Johnny Heller is an actor first and foremost.
He is also an entertainer whose skills encompass writing, commercial acting, standup comedian and accomplished audiobook narrator with over 200 titles published to date.
Heller prepares carefully for each and narration by developing a voice that best suits the authors intent for each character for the story.
“It is like preparing a part for a play!” say Heller.
- A recipient of two of the coveted Audie awards as well as a long list of nominations for various categories such as personal development, comedy ,children’s books, history and more.
- Audiophile magazine has chosen two of Johnny’s book narrations as Best Audiobooks the Year, as well as one of the Top 50 Narrators of the Twentieth Century.
- Two Publishers Weekly Listen-Up Awards.
- Best Voice of 2008 and 2009.
- Winner of 20 Golden Earphone Awards
- 2011 Best Voice in Children and Family Listening.
Pete: How do you prepare for narrating a book? An overview or perhaps a title example?
It’s important to surprise the listener – not so good if I’m surprised
Johnny: When I get cast for a project, I get the book (usually the publisher sends it to me). I read it through because it is a cardinal sin (and you know how cardinals can be) not to read the book first. It’s important to surprise the listener – not so good if I’m surprised.
Pete: How long does it take you to narrate an audio book on average?
Johnny: Narration is dependent on book length, style and difficulty. Say an average audio is 13 hours long. It means, on average, the narrator took 26 hours to record it. The industry average is 1 finished hour for every 2 hours. Some narrators and better than that. Most aren’t worse than that or they don’t get to work too much.
Pete: How do you go about preparing for an audiobook narration?
Johnny: Preparation requires reading the text. It requires understanding it and making some choices. I think the narrator should only be a conduit for the author’s truth. That means it’s an organic acting job. However, the narrator must know the words in the book – pronunciation of place names and people. Google is our friend…as is forvo.com and a host of other reference sites. I also take some pains to find the right character voice — one that matches what I think the character sounds like and ones that I can recreate when that character shows up.
Pete: What is your favorite book genre?
Johnny: As a reader, I enjoy history, biographies, historical fiction, detective noir and comedy. As a narrator, I enjoy anything funny first and anything that pays me a lot second!
I do enjoy narrating history books and love getting to do noir titles – like The Fat Man and Bad Kitty Lounge and the Richard Castle “Heat” books. I do lots of young adult titles as well — I have a youngish voice and I am completely immature so that works well usually.
Pete: When filling out a form that asks, what is your profession, do you answer comedian, audio book narrator or……..?
Johnny: I write “actor”. While I specialize in audiobooks and commercial voice-overs, I am an actor first last and always. I haven’t really done standup comedy in some time. I really enjoy making people laugh but it’s an awful life on the road and most comics aren’t pleasant to be with for long periods.
Actually, I trained for the stage and that’s my first love. It just pays nothing and it’s really hard to eat and live in New York City if you have no money.
Pete: Who is you favorite comedian?
Johnny: Groucho Marx is the funniest human I can think of. I enjoy Eddie Izzard, Dom Irrera… I think Colin Ferguson is brilliant. I get a huge kick out of Seth MacFarlane (he does Family Guy). There are others. I like anyone who makes me laugh.
Pete: What do you do to relax?
Johnny: It sounds odd – but I love to sit in a tea café and read. In warmer weather, the lovely Jo Anna Perrin and I stroll to the Hudson River and sit a bench and read our novels. I go to theater and films and out to dinner and things like that – but that’s not relaxing.
I enjoy a bourbon on the rocks and mindless television as well (“mindless television” may be redundant.)
Pete: What are you doing now?
Johnny: Specifically, I am typing these answers. I’ve selected the color red for my text to distinguish my answers from your questions on the page but it keeps changing back to black. That’s annoying. I just finished The Postmortal by Drew Magary for Tantor Audio. A great book. And I just got back to town from Rhode Island where I worked at AudioGo (BBC America) on Martin Kihn’s Mountain of LIes – a really funny snarky business book.
I also just finished my latest blog for Abbreviated Audio. I write humor pieces under the heading For the Hell of It. You can go to http://abbreviatedaudio.com to see them.
Pete: Anything for the future that you would like to share with us?
Johnny: I’m doing my first Royalty Share title for ACX. It’s a serial killer horror/mystery by Vincent Zandri called Screamcatcher. It’s pretty good and I should be done recording it in the next week or two. Then I think it goes out to Audible/Amazon and if it does well, I do well.
I’m also writing my own young adult story and I should-be finished ages ago but I keep going off on tangents. I’m a horrible time manager I’m afraid. Hell – this interview started in June!
Pete: Do you have a favorite joke you would like to tell? (Not to long :))
Johnny: Most jokes need to be told with all the right inflections and accents to do them justice. You can get a sense of my humor from my blog. I like twists like: “A Rabbi, a Priest and a Tibetan Monk walk into a bar and the bartender goes – ‘what is this? A joke?’
There’s a pretty funny site you should Google. It’s called “old Jews telling jokes” and that’s just what it is. It’s pretty funny.
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