Pete Michaels is no dummy, but he's got to think like one.
Pete Michaels is coming to Stitches Comedy Club this weekend, but he won't be alone.
He'll be joined by his motley crew of dummies, including the sassy black kid Woody D; Krelmin, the alien who's come to earth in search of fun; senior citizens Papa and Mr. Johnson, both of whom are enchanted by the ladies; Milo DeVille, the undisputed psychic king — or should that be queen? — of Hollywood, and the Little Tenor, a pint-sized version of Luciano Pavarotti.
You'll quickly forget they are made out of wood and plastic.
"With ventriloquism, if it's done right, you get hooked into the illusion," says Michaels, one of the leading ventriloquists in the country.
"That's what we are striving for, two people having a conversation. And the longer you do it, the better you become and you tend to believe it yourself," Michaels says. "I have lines coming out of a puppet and I'm like, where did that come from?"
Michaels was always interested in puppets and he remembers having a Danny O'Day dummy when he was a kid growing up in Staten Island.
"I treated him like a teddy bear," he recalls with a laugh. "I always liked the look of the ventriloquist's dummy as a puppet. It was so different, the mouth could move, the eyes could move."
But it wasn't until 1978, when the movie "Magic" came out, that Michaels got serious.
"Magic" was a thriller starring Anthony Hopkins as a lonely, unstable ventriloquist who becomes the puppet of his evil dummy, who looks and dresses just like him.
"I saw the movie and I thought, wow, that is the coolest puppet I've ever seen," Michaels remembers. "Immediately after I saw the movie I went to this magic shop and asked the owner if he had any books on ventriloquism. He said, 'You just saw that movie, didn't you?'"
He read the book from cover to cover and in 1979, he got his first dummy, whom he named Gitch, his own childhood nickname.
"I'd sit in front of the mirror for hours watching my lips as I did dialogues," Michaels says.
But there is more to being a good ventriloquist than not moving your lips when you talk and beyond that, making yourself understandable without moving your lips.
"That's the first thing you work on. Then you've got to make him look alive, like a separate entity," Michaels explains. "At first, audiences look at the ventriloquist to see if he's moving his lips, but then they're looking at the puppet."
They've got to believe, on a certain level, that the dummy is doing his own talking and thinking.
"The third thing is the relationship between you and the character. It's acting, and you're playing two different roles."
Michaels must know what he's doing. He was chosen to teach Oscar winner Adrien Brody ventriloquism for the 2002 movie, "Dummy."
Michaels will be appearing Friday and Saturday.
All Content, Materials, Images, Photos & Original Characters Copyright: Pete Michaels