Copyrighted to Australian Stage.
Australian Stage’s Dione Joseph had the opportunity to chat with none other than the master ventriloquist David Strassman himself and discovered some quite delightful facts about the actor, the creator and the incredibly hard working visionary of the renowned Ted E Bare.
Dione Joseph: David, everybody in Australia loves Ted E Bare but the big question that I have is where did he come from and how does he now happen to be one of your central actors?
David Strassman: To be absolutely honest it was my personal manager who saw a Teddy Bear in a shop window and when he suggested that this might be a great character I thought, yeah right, I want a cute cuddly feminine bear on stage but…
DJ: That made the perfect combination for Chuck though? The notorious potty mouth?
DS: Chuck represents a psychological authority. Since he’s not real he has the freedom to get away with that word that we’re all instilled with as children – the word No! And when paired up with Ted E Bare what you have is a rivalry between brothers, one who’s insecure and shy and the other who’s simply outrageous.
DJ: Apart from Ted E Bare and Chuck you have another four characters but there’s only one female and she’s called A.N.G.E.L! How does she fit in with the rest of this predominantly masculine crowd?
DS: Well to be absolutely honest ANGEL is the hardest personality for me. I didn’t even notice that there were no female characters until a journalist pointed it out to me about five years ago! Let’s face it, I’m a guy and I don’t want to be making jokes that are specifically for women (because obviously I’m not a woman) and secondly because well, making period jokes often makes me cringe. Because of that I actually asked my ex-wife to help and she did a rewrite but everyday I’m constantly working and revising A.N.G.E.L – she’s a lot of hard work.
DJ: But well worth it I’m sure. You mentioned your ex-wife being involved with A.N.G.E.L’s development – were there other individuals as well who’ve contributed to these characters?
DS: Absolutely. Friends, managers have all contributed and I remember one time we were doing a road trip (in Australia) and me and the crew were just having these simply evil conversations – there would be no word other than WRONG to describe them but out of those crazy times new characters are born.
DJ: And those characters and puppets aren’t typical dummies are they? You’ve revolutionized ventriloquism through puppetronics. Do tell, is that wacky NASA story actually true?
DS: One hundred percent true. A friend and I snuck into the NASA AMES research facility at Berkeley, California and obtained the basic machinery that would be the future of moving and singing puppets. And you know, we probably could’ve got the clutch machinery that we needed from an ordinary mechanic store but to have got it from NASA was pretty cool. As was the chance of playing with Liquid Nitrogen! How often do you get to do that?
DJ: Not very often outside NASA that’s for sure. But that’s a great story and you get to come to Australia and share those stories with us so we all have chance to meet these amazing and unforgettable characters. Tell me what makes you decide to visit Down Under so often?
DS: I guess it’s because Australians and I share something in common and that’s our humor – it’s a little bit naughty and I think audiences like that. Occasionally there might be someone who doesn’t quite like the sexual innuendo or the explicitness of certain issues, but on the other hand the show has a very clear rating of 12+ and up. And when I see kids under that age being brought in on a school night I’m going – What on earth are the parents thinking?!
DJ: Have you come across any particular areas where you’ve made the decision to tread carefully or avoid certain subjects during your shows?
DS: Well I used to make a lot of jokes about plane crashes and then one member of the audience came up to me after the show and told me that he had a friend who died in a plane crash and that made me very aware of how I was delivering those jokes. Similarly there are quite a few pedophilic jokes (especially with the naughty clown) and even Grandpa Fred at one stage seems to be making a joke about having sex with dead people but that’s actually not what he’s saying. I’ve sometimes wondered whether I should make my show G rated but in everyday life I swear about fifty times a day. That’s who I am and I don’t think the show I give should have those facades.
DJ: Clearly your characters have grown enormously since your first started – have you got any plans on where you’re heading next?
DS: Well we’re working to retirement of course! But what I do have in the pipeline is a play that is simply going to blow the world apart! It’s called Duality and is a story about a ventriloquist who has begun to have thoughts of suicide and he goes to see a shrink. Except the only person (or thing) in the room is a dummy who talks to him. And as the play goes on they have very intimate conversations about life and death, religion and politics and everything in between.
DJ: So you’re lifting your performative ventriloquist skills to a whole new level with a psychological drama?
DS: Exactly and of course there are a few twists and turns but I’m taking this show to Edinburgh this year and its going to knock people’s socks off!
DJ: You seem to have a real love for theater – obviously you enjoy comedy but what do you think really goes into making good theatrical comedy?
DS: Y’know I love the theater – I hardly ever watch TV and to be very honest most of the comedians out there are very lame and it leaves me feeling quite jaded. It’s hard to make me laugh out loud. I’ll smile, have a chuckle but it has be to really really good to make me laugh – and that’s what I believe I’m giving audiences and that’s why I’m really excited to be putting on this play because as a psychological drama its operating on so many different levels.
DJ: If I get the chance you can be sure I’ll be in attendance – and having watched Ted E Bare’s farewell last year in Melbourne I can definitely say that if your puppets can display such a fantastic emotional range and depth as characters on stage, I’m certainly looking looking forward to seeing what comes next.
David Strassman is currently touring with his hit show, ‘Ted E.’s Farewell’. Further details»