Strassman...The Interview Part II
There is a complexity to David Strassman. One see's that by reading the descriptions of his characters on his website.
"Chuck Wood is an evil, sarcastic and selfish puppet, stuck in the frame of a 12 year old boy and he thinks he's the star of the show. He has a major dilemma; he wants to become the very thing he hates: a human being. "
"Ted E. Bare is a cute and cuddly bear who easily gains sympathy and affection. Although simple-minded, he has the ability to fabricate lies to fulfill his basic needs. He quickly becomes confused with the slightest dilemma and usually chooses to hide rather than confront the problem."
"Kevin the Alien shows capability of basic emotions such as excitement, anger, and sadness, but lacks the ability to comprehend more complex emotions like envy, greed, and love."
"Angel a personal assistant, computer, Blackberry, cell phone, landline, Fax, printer, scanner, and full tea and coffee service.
She is robotically female with a very strong sense of womanhood, independence and individuality. "
"Grandpa Ted, "Fred", is Ted E. Bare's grandfather. Fred is a grumpy and cantankerous old codger in his late seventies who resides at the Happy Valley Retirement home for aging toys and teddy bears. "
"Sid's Beaverman's main goal in life is to be in Show business. He thinks he is multi-talented but falls short of that mark and is quite oblivious to his own folly. Sid possesses the natural ability to chew wood, which is Chuck's worst nightmare."
The underlying, but obvious aspect to Strassman's puppets are that they are very real characters. Reading the bios of these puppets made me wonder out loud how many other ventriloquists have actually sat down and written out a detailed personality profile of their figures? But, David takes it further. He has concretely established the relationships these characters have with one another and with him.
Paul Winchell once said he was a Bergen man. Meaning he stressed “character, character, character.” I think if one were to peruse the world of successful ventriloquists, that one defining aspect of the art, character, would come through in each and every puppet that has achieved widespread fame.
Strassman is no exception. The fact that the complexities of his characters are so pronounced indicates to me at least, a person who has experienced the emotional, intellectual and physical gamut of what life has to offer (or dish out) and is able to express that realm and its many nuances via the art of ventriloquism.
And so, like Chuck, David can be outspoken, like Ted E. Bare, sensitive. Or perhaps his feminine side is expressed through Angel. Maybe Sid's desire to be in show business is a throwback to David's own youthful aspirations. Is he channeling himself and his future through Grandpa?
In his critically acclaimed psychological comedy Duality, (http://dualitytheshow.com/) the lines get very hazy when it comes to who is influencing whom. David to Chuck or Chuck to David?
One never knows, but I would suspect that David is probably thinking while reading this, "Give me a break Malmberg, they're just puppets. Lighten up loser." Spoken in true Chuckese....
Here is Part II.
Let's talk about your writing process. How does that work for you?
My first show, my first DVD, which is Strassman Live Vol 1, I hired a writer to write about 90% of it. Rick Shydner who is a fantastic comedian/comedy writer. That was around 1999. And then, the 2nd DVD, Strassman Live Vol 2, I hired some writers I met in New Zealand to do some sketches and I kind of wrote the rest. And then, I hooked up with my long time writing partner Steve Altman and he has co-written the last four or five shows of mine including ‘Duality’ the very dark drama I played in Edinburgh. I’m very proud of that, it got five star reviews and just blew everybody out of the water as a drama.
When I watch your DVD performances, I really get a sense of spontaneity with all of your characters. It feels improvisatory. How would you define improvisation in the context of your act. Using that definition, how much of your act is improvised?
I would say 30% of my show is improv that was successful and stayed in the script the next day. So, I improvise every performance, no two shows are alike. Except Duality.
Duality was the only show where I stuck to the script because that’s what that construct was. It is a play and you don’t change the words. You know, I started in improv. In my high school, we actually had master classes from Second City.
I was in an improv troupe for two years. So, some of my theatrical training is improv. When I know material so well, when it becomes second nature, then I can actually think about where I want to eat dinner tomorrow night while I’m performing dialog. The material is so ingrained in my brain. That is when the characters actually take on a life of their own and they grow in personality, in emotion, in scope, in conflict, in goals and hopes and dreams. They grow once I know the material. They actually improvise themselves. It is almost as if they do it without me. They actually become alive in the moment and will improvise according to their character construct.
You talked earlier about your model airplane expertise and the disconnect between that and your act. Meaning, that one wasn’t necessarily connected to the other, at least in the beginning. A lot of comedians talk about the fact that everything that happens to them in life, is processed through the lens of their act. Maybe they see a billboard, or a news story or what have you and they think, “How can I use that in my act.” Does that happen to you?
No. I completely have two different lives. One is, my performance and the other is my life. They are completely separate.
What do you do in your off-time?
I’m a single dad. I pretty much raised my boy. He is 16 now and will pretty much be in the nest for the next 2 ½ years.
