I’d like to introduce myself . . . and maybe blow my own horn for a little while. I’m going to be writing articles for this website, so I thought you should get to know where I come from and what I’ve done – my background and experience. My game, as they say, is comedy. I began writing comedy back in the early 60’s. Phyllis Diller used much of my material and that led me into writing for television. Phyllis had a variety show called The Beautiful Phyllis Diller Show and she hired me to write the opening monologs. Since that beginning, I’ve written and produced many top rated variety shows and sitcoms.
Bob Hope put me on his writing staff in 1969 and I wrote for his personal appearances and TV specials until he retired. The last several of those years, I was his head-writer.
In addition I’ve written several books on or about comedy. Probably the most well known is one called Comedy Writing Step by Step.
That’s probably enough self-promotion for awhile.
In the interest of honest disclosure, I’m not a ventriloquist. The skills and the nuances you people have mastered are not in my repertoire. You folks do something about which I know very little. Your technical skills amaze and confound me. I enjoy watching you do what you do, but have no delusions of ever being talented enough to do it myself.
My articles will discuss mostly performing and writing comedy. Basics are important in any profession. It always amazes me that coaches teach that to their high-priced professional athletes. “We’ve got to do a better job of tackling,” they say. These football players get paid millions to tackle. You think they would know how to do it by now. And they do, really, but occasionally, the coach has to remind them that if you don’t tackle the opposing players, you’re not going to win.
Consequently, much of what we talk about in these columns will be basic . . . some of you might even say, “simplistic.” But returning to fundamentals and reminding yourself of them from time to time can be a big help in furthering a career.
One of the fundamentals I’m going to stress today is that as a ventriloquist YOU’RE FIRST AND FOREMOST AN ENTERTAINER. When you step onto a stage, stand in the spotlight, and speak into the microphone, your primary purpose is to entertain.
Certainly as a ventriloquist, you have other tasks to perform while you’re up there. You know what those tasks are better than I do. You must create illusions. Your must make your figure appear alive. You must give the appearance that your voice is coming from someone or somewhere else. And there are many other technical skills that you have to keep in mind while you’re performing.
Basically, though, you must remember that you are an entertainer. All of your training, all of your skills, all of your technical mastery, will be moot if the audience doesn’t enjoy your show.
One form of entertainment – probably the most dominant in ventriloquism — is comedy. The audience expects to laugh at your antics, and if they do, your act is a smash. George Burns used to say about his comedy, “If I get big laughs, I’m a comedian. If I get small laughs, I’m a humorist. If I get no laughs, I’m a singer.”
For the purposes of our discussion, let’s concentrate on comedy. You want to entertain people by making them laugh. Again, if they laugh, you’re a hit. If they don’t laugh, you’ve got work to do. (There are ways of analyzing and fixing an act that doesn’t get the response it should. We’ll talk about that in upcoming columns.)
When you assemble a comedy act — whether it be from material you pick up out of joke books, hiring a writer, or generating your own comedy lines – it should be for the express purpose of making people laugh. So in a sense, you’re not writing a “ventriloquist routine;” you’re writing a comedy act. The fact that your stage partner is made of wood or cloth is irrelevant as far as the comedy goes. That’s the way you should approach the creation of an act.
That doesn’t mean that your stage partner is irrelevant. Far from it. Your stage partner has character, charm, personality, playfulness, sometimes naughtiness. All of these are elements that help generate the humor. Without that unique character, you don’t produce the big laughs. Your fellow performer is central to your comedy.
It also doesn’t imply that your talents as a ventriloquist are not important. It’s your technical skills that give your stage partner the character, charm, personality, playfulness, and naughtiness that entertains the audience.
The fundamental that you should remember is that you are writing funny material. That’s the primary objective. Keep in mind that you are first and foremost an entertainer. You must remind your stage partner of that, also. If the both of you, working together, can get an audience to laugh uproariously at whatever you say or do, you’ve got a solid comedy routine . . . and as a result, you’ve got a solid, entertaining, hilarious ventriloquist’s act.
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.
Comedy Writing Self-Taught and the Comedy Writing Self-Taught Workbook are now available. Order your copies today atwww.comedywritersroom.com/store
Don’t forget to check out our new joke service, PERRETS’ HUMOR FILES at www.JokeCrafters.com. We are always looking for writers!