The Funniest Night of Your Life - A Review
50’s TV viewers were familiar with ventriloquists like Shari Lewis and Paul Winchell. Their acts were visually fun – unlike Edgar Bergen’s who started out on radio. When Bergen transitioned to TV, it was plain to see that he moved his lips when his dummies spoke. Even our homegrown ventriloquist, Angie Doyen, knew the ropes having perfected the skill of “throwing one’s voice,” humorously animating her opinionated, wise-cracking dummy, Henry.
Puppets always have the punch line with the ventriloquist serving as the straight man/woman. Most puppets come on stage already animated on the arm of the artist. Audience members expect this. Occasionally, a dummy appears from a trunk. Audiences are used to that convention as well. But what about Irving who arrives on stage in the arms of Todd Oliver? Irving is not a dummy in the conventional sense. He’s a bland-faced, googly-eyed Boston terrier and very much alive.
Placed on a medium height trunk, this mouthy pooch goes right to work whipsawing through touchy topics like the overall age of the audience, snide remarks about current political figures, and other crazy observations that might be off limits if a human, not a dog, made these utterances. Reminds one of the Blade Empire editor using his dog, Bounder, as a mouthpiece for editorial comment.
Anyway, the audience, used to musical entertainment for their Concert Association dollars, switched gears and laughed along at jokes cracked by a dog.
When Irving took a break, Todd brought a young man from the audience on stage and tried, but failed, to get his goat during a magic trick that purposely went wrong. Rounding out Todd’s animal menagerie were three white parakeets that appeared “magically” from odd places.
According to a short video at the beginning of the program, Todd Oliver always wanted to be a ventriloquist. Amazingly, Todd’s parents supported his career goal – as long as he kept practicing piano. Todd’s mother is depicted in the video as a June Cleaver twin, an every-mom of the l950’s. You’ve got to hand it to Todd’s parents insisting he have a career backup – in the arts!
So . . . was the dog really talking? Todd supplied the answer when he coaxed a cooperative lady and gentleman onstage where he subtly demonstrated the mechanics of animating Irving. Stationed between the volunteers, Todd instructed each to open his or her mouth each time he gave them a little squeeze to their neck. Well, with Todd supplying the voice in sync with the opening and closing mouths, the effects were side splitting. It’s OK to try this at home.
Needless to say, if you missed the show, you missed a light-hearted night of fun and diversion from an otherwise cold and dull evening.