American David Strassman is probably the world’s best ventriloquist, but he still feels the needs to defend the legitimacy of his art form.
“It’s like I’m swimming upstream, people who have heard of me but have never seen me live have no bloody idea what I do,” Strassman says. “Most ventriloquists stand on stage, they tell some stupid joke, sing a daggy song and they’re out. My whole career I’ve worked to take this dusty art form out of the closet, out of the pantomime, and make it hip and cool and twisted and wrong.”
It’s an interesting contrast to hear a man so revered at his craft forced to defend it – but there’s a sense that this defence has pushed Strassman to break a lot of the ‘norms’ in ventriloquism.
He was the first to bring robotics to ventriloquism (developed by a friend at NASA in 1986), giving him the ability to leave the stage and still control his puppets remotely. It was a small, but “mind-blowing” step on his way to five-star reviews in Edinburgh, sold out shows across the US and a critically acclaimed talk show screened in Australia, New Zealand and the UK.
His latest show, although “primarily hand-in-the bum ventriloquism”, sees a family of puppets, including popular regulars Chuck Wood and Ted E. Bare, featured among state-of-the art theatrical effects.
“My puppets have the same parameters you’d find in a stage play. They have hopes, fears, neuroses and dreams,” Strassman says. “And this show has something like 180 lighting cues, special effects, wireless puppetry, massive video screens that show amazing worlds. It’s truly a massive theatrical production and just an amazing twisted journey down the rabbit hole – make sure you have a few drinks into you.”