IVS Ventriloquist of the Year Dan Horn...The Interview Part II
The evolution of a career in show business is a process of talent and determination. No two stories are ever alike. In the case of Dan Horn, his desire to perform, led to opportunities that led to other opportunities. If any common thread exists in the success of a performer it would be this: the willingness to go wherever those opportunities present themselves. This is certainly the case with Dan. His performance career has taken him all over the world.
But, there is sacrifice involved in this commitment. As so many vents have expressed in this blog, the sacrifice I speak of is often felt by the performer's absence from his or her family. And yet, through this act of commitment to one's craft, true artistry evolves. Again this is Dan Horn. Dan approaches ventriloquism as art. As such, leaving a legacy is an important aspect of his life's work.
Dan has thought deeply about these and other concepts. You will find that in the reading of this second installment that art and life can and do overlap. It can be inspiring. But it also can cause us all to reflect on the reality of being a full time performer. Through it all, Dan Horn remains positive and upbeat about his life 'on the road,' and the laughter and goodwill he has created for decades.
And now, Part II...
When you first started to work, did you have any aspirations or goals as a ventriloquist?
I really didn’t at first. Growing up, I loved puppets and ventriloquism but I thought that my career choice was going to be as an actor. As the ventriloquism became known, then I suddenly found all kinds of opportunities to perform as a ventriloquist that far outnumbered the opportunities to perform as an actor. As I became more successful as a ventriloquist my focus changed more to doing comedy and ventriloquism. I have no regrets at all. I enjoy doing this. It is still performing. I always pictured myself as being a performer of some kind. I just needed to find what my strength was. I think that was in ventriloquism. It still afforded me the chance to act, but in a different way. I tend to think of myself as a comedian, rather than a comic. The difference is this: A comedian is someone who says funny things. A comic is someone who says things funny. You can be both, but I see myself more as a performer performing comedy than as a comic being funny. Basically, I still see myself as an actor.
Did the open mic’s lead to other opportunities in a more professional capacity?
Yes absolutely. One of the first places that I went to that did open mic’s, this was in the early 80’s, was the Playboy club in Phoenix.
I started calling up and getting a spot to go to the Playboy club. Within a year of doing open mic, the management actually came to me and said, “we would like to headline you for a week here at the Playboy club. Are you interested?” I said absolutely. So my very first headline gig was at the Playboy club in Phoenix in March of 1981. That was my true launch into the world of professional entertainment.
What other career changing opportunities have happened to you?
Change sort of happens. I started off doing the open mic nights at the comedy clubs. That led to me being seen by somebody who worked for the City of Phoenix. This person was interested in putting together some type of performer in a show that they could send out to elementary schools to teach traffic safety. So at the same time I was doing the open mic’s I landed a contract with the State of Arizona to go to elementary schools with a traffic safety show. The television thing then sprung from that because I started making some guest appearances on the Wallace and Ladmo Show to help promote the idea of traffic safety.
From appearances on the show, I was invited to join the cast. The television show led to comedy club bookings. Everything seemed to spill over into something else. From doing the local comedy clubs, I started venturing out and working on the road. From that natural extension was college campuses, along with the college campuses I started working cruise ships. I then started getting more opportunities to do national television which caused everything to snowball. Next thing I knew people were calling me. It wasn’t so much that I set out to do these things, they just kind of happened.
Are you still working all these different venues?
I’ve let certain things go by the wayside. I still do a local comedy club here and there, but they are a lot of work and don’t pay so well anymore. Same with the colleges. Sometimes I would be in two different states on the same day. It was just wearing me out. So, after about 12 years of doing the college market I decided I’d had enough of that. So now my focus is in the cruise industry. All in all, everything you do that gives you exposure potentially leads to doing something else. Over the years, I just kind of went wherever the invitations came from. It ended up that I have performed in just about every kind of arena that there is to perform in.
You work all the time. How do you balance your personal and professional life?
Well, it does take its toll. When my kids were little, and I was gone a lot, I think that was difficult for them. I really regret that I had to be gone on the road as much as I was when my kids were little. Now that they're grownup I think they understand. But, I missed things when they were little that I’ll never get back again. I think it has a lot to do with who the other person is in your relationship. Whether or not they understand the need for the separation. My ex-wife started out knowing there would be separation, then resented it and also complained that I wasn’t bringing in enough money and wanted to send me out to work even more! (laughs)
As this point in your career how are you approaching things?
I’ve kind of reached the point now where I’m definitely looking forward to scaling back. I’ve personally have had enough of missing my life. I have grandkids now and I want to be around to see them. I would like to see my own kids. I have a partner who I want to spend time with and don’t want to be away from. This last year I have missed just about every big event of the year. I was gone Valentines day, I was gone on birthdays, I was gone Thanksgiving, Halloween and Christmas. I missed just about everything. You know, your life is made up of memories and your experiences. Right now, the bulk of my memories and experiences are being on the road, being alone, being in a hotel room or somewhere, by myself, eating alone. I just kind of reached the point where I wanted to find something to do where I can be home more and not miss so much of my life. There are times when it can’t be helped, but, I have just turned 60 and I kind of feel like, “all right, I’ve spent the first 60 years basically putting my life on hold in order to have a career and to make a living. I would like to spend whatever time I have left living rather than making a living.
If that means I have to become an Uber driver (laughs) when I’m here at home, then that may be what I have to do. I want to be home in my own bed at the end of the day. So, I’m actively trying to work things out, so that soon, not tomorrow, but soon, I’ll be in a position to scale back the performing.
