If you’re old enough to recognise Hey, Hey It’s Saturday’s Plucka Duck in the current KFC ads than chances are you’ll also remember David Strassman. The ventriloquist and comedian was often a guest on the show with his two much-loved characters, the naive but sweet Ted E Bare and the foul-mouthed, Chuck Wood. Strassman now has a number of new characters that he throws into the mix, but his show at the Enmore Theatre proved that the two old ones are by far his best.
The first half of the gig was a tad long and focused on Strassman introducing the characters and likening them to extensions of his own personality. There was his inner child (Ted E Bare), the father figure (Grandpa Fred), the feminine side (Sid Beaverman), the voice of reason and logic (Kevin the Alien), the alcoholic (Buttons the Clown) and Chuck Wood whose traits I didn’t quite catch but could have something to do with being a cheeky menace. It was good to get context with respect to the different characters as this helped pave the way for the rest of the show. Like Strassman’s other live work, a lot of it did focus on a series of arguments between Ted, Chuck and Strassman himself.
The show had a loose and ramshackle feel. There were some things that didn’t always go to plan- a prop was dropped, an incorrect voice was thrown by Strassman at one point and there was at least one rogue sound effect, but when these things happened Strassman just laughed it off and didn’t take it too seriously. Strassman was by his own admission, “A true professional” even if this meant that Chuck would interject and ask, “Like a hooker?” Things weren’t continuously perfect but they didn’t always need to be.
The second part of the performance really gave Strassman’s technique an opportunity to shine. He had five puppets (every one of the aforementioned except Buttons) seated on-stage for a make-shift “Ted Talk”. The puppets were also hooked up with robotics (it seemed like Strassman was controlling the mouth movements but the other stuff was likely left up to people off-stage). This really brought the characters to life because rather than using the old-fashioned method of having the ventriloquist’s arm control everything, here the characters looked sentient. Strassman did a tremendous job of keeping the conversations flowing with all of the appropriate voices. But he was done a disservice by the venue’s acoustics, because some of the jokes were lost or muffled on a couple of occasions.
These days Strassman isn’t the only ventriloquist on the scene. Jeff Dunham also does some excellent work with his characters. But while Strassman has the more superior technique, it is Dunham that has the funnier jokes. That said, Strassman’s characters did have their moments and were topical at times but Dunham’s are definitely more laugh-out-loud funny. Strassman’s show was ultimately quite self-deprecating and humble. At one point he said he had something to make the show “funny” and Chuck replied, “Better be Carl Barron” while Sid frequently mispronounced his name. But Chuck perhaps said it best, “If I’m just a voice in your head, you’re just a pain in my ass”.
Strassman’s show was a little rough-around-the-edges but that just added to its overall charm. The ventriloquist and his band of merry men entertained us and the final act intrigued our inner child thanks to some marvellous, visual trickery. In all, this was one fun and off-beat night.
David Strassman’s iTedE is touring around Australia in regional and major cities of NSW and SA and in regional until May. He will then will be back for shows in November in Melbourne in October. More info here.