It’s not easy to characterize Amy Walker. At first glance you might consider her a gifted performer, but a closer look reveals talent across numerous artistic disciplines. She’s a writer. An actress. A singer. A film director. A choreographer. A skilled instructor. Her ability to assume the mannerisms and vocal patterns of regions around the globe will astonish you.

I found Amy’s work on YouTube, quite by accident, and was amazed at the breadth of unique content she’s published there. In one video she pokes playful fun at certain English words. In another she films herself preparing for a date while timing her movements and singing along to a piece of instrumental music. Her sense of humor ranges from subtle to off-the-charts wacky. But one piece in particular, a tender short story about a long-married couple titled “Toast with Butter,” impressed me enough to look further into her work. I learned that one of Amy’s videos earned her a segment on NBC’s “Today,” and that she’s working on a feature film about relationships and the amazing ways humans are connected to each other.

Amy was kind enough to spend time discussing her work with me, and we also talked about the challenges artists face in a world where entertainment is increasingly commoditized. A portion of our conversation can be found below.

The way I found your work is by stumbling across one of your most popular videos on YouTube. In a few minutes I realized you’d published a whole library of entertaining content. I contacted you, you responded, and here we are conducting this interview. Is that not the best thing about the Internet?

ABSOLUTELY!

Real life is like that as well. We don’t always notice the connections as easily, but they’re there.

There is no substitute for real life, of course. But I think what the Internet adds is an ability to meet interesting people beyond your own neighborhood.

Yes, there is no substitute for meeting in person. Being able to parse the sensory input of what someone else is feeling or showing is a far deeper interaction on many levels.

And yes, the magic of the Internet is that, geographically, I live on an island. My audience, my coworkers, my students: None of them live here. I think of it as having a very small footprint, but a wide network.

I noticed you’ve conducted some live online shows. How did that come about?

The shows stemmed from a desire to find a wider audience than the YouTube videos can reach. My first two one-woman shows were done live in the traditional way (on stage!) But clips from those are what prompted me to start my YouTube account in the first place. So when I considered broadcasting live over the Internet, it seemed like a natural progression. Crazy, maybe, but natural. And the shows have gone incredibly well. It’s a total kick to have people chatting or calling in from their bedroom in London, with tea and their dressing gown on because it’s 11:00 at night there.

That’s really cool. One-person broadcasting and the ability to interact with your audience in real time. Beats the heck out of actual television, doesn’t it?

To me, yeah. No commercials!

And it’s such an intimate experience. From my living room to yours. No flashing lights or big production. Just us.

Speaking of commercials, there are ads on some of your posted videos. When this first started occurring on YouTube, I found it off-putting. But then I realized I was enjoying content generated by someone else, and they ought to be rewarded for their time. It’s not like I give away my books for free. I assume you supplement your income with ad revenue generated by some of your videos?

Yes. That’s been a difficult one for me. I look forward to the day when I can present everything ad-free.But for now, the ads help me to do the work I love and make it available to the world at no charge. I keep my footprint very small to cut down on expenses. I’ve looked for alternative currencies to money, like house sitting and other kinds of trade, while getting established. Those online shows take hours and hours of preparation, and I didn’t want to charge admission, so initially I put up a donate button. But the first time, I think five people donated out of a couple of hundred. The second time, we had about 730 people from over 100 countries participate, and the only two people who donated were colleagues of mine. I’ve had some dark nights trying to figure out how to afford to do what I love, but I’ve always believed there must be a way for the universe to support what I’m here to give it. So far it has worked out. I also teach, using Skype, to people all over the world. But 95% of what I do is for free. For “vibes,” as I say. Because I believe doing inspired work is always energy well spent.

The reason I thought you’d be a good fit for The Nervous Breakdown is the effort you put into writing your performances. The one that stuck with me was your short story, “Toast with Butter,” which you read on camera. Did you write that with the intention of performing it?

I wrote it one morning when I’d made toast and used my flatmate’s “alternative buttery spread.” It was nothing like butter. It was like the opposite of butter. I gagged, laughed, and grabbed a pen.Morris had something to say.

A couple of years later I was looking through some old pieces and found that one and chose to share it.

You’re right about Morris. And what I like most about the story is the entertaining rapport between he and Mavis. Did any particular couple serve as inspiration for the story and its characters?

Thanks! I didn’t pattern them after anyone in particular. I suppose they’ve got bits of people I’ve met or observed, but they’re very much a part of me, too. I’m fascinated and inspired by couples who’ve been together forever and still find ways to surprise and love and tolerate and support each other.

I’m also fascinated by that. It seems to be something of a lost art these days. One of TNB’s contributors, Irene Zion, has been married for over 40 years, and occasionally she shares beautiful stories about her marriage and how she and her husband make it work.

