How real is too real? What is “real” anyway?

It has been recently brought to my attention that I might share too much. The theory is that in this blog I am compromising my professional branding by being too open about my faults, struggles and mistakes. I get it – nobody wants to trust their project to someone who is anything less than the consummate professional. Having some of the grease and the grit of real life show through is apparently tantamount to taking out Face Book ads shouting, “I am an amateur! I am an idiot! I am too unstable to rely on! I need to wash my hands!”

As you have read my previous blog posts, you may have experienced a few uncomfortable moments as I make fun of my stupidity, my forgetfulness, or my questionable personal hygiene. Supposedly, I also regularly make poor business decisions by admitting that I have health concerns that can affect my performance or fight against negative thought patterns or am not always on top of things the way I would like to be.

Then there are the general cringe-worthy moments like saying “I hate you” for dramatic effect or when I used my dead mother as a foil to make a joke.


It seems that from a certain perspective, I am going out of my way to sabotage myself, creating a negative impression with colleagues and potential clients. This particular post will most likely be judged the worst of all, as it brings so many of my vulnerabilities to light in one place. On the up side, if this blog post is the worst of all, they can only get better from here!

I am open to this critique because, realistically, I’m not anxious to alienate my readers, especially if those readers might be prospects or clients. I would like to understand, however, why it has become so necessary to hide our imperfections just to be considered competent. We all have faults, no matter what our marketing propaganda says or how much our head shot has been touched up.

Does the voice-over community need another blog that sticks to the tried and true, exuding the highest of professional demeanor at all times? I have received real value from blogs like this, and have an appreciation for them. I also think there should be room for a blog that connects with the failings and mishaps that hide behind the masks we all wear. Doesn’t it feel good to know that you’re not the only one who doesn’t do everything perfectly, has very real weaknesses or sometimes eats too much?

As I considered this, my wayward brain went off track, seeing a correlation to auditions and jobs with the ubiquitous request to sound “conversational” and “real”. But which real? And how much is too much?

One of the things I learned early on is that “real” doesn’t always, or even usually, mean delivering your lines the exact same way you would in your everyday life. That is the guidance we are given, right? “Say it as if you were sitting across from a friend at a coffee shop…”

The unspoken addendum

 “…except use this very unnatural script, speak very clearly, maintain the perfect pitch and emotional content, emphasize the right words to promote their product and fit it into the allotted time”. Now that’s real.

As we all know, this is where acting comes in. Our job is to take that addendum and force fit it into the shape of “real”. And we do. What isn’t spoken out loud is that it almost never sounds really… real. It may sound good, maybe even astonishingly good, but not real.

And that’s okay. Why? Because many times the client doesn’t really mean real when they say real. You discover this when you hear a spot where the audition specs asked for “real” . . . and the final voice-over isn’t. It is also acceptable because we all agree to abide by the hidden rules of the game.

I believe!

There is an unspoken understanding between the script writer, the director, the talent and the listener that “real” isn’t really real. Moreover, sounding too real can sometimes be a mistake. Navigating this jungle requires solid script interpretation skills, finesse, and some luck.

You know how movies work, don’t you? A suspension of disbelief. We all enter the theater knowing that absolutely everything we will see and hear is fake, yet we let ourselves get sucked in, allowing the experience to play with our minds and move our emotions.

What makes this possible is that we go in intuitively knowing the underlying language of movies, what the conventions are and how communication happens. Combine that with our agreement to suspend our disbelief and magic can happen.

In voice-over, when the request is made to sound conversational and real, you are expected to embrace a mutual suspension of disbelief. Make it sound real . . . up to a point. Conversational, yet authoritative. Like a next door neighbor who is a subject matter expert who moonlights as a host on QVC. You know, real.

I love a challenge

I find all of this exciting. The challenge of hammering that square peg into that round hole gets my blood going. Yes, most of us complain at some point about the poorly written scripts we sometimes get, myself included. Overall, though, I relish the opportunity to pick up that thrown gauntlet and accept the challenge. When a script like that comes in, I sink my teeth into it, fully intending to throw it back in the face of its author, saying “See what I did? I took your third grade writing exercise and turned it into a Dickens novel. You’re welcome. By the way, this is why I am worth what I charge.”

As a side note, I have learned from experience that it is better to say this inside your head rather than out loud with the client within earshot. A word to the wise.

So, in voice-overs, “real” isn’t always real. The same goes for my blog. I’m not sure why I have to explain this, but on my main blog page, I say “A sense of humor is highly advised” for a reason. When I write my blog, I am making an assumption that you and I have an agreement to a mutual suspension of disbelief. I am flawed and not afraid to admit it. In fact, I believe my flaws are what make me relatable and help me to sound “real”. However, the strict definition of “truth” isn’t always adhered to.. You knew that, right?

What do you think?

So, do you think I am being too real? Would I be wise to back off on the self-deprecating humor to guard my professional branding? How real is too real?

I personally believe that by admitting our weaknesses, we become stronger. Do you think I am wrong?

The truth is, I am hardwired to be an honest person, often to the dismay of others and my own detriment. If you are a client or potential client, please understand that I am a professional. I have talent, training, skill and experience. if you contact me, I will get back to you right away. I will be on time to our recording session. You will get a great performance and we’ll probably have a few laughs in the process. And no, I’m not really as stupid, forgetful or inept as I make myself sound. Really.

And by the way, my mom didn’t mind my little joke about her. I asked.

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2 Responses

  1. *sets humor aside for a moment*

    Jon, buddy, you are one of my favorite bloggers. And I deeply appreciate how vulnerable you are. I truly do! Keep showing us all your warts, because they are downright sexy. I’ll take the stumbler over the sprinter 7 days of the week and twice on Sunday.

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