You work overseas a lot. You come back to the states and you pretty much live a life of anonymity. Do you like that?
Yeah, I love it. Nobody knows who I am.
Are you planning on continuing that or do you have some ideas about how you want to expand your market into America?
I have no desire to do anything in this country. Every artist usually goes into performance because they have a need to fulfill or they didn’t get the attention they wanted. I did magic because it made me feel accepted. I did ventriloquism because it made me feel the love I didn’t get from my parents. Long story. Most of us, not everyone, goes into show business to fulfill some sort of thing we didn’t get as children, or whatever.
I’m being very general here.
As a ventriloquist there has always been an uphill battle swimming against the current of being looked at as not a valid entertainer. Comedy clubs would call me a prop act. They never called me a stand up. At the time, I was the only ventriloquist playing the Comic Strip and the Improv and there I was next to Seinfeld, Eddie Murphy and you name them, I performed with them, on the same stage as them on the same nights with them. I did so many gigs with all these guys yet no one ever considered me a standup. As a ventriloquist, the ‘V’ word, the minute you say ventriloquism…well there is something creepy about watching a guy put his hand up the back of a puppet and making it talk. There is something creepy about it. I’ve always said no ventriloquist will ever win a Nobel Prize. (laughs) Chuck always says to me, “Yeah, you’re one notch below a juggler.” You know, to insult me.
In terms of goals, do you feel you have accomplished what you set out to do?
Let me tell you. I have already achieved my life career goal through an incident that happened to me after a show in London back in 2010. I did a show at the Pleasance Theater in London.
After the show my stage guy said, “Oh, there are some people who want to see you in your dressing room. “ I said, “Who?” He said, “You’ll see.” So I went up to my dressing room and in walks Tom Hanks, Ron Howard and Dan Brown, the writer of the Da Vinci code.
They had seen my performance and Tom Hanks was saying, “Oh my god, you are so amazing. I can’t believe how brilliant you are.” He gave me the most unbelievable accolades and praise. And, this is Forrest Gump telling me this. Right? (laughter)
This is the guy who won what, three academy awards in a row, two academy awards in a row, whatever. He’s the Jimmy Stewart of our generation. After that moment, that put the stamp on my career. And honestly, since then, there is nothing more I want to or need to achieve in my professional life. Everything after that I’m doing because I’m just having fun. There is nothing I need to prove to anybody.
I don’t go out and tell people this. But as far as this interview is concerned, and I don’t care if it is the Carson Show or getting an award or what have you, nothing compares with having Tom Hanks tell me I was brilliant.
David, you are part of the world of ventriloquism and yet in my view, you are also set apart from the world of ventriloquism. I mean that as a compliment. What do you think of the state of ventriloquism today? Honestly.
Well, I can’t tell you, because you’ll print it. (laughter)
(Adam Shane photo)
How about this then, who is your favorite ventriloquist?
Nina Conti. I love her work, she is innovative, she is dark, and she is twisted.
Speaking of dark and twisted, what is your opinion of political correctness in comedy today?
Well, I’m doing a routine right now…Chuck comes out wearing a blond wig and a T-shirt saying girl power.
By the way, I just wrote a brand new show, I wrote it with Steve Altman and I just came back from playing the Adelaide Fringe festival where I did fourteen performances of a brand new show called ‘The Chocolate Diet.’ So, I’m getting ready to embark upon another four year tour of Australia, New Zealand, and England of this new show. It is all about addiction and dieting. Ted E. Bare goes through three stages. He’s normal, then he is anorexic thin with an anorexic puppet then he is extremely obese with an obese Ted E. Bare and then he goes back to normal. It is an incredible, amazing new show. Grandpa is addicted to opioids and heroin. Chuck is pretty sure he is transgender and is pretty sure he was carved with the wrong body. (laughter)
As far as political correctness is concerned, I do this amazing ten minute routine where he is pretty sure he is a woman and I walk a fine line. Never am I misogynistic, never am I belittling to women, never am I insulting, never am I disrespectful. I am pro woman and pro MeToo. The whole routine is brilliant because I never cross the line of being insulting or belittling or name calling. But to answer your question: Political correctness is a rubber band that swings both directions throughout time. What is politically correct today will be politically incorrect tomorrow which will be politically correct in five years. So, political correctness is a changing tide of the times.
Political correctness then, doesn't really concern you?
Lets put it this way... I say this now as a devout atheist....god forbid I ever get booked at a Christian church! (laughs) I'll be burning at the stake within five minutes because I wouldn't be able to hold myself back! (laughter)
Since this blog is targeted to ventriloquists, I have to ask a predictable question. What advice, if any, do you have for those in the craft?
Well, since other ventriloquists are going to read this, my advice is to have fun. Have fun playing with dolls because it should be a lot of fun. If you have fun on stage with you and your puppets, the audience will see that and they will have fun as well.
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