Sunday, March 29, 2009

Hot New Ventrilloquist

I have to confess, I'm a junkie for ventriloquism. When I was a kid, I saw Edgar Bergen in an old movie and it hooked me on ventriloquism for life.

Like bad singing, bad acting and bad painting, bad ventriloquism is almost unbearable, but good ventriloquism is fucking amazing. The performer becomes his own straight-man and some of their puppet performers become that most memorable comedians you ever saw.

Nina Conti
I'd like to introduce you to a fairly new ventriloquist act that you'll probably see a lot more of.

Her name is Nina Conti. She's from the UK and her dad is actor Tom Conti.

Conti's act is unusual for a number of reasons. She's a really striking woman to look at, and not at all afraid to be beautiful and sexy in her performance. Her act is perversely funny, but also intellectual and well-read. While most ventriloquists stick to their prepared material, Conti is an accomplished improv. Her improvisational skills were such that Christopher Guest included her in his film: For Your Consideration.

Bitch Got Skillz
One of the technical skills required in ventriloquism is what ventriloquists call the "near voice" and the rest of the world calls "throwing your voice." The skill is actually neither "near" nor "throwing" anything. It's the act of talking without moving your lips, giving the impression that you're not talking at all, but your puppet is.

Some sounds are very difficult to make using the near voice technique. Among them are the letters B, F, M, and P. Try it. It's almost impossible to make these sounds without bringing your lips together.

When they have to use them, there are substitute sounds ventriloquists use which, if done well, make it harder to notice you're not saying the word correctly. For instance: instead of the B sound you can use G or N instead of M. "Box" becomes "Gox" and "Moon" becomes "Noon".

Most vent artists combat this by writing their material using words with these sounds as rarely as possible. One of the things I like about Conti, she just says "screw it" and uses these sounds anyway. Her puppet is named "m"onkey and it lives in a "b"ag and so on. When the substitution comes out sounding funny, she'll make fun of it and challenge her puppet to say it properly.

Deconstruct My Monkey
The other illusion vital to ventriloquism is the concept that these funny voices come from puppets. Most ventriloquists make fun of the obvious deception here, but Conti takes it a step further and deconstructs the entire process before your eyes and closes her act transferring the voice of monkey from the puppet to herself with unexpected results.

Nina's Act on YouTube


Link: YouTube
Link: Nina Conti Home Page

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