53 YEARS ON EARTH…43 YEARS ON STAGE
A professional entertainer, actor, announcer, and writer, Christopher Linnell is the fun-loving, ever-active proprietor of Christopher & Co. Celebrity Impersonations, through which he offers more than 200 celebrity voices and 100 fully-costumed celebrity impersonations.
While his impersonation of television detective Lt. Columbo is certainly his best known, Groucho Marx, Rodney Dangerfield, Sheriff Buford T. Justice, Senator Bob Dole, Forrest Gump, Jack Nicholson, and The Church Lady are among his best. With his white beard, he makes a fantastic Santa Claus, Fidel Castro, Yosemite Sam, Prospetctor Pete, and even SF Giants’ pitcher Brian Wilson (with the beard dyed black)…fear the beard!
The nationally and internationally famous are not the only celebrities for whom Linnell is known. His impersonations of the late great Petaluma newspaper columnist, Bill Soberanes, San Francisco radio and T.V. personality Bill Moen (formerly of KABL), Men’s Warehouse haberdasher-extraodinaire George Zimmer, and T.V. chef Martin Yan are well-received within their respective constituencies.
The seeds of an entertainment career were sown in childhood, as Christopher dabbled in magic, ventriloquism, clowning, character voices, and puppetry. His first on-stage performance was on Guam, where his family lived during the 1970’s. Christopher performed before the assembled student body of his elementary school at age 10, doing a stand-up comedy routine with a ventriloquist dummy, and he was hooked on applause thereafter.
Christopher first began entertaining professionally as a puppeteer. He pre-recorded the soundtracks for his shows on tape in his bedroom using character voices and home-made sound effects, and performed the shows at private birthday parties, schools, and convalescent homes.
On November 1, 1975 Christopher began introducing his marionette shows as Chrisco the Clown, a character he used for 14 years. Soon he was performing all over Guam at company Christmas parties and picnics, the Julale Shopping Mall, and in parades.
The pictures below are from a typical private birthday party performance in the early 1980s by Crisco the Clown, at the Straub resident on Helen Court in Petaluma on Saturday, October 2, 1981. Mom Pat Straub writes: “It was my son Joe’s 3rd b-day and Celeste Caldwell Sutter’s 2nd birthday. Celeste is now a mother of 2 who runs Suzanne’s Dance School. Joe lives in Red Bluff and is about to make me a Grandma for the first time.” Thanks, Pat, for the great memories and the great pictures!
Christopher’s first impressions were also done in elementary school. He impersonated Elvis Presley, Flip Wilson, Tom Jones, and a variety of other celebrities of the period to the delight of his fellow students, and the constant irritation of his teachers.
But when he started impersonating his teachers, as well, he transcended the status of irritant, and eventually, and arguably, became the sweetheart of the faculty and staff. Christopher continued impersonating teachers right up through Sonoma State University, where anthropology instructor Dr. R. Thomas Rosin actually asked Christopher to fill-in for him once in the early 1980s, in costume, to administer a final exam to the class on the day when the good doctor couldn’t make it to class.
Back in 1975 Christopher’s junior high school, St John’s Episcopal Preparatory School in Tumon, Guam, staged a talent show, and he impersonated his three favorite celebrities. James Cagney (below) changed a baby’s dirty diaper (“Yooouuu dirty brat!”), Edith Bunker got tipsy at a cocktail party.
Shakey’s Pizza Parlor in Tamuning on Guam was Christopher’s first public venue as a stand-up comic and impersonator. The restaurant featured a live pianist, and banjoist Jim Turner, who coaxed the crowd to sing-a-long with lyrics projected on a large screen (the forerunner of karaoke, which hadn’t made it from Japan to Guam as of yet).
The crowd was composed mostly of Haoles (the Hawaiian word also used by Guamanians for Anglo “statesiders”), because most of the Guamanians, Filipinos, Japanese, Chinese, Koreans, Vietnamese, and other miscellaneous Asians and Pacific islanders who made up the island’s majority were not familiar with ragtime and sing-a-long. The largely white crowd was LOUD, singing, laughing, playing the Kazoo (they were free at Shakey’s), and was split between the families of American company employees (such as the Linnells of Bank of America and the Nortons of TWA), all of whom were drinking root beer and eating lots of pizza, and servicemen on leave from the three Navy bases on the island and Anderson Air Force base, most of whom drank lots of REGULAR beer and some pizza.
