ESPN host Roy Firestone brings music, comedy and sports

Roy Firestone is coming to Warren as an entertainer, not a journalist.

But like any good reporter, he’s doing his advance research.

“I try to customize my show wherever I’m performing,” Firestone said during a telephone interview from his home in southern California.

That means the audience can expect a segment on the greatest moments in Ohio sports history with an emphasis on local favorites like Paul Warfield and Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini when Firestone performs next week at Packard Music Hall as part of the Warren Civic Music Association’s 2017-18 season.

Firestone is best known for his years interviewing athletes and celebrities on ESPN’s “Sports Look” and “Up Close,” but Firestone won’t be giving a lecture, and he stressed more than once that his show isn’t just for sports fans.

“It’s a mixture of music, comedy, storytelling and inspiring things that happened to me in my own words,” he said. “It’s one of a kind. I don’t know anyone in sports broadcasting who does what I do … I produce all the clips, I write the bits, I do the song parodies and satires. I edit it myself.”

His interest in impressions and comedy started at a young age. His first impression was President John F. Kennedy when he was in elementary school, and the reaction it got made him want to do more. Sammy Davis Jr. was an early inspiration — “He was a guy who brought to the stage every ounce he had,” Firestone said — and the audience can expect to hear his impression of Davis as well as Frank Sinatra, Neil Diamond, Tony Bennett, Johnny Mathis, B.J. Thomas, Smokey Robinson and John Lennon.

One new bit he plans to unveil next week is a version of Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire” reworked as “Sports Really Lights the Fire.”

“It’s 70 years of sports history in three minutes,” Firestone said. “I picked out the qualities of Billy Joel’s voice and tried to replicate it. It’s less of an impression than a parody of the song. I’m not in any way comparing my singing to his, but his voice is right in my key. It’s right in my wheelhouse. It took about a week to write.”

Not all of the music will be parodies and impressions. Firestone recorded an album with the jazz fusion band Hiroshima and will do a song from that record. He also plans to do a tribute to Glen Campbell, mixing a rendition of “Wichita Lineman” with a story about the singer that has an O. Henry-like twist to it.

Firestone parlayed his exposure on ESPN into opportunities that allowed him to show off his other talents. He played himself in a memorable scene opposite Cuba Gooding Jr. in “Jerry Maguire.” He appeared in an episode of “Married with Children” with Youngstown native Ed O’Neill. He was a voice on “The Simpsons” and got to work with voice acting legend Mel Blanc on “Daffy Duck’s Quackbusters.”

He has been doing a version of his live show for more than 25 years, but mostly as entertainment for corporate conventions and at colleges. Being a part of a performing arts series liked the Warren Civic Music Association is a new opportunity.

“I want to do more performing arts centers,” Firestone said. “I know the venerable history with the arts there, particularly with Kenley Players. I just love to perform. I think people will be surprised, hopefully in a good way.”

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