Perspectives of a Writer and Musician

Issues related to writing, publishing and playing jazz music: One man's muse.
by Al Stevens

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Location: Florida, United States

Friday, August 03, 2007

Ventriloquism: Dying? Dead? On the Critical List?

Every now and then ventriloquists bemoan their notion that ventriloquism seems to be a dying art. The subject came up recently on the Worldvents discussion group. My post there was as follows:

“If it's dead it was never born. In the so called "golden era" there were exactly five famous ventriloquists. Bergen, Winchell, Nelson, Wences, Lewis.

“That's it. All the others, good as they might have been, were second tier on the fame scale. Five. Compared to dozens of name big bands, hundreds of pop singers, scores of comedians. Five.

“Today there are that many working Branson alone. Letterman came up with ten.

“Ventriloquism was never a high-volume artform. It's just fine. Let's stop worrying about it and keep it the way it is.”

First lets enumerate some of the postitive things our artform has enjoyed in the past few years:

In no particular order:

  1. Jay Johnson had a one-man Broadway show that featured ventriloquism
  2. Dave Letterman featured ventriloquists every night for a week. It was so well received that he did it a second time.
  3. The big network talent contest shows now routinely feature ventriloquists.
  4. Jeopardy recently used an answer about ventriloquism as its Final Jeopardy item during a Celebrity Jeopardy segment.
  5. Jeff Dunham's DVD is double platinum and another one is about to be released.
  6. Jeff has had two Comedy Central features and was in the top three two years running in their popularity poll.
  7. Branson, Missouri now features several ventriloquists in several theaters.

Does all this signal the resurrection of a dead art? Does it indicate a return to the "golden era?" Does it open the door to ventriloquists for many years to come?

Maybe. Maybe not. It could be a fad. I remember the optimism we musicians felt during the revival of so-called "swing" music several years back. Every town had clubs with neo swing bands. It was a fad. A passing fancy. It went the way of all youth-oriented pop cultures. And it was not a boon to us oldtimers who know how to play the music. They wanted young musicians on the stage singing and jumping around in zoot suits, spats and fedoras. It wasn't about the music. It was about clothes.

But why did the swing revival die? Simple. Young people who dug it got older, and a new generation replaced the fad with whatever music young people listen to these days. It's always been that way; it will always be that way.

The same thing can happen to this apparent revival of interest in ventriloquism. This time next year you might not be able to find a prominent ventriloquist anywhere. Or in two years. Or maybe three. We hope not. But it can happen.

In the meantime, if you are a ventriloquist, enjoy the fad and take advantage of it. Use its current popularity to carve yourself a niche in whatever entertainment marketplace you serve. Your niche will survive long after any national craze withers away.

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