That’s not entirely true. How do you spend 28 years with “somebody” without liking them? Okay, and I know he’s not really “somebody”; he’s a puppet, a dummy–he’s not really alive. But, I’m having trouble with Skyler.
Skyler started out as an idea from a rough sketch I drew. His inspiration drawn from the poster boy of Mad Magazine, Alfred E Neuman. Legendary ventriloquist figure maker, Finis Robinson took on the task of carving out my idea into wood and creating my sidekick.
Finis wrote to me upon Skyler’s completion, “He’s a fine boy, but more mature material will be needed for him.” I’m sure that Finis didn’t mean “dirty” or “blue” material, but rather Skyler would not be suitable for cutesy kid’s parties. I was okay with that at the time, I was 18 and had visions of comedy clubs and TV appearances dancing in my head.
Things between Skyler and I started out okay. We were doing gigs, making people laugh, flirting with girls. Skyler went to college with me, joined me at some parties and generally was a good ventriloquist sidekick.
After I got married and put performing on the back burner for a while, Skyler spent a few years tucked away in his trunk; only to be brought out occasionally to entertain house guests or to undergo some routine maintenance. I would bring him out at times to do some ventriloquism practice, just to be able to say I was still a ventriloquist and to display some semblance of expertise.
That was when the trouble began. Working with Skyler became more difficult. Not with his mechanics or operation; he was and has always been a thrill to operate. His expressions were great, he was fantastic to manipulate, and his personality seem to flow out even before I put words into his mouth through ventriloquism. But, he seemed to be…how do I put this…mean.
As a ventriloquist, you have to practice daily on lip control, manipulation of the ventriloquist figure, and timing as well as the comedy act between the ventriloquist and the dummy. The dialogue between the ventriloquist and the dummy is a one-act play. A script is followed that allows the ventriloquist, in most cases, to be the “straight man” to the dummy. The ventriloquist sets up the jokes and the dummy delivers the punchline. Not so with Skyler. For some reason, Skyler doesn’t stick to the script. I tend to argue with him during practice. Practice ain’t fun with him. His “put-downs” seem spontaneous and evil. He berates me. His verbal jabs hurt. In short, I don’t think HE likes ME anymore.
Now, before you start psychoanalyzing me and calling the good folks at my local mental asylum, I know that all his words are coming from my mouth. I know I’m arguing with myself. His cynicism and sarcasm and meanness is all coming from my mind. I have heard of ventriloquists outgrowing a dummy and moving to another character, but I don’t think this is the case. It’s more like, there’s a frustration within myself that I have ignored Skyler that personifies itself as Skyler being annoyed with me. I’ve let his personality that I originally created for him atrophy to the point that all that exists is evil meanness.
I’m sure other ventriloquists out there may have gone through something similar, maybe not to this degree, but we all tend to project an inner personality through our dummies. Our dummies display that part of us that we tend to shy away from. And as a comedian, I’m often told that comics are a sad lot, deriving humor from their inner turmoil. If you ask me, all this introspective, reflective crap gets in the way of just telling funny stories and making people laugh.
So, if I want to add ventriloquism to my comedy gigs, and make it unique and funny, I need to come up with a solution that will satisfy my “inner Skyler” and use my longtime sidekick to make people laugh once again and not just piss me off when we practice.
It’s either that or hire a local voodoo priestess to get rid of Skyler’s evilness.