How to Become a Ventriloquist

Ventriloquism is an ancient form of art, which involves an actor who talks without opening his or her mouth while making it look as if it is the ventriloquist dummy is the one really speaking. Normally, performances are heavily focused on humor and can be targeted to a variety of audiences, including children, adults, companies, etc.

This job is an art form, calling for creativity and ingenuity when writing scripts, at the same time, however, it is rigorous and time-consuming work and practice. Have you ever tried speaking with your mouth closed? For most of us, all that comes out is strange mumbling. Now, imagine how many hours you would need to practice in order to not only speak perfectly without moving your lips, but also make jokes, change your voice, and do this for the duration of a whole set.

It is a lot of work but does give room for an immense amount of creativity. For those who love their craft, there is no better job than being a ventriloquist. There are difficulties, of course. It is a niche, so there is less competition, but there is also less demand. It is also quite difficult to make a good living only practicing ventriloquism, although some artists manage to do so. Take a look at this infographic to find out a little bit more about ventriloquism.

WHAT THE EXPERTS ARE SAYING

Patrick Murray

Ventriloquist

Quick Look Bio

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Understanding My Career Path

  • I was working as a dock worker unloading trucks and boxcars in Chicago when I found the toy dummy my mom had given me when I was 6 years-old. I took the dummy and rigged it up so it could drink. I had a drinking contest with the dummy at the company Christmas party, and it was a huge hit with the employees. All my fellow dock workers encouraged me to pursue ventriloquism and comedy as a career.
  • I studied hard, and practiced the techniques while working nights on the docks. I began taking lessons with Mike Rzeminski. At the first lesson, he handed me a professional ventriloquist dummy and told me to “do something”. After a short demonstration of what I had practiced, he told me I didn’t need the lessons; I needed a professional dummy and to get on stage.
  • Mike was a partner in a night club called “Little Bit O’ Magic” and he got me booked there on the nights I wasn’t working on the docks. I performed every chance I got at night clubs, private parties, any place that would allow me stage time. I even walked around as a ventriloquist at McDonald’s restaurants in Chicago. I became a regular at comedy clubs and ended up getting a steady booking at “The Sabre Room”, a famous Chicago area night club and dinner theater.
  • Eventually, I got a contract on a cruise ship and toured the Caribbean for a year as an entertainer on board. Later, I became a cruise director but continued to perform my act.
  • After 4 years as a cruise director, I went back to being a “guest entertainer” in order to concentrate on performing and writing, while taking contracts at places like Atlantic City and Resorts International and Paradise Island in the Bahamas.
  • I currently star in my own show Ja’ Makin’ Me’ Laugh at The D Las Vegas.

Recommended Organizations

Advice

On whether or not he recommends a formal education
I recommend any and all educational opportunities. Acting classes, improvisation classes, writing classes, a degree in theater, learning the technical aspects of theater, sound and lighting, etc. All will be a huge boost for any performing artist.

Keep healthy
Health is key. Deep breathing is a major factor in successful ventriloquism. Exercise (I practice yoga, breathing exercises, and cardio.), eat healthy, and no smoking.

Practice and stage time
For a while ventriloquism was considered a lost art. Recently, it has had a rebirth. Puppets and ventriloquism seem to be getting “hot”. Perfect your craft, get as much stage time and practice as possible, and use modern technology such as social media and YouTube to market yourself.

Jimmy Vee

Ventriloquist

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Understanding My Career Path

  • Puppets have fascinated me since I was a child. Sesame Street, the Muppets and Fraggle Rock were huge inspirations. When I was in third grade, a ventriloquist performed at our school. This was the first time I had ever seen ventriloquism, and I was hooked.
  • When I was a freshman in college, I began making marionette puppets. One day while walking through the mall, I met a man with a puppet kiosk. I told him about my marionettes, and after seeing my work, he invited me to place them in his “store” on consignment. So I did.
  • Later, the man brought out a ventriloquist puppet that looked like a dim-witted bird and started performing ventriloquism for some kids who were hanging around the kiosk. I was mesmerized. I asked the ventriloquist to teach me, and he recommended I go to the library and check out a book to learn it.
  • Shortly after, I learned a bit of magic and balloon sculpture and put together a 45 minute show. My first shows were in people’s garages for $75.
  • As I developed my skills, my show, and marketing ability, I increased my rates and started booking more shows. Soon I was doing 4 and 5 shows a weekend at several hundred dollars an hour. I used the income to pay for my college education.

Recommended Organizations

  • International Ventriloquist Society is the world organization for ventriloquists. This is a relatively new organization that is organized by Maher Studios.
  • Puppeteers of America is a national non-profit organization and has produced over 160 national and regional festivals to celebrate and share the art of puppetry.

Advice

On whether or not he recommends a formal education
The art of ventriloquism can surely be learned and performed without a formal education. But to have a successful career in show business and as an entertainer, it would be very helpful to have a formal education. Certain educational tracks would be more valuable than others as a working ventriloquist. I would recommend business, marketing, or theater degrees.

Be a specialist not a generalist
This tip is an easy concept to grasp but an extremely difficult one to put into practice. The key to success as a ventriloquist is to have clarity and focus. Pick a group you most like to perform for and build the best show you can for them. Don’t focus on writing church material and comedy club material. Don’t work on both a kid show and a corporate show. Choose what you do best and feel most comfortable doing, and put all your energy into that thing.

