Saturday, December 22, 2007
When Iwas a kid, ventriloquism (and magic) were both very popular. Lots of kids in those days wanted to be a ventriloquist. The Christmas toy catalogues back then always had vent puppets for sale. The first two vent dolls I ever had were from Santa, who I guess got a lot of his toys from Sears and JC Penny.
Vents were on TV a lot. Jimmy Nelson, Paul Winchell, Willie Tyler, even Edgar Bergen appeared on shows like The Tonight Show.
It was a fun time.
Then, as things always do, younger kids began to find other hobbies to occupy their time as technologies in toys began to advance.
Vent began to lose it's appeal as electronic games got more and more sophisticated in the 1970's and 1980's. Remember the Atari game system? Software based games became more and more popular. Then computers, Nintendo, X-Box, Game Cube, DS, and now Wii has captured the imagination and time of todays youth.
Ventriloquism seemed to be getting weaker and weaker as an option that young people would be interested in.
Sure, there is/was still a core of vents from my era and some professional ventriloquists. There has been a convention in Kentucky almost every year for over 30 years.
But the mainstream population was not aware of the world of ventriloquism any longer.
Ventriloquism was something "Kids used to do back in the old days."
But now, I think vent has made a big comeback over the past two years.
Vent is alive and strong. Why? There are many reasons:
Jeff Dunham has really brought ventriloquism back into the public eye in a big way. His two Comedy Central specials that broke all viewing records showed the world that when used the right way as a stand-up comedy vehicle, and not just as a novelty bit, people will take notice.
Jeff's two DVD's, "Arguing with Myself" and "Spark of Insanity" have been huge, and I mean huge runaway best sellers on DVD.
Right now, several months after Jeff's "Spark of Insanity" DVD was released, it is still #1 in comedy DVD sales on amazon.com and an unbelievable #10 in ALL DVD's!
I have friends and acquaintances come up to me and ask if I've heard of this great comedian named Jeff Dunham.
I used to tell people about Jeff all of the time and people would say, "who?"
Just the other day my mailman picked up some packages I was sending out and saw my "ventriloquism101.com" return address on my packages. He asked if I'd ever heard of Jeff and when I said yes, he told me he had watched his DVD at least 10 times.
Jeff's current "Spark of Insanity" tour has been selling out large venue theaters and auditoriums months in advanced. In many cases he has added second sell-out shows in the cities so more people can attend his performances.
I saw Jeff here in Indianapolis in November and I felt like I was at a rock concert. People in the audience were reciting Jeff's entire routine in unison as he performed. I kept waiting for people to raise a lighter in the air and wave them back and forth.
David Letterman's two Ventriloquist Weeks were smash hits, as he showcased a different ventriloquist each night.
Jay Johnson (of the "Soap" TV show) had his one man ventriloquism show on Broadway,
There are lots of full time pro vents working all around the country-Dan Horn, Todd Oliver, Ken Groves, Mark Wade, Tom Ladshaw, Jerry Layne, Pete Michaels and many more. You may not recognize all of their names, but they are all making a very good living as vents.
And, of course, who would have ever imagined that a ventriloquist would win $1 million on the hit television show "America's Got Talent?" Well, that's exactly what Terry Fator did.
My Ventriloquism 101 website had it's best year ever in sales. And, the overwhelming number of my courses were purchased for young kids. That's great news.
What does all of this mean to you? It means this is the time to be a part of the ride. There has never been a better time in the last 30 years to be a part of this renewed interest in ventriloquism.
Let me warn you, though. People are once again used to seeing really good and very entertaining ventriloquists. Please don't hurt the art by performing if, quite frankly, you shouldn't be.
You should have good technique, good manipulation skills, are comfortable on stage, and most importantly be funny and entertaining.
There are all kinds of resources on my website to help you achieve those goals.
Lets keep the tide of ventriloquism rising. This is a great time to be a vent and I'm loving every minute of it.
Have a Merry Christmas everyone, and an amazing 2008 with ventriloquism.
Sunday, December 16, 2007
I just received a new puppet Saturday. It's made by a fairly new company selling in the U.S. called Pavlov's Puppets.
They are made by hand in the Czech Republic by Ivan and Maria Pavlov.
The puppet I received is an Einstein character that is listed in their website catalog as "Einstain."
I call him Dr. Noah Tall. Think about it.
I have had an idea for this type of character for a long time, so I knew right away I wanted this puppet when I saw it.
The quality is excellent. The puppets from Pavlov's are all hand made. Sculpted in foam and covered with a fleece material and then hand painted.
They are very lightweight and easy to use, There is a unique "knob" inside the head above the upper mouth that your hand rests comfortably on, and an elastic strap inside on the lower mouth to slip your thumb into. This gives the performer a very solid hold on the puppet and makes the mouth a joy to work.
