Sunday, November 08, 2009

Ventriloquist David Crone's New Show DVD

Ventriloquist David Crone has released a new DVD of a live performance of his show.

The DVD, titled "David Crone - He's Big in Zanesville" is a very entertaining show that is "family friendly."

Mixing magic with his cast of characters, David's show is fast paced and has plenty of laughs.

He has been performing for over 25 years. Excellent voices for his characters and great puppet "manipulation" really gives life to David's sidekicks.

David is also one of the official convention photographers for the Vent Haven International Ventriloquist conVENTion.

You can purchase a copy of David's DVD directly from him:

David Crone
I'm No Dummy Productions
Spreading Laughter Faster Than The Common Cold!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Vent Haven Convention - 28 Years Ago

I came across my program for the 1981 Vent Haven conVENTion this morning. I thought I would post it for you to take a look at to see the lecture topics, show info, etc.

Click to Enlarge

Click to enlarge

The convention I attended this past July was the 33rd one.

The 1981 convention was the 7th. Man, where does the time go?

Back in 1981, the convention had contests and trophies were awarded to 1st and 2nd place winners in the Junior and Senior performance catagory.

Other awards were the Bill Boley Distant Voice Award, Bill DeMar Manipulation Award, a John Arvitas figure to the most deserving young vent and the W.S. Berger Ventriloquist of the Year Award. Johnny Main won in 1981.

If I recall, there was also a luncheon or dinner included as part of the convention.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Vent Haven Convention 2009 - From My Perspective

Well, the 33rd Vent Haven ventriloquist convention took place July 15th - July 18th and I have to say this was probably the best one I've ever attended over the course of the past 28 years when I've gone.

I certainly remember my first convention in 1981. I think I was like a lot of first time attendees. I kind of stayed in the background, didn't approach any of the "stars" of the day. I attended every lecture and show during the event. And I drooled over all of the vent figures in the dealer's room.

I remember Jeff Dunham, Jimmy Nelson, Bill DeMar, Bill Boley, Mark Wade, Alan Semok and Johnny Main were there that year. I was afraid to talk to any of them, except for Jeff, and we only spoke briefly. He was probably 17 then and I knew he was going to be a huge success someday, just from watching him perform on the Saturday night show that year.

Here is the group photo from 1981. Recognize anyone?

Click to enlarge

During the down times between scheduled activities, I really kept to myself and didn't make a lot of friends that first year.

Fast forward to this year. Going to the convention now is more like an annual family reunion and homecoming to me. It's a chance to visit with old friends and make new ones.

I know how valuable the workshops and lectures are for new people attending and for those who want to focus in on growing in their performing abilities.

However, I personally spend a great deal of my time at the convention visiting with the friends I've met over the years.

What made this year special for me was not only seeing my long-time friends (like Tom Ladshaw, Jeff, Bill DeMar, Bob Isaacson, Mark Wade, Dan Horn, Pete Michaels, Ken Groves and too many more to mention), but meeting a lot of people from the WorldVents email list, some of my customers, as well as some of the pros that I have never seen at a convention.

I have been a big Jay Johnson fan since I first saw him on ABC television's sitcom "Soap" in 1977.

This July I finally had the opportunity to meet him and get to know him a bit. Seeing him perform a portion of his Broadway hit "The Two and Only" stage show was a real treat.

I also met Kevin Johnson, who was one of the contestants on America's Got Talent and also appeared on Ventriloquist Week with David Letterman. He performed on the Saturday night All-Star show and is a great talent.

Other full-time pros I finally had the chance to meet included Brad Cummings (who also appeared on Dave Letterman's Ventriloquist Week), Las Vegas legend Sammy King, Nina Conti and Sylvia Fletcher.

with Brad Cummings

with Sammy King

with Nina Conti

with Sylvia Fletcher

I spent a lot of time during lunches, dinner and at my dealer's table listening to and learning about the careers of these performers.

There are a lot more photos of the convention on my website here:

I was so busy talking with so many people this year, that I didn't even make it over to the museum.

Even though I personally don't go to a lot of the workshops anymore, there certainly was a wide range of lectures available again this year.

