The only way to successfully create the illusion of ventriloquism is to give your figure a distinct and interesting personality. To do this you’ll need to create a bio for your dummy.
Many ventriloquist side-kicks have been know for their smart-aleck attitudes. They can say things that their owners could never get away with. Walter, Jeff Dunham’s figure, is a grouchy old coot.
Here’s a list of things you need to know about your new side-kick.
- What grade is he in?
- If he’s an adult – what does he do?
- Where is he from? This can make a big difference in how he talks. Does he have an accent?
If you use a figure that’s a replica of a well know character, such as Slappy, you probably won’t want to try and make him a pleasant, sweet guy. It won’t seem believable.
But not all vent figures have to be wise-cracking dummies. Shari Lewis had great success with the sweet, mild-mannered, Lampchop. Jimmy Nelson and his dog puppet, Farfel, helped make Nestle a house-hold name.
Ventriloquists have also used figures such as Mortimer Snerd and Knucklehead Smiff with great success. These figure’s claim to fame was the fact that they weren’t the sharpest of guys. Jeff Dunham uses a similar personality with his Bubba J red-neck figure. Watching NASCAR and drinking beer are Bubba J’s only past-times. Make sure you’re playing to the right audience, though. Bubba J will not be a hit at the Baptist Sunday School.
Once you’ve developed your figure’s personality you can work on his voice. It must sound different than your own for the illusion to work. It can be higher or lower than your own voice. Make sure whatever voice you choose, it’s not too much of a strain on your voice. You’ll eventually be doing longer acts with your figure and you don’t want to cause damage to your voice by trying to sustain a voice that’s too high, or gravely.
You can also distinguish your figure’s voice by having him talk slower or faster than you.
He can also talk more formal or more country. Practice with your puppet enough to make sure you maintain the consistency of his voice. You need to be able to switch back and forth from his voice to yours quickly and naturally.
When you’re practicing with your figure, work in front of a mirror or film yourself with a video camera. This way you can be sure you’re giving your figure like-like movements even when you’re talking. Your figure should be looking at you or the audience. He should never appear lifeless. Be sure that when he talks his mouth movements match his words.
The audience loves it when your figure does something that you don’t see. The illusion of ventriloquism is so real, that you’ll even have adults yelling to tell you that your figure is trying to pull a fast one on you. The reality that it’s only “you” doing it seems to fade and they’re caught up in the whole game.
Writing an act for you and your figure can be the biggest challenge. There are books with vent skits for sale that you can buy. These are a good starting point, but you’ll want to adapt them for you and your figure. Writing your own material is the best way. Stories often work better than just one line jokes. Sometimes while you’re practicing with your dummy you’ll be surprised at the things “he” says. When that happens, you’ll know you’ve done well at creating your ventriloquist figures own personality.