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RANDALL GIVES LIFE TO MARK TWAIN

This year is the 135th anniversary of Mark Twain's appearance in Buffalo as the co-editor of the Buffalo Express. Celebrating that anniversary at the Lancaster Opera House on Sunday afternoon, Twain impersonator Mike Randall, a self-confessed "Twain-iac" and a popular humorist in his own right, conjured up the much-beloved writer, the "Lincoln of Literature" -- right down to snowy walrus-mustache and cigar detail, to mark Buffalo's place in America's literary history.

"His Buffalo period was very important," Randall stresses before his performance. "This area and that period, 1869 to 1871, was a turning point for Mark Twain. He evolved quite quickly from being the 'Wild Humorist of the Pacific Slopes,' into the upstanding husband, father, author and co-editor of the Buffalo Express -- what is considered by many to be his last roll-up-the-sleeves, go-to-work 'real' job.

"Here's a man who, with one sentence, can make you laugh, think and yearn for the next quip -- 'When angry, count four; when very angry, swear.' 'Loyalty to petrified opinion never yet broke a chain or freed a human soul in this world -- and never will.'

"The main thing that drew me to Twain -- and still brings me back to him, is his humor," says the star of "Mark Twain Live!"

"He told stories and jokes on stage in the 19th century that are still getting laughs in the 21st century! Isn't that incredible? Will Seinfeld still be funny in 100 years?"

Giving life to Twain has been Randall's lifelong avocation since the Kenmore West High School graduate was a student at Daemen College, then called Rosary Hill College. At 17, he developed his Mark Twain act and first performed it at Rosary Hill when he was a freshman.

Since then, he's given a few thousand Twain performances around the country, including off-Broadway. Many of the local shows he does are benefits for schools, churches or historical societies.

"Known to Everyone -- Liked by All" -- that's the slogan on an antique cigar box that bears Twain's image and signature -- along with depictions from "Tom Sawyer" and "Adventures of Huckleberry Finn."

You could argue that the same could be said of Randall, Channel 7's chief meteorologist.

"It doesn't matter that I've been Mark Twain over 2,000 times in 33 years -- for that one night, that one audience, it's a brand new moment being created for all of us. The challenge, excitement and fun is irresistible to me."

Growing up No. 5 in a family of six kids, Randall says "to this day I think my need to entertain comes from trying to get attention in that large household."

And attention he now gets. For the last three years, he's also been the official Mark Twain for the Huck Finn Jubilee in Victorville, Calif. He opens this huge bluegrass festival on Father's Day weekend as the only nonsinging act.

Mark Twain might approve of that -- and the 19th century Lancaster Opera House building.

"Twain played a lot of places like this," said Randall, with a wave of his makeup brush as he transformed himself into the great novelist. "He loved to get on stage, and loved to get laughs, even in his old age."

Randall will be performing at the 10th Annual Mark Twain Birthday Party & Symposium held in honor of late literary critic Leslie Fiedler at 7:30 p.m. Saturday in the Buffalo Historical Society.

Comments Randall:

"It's quite the Mark Twain love fest."

e-mail: lcontinelli@buffnews.com

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