The Linnell family made this a regular Saturday night activity, and the two Straw Hat entertainers became intriqued by their most enthusiastic fan. Christopher even bought a used four-string plectrum banjo from Jim Turner, who gave the young comic private lessons in the banjo arts.
They invited him onto the stage one night, and were treated to a Cagney/Bunker/Laurel spiel that wowed the audience and envigorated the young Christopher with enough self-confidence to make him unbearably obnoxious off-stage, and undeniably engaging on-stage for years to come.
On February 2, 1977, St. John’s hosted a variety show, and Christopher performed as W.C. Fields, with his sister, Tammy playing Mae West; and then he came back as Stan Laurel to Bruce Cotting’s Oliver Hardy. Their task: change a light bulb! As rehearsed, Stanley took a pratfall off an eight-foot ladder right into the midst of the audience. The crowd loved it…Headmaster Rev. Col. John T. Moore did NOT (he missed the rehearsal)!
Nonetheless, Christopher did manage, as editor of the school paper, and president of the student council, to graduate four months later…with the honor of receiving the Headmaster’s Award.
As his family prepared to return stateside, Christopher participated in an island-wide talent competition in the downtown Paseo of capital city Agana, taking second place, and earning a job offer from the M.C., Jimmy Dee (the Guamanian “Don Ho”), of Jimmy Dee Enterprises of Guam, who wanted to hire Christopher to be his opening act at his night club. It was an opportunity of which Christopher was regretfully unable to take advantage, as Petaluma, California, became his new home. But even more exciting opportunities awaited there.
The Victorian riverfront town of Petaluma had a population one-seventh the size of Guam’s, and smaller ponds are easier to conquer for growing frogs. Christopher took his stand-up impersonation act to the other side of town for a talent show. Fortunately, the two masters of ceremonies were disc jockeys (Barry Brown and Jeff Angel) at the local community radio station, KTOB 1490AM, and they offered Christopher a job. Two years later, in December of 1979, Barry and Jeff were gone, and Christopher was the M.C. of the show, doing his fully-costumed celebrity impersonations between acts.
He was just a high school sophomore, but for a radio station paying minimum wage to part-time weekenders, Christopher was the perfect apprentice. He began in the winter of 1978 as the host of KTOB’s Sunday morning religious programs, and eventually worked a variety of airshifts, including weekday evenings and mid-days. In addition to work as an on-air personality, and announcing news, Christopher developed writing and production skills that he would use for years to come. After the station changed hands a few times, and Christopher worked at various Santa Rosa radio and television stations, he was re-hired 11 years later by owners Dave Devoto and Dan Hess and returned to KTOB as the morning drive announcer from 1993-1995.
In 1981 Christopher was hired by the late Jerry “Johnson” Ignacio at radio station KSRO 1350AM in Santa Rosa (pictured below), and he worked at both stations for a while until KSRO offered him a full-time job in commercial production and hosting the evening show from 7pm-midnight Monday through Saturday. Christopher spent five years at KSRO working as an on-air personality, commerical writer, announcer, and producer, and, eventually, and finally, as an account executive.
Christopher later went on to do contract commercial production on Sonoma County radio stations KREO, KZST, KPLS, KVRE, KMGG, and KRPQ. He also worked as an air personality and news anchor for both KMGG and KRPQ in 1996.
In the 1980s, Linnell also worked as an air personality for television station KFTY TV 50, doing numerous live remote broadcasts and commercials. He was also a regular cast performer, doing improv and sketch comedy, on TV50’s late-night comedy and music showcase program called “On The Air”, which was broadcast from a cable-FM radio station / restaurant / nightclub combination in downtown Santa Rosa known as the Studio KAFE. Along the same lines, in the 1990s, Linnell’s celebrity impersonations had become familiar faces on the San Francisco late-night television music and comedy showcase broadcast on KOFY TV20 and known as “Late Sunday Night with James Gabbert”.