Some of the topics included creativity, marketing, working fairs, adding punch to your comedy and a "clinic" for kid show performers. Plus 3 shows, panel discussions, the annual raffle and a lot more.

I still claim that the nearly 4 day convention is one of the best values in the entertainment industry as far as content for the money invested.

If you've never attended a convention, you really need to go. Most people who attend once return year after year.

I know I'll be back next year.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Another Dunham Sighting

Had the chance to take my wife's sister and her husband to see Jeff's show in Columbus, OH on July 30th. It was the first time they had seen his show.

Tom Ladshaw, Mark Wade and Lisa Sweasy were also in attendance.

A good time was had by all.

Click photos to enlarge:

Lee, Cheryl, Jeff, Terri, Brian

Lisa Sweasy, Tom Ladshaw, Lee, Mark Wade, Jeff

Sunday, August 02, 2009

New Selberg Figure

Here are a few photos of the new Selberg figure I won in the raffle at the Vent Haven convention.

It's a small figure (probably 26" or so), has moving mouth, ball and socket neck on the headstick and look-up and closing eyes. Very clever single control works both of the eye movements.

Usual beautiful Selberg paint job.

Wig needs cut, but I'll get around to that later. And, I'll probably ditch the sailor suit at some point.

Click on photos for larger views:

Monday, June 15, 2009

Conrad Hartz Visit

What a great visit I had today with my friend, figuremaker Conrad Hartz at his home in Beaufort, SC.

I had not seen him since the 2004 Vent Haven convention, so it was good to spend the afternoon with him.

I've been coming to Hilton Head Island nearly every year for the past 12 years for our family vacation.

View from our condo balcony-Click to enlarge

I can't remember how many times I've told Conrad I would try to stop by and see him.

I never had, until today.

We spent the afternoon sharing stories about vents we've known over the past 30+ years. He showed me a couple of completed figures he built recently.

Click for larger view

and even more interesting to me was being able to see one of his figure heads in the process of being built.

Click for larger view

Conrad shared with me how he assembles the basswood pieces, carves out the face and some of his "secrets" to installing mechanics and finishing the head.

I left a figure of mine with Conrad which he is going to make a dwarf body for.

We spent a fair amount of time on the topic of Howdy Doody and Conrad told me the story of Howdy and Bob Smith's visit to a "mini-convention" he organized in 1995.

And yes, Conrad did take me into his extremely well organized, brightly lit, air conditioned, large workshop.... .Riiiiiiiiiight. Here is a photo of his shop. Amazingly, he only needs 4 tools and a bandsaw to build his figures, so who knows what all the rest of the stuff in there is for...

Click for larger view

Hard to believe a figure maker with this much talent can create such beautiful figures in such a small space.

The "break away" marionette King puppet Conrad carved was amazing. I had no idea what he was going to do with it. This single puppet instantly turned into a Queen marionette and 4 "kids" all hanging from the original set of strings the King was attached to just a second before.

Before-The King-Click for larger view

After-This is the King puppet after it breaks away into
pieces, transforming into a Queen and 4 children-
Click for larger view

He also demonstrated a clown marionette that he had rigged with a clear piece of tubing going up to Conrad's mouth. This allowed the clown to be able to blow up a balloon. Clever.

Click for larger view

You can see more of Conrad's work here:

In my opinion (and many others), Conrad is one of the top figuremakers in the business. All hand carved out of basswood. 100% built, painted and finished by him.

He also is indeed a real gentleman and I only wish I had stopped by in years past. The afternoon went by much too quickly. Thanks Conrad.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

New Bill DeMar Biography Video!

Just a quick note...

I've just released a new DVD biography of 60 year veteran professional ventriloquist, Bill DeMar.

Bill is one of the most talented vents and entertainers I've ever had the pleasure of knowing.

You can read about his new DVD here:

I'm leaving for vacation to Hilton Head Island, South Carolina on Friday and also plan on visiting master figure maker Conrad Hartz, who lives nearby in Beaufort, SC.

Another one of Conrad's creations

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Jeff in Forbes Magazine - Wow...


