Like many youngsters growing up, Andy Barnett was glued to the television when the old Looney Tune cartoons came on. But he did more than just watch and laugh.
“I was about three or four then and when Mel Blanc did Bugs Bunny or Daffy Duck I started imitating him,” Barnett said. “It became a ritual with me.”
His skill with imitations eventually led to a career as a voiceover actor with national and international clients.
“When I started school at Overland Christian in Overland Park I was kind of a goofball, you know, the class clown,” Barnett said. “I was always in trouble doing imitations. Now I get paid for doing it. That makes it more fun.”
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This year his career took a new twist.
He was retained by REELZ Cable Network to narrate the series, “Rich and Acquitted,” which focused on high-profile celebrities whose prestige and wealth enabled them to avoid or delay going to prison. Included in the series are the O.J. Simpson trial; Snoop Dog, accused of murder in the death of a gang member; Michael Jackson, accused of child molestation; Oscar Pistorius, the runner accused of in the death of his girlfriend; and others.
Barnett does it all in the basement studio of his Gardner home. The episodes are produced in the REELZ studio in Albuquerque, N.M. He narrates the show from a script without seeing the actual film. The script is in segments. He reads one segment after another until he’s completed the narration, which then is weaved into the film.
“The director listens while I’m narrating and occasionally makes a suggestion such as speak a little louder or with more emphasis. I never see the show until I watch it on television,” he said.
After high school Barnett enrolled in a radio class at Johnson County Community College. “A professor recommended I take the class to improve my vocal skills. It really benefitted me,” he said. “Not only did it improve my vocal ability, but I learned about radio.”
He also did a two-year internship on the KCFX morning show hosted by Rick Tamblyn and T.J. Price. “It was a valuable experience. I learned a lot from them,” Barnett said. “Besides carrying a lot of coffee, it gave me an opportunity to get comfortable behind a mic and learn about on-air production.”
His next stop was Missouri State University in Springfield, where he majored in mass media productions and performed in stage shows. After his graduation in 2004 he returned home, where he spent two years training with K.C. Improv Company. “Those two years contributed to my growth as an actor,” Barnett said.
“My career really improved when I met Kansas City voice artist Matt Wiewel. He became my mentor,” he said. “I learned so much from him. Matt turned me into a voiceover actor and I’ve been doing it ever since.”
A lot of things came together after that, Barnett said. “My first big break was doing commercials on the Phoenix Golf Tournament on CBS that put me on the national level with voiceover commercials,” he said. “It’s grown ever since. ”
Barnett’s voice is heard around the world on television and radio commercials for clients including Hallmark, Applebee’s, Sprint, Toys-R-Us, Toyota, Valvoline, Waste Management, Red Baron Frozen Pizza, HyVee and others. “I’ve even been awakened in the middle of the night to do global commercials,” he said.
He’s also done voice work for the Detroit Tigers and St. Louis Cardinals and recorded characters in video games, narrated audio books and created voices for several children’s toys.
Barnett now does most of his work without leaving home. It’s created in his state-of-the-art recording studio in his basement that he designed and built in 2013.
“I spent about $6,000 on it and it’s paid for itself many times over,” he said. “My first studio was in a closet.”
Barnett is married to his college sweetheart, Jessica LaFave. They have three sons, Elijah, Silas and Moses.
The REELZ Network is carried on Direct TV, Time Warner Cable and AT&T on at 8 p.m. Saturdays in Kansas City.