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Max Fulham...The Interview

Updated: Oct 24, 2023



Leed Cities Variety, Blackpool Opera House, Cambridge Arts theater, 'Best Specialty Act,' from the great British Pantomime Awards 2020, TV appearances on Crackerjack! and Game of Talents. Sound unfamiliar? How about 2 million 'likes' on Tiktok? Or, a 2019 performance at the International Ventriloquist Convention where he tore down the house? Oh, now you know! Yes, Max, that Max! The one who returned to the Convention this year (2023) and has been embraced as one of our own by the American Ventriloquist Community. To use an obscure English term, Max Fulham has created a great deal of 'jollification' since his introduction at the conVENTion.


Fortunately, for me, I had a chance to sit down with Max this year and made my best attempts to delve into this most creative of minds. It was lovely. (am I sounding English?) The answer to the question is a resounding YES! We had a delightful time talking about our favorite subject, Vent. Even Al Getler couldn't disrupt the creative flow of thoughts that came from this most thoughtful gentleman from across the pond.


Actually, this is our 2nd English ventriloquist covered in Vent-o-gram. The first was Peter Brough, (See the 'Wisdom of Peter Brough' in the archive) But Max was the first living English vent we have covered, and I am hoping to garner more as time passes. After all, ventriloquism in England is such a huge part of our history. One thinks of Ray Alan, Peter Brough, Arthur Worsley, Arthur Prince, Fred Russell, Terri Rogers, Dennis Spicer and others. And now we can add the name Max Fulham. Here is the Vent-O-Gram interview.




You named your first puppet Ben.


Well, you’ve been delving into the archives!


Why didn’t you just go all the way and name it Bobby!


What a foolish first name choice. I think it was the name written on the label of the puppet. I’m not even to blame, so don’t even come at me like that! (laughter) Yes, ridiculous name for a puppet. It was so early on in ventriloquism for me, I just knew I liked puppets. I hadn’t discovered vent at that time, so I had no concept that ‘B’ was a difficult letter.


How old were you?


About nine. (Max starts laughing because behind us peeking

through some plants at the hotel is Al Getler.)



Getler in one of his subdued moments

Al, I’m trying to do an interview here!


Al: What about my interview? It won’t be better than mine!

(To Max) I hate Al Getler. (laughter)




So you were nine years old. Were you influenced by Punch and Judy?


I don’t think I had seen a Punch and Judy show.


Punch and Judy

So what was the attraction at that age?


I remember puppets being used by entertainers at parties. It blew my mind. I thought, I love this. This is so cool. I was just innately attracted to this ‘thing,’ this ‘object.’ The fact that it came to life. It was amazing.




Were you influenced by Henson?



I was aware of the Muppets, for sure. But honestly, what I used to do is to Google and type in the word puppet. From there I would go to every website. I would look for hours. I was mining for puppets and then found out you could actually get these things. And that is when puppets were on top of the Christmas list.


How did you discover ventriloquism?


It was kind of the same thing. For me, it was through YouTube. I remember watching so many ‘show reels.’ (promo videos) So, there isn’t one inspiration, but a series of videos that I watched. The thing about vent that attracted me was the person stood next to the puppet and not below. I thought, well, that’s pretty cool.


So, it was the puppet that drew you and not necessarily ventriloquism?


I think so. I love puppets. I have spent too much money on puppets. (laughter) It has always come down to the puppet. I’m still obsessed with puppets…the look, the feel of them, how they move and puppetry in general. I love it. And, ventriloquism has become a part of that. When it came down to the chicken and egg? Puppets came first.


What is it that you look for when you see a puppet. In other words, what makes you say, “where’s my credit card?”



For me, it is an ever-changing set of criteria. A slow evolution if you will. Right now, I’m looking for a certain weirdness. I like older puppets. You know, they don’t look so great, but that is funny to me. I like the imperfection of puppets. The wonky face or a bit of nastiness. I enjoy that. But, I also like a pristine expensive formula one puppet too. But at the moment, it’s the weirdness that really attracts me.








Are the eyes important?



Massively important. If the eye focus is off on a puppet, I immediately lose interest. If the eyes are not well placed, or in a weird position……well, that’s nerdy puppet stuff. I also try on a puppet. If it looks really good, but doesn’t work, it makes me sad. It’s difficult to define.




What attracted you to Grandad?



He was in a brick and mortar puppet shop in England. I picked him out because I really like the feel of it. But he is also a funny looking character.


Here is what is interesting. You’re young and you have an old man puppet, which could create problems. But you treat him like he is YOUR Grandad.


Yes. He is my Grandad. He is not just an old man. That relationship is something I built on. And then through scripting that actual relationship developed. He lovingly refers to me as son, that sort of thing. To tie it all off, the glasses he wears were my actual Grandad’s as well.


Do you write biographies for your characters?