Jeff continues into the stratosphere as the most popular comedian on the planet. Earlier this week he was featured in Time magazine. Today there is another great write-up about Jeff in Forbes.

Check it out here:

Jeff is almost single-handedly bringing ventriloquism back into the mainstream.

Keep rollin' on, my friend.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Jeff Dunham in Time Magazine

Just a quick post today. Jeff has taken another step into comedy superstardom.

He is featured in Time magazine the week of June 1st, 2009. After 30 years of hard work, Jeff is really hitting the big time. History is being made.

Pick up a copy of the magazine next week as a keepsake. You can read the article online here:

Way to go, Jeff. Congrats!

Saturday, May 23, 2009

"Guitar Guy" Brian Haner

I'm sure most of you have by now heard of "Guitar Guy" in Jeff Dunham's show.

You may not know his name is Brian Haner. Brian is one of the best guitar players I've ever heard.

I've played guitar for almost 40 years (many professionally), but I am nowhere near his talent level.

Brian came into the spotlight on YouTube as part of Jeff and Achmed's song bit "Jingle Bombs."

Over the past couple of years, Brian has become a star in his own right. He opens for Jeff on tour and the two of them are pulling in 10,000+ people for their shows. If you have not seen Brian perform his stand alone routine, you are missing a great talent.

Plus, he has a "hook"that makes him unique. I mentioned it above. He is a premier guitar player AND an extremely funny stand-up comedian. He combines the two and just absolutely kills when he performs.

During his routine, he goes back in time and plays various hit songs from the 1960's to today and tags on very funny comedy dialog in conjunction with his astounding guitar technique.

I laugh as much at his set as I do Jeff's show. They make a great, hip comedy team. No wonder people are lining up to see their show. You get to see two headliner quality comedians for one ticket price.

Brian also has two great comedy products (other than his appearances on Jeff's DVDs). First, his comedy CD - "Cougar Bait." 13 great songs with a unique comedy twist. Hilarious! One of the funniest comedy albums I've ever heard.

Second, his book "Carney Man." A combination of humor and drama. Unusual combination (that's why I liked it), but a great story with a real twist at the end.

If you only know of Brian from his association with Jeff, you're missing a lot.

Check out Brian's CD and book here:

I highly recommend them both.

I always tell people who are trying to get better at comedy to study really funny people. Don't copy them, but pick up ideas on technique from great comedians.

Brian falls into that category.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Creating a Demo Video - Part 3

Let's finish up with part 3 of how to create a demo video that people won't run out of the room screaming that they would rather see Cloris Leachman naked than watch your video.

In the previous two posts we talked about the technical aspects, equipment and techniques of shooting a good video.

In this post we'll cover some tips as to what you need to do as a performer and editor to have a finished video that will get you booked.

1.) When editing your video, keep it short. Your demo reel should only be between 5-8 minutes.

DO NOT put a full show on the demo DVD. No one wants to see your whole act in your first promo pack. If they like what they see in your short video, they will contact you to either request a full length video, or they will want to come and see your show in person.

2.) On your video, try to have some shots of the audience laughing. And, this needs to be real laughter. Do not edit laughter into your demo video. First of all, a client generally can tell if what you are doing on the demo is indeed funny or not. If you tell a stupid pun and the sound track is a roaring laughter, they'll know you faked it.

Second, if they aren't able to figure out it is a laugh track on the video, how are you going to explain the crickets chirping and tumbleweeds blowing across your stage area if they come to see your show in person and hear the same joke that got the huge laugh on the demo?

3.) Be sure you have a truly solid act. It's very easy to take a bunch of show videos that may have a lot of mistakes in them at different places and put together an edited version that makes you look great. Again, don't fake it with an edit. If they come to see you in person before they book you, you'll be toast.

If they hire you without coming to see you, they'll really be ticked if you ruin their event.

Even worse, since most people are generally non-confrontational and may not want to cause a scene after your show, they may not tell you what they really think. They might decide instead to just tell you quickly "nice show", give you your check and walk away.

