Jr. for the title role and Johnny Depp in Benny and Joon). You can check that out here: https://soundcloud.com/user-160850684
AGENT: Nicholas is represented by Teri Ritter of Ritter Talent Agency.