If you were to quit today, what kind of legacy would you like to leave?
Well, I think my legacy might be this: I didn’t become the most famous ventriloquist, but I do think that my approach to ventriloquism is more homogenous. Meaning my focus is on acting and character, and not just material. I used to be really frustrated with people that would say my LPM’s (laughs per minute) are not as high as they should be. I’m not focused on LPM. I’m trying to entertain. I’m trying to interject a little drama into my act. I’m trying to offer something that might be different from what the bulk of other people are doing. This is going to sound conceited but I would like to think that I have elevated ventriloquism to a level of art. That is what I would like to be remembered for. I wasn’t the most famous, richest or well known, but I was an artist with ventriloquism.
You are talented and you are an artist at your craft. Do you ever think that your talents are a gift to the audience?
I have never really looked at it as a gift. I enjoy what I do and I look at it like I’m sharing what I’m doing with the audience in the hopes that they would enjoy it too. I don’t really see it as a gift to audiences. Obviously, there are some people that see what I do and walk out. Obviously, it wouldn’t be considered a gift in their eyes! (laughs) My hope would be to find enough common ground with an audience where they are laughing with me and enjoying the experience. If that happens, then I feel like I have done my job. When I’m in front of an audience and I feel it just didn’t click, I take it very personally. I don’t think, “well, it was them, they were terrible” no I look at it like “wow, what did I do that time that didn’t work.” There is that old saying that you’re only as good as your last performance. Well, if my last performance doesn’t go over very well, then I’m at fault. I have to figure out what the heck did I do different. Obviously, if I’m not doing it right, then that is not much of a gift to give somebody! (laughs)
You have a sense then of either ‘I’m doing my job or not’ based upon how the performance is going, yes?
Yes. But there are times when I feel like I’m doing the performance right and it still doesn’t connect with the crowd. That is when I get frustrated. It felt like I was doing it the same way I’ve done it for thousands of times, but was I? That’s when I have to really look at it and say, hmmm, what was different? Sometimes I can figure it out. Sometimes I don’t know and I’ll just have to see if I can do better the next time.
Do you look at the body of your work as legacy?
Well, I have made a lot of effort to preserve whatever video does exist of me over the years. Just so that there will be something left behind to look at when I’m gone. It can be assessed at a later time as to whether it was worth anything or not. What I don’t want to happen is that everything just disappears. If I die, and there is nothing left, that would feel like it was all for nothing. So I’ve taken a lot of pains to preserve any and all video that I can get my hands on. Just so that there will be something left for people to look at. Perhaps I look at that as ‘gift’ for future generations. Even if they are just my kids and grand kids. I would like them to be able to say, “You know, your great-great grandfather was a ventriloquist. Here is some footage of him.” I think that would be awesome.
Is ventriloquism an art form in the classical sense?
I believe it is. You know I have had a lot of comedians tell me that there is no place in the comedy world for what I do. “You’re a variety act, you should be stuck in a freak show somewhere.” I disagree because I’m utilizing the same things that a straight stand up might use in terms of structuring material, timing, inflection and characterization. But, I’m doing it in a manner that takes a lot more on my part to bring about. There is the ventriloquial technique, manipulation, characterization, my personality, my reactions. There are things that I’m dealing with as a ventriloquist that generally speaking, a lot of comics never have to deal with. From that point of view, yes, it is an art form equal to any other kind of performance. So, I feel that what I do as a ventriloquist definitely meets the criteria of what an art form is. Dedication, commitment, expertise…I am definitely utilizing these exact same qualities to bring to fruition a final result .
Would I be correct in saying then that your motivation, and desire to gather together digitally your performances would be your ‘body of works’ moving forward?
Yes, I think so. Unfortunately, without something preserved, without something to keep your performances alive, they will fall by the way side very quickly. I’m very much into classical music. There are little known composers in the baroque, classical and romantic areas that are every bit as enjoyable as the famous composers. However, they are not played on a regular basis, so they kind of fall from memory. To a certain extent, some people today are finding these composers, and playing their music via the Internet. So, now all of a sudden I find myself discovering music that I never dreamt existed because I never had the opportunity to experience their work. With preserving my videos, I am hoping the same kind of thing will happen.
You know, I can’t imagine what Paul Winchell went through when he learned that his television shows with Metromedia were destroyed. He sued and won. Nevertheless, what a devastating loss. You can’t pay somebody enough for the loss of something completely irreplaceable. Those shows were his life’s work. To think that they have been destroyed is just criminal. (editors note: Winchell sued Metromedia and in 1986 a jury awarded him "$3.8 million for the value of the tapes and $14 million in punitive damages against Metromedia.)
Here is a Dan Horn quote: “There is no greater feeling to me than getting laughter.” You still believe that?
I do feel that. When I first started out in this business and started having some success…well, let me put it this way; I wasn’t a very popular kid. I didn’t have a lot of friends and I was one of those kids who got picked on a lot. When I started having some success in front of an audience, I told myself that I would be forever grateful for having experienced that. No matter what else happened to me. The feeling of having done something that pleases an audience is just overwhelming and unlike anything else that you can do. The feeling that you took somebody else out of their life for a short time and gave then a diversion that they enjoyed is just the most incredible feeling whatsoever. If I never have the opportunity to do this again I will always be grateful that I had the chance to do this, even once. I told myself that I would never lose sight of that feeling. That the most important thing was the people laughed and enjoyed it. That is its own reward over and above any other reward that could come from performing. I am grateful for that. I always have been and always will be.
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