You'll never even really know that they were not happy with your act - other than that they never book you again, tell everyone they know that you were bad and maybe even post a poor review of your show on the booking company's (if they used one, like Gig Masters, etc.) website.

If you do read a bad review about yourself on a booking providers website, you can be certain that those are their true feelings.

Have a good act!

4.) Have a nice presentation of the DVD you send. Have a nice color computer label on the DVD. Don't write on the DVD with a Sharpie marker. Don't laugh. I've seen people do it. Have a nice color DVD cover insert on the case.

Your demo video should make you look like a professional as soon as they take the DVD out of the mailer. It costs next to nothing to make a nice label and cover insert for your DVD on your home PC and printer.

5). Include some REAL testimonials of people who have seen and enjoyed your show, listed on a sheet of paper. Nothing, and I mean nothing, sells your show better than having a ton of testimonials from satisfied clients in the promo package.

To wrap up, the whole underlying point of these past 3 posts is to have a great act and to present yourself in a professional manner in everything that pertains to your show. Your act, your promo materials, your demo DVD, the way you treat clients are all part of being a professional - no matter what market you work in.

If you want to know more about how to promote yourself, take a look at this great course from full-time performer Ken Groves:

Good luck!

Creating a Demo Video - Part 2

Let's move on to some other tips for making a great demo video.

1.) Avoid zooming in and out excessively. This is probably one of the most frequent mistakes I see on amateur videos. ZOOM IN! ZOOM OUT! ZOOM IN! ZOOM OUT! Man, that's annoying (almost as annoying as reading ZOOM IN! ZOOM OUT! over and over).

Zooming in and out should be used very sparingly. Keep the camera zoomed where it should be and stay on that shot until the action on stage dictates that you need to zoom in or out.

When you do zoom, do so very slowly. Your goal as a person working the camera is to make the viewers NOT see all of the zooming and panning side to side. Your video should look smooth and steady.

2.) If you have the option to use manual focus on your camcorder, do it. Turn the auto focus off and focus your camera manually. Here's why:

When you have auto focus turned on, your camera wants to focus on whatever is being seen closest to the lens.

If someone walks in front of the camera, or you are in a room where people are smoking and smoke drifts in front of your camera, the camera will focus on the person in front of the lens, or will focus on the smoke. Then the camera will try to focus on you on the stage once the objects closer to the lens are out of the way.

This may take several seconds and the camera will drift in and out of focus during this time. This is another sign of an amateur video.

If you can focus your camera manually, zoom in to as close of a shot as you can (before you start the actual taping). Manually focus the camera. Now zoom out to where you want your shot to be. Keep the camera on manual focus, If someone or something now gets in front of your lens, the camera will not drift out of focus. It will stay in focus throughout the whole zoom-in range of the camera.

3.) If you have a manual "white balance" option on your camera, use it. Most consumer camcorders have some pre-sets for white balance, which is the way camera sees whites and adjusts colors under different lighting conditions.

Some room lights make your camera see a red tint. Other lighting causes a blue tint and still others, a green tint to your video. I'm sure you've seen this before on some of your videos when you've recorded in certain lighting conditions.

If all you have is automatic white balance or some white balance pre-sets (usually an indoor or outdoor setting), try them both to see what reproduces more accurate colors.

If you do have the ability to manually white balance your camcorder, here's how to do it.

-Find a piece of white paper, poster board, etc. and place it in the area on the stage where the light will be hitting you.
-Zoom your camcorder onto the white card until white fills up your screen.
-Push the manual white balance button on your camera.
-Your camera will make the white look white in whatever light you are in. If white is balanced correctly, all of the other colors will be correct as well.

There you have it. Some of the biggest "technical" things you can do to help you make a visually good looking demo DVD video.

As I mentioned in the last post, the MOST important thing is to have a good act! Be honest with yourself. Have others give you feedback on your show before you waste time (and perhaps money) putting together a demo. If your act blows, no video is going to help that. (unless you're Brad Pitt or Angelina Jolie).

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Creating a Demo Video - Part 1

Today let me offer you a few tips on how to create a demo video that someone will actually want to watch.