As many of you know, I'm 6' 9" tall and have fairly large hands. My hand fits easily and comfortably into the puppet.
They make a large variety of characters - people, birds, animals.
I'm from the old school and have generally always performed with hard figures. I'm sure I've changed my mind to a degree now and will also be using this very nice Pavlov's soft puppet in my show from now on.
These are professional puppets all the way, and priced extremely competitively for a puppet of this quality.
Visit their website at
Monday, September 17, 2007
Jeff Dunham and Lee
I have posted a lot of photos of this year's Vent Haven International Ventriloquists ConVENTion on my website. It was one of the best conventions ever. Click here:
to re-live some memories if you were there. Or, to see what you missed if you didn't attend this year.
Monday, July 30, 2007
This sort of outdoor mall complex, right along the Ohio river, is beautiful. You can see the downtown Cincinnati skyline from the levee walkway. The Funny Bone Comedy Club is in the complex.
We were joined for dinner by my good friend Tom Ladshaw, Vent Haven Museum Curator Lisa Sweasy and Jeff. We ate at an Italian restaurant called The Brio Tuscan Grill. Great food and a really nice chance to visit.
We then headed on over to the show and we had really excellent seats. The Sunday 7pm show was actually a sell out and Jeff had added an earlier 4pm matinee show.
What was also great (and generally unheard of), was that Jeff had requested the club be non-smoking for his appearances all week (sorry, smokers...don't mean to offend anyone).
Jeff's set was extremely funny as always.
He opened with about 10 minutes of stand-up with no puppets. My wife was in tears with laughter as Jeff talked about family, his cars, his dogs...everyday stuff that people related to, which made this kind of material a huge hit as a warm up.
What was even greater was that almost 90% of his act last night was new material. I have followed Jeff's career for over 25 years and have seen his shows many, many times. I always love seeing the "classic" bits he does, but this new material was a riot. There were a couple of times during the show where Jeff got sidetracked in his planned routine and ended up ad-libbing several MINUTES of off the cuff material. Man, what a pro. The audience was on the floor.
Lisa Sweasy has a very unique laugh and since we were sitting just a few rows back from the stage, I think Jeff heard her laughing specifically. They are such good friends, that it only made Jeff crack up and continue with his on-the-fly routine, as he was having so much fun and trying to contain his genuine laughter as well. I truly believe he had no idea what he (or his characters) were going to say next. It is really easy to see that Jeff loves what he does and has honed his skill of improvisational comedy from years of performing and working at it.
Jeff did a long set with Walter (funnier than ever), his Achmed (spelled "A-phlem-med") the Dead Terrorist (which I personally thought was the funniest character) and closed the show with Peanut and Jose. Again, nearly all new material.
Jeff received a well deserved standing ovation.
After the show we all met up again at a little Irish pub (that served some killer deserts) and visited some more. Jeff was trying to remember and make note of some of the ad lib stuff he had just performed so he could possibly add it to his routine.
Here's a photo of us at the pub after the show
(click on it for a larger view)
Tom, Lee, Jeff, Cheryl and Lisa
Just a great night. Let me say that Jeff is one of the nicest and most genuine comedians in the business. Most people of his 'stature' in the entertainment business are generally not very approachable. I have always found Jeff to be more than willing to take time to talk not only about what is going on in his world, but he also takes an interest in what you have to say.
So, feel free to give Jeff a call at any time. His cell phone number is .....yeah, right.
But seriously, thanks so much to Jeff, Tom and Lisa for such an enjoyable evening.
And, don't forget, Jeff has a brand new 90 minute prime time Comedy Central special which airs on September 23rd.
And his brand new DVD "Spark of Insanity" will be released on September 18th. You can pre-order it right now at amazon.com.
The link above will take you right to his DVD page on amazon.
Oh, and his first DVD "Arguing With Myself" has sold over 500,000 copies. In the world of DVD's, 100,000 is considered a smash and a platinum seller. Think of it. 100,000 is platinum. Jeff has sold over a half million copies of his DVD. Astounding.
Tuesday, July 17, 2007
Thursday, March 22, 2007
Recognize the photo? It's Fred Maher and Skinney Dugan. Mr. Maher created the now famous Maher ventriloquism home study course.
Fred and his wife, Madeleine, began Maher Studios in Detroit, Michigan in 1934.
As a kid, I remember seeing the little classified ad in the back of 'Popular Mechanics' magazine for their course. It ran in the magazine for decades.
Fred passed away unexpectedly in 1952, and Madeleine continued the business until she sold Maher Studios to Clinton Detweiler in 1969.
The original course has been out of print for over 30 years (Clinton released his own revised version of the course in 1975).
But recently, Clinton re-released a very limited number of copies of this original course.
My copy of the 1948 Maher course arrived yesterday. What a great package. Clinton did a superb job putting this together.
