Sunday, April 1, 2012

Putting Words In Mouths

For those of you who know me, you'll know I exploit this blog as an outlet to keep my brain from exploding. Lots of stuff goes in during the week and some of it swells into other stuff and I need to let some of it leak out.

For instance, I heard this week that Shari Lewis, (the famous ventriloquist) as a kid fooled her father into thinking her sister was locked in the closet. And that sparked a full spectrum of thoughts. I thought about humor and ventriloquists I have known and I thought about people I know now (who I hate) who are so skilled with words they can shape personalities that have the power to change the world.
A ventriloquist was in a pub doing his act, which included a schtick that included a bunch of blond jokes. A few minutes later, a blonde woman thumped her drink on her table and charged up to the stage, shouting, "As a matter of fact, Blondes ARE NOT stupid!!" The ventriloquist felt a little embarrassed and began to apologize. "I am really sorry, Madam. It's just part of the act," he said. The blonde woman replied, "Keep out of it you, I'm talking to the idiot on your knee!
Edgar Bergen and sidekick Charlie McCarthy were perhaps the most famous of ventriloquist acts in the 20th Century. He began his career at a young age on the vaudeville stage, and made his name through radio and television, making fun of himself and countering jibes from his Charlie. His lips might have moved a bit but what endeared his act to the public was his ability to make the Charlie character believable. The impish Charlie could get away with comments that no adult would be allowed in that time. 
W.C. Fields: "Tell me, Charles, is it true that your father was a gate-leg table?"
Charlie: "If it is, your father was under it."
All has not been an easy ride between ventriloquist and dummy. Comedian Bill Cosby tells the story of the drunk ventriloquist who lived above the Greenwich Village coffeehouse where Cosby got his first comedy job, who had gotten so jealous of his dummy “that he beat it up in front of an audience. People thought it was an act. This guy actually quit the business to keep this thing from getting the laughs.” The art of putting words into people's mouths is a tough row to hoe, indeed. It can get messy. We've all heard of writers who have thrown their typewriters and computers out windows. But when it works, it can be magic.
A ventriloquist walks into a small village and sees a local man sitting on a porch with his dog. He stops and says to the man, "Hello, mind if I talk to your dog?" 
"The dog don't talk," the man responds.
The ventriloquist asks the dog, "Hello Mr. Dog, how's it going?"
"Going okay, thanks," says the dog. The local man jumps in his chair.
"Is this man your owner?" the ventriloquist asks.
"Yep. He sure is," the dog answers. The local man's eyes become the size of saucers.
"How does this man treat you?" the ventriloquist asks the dog.
"Real good. He walks me twice a day, feeds me great food and takes me to the dog park once a week to play."
"And do you mind if I talk to your horse?" says the ventriloquist to the man.

"The horse don't talk," the local man said, shaken.
"How's it going Mr. Horse?" the ventriloquist asks.
"Cool," replies the horse. The local man is now visibly shocked.
"How does he treat you?"
"Pretty good thanks, he rides me regularly, brushes me down often and gives me oats every day."
The local man is now totally beside himself and the ventriloquist turns to him and asks, "Can I speak to your sheep?"
"The sheep's a liar!" the man shouted in a panic.
The art of ventriloquism is one that has been fairly lost to time, church basements and the ghosts of kiddie parties. But the art of writing for other lips is far from dead. Every writer who has ever put pen to paper to build a character is familiar with the challenges. Storytellers, speechwriters, voice actors, brand builders, scriptwriters and animators the world over know that if you can create a character, worlds will follow. It's how you connect with your audience that counts. 

Have a great week everyone! Keep writing, have fun and don't worry about people seeing your lips move a bit.


  1. Funny you should raise the art of writing for other lips. We just watched *Anonymous* which weaves the theory that it was in fact Edward De Vere, Earl of Oxford, who penned Shakespeare's plays.

    Talk about putting words in others' mouths!

    One of the best pieces of career advice I ever received was to always speak well of myself because that's the vocabulary I want others to use. (This is not synonymous with covering up errors and not taking responsibility, though.)

    Rand, what happened to my picture? I don't think I look like an exclamation mark...

  2. Thank you Lynn Marie. Actually it wasn't the Earl but his wife. (Don't tell anyone.)

    Don't know what happened to your pic. When I click on your name I go to your Blogger page and there you are. Perhaps they figure that such beauty cannot be reduced in size for the common post.

  3. Thanks for making me laugh today! I had a Charlie McCarthy doll when I was a kid. It was really old, and I'll admit I didn't care for it well enough. I was told that it was a prototype for the actual dummy Bergen used in his acts. Wish I still had it and could take it to Antiques Roadshow. Love the painting.

    1. You're very welcome Linda. Wow, one of the original CM prototypes! I wish you still had it too!

      In grade three I remember our teacher bringing in a ventriloquist's puppet and giving it to an unruly classmate, trying to get him to focus on something other than trouble I suppose. The puppet was plastic and not wood but came with his own little suitcase. Of course all the other kids thought he was getting special treatment for being a trouble maker. We all turned bad that day.

  4. "The sheep's a liar!" the man shouted in a panic.
    Hahahaha....there should have been a warning with this post, Rand: 'could pee one's pants laughing.'

    1. You say that like there's something wrong with peeing one's pants. Thanks Fred.