If you are wanting to get work as a performer and you desire to provide potential clients with a video, it had better look good.

What they see on that video is a direct reflection on your reputation. You may have a great act, but if no one can stand watching more than a few seconds of a video because it is so poorly produced, you've just lost that client.

I'm sure all of you have seen home made videos (perhaps you've even been guilty of making some like this) where the color looks bad, the image is shaky, the focus goes in and out, the audio is terrible, etc.

I see DVD's like that made by people and sent to me all of the time. Let's discuss how to avoid these issues and how to put together a more professional looking video.

My college degree is in television and film production, so I am hopeful that these tips will help you.

First and easiest is to hire someone that knows what they are doing when it comes to shooting and editing video.

It's a good thing that video camera prices and computer based editing equipment have come down in price over the years to make it possible for nearly everyone to be able to create a video.

However, just because one has a camcorder and software on their PC to edit video does not necessarily make one good at making a decent one.

There are general rules to follow...which most amateurs don't.

So, option one is to hire a videographer to create a finished, edited video for you, if you don't want to take the time to learn how to do it the right way.

This, however, can be expensive if you are on a tight budget.

The second option would be to go to a local college in your area that has video course offerings and hire a student who has experience. You can save a ton of money by hiring a student and they are always looking for projects to do for class credit. Plus, they usually have access to equipment they can use.

Using option one or two will probably give you a good finished video.

There also is the option of doing it yourself. I'll list some ideas that should help you make your own video.

1.) Have someone record your show for you using your gear.
Don't try to do this yourself by setting a camcorder up on a tripod with the zoom all the way out, pressing "record" on the camera and then doing your show with the camera in this one position and one wide shot. You need to have someone who can zoom in and move the camera side to side (panning) and up and down (tilting) as needed during your show.

2.) Make sure the person running the camera knows how it works.
Don't have someone operate the camcorder if they've never used it before. Show them how to operate the camera a few days before the recording and let them get comfortable with the camera.

3.) Use a "fluid head" tripod TRULY designed for video cameras.
Most all of the tripods you see at Best Buy or other consumer electronic stores (even though they say "fluid head" video tripod) are not really designed for video. They generally are only good for static shots. If you try to pan or tilt them, they jerk, shake and jump.

The tripod head movement should be silky smooth when panned or tilted, and should have different degrees of "drag" (how tight or loose the movement) you can adjust.

I have never seen a tripod at a consumer electronic store that I would ever use for an important video production.

You can get a nice Bogen or Manfrotto fluid head video camera tripod for around $300. Sometimes less on eBay.

Having a steady and smooth image on your video is one of the most important things you can do.

4.) Use a camcorder with an audio input and headphone connection on it.

Good audio on a video is as important as good video. The microphone built into most all camcorders is only good for sound pickup for a distance of about 6 to 8 feet. Beyond that, the microphone also starts picking up all of the ambient audio noise in the room and you'll have a hard time hearing what the performer is saying.

If you have a camcorder with an audio input on it, you can wear a wireless lapel microphone and have the receiver to that microphone plugged into the audio input on the camera and get fantastic audio.

Use the headphone jack and wear headphones to monitor the sound going into the camera. You should ALWAYS monitor your audio. There is nothing worse than recording a program (and not using headphones) only to find that the audio isn't there or it sounds like crap after the taping.

5.) You need good stage lighting if you are going to make a video recording.

FORGET all of the marketing hype you read about the "SUPER low-light camera! You can record in total darkness!!"

That, quite frankly, is mostly BS.

There is a huge difference between a camera that produces an IMAGE in low light and a HIGH QUALITY image. The ONLY way to insure a great picture is to have enough light on you. Yes, you will get a recording in very poor light with a low light camera, but it will be grainy and have poor focus and colors. Is that what you want to give to a potential client?

I will stack up a $500 consumer camcorder shooting in good light against a $10,000 camera shooting in darkness any day of the week.

I have a lot more to discuss. So, I think I'll post a "Part 2" to this soon.