As I began flipping through the pages, all of my old memories of the course began to come back. I recognized a lot of the artwork, and even remember some of the verbiage used in the text.
I never took the whole course when I first signed up in the mid 1960's. I was on the payment plan, I think, and I guess I couldn't save up the $5 a month needed to get the next set of lessons. I believe I only made it about half way through the original course.
This course had so much information in it. It certainly was the best on the market - even then.
All of the bonuses (the photos, flyers, letters, forms, etc) are a great addition. It's like the whole history of the Fred Maher course (and how it was marketed) in a 3 ring binder.
I was also pleased that the photo copies of the original pages came out so well. It's going to be a real pleasure reading the entire course again.
The $75 price tag was a very small investment for this historical and still extremely useful information.
Everyone interested in ventriloquism should have a copy of this in their library. But, I know that won't happen. as Clinton is only producing a limited number of these for sale.
I feel lucky to be one of the few to get a copy.
Friday, March 09, 2007
You can now get the registration form for the longest running and best ventriloquist convention in the world - The Vent Haven 2007 Convention - on line!
The dates this year are July 18-21, 2007 at the Drawbridge Inn and Convention Center in Ft. Mitchell, Kentucky. (which is just a few minutes away from Cincinnati, Ohio).
The convention has been an annual event for over 30 years.
I attended my first one in 1981. It's a great place to go to learn more about this great art form - through the many lectures and workshops given by top professionals in the business.
There are 2 dealers rooms (I'll have a table again this year) full of every imaginable ventriloquism item you could ever want...from dummies, to books and videos, collectibles and everything in between.
There are also free tours to the largest ventriloquist dummy and memorabilia museum in the world - The Vent Haven Museum.
Plus, you'll make a ton of new friends and meet the "stars" from the world of ventriloquism in person.
If you've never been to a Vent Haven convention, you just have to attend! You can find the registration form here:
Or you can get more information at the Vent Haven website:
Hope to see you there this summer.
Thursday, February 08, 2007
Here's the lineup:
Monday - Kevin Johnson
Tuesday - Dan Horn
Wednesday - Otto and George
Thursday - Jim Barber
Friday - Brad Cummings
Should be another great week of ventriloquism on network television! Be sure to tune in.
Monday, February 05, 2007
Today I received a new figure. It's a Conrad Hartz dummy that I purchased from ventriloquist Todd Oliver. (You may have seen Todd and his talking dog Irving on "Ventriloquist Week" on the David Letterman show last September).
I visited Todd in Branson, Missouri last October and he was kind enough to invite me to his home to view his puppet and vent photo collection. He showed me a really nice Hartz figure that he purchased from Conrad about five years ago as a back-up for his main figure, Joey.
The new figure looked a little different than Joey, and Todd told me he couldn't get Joey's voice to "match" this newer dummy. It just didn't feel right to him.
So, the puppet was never used in a show and was placed in storage.
I have always wanted a Hartz figure that had this exact look. I told Todd if he ever wanted to sell it to let me know.
He emailed me in January and said he would be willing to sell the puppet and I jumped at the chance to own a Hartz with no wait.
The puppet is fantastic. Conrad hand carves all of his figures from basswood and in the style of Frank Marshall. No two of his figures are the same.
The controls are silky smooth and quiet. The dummy has one of the best paint jobs I've ever seen. Conrad's work is second to none.
He has minimal movements - a moving mouth and side to side eyes - but that's all this figure needs. He has a ton of personality.
Todd also included a custom made red suit, red leather "alligator" shoes, white silk shirt and silk tie that he purchased in L.A. This clothing really adds to the personality of the puppet.
This guy is going to find a place in my show very soon.
Monday, January 29, 2007
Well, the results are in for the 2007 Comedy Central Stand Up Showdown contest. Out of dozens of comedians that were in the running, Jeff Dunham finished a very respectable 5th.
I also want to personally thank everyone who voted during the month. I sent daily email reminders to several Internet mailing lists, and if you received those reminders and voted, you can pat yourself on the back for helping Jeff finish in 5th place.
This is a big deal for all ventriloquists.
Jeff will be taping a new prime time special for Comedy Central in a few months.
Jeff being on Comedy Central, the Tonight Show, Letterman, etc. only helps all of us by putting vent in the mainstream.
The secret to Jeff's success?
First and foremost, he is very, very funny. He is a comedian, that happens to use ventriloquism as his method to express his humor. He also has worked his tail off for 25+ years to get where he is today. And, he is original. These things combined have all contributed to the success Jeff now enjoys.
My web sales have increased the past year or so - partly due to the exposure ventriloquists have been getting on television.
I've received several calls and emails from various media requesting interviews about my ventriloquism101.com website and ventriloquism in general.
It's a good time to be a ventriloquist. Capitalize on it while the interest is high.