That’s wonderful.I’m grateful to have incredible examples of long-term marriage in my parents, grandparents, and some dear family friends who were together from the age of twelve (in 1911) until he died in 1992, I think it was. Someday I’ll make a film of them.

While the “Toast with Butter” performance was written ahead of time, some of the other videos you’ve produced seem more spontaneous. How do you prepare for the content you generate specifically for YouTube? I’m thinking of the “3 Foods” video, which may be my favorite among them.

It really depends on the video.With the “3 Foods” piece, I think I had the idea the night before and practiced in front of the mirror, trying things, figuring out what it “is” and what not to include. I still don’t really know what it “is,” which is part of the fun…and a major source for self-doubt about posting it. With other pieces, like song interpretations or a monologue, I’ll work on it anywhere from a day to weeks or months, rolling it around my brain and mouth at odd moments…like in the bath. The one with the most preparation of all was “Getting Ready for a Date.” Good heavens, that took forever. Super technical. One of my favorites, “Mexi-Tots,” I only thought of that morning. Grabbed a couple of T-shirts from a thrift store, drew a burrito on the white one, cut it out and taped it onto the black one, bent a Q-tip to act as a retainer, and shot the thing.

I think I’ve watched “3 Foods” two or three hundred times. “Poulet? Poulet?”

YAY!

How I found your work online is with your most-viewed video, which is you speaking English in accents from regions around the world. Your ability to mimic accents and facial expressions and capture a general sense of an archetype is extraordinary, and even earned you a spot on NBC’s “Today.” How has YouTube popularity enhanced your career?

It initially surprised me that “21 Accents” went viral worldwide. It still surprises me. But I think it resonates with people because it’s not just about sounding like I’m from different places. It’s about how we express ourselves as people, and how our community of origin influences that. And further, it asks, What is real? Is an expression more or less true than another if it adapts to a different context? At the end of the day we speak to communicate, not just to express who we are. If I want to communicate the most clearly with an Australian, they may understand and relate to me best if I’m Aussie. If they don’t hear any difference between us, we’re just people.

The accents I learned so I could be a better actor, just like I study how people move and relate to their world. But I’ve found unexpected benefits and meaning in studying accents…out of necessity, really, because it’s been my doorway into a lot of work.

So you’re working on a film project. Can you tell me a bit about that? It seems you’re taking a unique approach to funding it.

Sure! The ConnectedFilm project is uniting a global community to fund the feature film, Connected, one dollar at a time. Anyone who donates will have their name in the credits of the finished film. We want to show that each gift is equally important. We call it Micro-Giving. The idea is that there are seven or so billion people on this earth, and when only a fraction gives a dollar or an hour of time toward a unified goal, with a little coordination, it adds up! When the film is completed and released, the revenue that normally goes back to studios or corporations will instead help create The SoulFire Project—a platform to enable anyone to raise awareness and funds for their own dream project, through Micro-Giving.

Sounds like a wonderful project. Good luck! Maybe we can round up some donations for you here at TNB.

Thanks!It’s thrilling that the whole project, a film about connecting, is being funded by people connecting around the world! You can see names from all over the world scroll by at ConnectedFilm.com.

 

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RICHARD COX is the author of The Boys of Summer, Thomas World, The God Particle, and Rift. He can be reached on Facebook or at his personal web site, www.richardcox.net.

70 responses to “We Are Connected – An Interview with Amy Walker”

  1. Zara Potts says:

    When I first saw Amy Walker’s ’21 Accent’ piece on YouTube – I would have sworn she was English. I got quite a surprise to find that she was American.
    Usually when you think of Americans doing accents, you think of Meryl Streep’s ‘The deeengo ate my baby’ and often the nuance is not there.
    Amy certainly has the nuances of the Antipodean accents down pat. Being a New Zealander, I am always amazed how badly people stuff up our accents when trying to imitate them, but she nailed our kiwi twang!
    Nice interview, Richrob! And thank you for introducing us to Amy Walker!
    (my mother is still walking around her house saying ‘Poulet’ ‘Fromage’ and ‘Cheese!’ by the way…)

    • Richard Cox says:

      Thank you, ZaraPotts! Coming from you that is quite a compliment for Amy, considering how particular you are about your eccients!

      I know your mother is a new Amy Walker fan. The country of fromage would never invent Handi Snacks! Hahaha.

      • Jude says:

        Fffrrommmarshe. Frommashio. Cheeeeeees.
        Close eyes. Open eyes. Look at camera. Breathy voice.
        “There is reverence in fromage”. “The country who says fromaggio would never invent cheese Whizz.”

