Q&A with Pete Michaels
How did you get your start?
As a kid, like most vents in my age group, I watched a lot of TV. Jimmy Nelson and his pals Danny and Farfel were on those wonderful Nestles commercials, Paul Winchell and Jerry & Knuck were on Winchell Mahoney Time. There were also lots of shows that showcased ventriloquists and puppeteers back then, so that was my first exposure to vent. One Christmas, "Santa" brought me a Juro Danny O'Day. I read the instructions on the little pamphlet that was enclosed and tried practicing but.... Nah. I just talked back and forth with him. I brought him in to "Show and Tell" at school one day. Carried him in a shopping bag. Luckily, I lived a block from school. We were a big hit! I didn't get SERIOUS about "venting" until I was 20 years old. Up 'till then I had done puppetry, music, singing, acting, etc. It was when the movie "Magic" was released that I got the vent bug again. After seeing the film at the Loews in Manhattan, I went next door to Tannen's Magic and purchased the Paul Stadelman book "Ventriloquism Of Today." I read that book every day while riding the Staten Island Ferry back and forth to work. Everyone thought I was crackers. LOL. I practiced for about a year until I was ready to purchase my first figure.
Who supported you through the early years?
I was still living at home when all this "Vent" business began. I'd have to say that my biggest supporter was my Dad, rest his soul. My Mom thought I was wasting my time and money. You know the old, "Get a REAL job" routine. But Dad was a big kid at heart and he saw the joy and potential in what I was doing. He saw it right until the day he passed away.
What is your biggest success story?
It's hard to say. Every step along the way that leads to something else is a success story. There have been many through the years. Producing "Video Ventriloquism" back in '81 is one. Up until then, there were NO Vent Instructional Videos on the market. Only books, records and audio tapes.
Certainly, all the Television appearances. Being admitted to the Advisory Board of the Vent Haven Museum, Chairing the Convention, receiving the WS Berger Award. And most recently, watching my son perform in the Junior Open Mike with my Semok Figure, Gitch at the 2006 Convention! Talk about The Circle Of Life!
What was your worst flop?
I've had my share of those too. LOL. My first PAYING gig found me performing for a PTA Officer Installation Dinner. I had, up to this point, only performed in night clubs, with adult material. I asked the woman who booked me if that would be okay. She said no problem. So, I went there and began to do my Club act. Bet you can't guess what happened next. A few laughs from some of the parents, and SILENCE from the teachers. It seemed the Principal had no sense of humor or tolerance for adult material. Wrong choice on my part? You bet! I did 15 minutes and left the building faster and sweatier than Elvis!
Of all of your figures that you use(d), who is your favorite?
I really love them all equally. After all, they're a PART of me. All the ethnic and off the wall characters I've created through the years. I tend to switch characters periodically to keep the act fresh. Right now I'm having a ball with Papa and Krelmin. Next it will be Milo DeVille. Look out Hollywood!
Biggest influence in the ventriloquist industry?
Again, there are many. Winchell, Nelson and Bergen are a given. But I've learned MUCH from guys that people outside our Vent Community may not be familiar with. Alan Semok, Mark Wade, Johnny Main, Bill DeMar, Bob Isaacson, Jeff, Dan, Ronn.
Best friend(s) in the ventriloquist industry?
All of the above.
Biggest pet peeve as a ventriloquist?
Wow, where do I begin? I wish that Variety TV shows would come back. Not a "Reality" show where the producers feel that the audience HAS to be involved in some silly talent contest.
Sometimes just BEING known as a Ventriloquist can be like the kiss of death. LOL. The only Ventriloquist MOST people seem remember is the last BAD one they've seen. You know the type: Bad lip control, horrible manipulation, unintelligible voices, corny or STOLEN material! Yikes!
Trunks and cases. I HATE traveling with trunks and cases!!!! LOL!
All Content, Materials, Images, Photos & Original Characters Copyright: Pete Michaels