Ventriloquist Jay Johnson breathes life into the art form with stage show special
By Michael Shashoua / Jester editor-in-chief;
photo: Carol Rosegg
In “Jay Johnson: The Two & Only!”, a DVD and on-demand special to be released December 16, ventriloquist Jay Johnson, who began his career in the 1970s with a role on the sitcom “Soap,” shows off his considerable talent in a theatrical performance that does for the oft-maligned form of entertainment what magicians Ricky Jay and Penn & Teller have done in their field.
Johnson’s material is, granted, a little more quaint and homespun than the edgier points of view those magic performers put forward, but he adds context about the history of his art form, and interesting stories about his experiences, making “The Two and Only!” more than just a comedic special.
While he settles in with a bit too much corny self-deprecation, once Johnson does get into telling stories along with pieces with different puppet characters, the performance draws you in. The best examples of this are Johnson’s story of how he got his first puppet from a master craftsman who had been a vaudeville ventriloquist, when he was 17 and they were over 70 – and stories about how he got his big break on “Soap” and the challenges of incorporating ventriloquism into a sitcom, which hadn’t really been done before.
Make no mistake, Johnson is indeed masterful at what he does, which he displays in a segment where he playfully argues with Bob, the puppet he used on “Soap.”
“The Two and Only” operates at a slower pace, somewhat like “A Prairie Home Companion,” and seems to come out of a different time in entertainment and comedy, but the benefit of that is that Johnson can also inject a bit of well-earned dramatic flair to its ending. “The Two and Only” ran on Broadway in 2007 and 2010 and as a touring production before being documented here, and Johnson truly earns a description of his show as a theatrical piece.
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© 2005-2017 Michael Shashoua