        I love Amy Walker. She makes words sexy. I love the way her eyebrows lifts as she says each word. I love the way her mouth twists as she rolls the word around in her mouth. She has got the best facial expressions I’ve seen in a long time. In fact, she’s a very funny woman. Some may disagree, but I say poppycock! Why isn’t she more famous?

        So RichardCox, did she also give you some tuition in accents – I hear you’re becoming quite proficient in the kiwi accent…

        • Jude says:

          Oh and I forgot to mention how happy this interview has made me feel. Thank you.

        • Richard Cox says:

          You are so kind and warm, JudePotts. Thank you for your comments. I’m sure Amy will appreciate them. I think she may stop by later to read the post, and she will surely be flattered to read comments like yours. Thank you again!

          She hasn’t trained me in accents yet, but perhaps I could ask her to give me a few pointers. After all, I can halfway do the Aussie accent, but my Kiwi is atrocious. Help, Amy!

        • Jude says:

          The trick is to stand in front of the mirror, lift the eyebrows and roll the words ‘fush ‘n chups’ around in your mouth.
          Or better still, come for a holiday and mix and mingle with the kiwi accent. That’ll do it.

        • Zara Potts says:

          Actually, you are being too hard on yourself -you do a fairly good kiwi accent. You have the ‘no’ and ‘nah’ down pat.
          You might not pass as a true blue Nu Zullunder right now but with a bit more practise.. who knoooes?

        • Richard Cox says:

          Noe is so easy to say. It’s not fair. And I hear “nah” all the time because it’s the same for Aussies, and my golf coach is Aussie.

          Every time I try a new swing thought, it’s all I hear. Nah. Nah. Nah.

      • Irene Zion says:

        @Richard,

        Amy Walker got Brooklyn down pat, too.
        I know about Brooklyn; the Texan sounded perfect too.
        She must be so very much fun to be around!

        How ever did you find her?
        I guess I don’t know much about how to use you tube, except for clicking on links other people send me.
        The links you have up are really and truly amazing!
        Thanks for writing this and introducing her to those of us who are clueless.

  2. Greg Olear says:

    This was great, Richard.

    I don’t know whether to be stunned or relieved that NJ was not among the 21 accents…

  3. Lorna says:

    Oh thanks, Richard. I’ve got tons of things to take care of this weekend but thanks to you I’m over at You Tube getting hooked on Amy’s vibe.

    • Richard Cox says:

      Nice. You have to watch 3 Foods. And Getting Ready for a Date. And Toast with Butter. Pretty much all of them.

      • Lorna says:

        Amy is a perfect fit for TNB. Like Jude, I too enjoy Amy’s facial expressions. She is quite fun. I enjoyed a little toast with butter this morning to start my day. Thank you for the introduction.

        • Richard Cox says:

          You’re totally welcome. Did you use real butter or a fake buttery spread??

        • Lorna says:

          Oh, I would be the denyer of the real thing around here. I just couldn’t help but laugh as I imagined my hubby and myself many, many……many years from now playing out this exact scenario. I’ve already got him drinking light beer but he’s wise enough to stash some Steel Reserve in the mini fridge and out of my sight.

  4. […] TV  Please enjoy part four of Amy Walker’s “Toast with Butter,” a live performance of an original short story about Morris and Mavis: her […]

  5. I hadn’t seen any of these videos before, so I’m glad I had the chance to discover them here and learn more about her. What she does seems to go hand in hand with TNB in many ways, so it makes for a perfect interview subject.

    And yes, fromage and cheese have nothing to do with one another, ça c’est clair.

  6. Simon Smithson says:

    I remember seeing you link to this on Facebook, RC – how cool that you’ve turned it into something for TNB, and, what’s more, found such an interesting interview subject!

  7. Irene Zion says:

    Richard?

    Are you Mr. Dust?
    We’re having a discussion about it on the ghostly central column that keeps appearing and disappearing.
    I said you couldn’t be, cause you’re too sweet and nice to criticize people’s writing.

    • Richard Cox says:

      That’s awfully nice of you, Irene. But I have no problem criticizing people’s writing if they really want honest feedback. I would do it pleasantly, of course, unless they were stubborn and refused any sort of honest discussion of their writing talent.

      Which happens, believe it or not.

  8. Erika Rae says:

    Lovely interview with a lovely talent. I watched a few of her YouTube shorts a couple of weeks ago and they keep running through my brain at random intervals. “Fromage.” “Cheese.” Heh. She’s quite the inspiration.

  9. Yeah, the fromage totally got me. Nice work, Richard.

  10. Gloria says:

    Great interview, Richard. Great questions, great flow, thoughtful answers. Amy is amazingly talented and I wouldn’t have known of her (probably) if not for you (there’s just too much out there!) I like the part about advertisements. Yes, a necessary evil. I appreciate how Amy owns looking for non-monetary ways to establish herself. I find that admirable.

