"I PULLED THE STRING AND HE SPOKE" - A Life in Ventriloquism by Kevin Driscoll, Professional Boston Area Puppeteer
I pulled the string and he spoke. As a young boy growing up in Nebraska, I wrote a letter to Santa and received my Jerry Mahoney ventriloquist puppet. I watched the television shows of the fifties and saw Edger Bergen with Charlie McCarthy, Paul Winchell with Jerry Mahoney, Sheri Lewis with Lamb Chop, and many other popular ventriloquists on the Ed Sullivan Show.
Life moved on and I got involved in my high tech career and music. I was always impressed with any ventriloquist on TV and loved the puppet on SOAP with the young Billy Crystal. Whenever the ventriloquist Jeff Dunham came to the Boston area, I took my son to every performance.
After my youngest son entered college, I had the time to evaluate my life and decide what I really wanted to do. The goal of making more and more money did not seem all that important any more. I bought a Jerry Mahoney replica puppet on eBay and began taking Jerry to OPEN MIC Comedy clubs in the Boston area. My first performance was terrible, but I received encouragement to keep trying. One comedy professional counseled me with very kind words.
“Some people start out in comedy and do a pretty good job, but they never improve. Others stink but continue to improve and a few become very good.” I am trying to put myself in that second category and I have a tape of my first performance for reference. I now understand that if I keep practicing and performing in front of live audiences, I will gradually and slowly improve.
Practicing all day in front of a mirror will never teach you what comedy is all about. You need a live audience for feedback to determine what works. Also, comedy is so subjective. What is funny to one person may be offensive to another.
We were honored to perform at the 2015 international ventriloquist ConVENTion in Cincinnati, Ohio. Jerry and Doug the Talking sang our original composition THE VENThaven BLUES, and the audience joined in on the second chorus. I was so nervous that I didn’t sleep for two nights before our performance. One of the former judges explained: “Yeah, that’s normal. It was the hardest performance that you will ever do, but it was also the easiest because the audience is so forgiving.”
Our recent performances included MGM Foxwoods Resort & Casino, The Boston Ritz-Carlton, The Comedy Studio, the Verrill Farm Strawberry Festival, the South Shore Stars Day Camp, and many more. As demonstrated in our YouTube videos, I play piano with my left hand, bass drum with my right foot, hi-hat cymbals with my left foot, and “help” my puppets sing or speak with my right hand.
Every Christmas, we change into our red suits. With my shoulder length white hair and beard, I become Santa and Jerry is transformed into Santa's 40" wise-cracking elf. Doug the talking Dog dons a red scarf and Christmas is magic.