Buck Off is pleased to have been able to chat with Kevin Driscoll, a professional ventriloquist.
QUESTION: How does one get into your line of work? How did you get inspired to begin a career as a ventriloquist? Were you inspired by other ventriloquists growing up? Do you have any favorites?
ANSWER: 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 in high tech 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.
QUESTION: What techniques does it take to be a ventriloquist? Is there specific training needing to be done? If so, what?
ANSWER: The best technique is not to move your lips. Seriously, it just takes a lot of practice in front of a mirror. Also, there are many books on ventriloquism that you can obtain from your public library. There are also many Ventriloquist videos on YouTube.
QUESTION: What are the names of your dummy’s, or rather, your co-performers? How did you through the years come by obtaining them?
ANSWER: I always use my 40″ professional Jerry Mahoney replica puppet. As needed, I add Jessica, Dino the Dinosaur, Doug the Talking Dog, Uncle Charlie and even Little Jerry. Little Jerry was the puppet I received from Santa when I was five years old.
QUESTION: Take us through a typical gig from start to finish. Do you have specific superstitions or do anything to keep the good luck going for an event?
ANSWER: I arrive early and seek out a willing extrovert “volunteer” who will agree to wear my ventriloquist face mask. I set up my drums, pa system, and portable battery operated piano if no other piano is available. As quoted on the front page of a local Boston area newspaper: “Kevin plays piano with his left hand, bass drum with his right foot, hi-hat cymbals with his left foot, and helps his puppets sing or speak with his right hand.” See YouTube video:
For luck or whatever you want to call it, before every performance I find a quiet place to say the Serenity Prayer and leave the results up to my Higher Power.
QUESTION: How are the dummies controlled? Have you had moments when they have malfunctioned?
ANSWER: My 40″ professional Jerry Mahoney replica puppet is controlled by two levers – one lever for the mouth and one lever for the eyes. Dino the Dinosaur and Doug the Talking Dog are controlled by my thumb and four fingers to make their mouth movements. Uncle Charlie and Little Jerry are controlled by a pull string in the back of their necks.
Jerry becomes Jessica with a costume change, a small Victoria Secret bra, and a professional blonde wig. The malfunctions for Jessica have been interesting. When I perform for children, Jessica’s bra is stuffed with two tennis balls. When I perform for nightclubs like the MGM Foxwoods Resort and Casino, Jessica’s bra is stuffed with large Styrofoam balls. Sometime the large Styrofoam balls will mysteriously move during a performance… which is now sometimes part of the act when I perform at The Comedy Studio in Boston.
QUESTION: How often do you perform and what place have you been to that you have had your best experience, and why? What has been your worst?
ANSWER: I perform as often as I can. Some weeks I will not perform anywhere but simply practice. Other weeks, I am double and triple booked. Recently I performed a squeaky clean G-rated show south of Boston for an ultra conservative Jewish Chabad Purim event at 6:00PM. Later that night I was the paid featured R-rated performer for an Open Mic Comedy Club in New Hampshire.
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. The weekend before Christmas this past year was interesting with nine events:
- a Framingham, Massachusetts daycare
- a corporate party at Dave & Busters in Braintree, Massachusetts
- and a 20 something’s wild and crazy house party in Holbrook, Massachusetts. Special thanks to the hilarious married couple who volunteered to be our singing human dummies.
- a family party at Gilchrist Farms in Litchfield, New Hampshire
- a huge family party in Milford, Massachusetts with a ninety year young Matriarch
- and an adult house party in South Boston
- “Drumming with Dummies” and all the children at the Elks Club in Woburn, Massachusetts. I played bass drum with my right foot, hi-hat cymbals my left foot, piano with my left hand, and helped my dummies sing with my right hand. Jerry and Doug the Talking Dog attempted to sing “My Santa” (below).
- a huge corporate Gatsby theme party in Pembroke, Massachusetts. One highlight was performing with Gatsby clad professional carolers on a carriage powered by a team of horses. Special thanks to “Big Ben” who volunteered to don our face mask and blonde wig.
- and at the Giggles Comedy Club in Saugus, Massachusetts with Boston comedian Lenny Clarke.
It would be hard to pick just one best experience, but one of the best memories was my performance for the disadvantaged children at the Trinity Catholic Academy in Brockton, Massachusetts (aka The Hood). As I was leaving, one little boy said “Thank you. I love you!”
My worst experience was my very first performance which was terrible. I have the video to prove how terrible I was, 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 suck at first but continue to improve and a few become very good.” I am trying to put myself in that second category.
QUESTION : What is your advice to someone looking in this career?
ANSWER: Practice, practice, practice. 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.
QUESTION: Anything else you would like to share?
ANSWER: I know that I still have a lot to learn, but I’m having fun as a ventriloquist.
♫♬ ♫ We are honored to be performing at the 2015 Vent Haven International ConVENTion in Cincinnati on July 16th. Since I have not been able to find any other ventriloquists in the Boston area, I can claim to be Boston’s BEST (and only) ventriloquist.
For more info: Find DriscollProductions on the web or facebook
Kevin Driscoll – Driscoll Productions – 22 Driscoll Drive – Framingham, MA 01701
Call/text anytime: 617-901-6232