Jon Hoche has a truly unique job.
In fact, I think it’s safe to say that nobody else in the country or even in the world earns a living doing what Hoche does.
Hoche, you see, is the voice of King Kong in the Broadway musical of that same name. And by “voice” I mean he roars for a living.
“GRRROOOOWL!!” Long roars that are amplified and shake the theater.
Over and over, except when Kong is hurt and then Hoche kind of whimper/growls. And King Kong gets hurt a lot — both physically and emotionally — in this incredibly entertaining and astoundingly creative show that has been running at the Broadway Theatre since November.
How does a person get to be the voice of a gorilla?
“My audition for this job is I had to go into an audition room, and I had to physically become Kong,” he told me. “A lot of the scenes we had to jump around like an ape” as well as show off his “vocal range as a gorilla.”
It’s the young thespian’s Broadway debut, too. Off-Broadway, he was one of the puppeteers for the national tour of “War Horse” and was part of “Little Shop of Horrors” at the Gateway Playhouse.
“I initially wanted to be one of the 10 people onstage that moves [Kong] around,” Hoche told me the other day when, for half an hour, he broke his rule of remaining silent when not in character.
Kong, you need to understand, is a 20-foot-tall, 2,000-pound puppet that is moved by a team of men and women puppeteers. They walk around the stage in black clothing, moving body parts until the ape looks damned real.
Hoche didn’t get that job, although he also is on stage as part of the ensemble crew that dances around.
Instead of moving Kong around physically, Hoche got one of the “voodoo” puppeteer job positions in a sound booth on the balcony level of the theater.
While others call out the movements of Kong to those on stage, Hoche stands in front of a microphone and growls.
And he growls with such force that his amplified voice shakes the theater.
How did I happen to interview Kong?
Several months ago I started a series of columns that I promised would be about people in their jobs. It was my antidote to all the stuff I have to write about job statistics — the kind of column I did last week.
The first column was a very touching story about a company in Queens that hires blind people. Then there was another heartwarming piece about a Mexican fast food chain that employs ex-convicts, including one guy who’d recently been promoted to manager.
I think heartwarming stories become less effective if you keep doing them. Besides, I figured that there were a lot of people in New York who had strange jobs. So I promised that I would find them, and that’s when I happened upon King Kong and Hoche.
I went to see King Kong a few months ago and sat — typical of me — in a cheap seat. I saw these guys going in and out of a darkened booth during the show, and I asked what that was all about.
Surprisingly, Kong’s voice hadn’t been recorded. And then I asked to meet the actor who played Kong.
That’s how I came to meet the guy with perhaps the strangest job in America.
The booth is pretty tiny, and they were reluctant to have a stranger in it during the show. Kong roaring with me laughing in the background probably would have ruined the atmosphere.
Along with Hoche, the booth contained Jacob Williams, who has the title of Voodoo Operator and Kong Captain, and Danny Miller, who works the face of Kong and is another Voodoo Operator. There was also someone standing behind me who, I supposed, would have pulled me out of the room if I misbehaved.
But I didn’t, so I got to stay for a very dramatic and loud scene where King Kong fights a huge serpent to save the fair maiden Ann Darrow, who is played by Christiani Pitts.
In case you don’t know the story, the Broadway show ”King Kong” is based on an 86-year old movie directed by Merian C. Cooper. The lead character, Carl Denham (played in the new version by Eric William Morris), is, like Cooper, an adventurer and filmmaker who finds the giant ape on the mythical Skull Island.
It’s the Great Depression, and Denham needs a gimmick to make money. Ann needs a job.
They capture Kong, and let’s just say that the gorilla doesn’t like Manhattan very much. So he goes for a walk up the Empire State Building — on the outside, of course, because apes don’t take the stairs.
Pyrotechnics occur, and Kong is King no more.
The musical’s producers decided early on that they didn’t want to use a recording of the roars. This is, after all, live theater, and Hoche’s roars are different every night.
Hoche says he is very careful with his voice — he doesn’t talk much outside the theater. “I talked to top opera singers, and they do the same,” he told me.
“I try to not talk at all on Monday,” he said. And he doesn’t go to bars because “I can’t talk over the noise.”
But I bet he could clear out a bar if he gave out his Kong roar.
I’m not a theater critic, so I can’t tell you who performed well and who didn’t. But I will tell you the audience was dumbfounded by what Kong — whose insides include 985 feet of electric cables, 1,500 connections and 16 microprocessors — can do.
And I know Jon Hoche has something on his résumé few people ever will.