HAVE A CONSISTENT ACT: by Gene Perret
By definition, ventriloquism is a multiple person act. You need at least two characters – the vent and the figure. The figure can be any number of things. It can be another person, an animal, an alien, a vegetable – in short it can be any creature that has lips to move while the ventriloquist’s lips aren’t moving.
Consistency is important in comedy. Inconsistent comedy confuses the audience. For instance, even in a stand-up routine, the comedian or the person the comedian is talking about should be consistent. A stand-up comic can’t do jokes about his lazy brother-in-law at the beginning of his act and then talk about the same brother-in-law being a workaholic in the middle of the routine. The brother-in-law has to be one or the other.
This is even more important in an act of two or more people. If you recall some of the great comedy teams in show business like Abbott and Costello, Martin and Lewis, Rowan and Martin, you see that the characterizations are clearly defined and never confused. Bud Abbott was always the conservative, intelligent one; Lou Costello was the silly one. Dean Martin was always cool, suave, and debonair; Jerry Lewis was anything but. Dan Rowan was the intelligent one; Dick Martin was the not-so-intelligent one.
One test of this is that you could never take a script and reverse the parts. It wouldn’t work. The audience wouldn’t accept it.
In creating a comedy vent act, you need that same consistent separation between characters. Once you establish a character for your figure, you must maintain it. Likewise, you as the vent, should have a recognizable delivery and personality. Both of you should be true to whatever that characterization is.
Probably the most important separation is between straight man and funny man. Normally, in vent acts, the ventriloquist delivers the straight lines and the figure is the funny one. But whichever way you choose to work, it should be maintained throughout the act.
A question to ask as you prepare a script is “Would whoever is speaking say the line that you’ve given him or her?” If not, perhaps you should write a new line for that speaker. The vent should never say a line that belongs to the figure, and the figure should never say a line that is better delivered by the ventriloquist.
In comedy, the audience has to know when to laugh. It’s the performer’s duty to tell them when to laugh. That’s much easier to accomplish when the listeners know which one is funny and which one is not.
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