Sometimes I act before I actually stop and think. I had decided to go to Vent Haven in 2009 when I read about the Open Mic. You apply, if you get in to one of the ten openings, you get six minutes in front of everyone at the convention. You’re also videotaped and critiqued by working pros. It sounded like a great deal. So I sent in my name and waited. When the list came out I was number ten out of ten. Needless to say I was excited. My excitement soon turned to panic when I realized; now I needed an act.
I’ve been performing most of my life. Magic, juggling, balloons, and ventriloquism have all been in my show for decades. But I never really considered myself a real ventriloquist. My technique was very sloppy and the jokes old chestnuts. (Certainly not anything suitable for the premier ventriloquist convention in the world.) This was the stomping ground of Dunham, Johnson, and Nelson just to name a few. I needed to get to work. I knew immediately I would never be able to up my technique in time to impress anyone. Then I remembered Jeff Dunham once mentioned comedy was harder than ventriloquism. This was my loophole. If I were funny enough, maybe they wouldn’t notice how bad I was.
When I perform I always first figure out my character. It’s been said a magician is just an actor playing the part of a magician. Since I wasn’t a good ventriloquist, that would be my starting point. I’m someone who can’t do ventriloquism, but is too dense to know it. Next I need a figure. Well, if my character were really dumb, he would wait and buy a figure at the last minute, not rehearse, and wing it. I then considered what type of figure this loser would buy. Better yet, what type of figure would he get “stuck” with. A good salesman can spot a sucker a mile away and this guy is a sucker. So what is the silliest thing someone could try and pass off as a puppet? The answer, a stick. Ventriloquist figures use a dowel, much like a broom handle, as the control stick for the head. So why not just sell him the stick. From that everything else just fell into place. His name would be “Rod” and Rod is a “stick puppet”. Terry Fator won America’s Got Talent by doing singing impression. I decided I would also do impressions, but without singing or even talking. The first gag would be to put a cowboy hat on the stick and call him “Woody” for Pixar’s A Toy Story. A small blond wig and it’s super model Twiggy. A pair of sunglasses . . . Shaft! I was on a roll and soon had more than enough material to fill the six minutes.
I became worried. This is after all a ventriloquist convention. I needed to at least make an attempt. Rod needed to talk. I also thought this would catch people off guard. They would think this is just a prop joke, the stick talks and while they react to that, I hit them with another joke. Well, I spent a lot of time with hinges, drills, springs, and too many splinters trying to gimmick a dowel to split and return without any real success. Then it hit me. I’m a fake ventriloquist with a fake act and a fake puppet; why not make it a fake stick. I took a section of PCV pipe cut and hinged it. I ran a piece of elastic cord through the inside. I wrapped the whole thing is wood grain shelf paper and rod was born. As the final touch, I took a briefcase and created an old fashioned looking ad (“Hey Kids! Learn Ventriloquism for only $1”) and stuck it on the top. I was now ready.
I arrived at the convention and was a little apprehensive. These are people who love the art of ventriloquism. They make their living doing what I was about to spoof. Sure, I thought it was funny but would they? The Open Mic was early in the convention, so this could be a very long weekend. As I watched the others perform before me, I started to get “flop sweat” before I had gotten a chance to flop. I comforted myself by thinking back to one of the fist acts I saw the night before; A ventriloquist with a headless dummy. Everyone loved it. Well, I thought, no one had ever heard of me before tonight and if it tanks, I can just go back to Alabama change my name and take up herding goats.
When all was said and done, everyone seemed to enjoy the act. Many people wanted to have their picture taken with Rod, not me, just Rod. I even had several offer jokes based on the act’s premise. The next day Dan Horn used part of the act as an example in his lecture about puns. (I hope that was a good thing) The weekend was great. I made a lot of new friend and saw a lot of great real ventriloquist. I’m already planning for next year. If I make it into the Open Mic, I can’t tell you what I’m doing, but I promise you it will be weird.
Darrell (the Doctor) Osborn