Thursday, December 28, 2006

Another Vent in the Family?

A week or so ago I posted a blog entry about my daughter, who gave her first vent performance at her school.

I also have a 6 year old son, Austin, who is an aspiring ventriloquist as well.

I wanted to give him a really special gift this year, so I sent my good friend Clinton Detweiler an old stuffed toy Danny O'Day doll and asked him to work his magic to create a "pro" style puppet for Austin.

As you know, Clinton is the best in the business at modifying the Goldberger dolls, and he certainly did not disappoint with Danny!

He added beautiful blue moving eyes, raising eyebrows, hollow body, headstick and wig to Danny.

I also asked Clinton to repaint Danny to give him a more professional look. The paint job is amazing! Great blending of the colors on Danny's face. He even added eyelashes. The hand painted face really makes the puppet look more like the real Danny O'Day.

As a nice extra, Clinton also repainted the hands on the dummy.

I picked up the clothing (the tie, shirt and vest) as a set at the local Kid's R' Us store.

Needless to say (and as is evident by the picture you see) Austin is thrilled with his new friend.

We'll see where he goes with his interest in ventriloquism, now that he has this great puppet to work with. He's already been looking in some of my old joke books for material.

I'll keep you posted!

Thanks Clinton.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Making Dad Proud

Heather and Jerry - December 2006

My 11 year old daughter, Heather, gave her debut ventriloquism performance today at her school. She had a book report project to do based on a popular kids book, "The Indian in the Cupboard."

I decided to let her use the very first vent figure I ever received - a Jerry Mahoney / Little Ricky I got for Christmas in 1966 - as part of her report presentation.

Lee and Jerry - December 1966

Heather dressed Jerry (temporarily called Little Bear - the character from the book) in an Indian costume she made herself. We also built a wooden box with a door that acted as the cupboard, case and stand.

Heather and I (OK, mostly me), wrote a short script with several cute jokes.

Her teacher was impressed and her classmates really seemed to enjoy her routine. I know it was not easy for Heather to get up and perform vent for the first time - especially in front of her classmates (and mom, who was videotaping the act).

It was exciting for me to see her do a performance with my first vent puppet. (snif')

Great job Heather!

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Friday, December 01, 2006

Dedicated To My Dad

It's been a while since I've written, as my father (who had been ill for a couple of years), passed away on Saturday, November 25th. He was 75.

I am dedicating this blog entry to him - Richard "Dick" Cornell.

My dad grew up in the 1930's and came from humble means. But even though his family did not have a lot financially, he always had a motto to "do your best." And, that's what he did. He (along with my mom) raised 4 kids. There were times when he worked 3 jobs just to make sure we all had food on the table and a roof over our heads.

He was tall (6' 4") and very athletic. He looked intimidating if you did not know him.

But, he was in reality a quiet man, never showing or expressing much emotion to any of us in the family. But as I look back now, I know that he showed us his love by what he did for us, not by what he said.

He always "did his best" and just by watching him do that over the years, I'm sure it influenced me and helped me achieve whatever level of success I now enjoy.

Does this have anything to do with ventriloquism? Absolutely.

People ask me all of the time how long it takes to become a ventriloquist. They want me to tell them they can learn after a couple of practice sessions.

It all depends on whether you're willing to "do your best" or not. I see people who take my course (or other instruction) and "do their best," and become very good in a relatively short period of time. And they continually work to get better and better as the years go by.

But, more often I see people who fool around with learning and end up being very mediocre or very poor ventriloquists.

They blame their lack of getting better or booking jobs on other factors - "It was a bad audience," "My material was over their heads," "So and so moves their lips, so it's OK if I do." I've heard all of the excuses.

Am I the best ventriloquist in the world? Hardly. But I always try to do what my dad always told me - "Do your best." I take responsibility for how good or bad my technique, show, etc. is and I always try to do better. That would have been how my dad wanted it.

Do your best. Try it.

I'll miss you dad.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Ventriloquism Is a Dying Art, Right?

