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.
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.
I've tried the female thing. I was in a movie called Dinner for Schmucks a couple of years ago with Steve Carell and I created a female character for that movie. And after a few months of trying her out on the road it just didn't work. I mean, I can think like a terrorist, I can think like a white trash guy, I can even try and think like an African American, but I can't figure out how a woman.
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I was a kid in the third grade... saw a dummy in the toy store. In the 60's and 70's there were a lot of those vinyl ventriloquism dummies - just about every toy store had one. Everyone close to my age that I've talked to, especially guys for some reason, tell me that they had one too but they said they never could do it. So many people come up to me and say that. It was just something that I thought was cool. I started doing book reports with it - I developed the skill. I easily got A's on all my reports. It was just something that a little kid grasped on to - so I stuck with it.
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I don't think I am very easy to work for because everything has to be just right or we don't put it out. But at the same time, all the people that work for me have a "no asshole" rule, if you're a jerk you're fired, so it's a great team and a lot of skillful people at the top of the game, anybody from management to the agents to the publicists to the day-to-day website stuff and it's just a great team.
I am no kind of philanthropist or humanitarian, but it is really nice to get those emails from all over the world of people who said, I had nothing to laugh at or my son was really sick or my husband is really sick and we put on your DVDs and we laughed, thanks for making the real world go away for a little while.
Every character I've had in my act - none of them have a similar creation story. I actually thought up Peanut and designed him in my head. I described him to a woman that was making soft puppets and she drew up some sketches. And the character came to be just because he popped into my head.
We just got a tour bus. I didn't know tour buses could be this nice. It's just me, Brian Haner the guitar guy, the tour manager and a writer. We laugh ourselves silly. Apparently we're going to have a road dog, a miniature pincher. It's the smallest they've ever seen. How masculine am I going to look, working with dolls and a miniature dog?
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The magic in performing as an entertaining ventriloquist happens when the characters come to life and the interaction between the separate personalities on stage becomes 'real.' Then don't forget that the act has to be funny, and to me, being funny and entertaining any given audience is more important than anything.
I'll come up with an idea for a character, and I'll write some jokes and make sure that that character is going to have some legs to it - that it's really going to work. If I can come up with jokes and material that I think will work, then I make a cheap version of the doll. Achmed started out just being this little plastic toy from the store.