“The Power of Funny”
Vent Haven ConVENTion 2018

By: Anne Roberts

“It is an invaluable learning experience. People are so willing to share, you can’t beat it,” says Darrin “Doodles” Baughman. Indeed, the Vent Haven Convention is the place for any and all ventriloquists to come connect with vents of all kinds and be inspired. The focus of the convention this year was developing funny in vent with the feature lecture by Jeff Dunham called “The Power of Funny” echoing the theme of the week.

Jeff Dunham at Vent Haven

Jeff & Bubba lecture

Jeff opened by talking about what a fun year it has been with Darci Lynne doing so much for the art, and “what a great state the art is in right with so much room for everybody,” said Dunham.  While there are many uses for the art of ventriloquism, Jeff always focuses on the comedic aspects and what vents can do to make the act funny and more entertaining. There are two different ways a vent performs an act – it’s either situational comedy (like with Peanut) or just jokes (more like Walter).  The two ingredients of a good situational comedy are tension and conflict.  Ventriloquists, unlike stand-up comedians, have the ability to create a sitcom on stage.   When asked for advice for new and upcoming vents, Jeff says get on stage in front of as many audiences as possible in great surroundings and horrible surroundings. “That’s what will cause you to become a great entertainer, to learn it from experience on stage. There is nothing like getting up in front of an audience and dying.  The silence will tell you where you’re having a problem.”

So how do you go about being funny? You have to write good material.  One place to start is with script books and personalize them for your character.   Jeff did a demonstration with Bubba J where they did a joke, then went back and read the original from the joke book to show how it was personalized for Bubba J.   He encouraged vents that if you think of something funny, write it down or put it in your phone.  You think you’ll remember it, but you won’t.  The best way to get better is to watch a recording of yourself.  Count how many laughs per minute. Jeff works to get a laugh every ten seconds, which means getting rid of the fat, the extra words that take up time but don’t lead to laughs.  Funny scripts are concise. Jeff closed his lecture by following his own advice and showing a clip of himself from early in his career and critiqued the performance.

Darren Carr performs the Mask.

Conventioneers got to see funny in action on the evening shows. Darren Carr closed the Saturday All-Star Show by reinventing a common bit…the mask. Instead he put the mask on the puppet which was hilarious. Sari Aalto from Finland surprised the International Show audience by unveiling her Talking Tummy puppet. Dan Sachoff showed up to the Thursday Night Show as a completely different character, a ventriloquist named Earl Shanklin. What you learn from watching the pros is how to think outside the box and give an idea a different spin or a different focus, putting new life into a bit.

A strength of the convention is the learning through lectures that goes on. There was a focus on figure/puppet care this year with two separate sessions – one for traditional hard figures with Austin Phillips and Tyler Ellis, the other focused on soft puppets with Mary Ann and Melissa Taylor. Often vents pour a lot of money into their figures but lack the knowledge to take care of them. The puppets end up beat up and mangy.  John McClennan commented that Jim Barber’s The Business of Vent provided good advice on how to grow your business and what pitfalls to watch out for, pitfalls he didn’t even know were there.  Jake LaMarca and Jeff Goltz were new to the workshops sharing their recently acquired experiences with comedy clubs. Al Getler’s lecture on making the media work for you encouraged vents to create their own content through press releases and good pictures. Vents should send these out digitally. More people than ever are reading online content.  This PR is free and will likely result in a couple more booked shows.

In today’s world of social media, a new aspect of the convention is meeting people in person that vents have gotten to know online.  That face to face connection strengthens that bond of friendship. There were 100 first-timers at this year’s convention and 505 attendees total. The new venue felt very homey as it resembled the old Marriott prior to the renovation, fountain and all. Something different at the Airport Holiday Inn was a meal plan that was offered.  Darrin Baughman said it was quick and easy with several options at each meal.

Lis & Anne update on fundraising efforts.

Lisa Sweasy and Annie Roberts provided an update about Vent Haven Museum through some fun and games called “So You Think You Know Vent Haven” during their lecture.  Mark Wade and Jim Barber were team captains and each team had to guess a unique feature about a puppet at the museum.  They also announced that the Capital Campaign has made good headway raising over $300,000 in the first year!  Jeff Dunham made a surprise appearance during the lecture with Achmed and then again remotely from the museum at the end.

Jeff signs autographs at the Museum.

The tours of Vent Haven Museum on Saturday could not have been lovelier! The weather was perfect for moving from building to building to see the hundreds of dummies in W.S. Berger’s fabulous collection or sit and relax on the patio with friends.  Jimmy Vee helped vents adopt a dummy or renew their adoption from last year.   The crowd got see two special exhibits dedicated to Bob Isaascon and Jerry Layne, museum advisors and fixtures at the convention who passed away this year.  Both gentlemen will be missed dearly by the vent community.  Jeff Dunham did pictures and autographs on the front porch.  It was very lively and festive.

The 2018 Convention was a great success! Mark your calendars for next year…July 17-20, 2019!