I have people ask me this question all of the time - usually from people who are over 40 and remember when there were ventriloquists on network and cable television. And you know, you don't see ventrilquists on TV as much, so vent must be on it's last leg, right?

I say a resounding "No." In my opinion, ventriloquism is indeed live and well. Sure, you may not see a ventriloquist on TV as often, but that's because there are no "variety" type shows (which ventriloquists were a major part of) on television anymore.

People are more interested in who Brad Pitt is in love with, or who Britney Spears just broke up with. You know - "entertainment" and "reality" shows. Here's some reality for you - those shows provide no lasting entertainment value whatsoever. Who is going to remember or give a flying crap about who the winner of American Idol was 5 years from now. Nobody. But I digress.

Let's examine where ventriloquists are working today. Comedian and vent Jeff Dunham finished in the top 5 of Comedy Central's Standup Showdown this year, and he had his own prime time Comedy Central special that had unbelievable ratings. They were so good, he was asked by Comedy Central to do a second special next summer.

His "Arguing with Myself" show DVD was in the top 5 on for several weeks and sales went double platinum! Amazing.

David Letterman had "Ventriloquist Week" in September. What may have started out as a joke, ended up being a huge success.

Jay Johnson (of the TV show "Soap") had his one man vent show appear on Broadway.

There are several vents performing as the headline acts in the mega successful tourist city of Branson, Missouri - Todd Oliver and Jim Barber, to name a couple.

There are over 600 ventriloquists on the yahoogroups ventriloquist list.

Nearly 500 people attend the annual Vent Haven Convention in Ft. Mitchell, KY.

My website averages 12,000 to 16,000 hits per month.

At any given time there are between 250 and 300 vent items for sale on eBay - year after year.

Ventriloquists may not be seen on mainstream television as much anymore, but the art itself is still going strong. You are in good company.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Visit to Branson, Missouri

A few weeks ago I had the great pleasure of seeing performances and visiting with two great pro vents in Branson, Missouri - Todd Oliver and Jim Barber.

You may have seen Todd during "Ventriloquist Week" on The David Letterman show in September. Todd has several live dogs in his act that talk.

My family and I saw Todd's show on the Branson Belle Showboat (where Todd is the headline act) and then visited with him after the show. I also was invited out to Todd's house and got to see his amazing collection of 8 x 10 photos of ventriloquists of yesterday and today. The walls of his home are literally lined with hundreds of photos, posters, etc.

It was a great visit. If you go to Branson, you must see Todd's show.

I also got to see Jim Barber's hilarious ventriloquism, illusion and variety show he performs with magician Dave Hamner.

They own the Hamner Barber Theater. Once again, I was able to visit with both Jim and Dave after the show. Really great people.

Jim's comedy and ventriloquism is fantastic and Dave's illusion show is magnificant. This show was one of the highlights of my visit to Branson.

Be sure to go see the Hamner Barber Variety Show if you go to Branson.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Lee at the Hog Wild Celebration

Lee with "Snickers" at Hog Wild 2006!

Each year in a small town just west of Indianapolis, Indiana, the community hosts an event called "Hog Wild on Main Street."

There are all sorts of games for the family, food - (featuring amazing pulled pork sandwiches), bands, an open class car show, and various variety entertainment "under the big top" tent that is set up.

The event is free, and all of the proceeds from the sale of food, t-shirts, etc. is donated to several local and state charaties.

This was my second year in a row performing, and my first show using my new Axtell Expressions basset hound, Snickers. I'm hoping this turns into an annual performance event for me.

This year, "Hog Wild" drew over over 1200 people.

Welcome to Lee Cornell's Ventriloquism "VenTips" Blog!

Hello and welcome to the new "VenTips" blog. The original VenTips email newsletter has been a successful weekly newsletter sent to visitors of the website.

This new blog will give people interested in the art of ventriloquism a place to come to read about all types of topics related to ventriloquism, being a ventriloquist, performing, show business and marketing.

And you can catch up on what's been happening in the world of Lee Cornell.