David Strassman’s puppets’ hilarious take on our technology attuned society

INTERNATIONALLY acclaimed American ventriloquist David Strassman has come a long way since his much-loved puppets Chuck Wood and Ted E Bare first appeared on stage in the 80s. The world was more simple then, with rotary telephones and cheap petrol, Strassman says a little nostalgically from his home in Los Angeles.

These days it’s an upward battle for Strassman to disengage Chuck and Ted E Bare from their iPads, snap chat, text messaging and email, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. It lays the foundation for Strassman’s new show iTed
E – which uproariously parodies our technology-laden lives – coming to WA this month.

“In my show I hold up a very comical and funny mirror,” Strassman says. “We are all guilty of being addicted to our screens. When you are standing in the queue at Coles or Woolies no one speaks to each other anymore, they are all staring at their screens. The iPhone has killed small talk and my show is a comical look at this phenomena.

“I am not telling anyone it is wrong, I am just pointing out a very funny mirror to our society. I am able to do this with a bunch of puppets. After all I am a grown man who plays with puppets, this is what I do for a living.

“One thing I have always done is that my puppets have the same parameters as you would in a stage play. My characters have hopes and fears, dreams, foibles and neuroses and back stories, so when I do my show, it’s not why did the chicken cross the road but what problems are you having today.

“That’s what gives them the depth of character, so that it’s not just a daggy guy with a bunch of puppets, it’s amazing reality.”

Los Angeles born, Strassman has a long love affair with Australia and WA in particular and visits here often.

“Perth is the jewel of our touring, we absolutely love Perth and it is one of the few cities where I am successful enough to have two weeks of shows.”

A visit to Disneyland as a child prompted Strassman to ask his father to buy some professional magic tricks that he performed for local neighbourhood children. He took a ventriloquism class in junior high school as an elective and discovered he was good at it and could make money from his performances.

Strassman studied acting at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York but returned to ventriloquism, busking in that city’s Central Park and London’s Leicester Square and Marble Arch with a brief stint in Paris. His award-winning dark-edged avant garde style has lifted ventriloquism into the 21st century.

Strassman says his current show is the hardest he has done.

“This show has taken the most out of me, there are some stuffups which are quite hilarious and I have a puppet call me out if I make a mistake.

“The first half of the show harks back to when I started off with the Comedy Club in New York and back then you had to get a laugh every 10 seconds or you wouldn’t be invited back. From the moment it starts it’s full of hilarity.

“I operate my puppets first off with the traditional hand-up-the-bum ventriloquism, with buttons and levers. Ted E Bare is a simple soft puppet which is quite amazing, just my hand in his head.

“In the second half I operate five puppets in a six-way conversation, giving a Ted talk, an international lecture series on innovation, technology, entertainment and design with instructions on how to cure cancer, global warming and elements of neurological discoveries – it is fun and informative.

“The puppets are my experts and chime in. All five puppets sit in a chair and in my hand is a hand-held wireless device which operates the mouth of each puppet through wireless and robotically, it really is mind-blowing

“My thesis is that with all this technology we use our phones for everything. If you want to find out who won a rugby match five years ago you don’t go to your brain, you look it up on Google. I love technology and embrace it but I am also fearful we could be experiencing a new age where we don’t know trivial things which may or may not be important to our daily lives. For instance, no one has paper maps anymore.”

Strassman is also touring regional WA, his crew driving a six-tonne truck between most one-night stands, taking hours to set up stage elements, backdrops, sets, lighting, music and robotics to the same standard as his Perth shows.

After WA he returns to the US to see his son start high school, and then next year tours Victoria, NSW, ACT and Queensland. What does he do to relax after a show?

“These days it’s a diet Coke with the crew and off to bed,” he laughs.

iTed E plays at the Regal Theatre from 17 October-29 October, Geraldton 10 October, Kalgoorlie 11 October, Esperance 12 October, Albany 13 October, Bunbury 14-15 October and Mandurah 31 October-1 November. The performance is rated MA and children aged 12 to 15 years must be accompanied by parents or a guardian.  Tickets at www.ticketek.com.au