Today, if you ask young vents to name a famous ventriloquist, they usually reply Jeff Dunham, Terry Fator or Darci Lynne.
Some find that discouraging. They feel the new generation doesn’t know or care about the past.
I’m not so sure about that.
Years ago, if you asked a young vent to name a famous ventriloquist, they would reply Jimmy Nelson, Edgar Bergen, Paul Winchell or Senor Wences.
Those were the stars of their day. Those were the people on television.
As I was growing up, I remember seeing those four too. But during most of my childhood vent wasn’t on TV as much. I grew up seeing Jay Johnson on Soap. I’d watch Willie Tyler on the Jeffersons, McDonald’s commercials and Laugh-in. I’d see Shari Lewis and Lambchop educate children. And when Ronn Lucas performed at the Presidential Gala I was watching along with most of the country.
Now the media features new stars and it is only common for the youth today to mention them. After all, they were inspired by these artists.
But I feel it is important as someone who helps to teach the art, to educate new ventriloquists about our history.
They need to know who Edgar Bergen was and why he was so important to the art. What Paul Winchell did to elevate ventriloquism.
New vents need to take the time to watch videos of Paul Winchell and Jimmy Nelson. Not for the entertainment value. That is a bonus. But to watch how they worked and learn from them.
There are plenty more to study as well. The amazing Arthur Worsley, the incomparable Ray Allen, Neville King, Terri Rogers, Dennis Spricer – all stars of their day. And of course, Dan Horn, David Strassman, Taylor Mason, Nina Conti, Kevin Johnson and Ken Groves – all stars in today’s ventriloquist community.
When you learn what has come before, you have a better understanding of how you can take the art in a new direction.
Of course, I couldn’t talk about these great ventriloquists and not share a video, so enjoy Neville King, and see if you can find something that may have inspired a Jeff Dunham routine.