In 1980, when I graduated from high school, my goal was to be on 'The Tonight Show' with Johnny Carson at least once before our ten-year class reunion. Our class reunion was in June of 1990, and I was on 'The Tonight Show' in April 1990, so I made it by a few months.
I've skewered whites, blacks, Hispanics, Christians, Jews, Muslims, gays, straights, rednecks, addicts, the elderly, and my wife. As a standup comic, it is my job to make sure the majority of people laugh, and I believe that comedy is the last true form of free speech.
Growing up doing those Kiwanis Clubs, doing those Cub Scout banquets, doing those church shows, I learned to find that sensibility that most people could laugh at - that all ages and demographics could laugh at.
The only way a ventriloquist speaks differently is that he forgoes using his or her lips, and learns to reproduce sounds using the tongue, upper palate, and teeth only. Those 'difficult' letters are B, F, M, P, V, W, and Y.
When I was eight years old, I got a dummy for Christmas and started teaching myself. I got books and records and sat in front of the bathroom mirror, practising. I did my first show in the third grade and just kept going; there was no reason to quit.
I taught myself computer. Then Macintosh came along, and it became a really bad addiction. If I wasn't in show business, I'd have pocket protectors growing out of my chest. I do everything on it. It's kinda sick.
It's amazing how these little guys can say things that a mortal human could never get away with. There's some sort of unspoken license... when outlandish things come out of an inanimate object, somehow it equals humor.
Up until college age I was using the typical little-boy dummy that sits on the knee and makes woodpecker jokes. My first original character didn't happen until later, and that was Jose the Jalapeno on a Stick.
It's strange because even in the vaudeville days, ventriloquists were never the main attraction. They were the guys brought out to stand in front of the curtain while sets were being changed. Ventriloquism wasn't even celebrated as an art until Edgar Bergen came along in the 1930s.
I had a happy, dramafree youth, growing up in an upper-middle-class neighborhood in Dallas, Texas. The only thing that was slightly unusual compared to most of my friends was that I was an only child... I don't think that's why my parents gave me a dummy, at least they've never copped to it.
I think there's a lot of, unfortunately, unfunny ventriloquists out there, so they've got a bad rap. It came after Edgar Bergen because everybody had a little cheeky boy dummy like Charlie McCarthy, and everybody decided to become a ventriloquist because Bergen had popularized it. He brought it back from the doldrums of vaudeville.
My mother and my father have always supported me. Now in their eighties, they actually clamor onto the tour bus with me once or twice a year so they can watch the performances and hear the crowds. Traveling with eighty-something-year-olds on a tour bus... there has to be some sort of reality show in that.
My parents never discouraged me. There were a couple times when my dad criticized a couple things that I did, but it was nothing. So through the bad shows, I never wanted to quit.
The best place to find material is in real life. I've always maintained that it's not until the mid-20s that you have enough of a life to draw from. There's nothing better for a comic than to go through some bad stuff - and some good stuff, like getting married.
But the mechanics of learning to 'throw your voice' are pretty simple. Anyone with a tongue, an upper palate, teeth, and a normal speaking voice can learn ventriloquism.
I'm not trying to teach anybody anything, I'm not trying to say anything, I have no political motive whatsoever. My motive is just the big laugh.
All through college, I was searching for characters that would make me unique and set me apart from the typical ventriloquist with the typical dummy that was the little boy, cheeky hard figure like Charlie McCarthy.
I think maybe one reason why ventriloquists are looked down on is because it's very difficult to be funny. I think what happens is that people get a dummy, they learn the technique of ventriloquism, they memorize the script, they think they're in show business.
When I was in third grade I taught myself ventriloquism... What's hard is to learn to be an entertainer and make people laugh. I was a few years out of college before I felt I had enough material. Then in 1988 I moved to L.A. and started to do some shows at comedy clubs.