David Strassman has built a career on cutting edge comedy and ventriloquism. In Adelaide earlier this year for Fringe, he spent some time with Glam chatting about his unusual career choice.
“In year 8 a teacher offered ventriloquism as a class. And I excelled. Then he showed me how to advertise in the local paper to do kids’ parties, and I started making money at a very early age: so, it’s really a function of money!”
As an acting student, Strassman started busking on the streets of NY and earning “heaps of money”, and so decided not to take up the prestigious second year class he had been offered at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts.
“I realised that I had to be funny in order to keep the crowds, so I structured an act that made people want to hang around and give me money. Then when it got cold, I moved into the clubs, so that’s how I kept it going. When I did my show in Edinburgh in 86, I made [ventriloquism] legit again. I made it hip. Since then I couldn’t care less, I just do what I want to do.”
Strassman has always been incredibly popular in
Australia and New Zealand, far more than in his native United States.
“This is where I focussed my career. I have no idea why. I stopped doing performances in the US when I pretty much came here in 92. I was hired by David Foster to work in a comedy club in Melbourne and it just went ballistic. And then Hey Hey It’s Saturday put me on the map. From there I did every show you could imagine. Plus, I kept bringing new shows all the time.”
Despite consistent popularity, family commitments recently nearly sent him into retirement.
“I finished my last show, which was iTedE: Filmed it, finished it, and I was going to retire. I’m a single dad. I have a 16-year-old boy who has two more years left [of school], so I thought “screw it”. After three months [of not working] I went bat-shit crazy, so here I am again! But instead of three tours a year, I only do two so I can be at home.”
So, what makes a great ventriloquist?
“The only other ventriloquist I like is Nina Conti. She’s a good friend. She thinks outside the box. All the others I find to be just lame and daggy. She’s an actress doing ventriloquism, I’m an actor doing ventriloquism. The other guys are ventriloquists doing ventriloquism. We bring theatrical ideas to our art form.”
With an already impressive longevity in a niche art form, how long does Strassman think he will keep doing this?
“As artists we usually go into this for some form of attention or validation. In 2005, Tom Hanks came backstage after a show, and told me that I was “f**king brilliant”. Since that moment, I have nothing to prove. I don’t need validation. I don’t need an award. So, I’m now doing this for sheer fun!”
Finally, where does the world’s greatest ventriloquist feel that this art-form sits? Is it puppetry or is it something separate?
“Oh, it’s daggy…below jugglers. That’s where it sits. At the bottom!”
Strassman will be bringing his new, full-length show, complete with robotic puppets, to Adelaide very soon.
Interview by Tracey Korsten