CBS Sunday Morning: Ventriloquism
For Sunday Morning, Bill Geist went to the International Ventriloquist Convention at a Cincinnati airport hotel, where 575 ventriloquists came to celebrate the old art. In an age of explosive entertainment, it was jarring to see so many ventriloquists and their dummies.
One of the many ventriloquists he talked to was Carla Rhodes of New York City, who had a very curmudgeonly dummy named Cecil. Cecil wasn’t very keen on the trip, calling the people at the convention “a bunch of freaks with dummies”. Cecil also got in Bill Geist’s face, telling him “TV killed vaudeville” and that he was a “traitor”. Bill Geist didn’t look very thrilled by it.
At one point, all dummies were made of leather and wood like Cecil. But now there’s hundreds of looks to choose from. Prices start in the hundreds and go up into the thousands.
CBS Sunday Morning: John Dunham Ventriloquist Success Story
The quality of the ventriloquists also varied, from beginners to veterans. Including one legend in the ventriloquist community named Jeff Dunham.
Jeff Dunham made $19 million in 2013 as a ventriloquist, making him the world’s fourth highest-earning comedian. He said there’s a lot of markets for ventriloquists to perform in, from cruise ships to corporate gigs, college markets, Las Vegas, and comedy clubs. Jeff Dunham said that for the last seven years he’s been averaging anywhere from 6,000 to 14,000 people a show.
Jeff Dunham said that when he first started out in the 1980s, no one was into his show. He would go to improv comedy clubs and everyone looked down their nose at him. He said he tried out for Johnny Carson nine times and he got eight nos. But on the ninth try, he got in. The footage from the appearance was very impressive, as he had the dummy cheer him on as he drank a drink.
Since then, Jeff Dunham has had five Comedy Central specials, sold 7 million DVDs, and a lot of Jeff Dunham merchandise. Jeff has attended all but one of the conventions, not so much as a participant, but as a role model.
One person told Bill Geist that Jeff Dunham had inspired an entire generation of ventriloquists.
CBS Sunday Morning: Vent Haven Museum
Proceeds from the convention go to the Vent Haven Museum, which features the world’s only collection of ventriloquist dummies and memorabilia. There, they have more than 800 dummies on display. The dummies can wink, blink, smoke, spit, and even cry. Vent Haven is often called a retirement home for dummies.
Carla Rhodes came by the museum while Bill Geist was there to retire her first-ever dummy. She even did a little routine where she hugged the dummy to say goodbye and the dummy wondered why she was hugging a dummy.