Oh, and I almost forgot. The MOST important thing is to have a good act! Be honest with yourself. Have others give you feedback on your show before you put together a demo video. If you stink, no video is going to help that.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Lunch With Dunham and Haner

Brian Haner (Guitar Guy), Lee, Heather, Jeff (Click to Enlarge)

Just a quick note today.

Jeff was in Indianapolis at Conseco Fieldhouse for a show Thursday night. I wasn't able to attend.

He was kind enough to give me a call and invite me to lunch on Friday. As a surprise, I picked up my 13 year old daughter Heather from school, only telling her I was taking her to lunch. I didn't mention we were meeting Jeff.

We arrived at his hotel downtown and Heather pretty much froze up in awe for the first 10 minutes after meeting him.

We had a great lunch at Shula's restaurant with Jeff, Brian Haner (Guitar Guy), Jeff's manager Robin and a couple of other members of Jeff's traveling group.

As usual, the show on Thursday night was a sell-out, with about 10,000 in attendance.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

The Real Truth About Jeff Dunham

Achmed, Jeff and Lee

I've had several people email me recently to ask if I knew how Jeff Dunham had become such an "overnight success."

He's been all over the TV lately on Comedy Central, is selling out 10,000 seat stadiums, selling millions of DVD's and is pretty much the hottest comedian working right now.

His Christmas special on Comedy Central was the most watched show on that network in its history.

So, exactly how did Jeff achieve this "overnight" fame and fortune. Well, I'll tell you.

A lot of people who think Jeff made it big in a short period of time probably did not know much about him until his first huge Comedy Central hit "Arguing With Myself" which aired a couple of years ago. Many think that's when Jeff's career took off.

Here's the deal.

Jeff has been at this for nearly 30 years. His "overnight" success is the result of constantly working in all venues - comedy clubs, private events, corporate functions, television, etc. since the early 1980's.

I met Jeff for the first time when he was a teenager in 1981 at the Vent Haven convention. He certainly doesn't remember me from back then (even though we have become friends over the past few years), but I certainly remember Jeff. His routine back then was very funny and his technique was flawless.

He was extremely well known in the small fraternity of ventriloquists, but not so much to the general public. Jeff used the more traditional "cheeky boy" hard figure back in those days and he had an amazing bit where he carried on a 4 voice conversation with 3 characters.

I remember almost the whole routine word for word even after all of these years. I can honestly say that even at that time I knew Jeff would become a big name superstar comedian someday.

Jeff continued to work on his material, his comedy and on character development. He wanted to appeal to a wider range of audience and he felt he would best be able to do that by moving away from the traditional ventriloquist dummy to more unique characters.

Jose, Peanut and Walter were the result and have been the core of his show for many years.

Jeff's reputation as a really funny headliner act began to grow. His fan base began to grow.

All the while Jeff continued to work and work on being the funniest performer he could be. Comedy is his forte. The puppets are only the vehicle he uses to express his humor.

By the time Jeff struck a deal with Comedy Central for his first special he was extremely successful in the comedy club circuit. He had honed his skills by working nearly non-stop for 25 years. He was ready.

The first special was a smash. His first DVD was the best selling comedy DVD of all time. It sold over a million copies. Jeff became a household name. People began coming up to me and asking if I'd heard of this "new" comedian puppet guy Jeff Dunham. I just smiled and nodded (I still do).

Over the past 2 years Jeff has eclipsed every previous level of success he's achieved. He has made ventriloquism "cool" again. He makes all of the rest of us strive to be funnier and better performers. He has added even more characters that have become famous in their own right. Namely Bubba J. and Achmed.

Jeff is the Edgar Bergen, Jimmy Nelson, Paul Winchell of our generation.

I don't think Jeff has peaked yet. I know he has lots of other ideas he wants to try.

So...Jeff Dunham "overnight" success? Hardly. He's put in the time and effort most are not willing to do. He deserves all of the success he is now enjoying.

If you are a vent, take Jeff's biggest piece of advice. BE FUNNY. Learn how to truly make people laugh.

Put away the puns and the stupid corn ball jokes. Work on developing your own unique characters. And practice as much as you can on putting together a routine that will keep the audience laughing.

That's what its all about.