The article this month is aimed primarily at young, beginning ventriloquists. You need to master the craft of ventriloquism. This includes controlling your lips, developing various strong voices, and the art of manipulating your stage partner to create the illusion of the dummy being real. I personally know very little about these techniques except that they require dedication and practice.
There is also the entertainment factor of ventriloquism. As we mentioned in past article in Cybervent, when you step on a stage and stand behind the microphone, you are primarily an entertainer. Most vents are usually comedy performers. You are there to amuse your audience, to get laughs.
Yes, you have to be a skilled ventriloquist and your dummy should appear alive. But you still need to get laughs. As a beginner, that can be challenging.
Let me preface my advice by telling you a tale about the legendary comedy performer I used to work for – Bob Hope. When he began he would get most of his material from a publication called “Joe Miller’s Joke Books.” This was a periodical that published one-liners and standard jokes. In addition, he confessed to me that he would often ask traveling vaudevillians if they had any material they could spare. He began his comedy career with non-original material. It was good, but it wasn’t his own.
My suggestion to beginning vents is that you take advantage of this same technique. Find available comedy material and work it into your performance. Having dependable material for your act, will allow you to test your other skills more effectively. To get laughs with solid material, you still must be a believable ventriloquist. On the other hand, if the material is weak, you won’t get laughs whether you’re an expert vent or not.
Build a solid routine with “researched” material, just as Hope did when he was a novice. This will provide many benefits:
First, it will allow you to more effectively evaluate your skills as a ventriloquist. As we just mentioned above, good material won’t save a poor presentation.
Second, it gives you a base to build on. You’ve build a repertoire of laugh-getting material, but you can create new laughs to replace some of the “researched” material. Add a few gags of your own into the routine. If they work, keep them in. It will surprise you that after several performances, you’ll discover that most of your material has become original. Adlibs will occur to you on stage that may be better than the material you’ve been using. You may write material that is even funnier than the gags you’re using now. You add a bit of your own creativity and that creates a brand new, original style of comedy for you.
Third, having a good routine builds your overall confidence. Nothing inspires creativity in a comedy performer more than hearing good, solid laughter. Your overall performance should continue to improve and improve.
Fourth, you’ll gain experience in evaluating material. You’ll learn which jokes are worth including and which should be replace. You’ll begin to appreciate which gags are perfect for you and your stage partner. This is an attribute that is essential for comics. I wrote for many recognized and accomplished comedians. I and my colleagues provided them with plenty of solid comedy material. But one thing that impressed me and that stood out was that those performers knew exactly which gags were right for them. They had learned over the years how to select material that was unique for their own style and delivery. To progress as a comedy performer, you should develop this skill.
How do you begin applying this?
- Do some substantial research. Look in obscure places for material that you might include. Find collections of gags in the library. Sometimes old gags can be revitalized. I once had a comedian do a joke that got a terrific response. Later I was reading a book about the civil war and discovered that this line (or a version of it) was originally created by a humorist from that era. A joke from the 1860’s still got laughs in the late 1900’s. I published a series of School Joke Books that include original lines about “bad cafeteria food,” “mean teachers,” “doing poorly in tests,” and the like. Many of these original, but unfamiliar lines could work well in a vent routine.
- Use discretion. Avoid those lines that have been overdone or are recognized as coming from other comedians. It wouldn’t be wise to use “Take my wife – please” in your routine. Everyone would know it’s Henny Youngman’s signature one-liner. But you might have an exchange with your stage partner like this:
VENT: Are you going away this year?
DUMMY: Yeah, my wife says she wants to go someplace she’s never been before.
VENT: So where’d you take her?
DUMMY: To the kitchen.
That’s also a Henny Youngman line, but it’s not nearly as recognizable.
- Be creative. Change some of the lines around. Apply them to different situations. For instance. Referring back to the Henny Youngman line we quoted above, it might be just as effective this way:VENT: What did you get your brother-in-law for his birthday?
DUMMY: Well, he wanted something he wouldn’t get for himself.
VENT: That makes sense.
DUMMY: So I got him a job.
Same principle; different joke.
- Try to find lines that are related in some way and build them into a routine. As an example, I mentioned the School Joke Books above and the topic of “bad food in the cafeteria.” You could four, five, or six, of these and blend them into a conversation between you and your stage partner.
The idea here is to get laughs while you’re developing your skills. In the process, you’ll not only learn other skills, but you’ll have fun doing it.
Learn more from Gene Perret with his books, classes, and newsletter. Information available at www.comedywritersroom.com/store. Gene also has a free joke service,Perrets’ Humor Files, featuring original lines. Take a look at www.jokecrafters.com. You can email Gene at RTComedy@cwo.com.
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Don't forget to check out our new joke service, PERRETS' HUMOR FILES at www.JokeCrafters.com. We are always looking for writers!