Find the people who spend money on what you want to sell
If you want to make ventriloquism a career, you’ll have to find out who spends the money you want to make on the type of show you want to create. Then build your show for them.

Show business is equal parts show and business
Many people who have gotten involved in the theater or entertainment arts, like ventriloquism, are typically artistic types who prefer to focus on the performing aspect of the job. While having a wonderful show is important (a prerequisite actually), it is really only the beginning. Sales, marketing, networking, budgeting, accounting, contracts and collections are just a handful of the business tasks you’ll need to become proficient in if you are going to make it in show business.

Get started by learning
It’s pretty easy to get started in ventriloquism. You can buy a book or take an online course like the one by ventriloquist Tom Crowl or the Maher Course. But the very best way to jump-start your career in ventriloquism is to attend the Vent Haven ConVENTion in held Ft. Mitchell, Kentucky every year.

Kevin Driscoll

Ventriloquist

Quick Look Bio

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Understanding My Career Path

  • I always enjoyed ventriloquists and watched ventriloquists on TV in the 1950’s.
  • I went to every Jeff Dunham show whenever he performed in the Boston area.
  • After my youngest son went away to college, I had the time to try ventriloquism.
  • Around that time, I bought a Jerry Mahoney replica puppet on eBay.
  • I watched YouTube videos and read books on ventriloquism to learn.
  • I started performing with my puppet at open-mic comedy venues in the Boston Area. My first performance was terrible, but I received encouragement to keep trying.
  • Finally, I created my own website and started charging for my shows.

Advice

On whether or not he recommends a formal education
Although I have a master’s degree in music, I do not believe there are any schools for ventriloquism. As such, it was necessary for me to educate myself with every resource that the internet provides. It is absolutely essential to practice, practice and practice. You can also start out by performing for free at open-mics.

Just do it
Practicing all day in front of a mirror will never teach you what comedy is all about. You need a live audience for feedback to determine what works. Also, comedy is so subjective. What is funny to one person may be offensive to another.

What Kind of Education Do I Need to Become a Ventriloquist?


It is very unlikely you will find a college degree that will specifically teach you how to become a ventriloquist. This being said, you can definitely take classes from professional ventriloquists, as well as get some expertise in the art through improv, writing, and theater classes. You might also want to learn the business side of things, since most ventriloquists are freelancers.

If you are set on a college degree, however, do not fret. You can still go to college and get an education that will help you be a great ventriloquist. The best degree for this is probably theater. While a slightly different type, ventriloquists are still actors who need to perform in front of an audience, be aware of themselves on stage, write scripts and create content pleasing to their viewers. So by learning all those things through a degree, you will get a leg up in terms of knowledge.

You can also choose to study practically anything else and hone your skills on your own time. Knowledge will help you create entertaining content, and a degree will ensure you have a day job until you are able to make ventriloquism your full-time career.

WHAT IF I DO WANT A PERFORMANCE/THEATER DEGREE TO BECOME A VENTRILOQUIST?

  • The Juilliard School
    This highly rated school in New York City offers a well-rounded theater education. It includes aspects of technical training, improv training, as well as a strong focus on writing. Also, it is in NYC, which is, of course, an advantage for aspiring ventriloquists, since you will definitely have room to practice. Tuition is $38,190 per year.
  • Tisch School of the Arts
    Another well-known school on this list, and also located in New York City, Tisch allows a more multi-disciplinary approach, requiring students to take courses outside of their theater major. They also receive training, theater background education and electives that let them focus on their specific area(s) of interest. Tuition is $24,136 per term for full-time students.
  • University of North Carolina
    The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill offers a Bachelor of Arts in Dramatic Arts but also gives its students the option of minoring in the following theatrical disciplines: dramaturgy, theatrical design, theatrical production, writing for the stage and screen. You can either combine them, or take a different major, and enrich it with a minor that will help you in your ventriloquism career. In-state students pay $8,374 in tuition, while out-of-state pay $33,624 per year.
  • Northwestern University
    Located in Evanston, Illinois, Northwestern University’s School of Communication offers major and minor programs in theater. You can also take next level studies by obtaining an MFA in Writing for the Screen and Stage. Evantston’s proximity to Chicago gives students pursuing ventriloquism as a career a good chance to practice. Undergraduate tuition here is $46,836 per year.
  • State University of New York
    SUNY Fredonia, located close to Buffalo on Lake Erie, offers its students a variety of degree options, including a BA in General Theater Studies, and BFAs in Acting, Theater Production and Design, Musical Theater, as well as a Theater Minor. New York State residents pay $6,170 per year, and out-of-state students pay $15,820 per year.

GETTING MY FOOT IN THE DOOR

Making ventriloquism a career can be both easy and difficult at the same time. Getting your first gigs might come naturally after a few open-mics if you are good at what you do. However, once you get into the business side of things and try to make money, it gets complicated. You have to build your clientele, your presence in the market, as well as your digital appearance. This will help you land your first paid shows.

Getting paid for shows does not mean, however, that you will be able to leave your day job right away. It takes a while to build up enough gigs and a high enough rate for them in order to make a comfortable living by only performing. To get there, do not forget to always give a professional appearance. While you are a comedian, people are hiring you to do a job, so be on time, have business cards, testimonials, an online presence, etc. Referrals are a great way to go, so if you have lots of satisfied customers, it will help you down the road.