    Thanks, Richard. And you, too, Amy!

    • Richard Cox says:

      Thanks, Gloria. There was even more great stuff in there that I cut because the interview ran so long. Amy is an engaging and talented artist who finds creative ways to perform and market herself. We often discuss here at TNB the evolution of entertainment and art and how to reach an increasingly fragmented and distracted audience. Amy is someone who actually finds success with new media instead of just talking about it. 🙂

      • Gloria says:

        Well and she seems to have an upbeat attitude. That, coupled with her unique approach – not to mention skill set – are tremendous assets for her success.

  11. Whoa! You found Amy Walker! Fun interview. Was thinking of Ms. Walker just yesterday when my daughter did her own version of “Cheese Whiz kkkoooohhh” in the grocery store.

    PS — thought of *you* as we skirted Tulsa today on our way to the grandparents’ place in Missouri (Missour-uh, Missour-ah, Misery). I thought, “I wonder how Richard Cox and his basil jungle are doing?”

    • Richard Cox says:

      Haha. I totally did! Now whenever you see Cheez Whiz you’re going to think of that video, no?

      So do your grandparents live in Branson? Is that where you spend your winters? 😉

      My basil is holding on strong. All this global warming is keeping the plants alive.

      • Good ol’ global warming!

        Joplin, actually. I think I’d die if I had to spend time in Branson! I’ve hated that place since childhood. Bah humbug. Side note: a high school friend of mine was the Elvis impersonator at the Tony Orlando theater for awhile.

  12. Joe Daly says:

    Coxy,

    Brilliant interview! Really enjoyed learning so much about Amy, about whom I had not heard until this piece. I especially dig the way that she lets her creativity dictate the direction, and not the other way around- the number of art forms (film, writing, performance, etc.) is a great reminder that we don’t need to slap a label on who we are to dictate what we do.

    Fantastic questions and engaging answers. Thanks for a very entertaining read!

    • Richard Cox says:

      Thank you, kind sir. I was especially interested in how Amy finds ways to channel her raw talent into the various mediums and business models out there. Like, we know the entertainment industry is involving, but into what? It’s interesting to see artists who can find innovative ways to express themselves and connect with others.

  13. jmblaine says:

    You Tube
    never ceases to
    amaze me

    Toast with Butter
    going there now

    • Richard Cox says:

      There is so much great content on YouTube. You can never find it all. I only found Amy by accident, and now here she is on The Nervous Breakdown.

      I love the Internet tubes.

  14. Irene Zion says:

    I love the Richard Cox cubes, tubes, lubes, shoes and rubes.

  15. Irene Zion says:

    Cox, locks, socks and docks.
    yup,
    rocks, shocks, pox, and talks.
    (Schmaltz.)

  16. Irene Zion says:

    Allay, underlay, overlay, cabriolet.

    Beaujolais!

  17. […] quite by accident, and was amazed at the breadth of unique content she’s published there…  See the Interview var gaJsHost = ((“https:” == document.location.protocol) ? “https://ssl.” : “http://www.”); […]

  18. Lisa Rae Cunningham says:

    Cool interview, Richard. The internet is an interesting platform for artistic engagement. Fortunately, we often take it to the planet, so it isn’t so much this world vs. that world anymore. I mean, the people I’m in contact with on the internet are the same people I meet with in a coffee shop. Some I meet online and some I meet in the world, but those worlds blend equivocally. The internet is a great forum for long distance comradeship. Looking forward to checking out Amy Walker’s stuff. Thanks for pointing her out to us.

    • Richard Cox says:

      Thanks, Lisa Rae. “Take it to the planet.” I like that. Took me a moment to get it. I usually say take it to RealSpace, but since MySpace died that phrase sounds ancient. Haha.

      I see online and in-person friendship similarly, as far as the way they make me feel. For the most part. When it comes to stronger bonds, like a romantic relationship, sure, you might meet someone online and get to know them there, but if you don’t “take it to the planet” early on, you might be in for a disappointment. Because those environmental and tactile factors play too big of a role.

      Glad you enjoyed the interview. Head over to YouTube and get to know Amy. 🙂

  19. […] It’s not easy to characterize Amy Walker. At first glance you might consider her a gifted performer, but a closer look reveals talent across numerous artistic disciplines. She’s a writer. An actress. A singer. A film director. A choreographer. A skilled instructor. Her ability to assume the mannerisms and vocal patterns of regions around the globe will astonish you. I found Amy’s work on YouTube, quite by accident, and was amazed at the breadth of unique content she’s published there… See the Interview […]

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