Paul proving not all ventriloquists are bonkers

With more than three million hits on YouTube and guest appearances on Comedy Rocks and the Royal Variety Performance, Paul Zerdin is now among the top ventriloquists in the world (The Capitol Horsham, Friday, October 14, 8pm).

He also likes to think that he’s living proof - contrary to common perceptions - that not all ventriloquists are bonkers.

Some are, though. He met them at a ventriloquists’ convention in the United States.

Paul is quite clear: his own dummies are props which get put away once he’s off stage.

At the convention, however, there were plenty of ventriloquists walking around with their dummies on their arms all the time, ventriloquists quite happy to wander in a hotel and let their dummy book the room for them.

As Paul concedes, it’s just a short step or two from the classic Michael Redgrave film Dead Of Night.

“Michael Redgrave’s dummy wants to leave him for this other ventriloquist,” Paul explains. “In the end, Michael Redgrave goes bonkers and kicks the hell out of his dummy!”

Not necessarily a good advertisement for ventriloquists. But things have moved on a little since then; in fact, ventriloquists are making a comeback at the moment, in this country at least.

Last year, Paul was one of three ventriloquists - the others being an American and Nina Conti - totally sold out at the Edinburgh Festival, for Paul a happy return to the scene of his career-changing success the year before.

The first ventriloquist to ever headline the Comedy Store, Paul honed his skills from his teens, studying a book written by the late Ray Alan and working with The Jim Henson Company on the movie Muppet Treasure Island.

In 2009, Paul gained a coveted five-star review in The Scotsman, and that was that: “A five-star review guarantees you a sell-out for the rest of the run.”

On the back of it, he appeared in the Royal Variety Performance: “And the Royal Variety Show enabled me to take the show on tour which I did last year.”

Great reward after 21 years in the business, during which he learnt his craft: “I was working in the holiday clubs and in the men’s working clubs. You learn how to do it, you learn how to get better and better.”

Paul’s show offers a fresh twist on the traditional comedy art form, working alongside his puppet characters – the pre-pubescent, cheeky Sam, the belligerent OAP Albert and the precocious infant Baby.

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