I don’t actually. Which I know is bad….well look, that is the conventional wisdom. I almost feel guilty that I haven’t followed convention. My characters have developed naturally. The characters, in terms of their personalities, are fairly fluid. To me, they are more of a vehicle for saying funny things.


Do you rehearse?


Not in a formal sense, unless I have a specific reason, like a TV spot.



Do you like trying out new material on an audience?


I love it. Ventriloquism to me is a vehicle for comedy.






Have you ever lost your ‘funny?’


Yes. I think when you have a working show and your busy with booking, it can be difficult to introduce something new. So, you reach a point of act stagnation. When I look at people that are producing a new hour every year I think, “oh, I’m not doing that.“ And there is guilt there. After doing the same show over and over again, yes, I have honed it, but I do worry about things stagnating. Quite frankly, there have been times when I have ended up hating my material. Hating it. Now, I’m still going out and making people laugh, but maybe not as much because I’m standing there despising what I’m doing.


Do other interests in your life distract you from the act, causing a loss in your funny?


Max looking for the ‘funny.’

This is a hard question. I’m the classic case where my hobby becomes my job. I love what I do and am grateful. I actually do need a hobby. But, the problem is every time I pick something up I think, “oh, I should put that in the act.” I really have to boundary myself, because that just becomes another thing where your work takes over your life. But, back to the original question about losing my funny. Comedy takes up so much of my brain space. So much of my time is taken up thinking about comedy. It’s just my favorite thing. All in all, I lose the funny because I don’t have something to escape to not because I have other interests.




As you go through your day, does your brain filter everything you see and hear and how it relates to comedy?


Yeah, I do. I write things down all the time. But, if my filter is too forward in my brain, then it becomes forced.



So where do the ideas come from?


They hit you some time. That’s great. But, as a pro, a lot of times you can’t wait for inspiration to arrive. You have to sit down and come up with stuff, which is a skill in itself. Often times the puppet itself, in its movement, will suggest a lot of funny stuff. Deadlines can also be a catalyst for creativity. (laughter)


Are you a disciplinarian as far as your comedy goes?


I think I look like one. I feel incredibly guilty when people come up to me and say, “you work so hard, you write so prolifically.” I don’t feel like I do. Frankly, I don’t feel real positive about my work ethic!




And yet it dominates your life because it has now become a career.


Ridiculously so. I think if I was disciplined and wrote a script a day I would probably say to myself, "well, you should have written two."




So there is an inner voice that says, ‘I haven’t done enough.'


Yes. That’s part of the reason why I say, “why haven’t you done this, or why haven’t you done that.’“. And then it devolves to, "why aren’t you coming up with funny stuff?” That’s like lying in bed at three o’clock in the morning and saying, "it's three o’clock in the morning why don't you get some sleep?"


Max getting an idea at the moment of sleep

When does that ever work? When I hit that point, I need to escape. I start doing menial tasks like cleaning a room. That is when the magic hits and ideas start to flow. Falling asleep is great too. At the moment of sleep ideas often times will become crystal clear. That’s when you need the notebook beside your bed.












Ok, lets change the subject. What do you hate about post show packing time?

(laughter)



You have done some sneaky research! Well, when you get to the end of the show, you still have the adrenaline, the energy has gone from the room because it is empty and the puppets are lying about. Now, I have to pack them away. It is so annoying! What you really want to do is have some good food or just flop.


Are you organized in that initial packing or do you have to go back to the hotel and really pack before you travel again.


Initially, everything goes back in its place. I just don’t cram puppets into a case. I take really good care of my puppets. They are incredibly precious. They mean a lot to me. By the way, traveling on planes is terrifying. Standing at the other end hoping that your things will turn up. Mind you, in those moments, I’m not thinking about work so much as just losing the things I really like. Meaning, the puppets.



Since you are reaching wider audiences now, what has changed?



I’ve had to take out some of my self deprecating humor, especially with American audiences. I like to put myself down quite a bit. That’s not the puppet but me putting me down. For instance, I do a gag like this: To be a ventriloquist you need a puppet, some patience and a lack of friends. English audiences would laugh. American audiences give me a ‘awhhh’ of sympathy. It’s strange. I’m not being critical, it is just an observation. So now, being a comedy nerd, I’m finding out what people like. I love it.


How important to you is your reacting or acting to the puppet?



That’s interesting. Some people pick up on that. It comes natural to me because I have always had kind of an expressive face. I’m quite expressive as a person. So I think it is probably that. The ventriloquist is very much a character. But, the ventriloquist has to be more than a piece of cardboard just standing there feeding lines. I come out with the intention of someone who is going to put on a show. The puppets derail that, threatening my goal, and of course I’m going to care. That is where my reactions come from. Ventriloquism is an insane amount of multi-tasking. Lip control, puppetry, acting, timing, writing, improv. The public boils it down to lip control. It’s actually a real amalgamation of skills.



Who are your influences?


My influences are far and wide. If we're talking about ventriloquism, it is everything from way back in the day to now. Technically, Ray Alan was the master.


