I’m taking a class on stage dialects this quarter, and it’s usually pretty fun. I have to approve of any class in which fart sounds are considered a necessary vocal warm-up, with the professor commenting on how to improve: “Make sure those cheeks really feel like they’re flapping!” and “Don’t be afraid to really spit!” I honestly think students would learn more if every class began this way.
While I’m getting pretty good at making a variety of crude noises, this sadly isn’t the point of the course. The professor expects us to attempt dialects from different countries and regions, and this week we were asked to do an Irish accent. Let me clarify: I am not nor ever have been Irish. I’m a Jewish girl who lived in New Jersey for four years, so if you want a Yiddish or New York accent, I’m your girl. I can “cawffee tawk” it up with the best of them, but Irish? Not my territory. No matter what I did, I sounded like the lovechild of Lucky the Leprechaun and the Swedish Chef from “The Muppets.” Neither of which are exactly great representatives of their alleged countries of origin.
I went to YouTube for assistance, hoping I’d find some authentic examples of native speakers. This is how actors prepared for an especially difficult dialect back in Shakespeare’s day. If it worked for them, it could work for me. The first video to pop up was titled, “you can’t fool irish people.” It featured a young Canadian and/or American man who said Irish people can tell what region their countrymen are from based on accent alone. In other words, there’s no way even the best American imitation could be passable.
“So no matter how good your accent is, or how good you think it is, don’t try to fool the Irish people,” the young man intoned. “They know your ass is faking and they will call you on it, or just laugh at you behind your back and pour you a beer out of pity. So don’t try.”
At no point had I considered trying to speak Irish out of my ass, but this video killed that dream before it even began. Apparently, Irish people would know that my ass was faking. The YouTube comments were equally disheartening. Here’s a short sampling of the posts:
“Theres an american guy at my class in school and he tried 2 do a cork accent…oh how we laughed our arses off…”
“The Irish accent over in America is completely different to the accent anyone here has, its unbelieveable that anyone wud think they cud fool us!”
“EXACTLY i HATE americans who try sound irish if only yhey knew how bad they were at it”
Great, now I have the hatred of an entire country. Irish people may have different accents depending on their region, but they were all united in one thing: Total contempt for me. And “arses”? “wud”? “yhey”? Apparently Irish people even spelled their accents differently.
Equally depressing was a video entitled “Dog speaks with Irish accent.” It is a sad, sad moment when you realize an animated dog would probably get a better grade than you on an assignment.
I began a fresh new approach: human interaction. Of the six people I live with, two of them are half-Irish. It would stand to reason, then, that between the two of them they’d have one consistent dialect. No dice. Instead, I got two pretty good but really different Irish accents. Those pesky regional differences the young Canadian/American referred to were coming out. This led to a spirited debate over how certain words were supposed to be pronounced, and two of my other non-Irish housemates joined in. At one point, literally five of us were working on a five-line monologue. They tried their best to help me, but I ended up sounding like some nasally Jewish version of a banshee.
You may be wondering, “Jessica, after all this preparation, how did your final presentation go?” Well, um, that’s a complicated question, reader. On the plus side, no one died. On the negative side, I’m pretty sure I saw a leprechaun blink into existence, laugh at me and then blink out again. Let’s just say I’m not going to be asked out for a pint anytime soon.
We’re doing a Jewish/New York accent next. I say bring it on! I’m not sure what dialect we’re doing after that. Hopefully, something with a lot of fart sounds.