When I was 17, I had about two months left of high school. I realized that, at some point, I had to choose what I was going to do for my senior project. This was something that all seniors had to do before they graduated. The guidelines were that you would do or experience something that would improve you, teach you something or help shape your future. It was a tough task to think of something that I wanted to do. I felt a lot of pressure to come up with an original idea that would help shape the rest of my life.
One day, while I was on the phone with my cousin, he mentioned that I should come and visit him sometime and travel with him while he worked. He lived in Germany and worked as a comedian so this idea seemed a bit far fetched. But at some point, it struck me that maybe this could be my senior project! It seemed more like a vacation than a school event, but I started to get excited about the possibility.
Who the Heck is This German Comedian…?
My cousin, John Doyle, from Jefferson New Jersey never spoke anything but English growing up. After a brief stint in the Navy, his travels brought him to Germany. There, he met his wife and settled down. He did what any American in a foreign land would do...he learned the language and became a comedian. He’s made a living being the “American” star in the German comedy world.
He did comedy and hosted a radio show on a popular German radio station. What I didn’t know is that he also had another job that I had never heard of before...he was a Voice Actor.
I got approved…
I took the idea to my senior Dean and presented it to him as my senior project idea. I told him that my plan was to follow my cousin around Germany and attend his comedy shows. I thought there was a chance he would laugh me out of the office and see through my plan to get out of school. To my surprise, my trip and senior project plan got approved and I was actually going to Germany for a month! I guess the Dean of Students understood that this could be a worthwhile experience and realized that I may not get this chance again.
Off to Deutschland
Excited to hang out with my cousin, his wife Martina and son Joshua for a month I boarded a plane and waved goodbye to Teaneck High School. I still couldn’t believe I would be on vacation and get credit towards graduation. Little did I know, I’d learn something on this trip...something that would eventually change my life.
I toured with John for a few weeks. We had fun in Munich. We witnessed craziness in Hamburg. We strolled around Frankfurt. His shows were hilarious, even though I understood about 1% of them. It was great to finally see him in action after hearing about his career for years from afar.
When we got back to Cologne (where my cousins live), I accompanied John and Martina to the radio station where they worked. John was a radio show host and Martina an audio engineer. When they finished working they said: “Joe get in the studio.” I didn’t know what to do, but I’d always loved making up characters and mimicking different voices. Martina said: “Just pretend you’re a radio host and you’re interviewing someone. I felt a rush of adrenaline and fear all at once. I was so happy to be there and be silly, like I had done my whole life, but this time I was behind a mic and I had an audience.
I ended up pretending to be an NPR host interviewing a British boxer and his grandmother. Once I got the jitters out, I was having so much fun. After that night in the studio, I had a new appreciation for John and Martina and their professions. I also, for the first time, had people tell me that I could use my voice as my career.
A Last Minute Voice Over Job for John
I was excited about the radio show I had done, but I still considered it more of a fun night rather than a life changing experience. The next day would change that. An unplanned job for John was about to plant the seed for me to eventually have a Voice Over career myself.
John and I were visiting the doctor for a check up that John had scheduled. I tagged along and I’m glad I did. After his doctor's appointment, John got a call asking if he was available to do a Voice Over for a car commercial that needed an American English accent. We hopped on the train and walked to a small studio where John and I were greeted by smiling faces. This was new for me. I had no idea up until this day what the heck Voice Over was. I’d heard commercials, sure, but I hadn’t ever seen someone record anything.
After some small talk, the creative director showed John the copy for the commercial and he looked it over. He watched the visual that would accompany his voice on a laptop and he walked into the studio. I sat with the engineers and watched John through the studio glass window. He was his same silly self until he jumped into character. He read the copy with a deep, mature and sincere voice. It seemed like the perfect fit for the luxury car he was advertising. I think I smiled the whole time we were there. It was a whole new world for me and I loved it. It turned out my Dean was right, this senior project might actually change my life.
After the job, I couldn’t stop asking John questions about his Voice Over career. He made a lot of money in that one hour session and it looked like so much fun! I later realized that Voice Over requires a lot of skill and practice, but John just made it look easy. Before we got back to John’s house he told me I had potential to be a Voice Actor too. Martina, agreed with John and said: “yes of course you can do this” in a very matter-of-fact German tone.
This was the first time that I was actually excited about a career after school. I could actually picture myself doing this for the rest of my life. Nine years later, here I am building my Voice Over business. John not only let me be his sidekick for a month, but he became my lifelong Voice Over mentor.
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