Ray Alan











Dennis Spicer. He was ahead of his time. He sang songs, had human volunteers on stage, he had a dummy that ran off the stage, and was one of the first to use a latex figure.


Dennis Spicer















Then, there is Jay Johnson. His treatment of the art form is incredibly impressive to me.


Jay Johnson


Jay’s ‘The Two and Onlywas not only and impressive presentation of ventriloquism but a theatrical one as well.


He won a Tony for ventriloquism. Think of that? I really admire that. I admire people who are willing to take art forms in different directions. Jay did just this. His exploration of ventriloquism and its rich history in a fully produced theatre show brought ventriloquism to another level. He reached a wider audience and engaged them in a way they might not have experienced before. His endless creativity in that show and across his career both in terms of characters and routines is so inspiring. I was definitely trying to play it cool when I met him at the conVENTion! (laughter)


So you were inspired?


Yes.


Does this mean you’re going to take Grandad and go to Eurovision? (laughter)


Oh my goodness, I would love that!


Other influences?


Well Nina Conti is another one who explored ventriloquism in a theatrical way. It is really interesting.


Nina Conti








Then there is Terri Rogers.



Terri Rogers is an absolute idol to me. Terri’s comedy was razor sharp. Plus, she was an LGBTQ icon as well. It is unthinkable to me that in the working men’s clubs in and around Britain, which were rough gigs by the way, she was a woman, a trans woman absolutely killing in those circumstances. Incredible.






2019 you came to the conVENTion to perform. You killed at the convention. What were your fears? What were your expectations? What was your reaction when it was all said and done?


We are doing this interview at the conVENTion. First of all, I have to thank Al Getler for making this happen.


We don’t want to thank him too much.


No, you’re right. Can we delete that? (laughter) A note to the editor, put Al Getler’s name in a smaller font. (laughter) To answer your question, I had been following the antics of the convention each year. And then there was the museum, I couldn’t even believe it was real because I’m such a nerd of the art form. I couldn’t believe I was coming to perform at the conVENTion. I was incredibly excited and incredibly nervous. Plus, I had never performed for American’s before. In fact, I had never performed anywhere outside the UK. So, I walked through the doors of the hotel and I’m already seeing people that I knew through Facebook and other media. And then came the night of the International Show. Then I was informed that there was to be a cameo. That after my act, I was going to be introducing Ronn Lucas. As if there wasn’t pressure enough! (Laughter)


Did you meet Ronn before hand?


Yes, and he was absolutely lovely by the way. But, I was also terrified. I mean really scared. Soon after, I could watch the video. But, I can’t watch it now, primarily because I have changed quite a bit since then. But, you know, I couldn’t believe that it went so well. I’m a Brit and it was mortifying to have so many people come up to congratulate me afterwards and the days following.


I would call that performance a triumph.


Standing ovation for Max at conVENTion











Look at my body language now, I’m gripping the chair just thinking about it! (laughter)


It was a huge exclamation point when your act was finished and you introduced Ronn, because no one knew he was going to be there. It was electrifying.


It was a very special night. It feels like fiction now. It was so good to the extreme….it was like, “did that actually happen?” It is one of the highlights of my life.


What is next for Max Fulham?



I want to do some more interesting things. I am massively interested in the distant voice. I have the voice, but I am not confident at this point that it will be reliable in a show. I love the novelty vent stuff. There are some real hidden gems that have fallen by the wayside. I think it is important to contextualize these gems. To make it your own. The distant voice is one of the things that most audiences bring up after a show. People will ask me to throw my voice. They ask how do I actually throw the voice? It surprising how much of an urban myth throwing your voice still is. I often have to let them down gently when I explain that you can’t actually throw your voice. So yes, I am keen to incorporate the public perception of ventriloquism into what I do. To make sure it is acknowledged and to make sure it is used.


Where do you want to take the art?


When people ask about goals they always expect a clear high bar, like the Royal Variety. All I have ever been able to come up with is to continue to make people laugh in bigger and better ways. That I might become successful enough so as to lift up or inspire other talented people so they can come on the journey too. I want to, through what I do, help ventriloquism to become as popular as it can be. And also as funny as it can be.




Why is funny important to you?


I wish there was a succinct answer. I feel like I should be paying you. This is good therapy! My first love is comedy. Funny is important because when tiny little Max got his first laugh, it was the thing for me. I know the feeling it gives me and I know the feeling it gives others. It is a uniting feeling and such a human thing. And when ventriloquism becomes the vehicle for comedy, it is absolutely the best of all worlds.





finis


To find out more about Max Fulham visit: https://www.maxfulham.com/

You can also see Max in action by typing his name into the YouTube menu bar


Next up? An interview with ventriloquist David Pendleton. Don't miss it. Enter your free subscription below so as to not miss a single article.


Salute!

David Malmberg

Copyright 2023 Swampsong, LLC





















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