For the most part, however, from 1983 until about 2008, Linnell was self-employed full-time as an entertainer. His performing venues have included Microsoft headquarters in Seattle costumed as an eight-and-a-half-foot-tall blue genie; Franklin D. Roosevelt’s presidential yacht, the U.S.S Potomac, inpersonating the President, himself (pictured above); BART commuter trains throughout the Bay Area in a BART promotion impersonating Groucho Marx; San Francisco record stores for Cema Distribution doing singing impersonations of Frank Sinatra to promote the singer’s “Duets” and “Duets II” albums; dozens of fairs throughout California and Nevada offering his 150 celebrity voices on request; and colleges, parking lots, grocery stores and sporting events on the 12-state upper-midwest region Fruitopia Fruit Beverage promotional tour sponsored by Coca-Cola Minute Maid in the summer of 1994 (photo below pictures, L-R, plunger juggler “Professor” Elliott Cutler, Christopher, magician Jaye Alexander, and African drummer Eli Honai).
Linnell split his time between his corporate and private clients. One day he was doing Elvis at a private birthday party in Penngrove, and the next he’d be flying to a corporate sales meeting in Chicago to provide walkaround impersonations, stiltwalking, audio and video presentations, scripting, and consultation services.
In 1987 Linnell secured the representation of San Francisco agent Joan Spangler of LOOK Talent, and began working in industrial films and television and radio commercials regionally and nationally as a member of SAG and AFTRA. He has been featured in national television commercials for MCI, Roy Rogers Family Restaurants, Pontiac, Home Express, and Aerial cellular phones, and modelled nationally for the US Postal Service, Charles Schwab, Blue Shield, and Macy’s, and in Martha Stewart Living, the Wall Street Journal, and Image Magazine.
To date, Linnell has performed in dozens of television shows, scores of television commercials, hundreds of radio commercials, and thousands of live performances of improv-comedy in 14 of the United States and the beautiful island territory of Guam.
Back in the year 2001 Christopher began moonlighting as a wine tour guide in the Napa, Sonoma, Russian River, Dry Creek, and Alexander Valleys (SEE Page 20-Tour Services; http://www.hireastar.net/?page_id=335). In 2004 and 2005 he also did tours of San Francisco, Muir Woods, and Yosemite National Park. In 2007 he semi-retired from professional entertainment, and started driving motorized cable car tours of San Francisco, and also drove amphibious DUKW tours in San Francisco and actually IN San Francisco BAY. He even drove an urban safari.
Christopher took a sabbatical in the summer of 2010, staying home to write an original spec screenplay, www.HellinHeavenTheScreenplay.com (www.CreateSpace.com/4200730), incorporating his experiences at the annual Nevada desert art festival in the Black Rock Desert at www.BurningMan.com.
He took another sabbatical in January of 2013 to write his memoir, which he completed and published in June: PRETENDING TO MAKE A LIVING: Memories of my Four Decades as an Entertainer, Improv Comic, Actor, Broadcaster, and Tour Guide. This paperback book is 312 pages, loaded with hundreds of pictures of Christopher as and with celebrities, and available from www.PretendingToMakeALiving.com (www.CreateSpace.com/4280385).
Since 1977 Christopher has lived in the beautiful Victorian riverfront town of Petaluma, California, in the San Francisco Bay Area, just 35 miles north of the Golden Gate Bridge in the heart of Wine Country in Sonoma County. In his free time Christopher enjoys writing, photography, reading history, political debate, old movies on AMC and TCM, old sitcoms in Nick at Nite’s TV Land and Comedy Central, plus tennis, golf, hiking, biking, canoeing, swimming, roller skating with the Midnight Rollers in San Francisco’s weekly Friday Night Skate (http://CORA.org/Friday.phtml), and, most of all, spending sunny afternoons in secluded woods and near picturesque bodies of water, smokin’ a stogy, oblivious to the rest of the world.
Entertainer, Actor, Voice Artist, Writer, Photographer, Tour Guide
Christopher & Co. Celebrity Impersonations at http://www.HireAStar.net
200 Celebrity Voices 100 Costumed Impersonations
Corporate Comedy, Promotions, Walkaround, Game Shows and
Entertaining Tours of the SF Bay Area, The Wine Country, Yosemite and Beyond
POB 2927 Petaluma CA 94953-2927
All content, graphics, and images contained throughout are Copyright © 2002-2011 by Christopher D. Linnell and are protected by United States and International copyright laws. No text, graphic, or image may be used, in whole or in part, individually, or as part of a derivative work, without express written permission.