Bob Abdou sent in this great little article about the manipulation of your ventriloquist figure. These are tips he learned from the great ventriloquist, Johnny Main.
There seems to be a new wave of ventriloquists that are going back to using actually “dummies” in their collection or shows. There was a period in the 90’s where soft puppets were all the norm, now it seems the table is turning. When an audience sees a ventriloquist dummy on stage, it automatically makes the audience think “ventriloquist”, that is not the same with a soft puppet, even though the entertainer is a ventriloquist.
So since more ventriloquists are using ‘dummies’ either buying them or making their new partners themselves. I feel it is important that I share with you my tips from Johnny Main. Johnny only used ‘dummies’ in his routine over soft puppets. In fact, he won a soft puppet in the raffle from the Ventriloquist ConVENTion and he did not know the first thing about working it. Johnny was out of his element with soft puppets but a master when it came to ventriloquist dummies.
Here is one tip he shared with me that I now want to share with Ventriloquist Central readers; Dummy Position.
It is crucial to know the position of your dummy BEFORE walking on stage. Johnny was more concerned with table top position over using your knee propped up on a chair. If your position is uneven, the act makes the audience off balance and most of your routine is lost.
Step 1 – Know your table top position BEFORE walking on stage, if it is not right, fix it immediately then go right into your routine, if you fight the table top position all during your routine you have wasted yours and your audiences time. On lookers will think of you as an amateur, not knowing what to do during a crisis. So fix your table top immediately.
Step 2 – If your dummy position is even with your eyes, you now have an even partnership which is NOT what you want. Your partner is everything you are not. If the audience from the back row sees your act and your dummy is positioned even with your eyesight photo #1, they will see 2 actors on even scale, look at Abbott & Costello, Laurel & Hardy, Martin & Lewis, Sonny & Cher, all different in height, length and looks. This is what makes your jokes funnier.
Step 3 – photo #2, if your dummy is positioned lower than your eye level you will lose some of your manipulation. Also it will put an unwanted strain on your forearm, arm, elbow and fingers. Most dummies are not created in looking straight up and that is what has to happen when your dummy is positioned too low, It also looks too awkward, if you find your table top to be too low, fix it immediately.
Step 4 – Johnny was very stubborn on dummy position and he always said to have the ventriloquist’s eyes to be level with the dummies top head, that is photo #3. There are many positive moves to be shown to your audience when this position is done right, This is the position you need to have when you work on stage. Yes, there are many vents that will disagree, but the majority of them are pros and have performed 10,000 shows, so they know what feels right to them. This lesson is being shown to those just getting started. Once you have years of experience and knowledge under your belt, you will see changes that will fit your personality and show. So again, if you are just starting out, make your eyes level with the dummies top head.
Step 5 – Again, look at photo #3, this is the right position AND the dummy looks like he is looking at me, but he is not, I am actually looking at his left eye, not his right eye. Why is this important when your dummy is looking at you?? Because it saves a manipulation that is sure to get a laugh. Again, if you want your dummy to look at you, don’t make a profile photo, have the dummies head turn a bit toward you and just look at his left eye,
Step 6 – Why is Step 5 important?? Because there is going to be a joke in your routine that you need to use your silver bullet manipulation. If you have seen Jeff Dunham use his super hero dummy, there is a joke where the super hero actually turns his head all the way to look at Jeff and because this dummy has a big nose, the audience now sees this funny nose and gets a HUGE laugh, The dummy is now looking at Jeff with both eyes, This is the manipulation you want to use very wisely in your act. If you make the dummies head totally look at you at the beginning of your act, you have just wasted a good manipulation that you can do later and continue the laughter. You have to establish your dummy to the audience and once that is done, then shoot your silver bullet!!
When I give lessons on ventriloquism, I don’t talk about lip control until later, I work on stage presence, that is crucial in a show, if you have PERFECT lip control but the audience sees you struggle in getting your dummy out of the suitcase, you have lost a beat to your rhythm and you have to work harder in getting that beat to be in sync with the rest of your show.
So when you work on stage presence, remember Johnny Main’s advise about Dummy position and your act will make you look like a real pro.
Thanks Bob, for these tips when it comes to the manipulation of a ventriloquist figure.
Copyright 2010 by Dan Willinger