February 07, 2007
Todd Oliver Brings Funny Dogs Tour To Town
Todd Oliver, one of the planet's most popular ventriloquists, makes a stop at the Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center Saturday and he brings with him a unique comic style that won't make you bark at the moon (no pun intended).
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That's because Oliver, who recently made hilarious appearances on "Late Night with David Letterman," "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno" and the "Late Show with Craig Ferguson," works with the world's only talking dog, Irving, a Boston Terrier, who certainly has a lot to say.
In fact Oliver has three candid canines that he uses in his hysterically funny and always open-minded tour dubbed The Funny Dogs with Todd Oliver. Lucy, a West Highland Terrier, Elvis, a Basset Hound and, of course, Irving, headline the show along with Oliver's incredible cast of characters which include Pops, a crazy confused old timer; Miss Lilly, the object of Pops' constant affection and lifelong love as well as loveable bad boy Joey.
"People can expect outrageously contemporary ventriloquism and comedy, sensational magic and big, fun laughs along with lots of audience participation," said Oliver, a self-taught master ventriloquist. "I think clean comedy is so important for families today. Just about everything in this world is funny if it's presented in good taste."
Oliver's appearance on "Letterman" was another home run performance by a true master showman as he sent the audience into bouts of sheer hysterical laughter, with a little help from his old friend Irving, who happens to share a home with Todd, his wife Melissa and two-year-old daughter Isabelle, along with his co-canine stars in Branson, Missouri.
Oliver, a nationally acclaimed master ventriloquist has been the star attraction for the past 10 years aboard the Showboat Branson Belle, a majestic vessel built in 1994 and fashioned after the turn of the century old style paddle wheelers.
Growing up in Minnesota, Oliver began his professional career in 1977, often performing his act as many as 500 times a year, refining his craft and mastering the ability to capture an audience's attention along the way.
"This started out when I was real little. We used to watch the 'Ed Sullivan Show' on the television and I'd see people like Edgar Bergen perform," Oliver said. "I immediately had a real interest in it, so my mother went out and bought me a ventriloquist doll. I checked out every book on ventriloquism in my local library and taught myself. Shortly after that, I began going around and volunteering at nursing homes and schools. When I finally went out on the road, I discovered that I really loved performing. It was a lot of hard work and not a whole lot of money, but I was making a living at my craft and it was really exciting playing for families."
Oliver earned his first big break when he was signed to play Hollywood's famed Magic Castle and later moved to Nashville, Tennessee, where he lived for seven years, making numerous television appearances on TNN's two big programs, "Nashville Now" and "Crook & Chase." Oliver also had a reoccurring role on CBS's hit "Walker Texas Ranger."
Although he's considered one of the world's quintessential ventriloquists that doesn't mean Oliver doesn't continually put in the time to ensure he's on top of his game once the curtain goes up. Like any true professional, Oliver is his biggest critic and he strives to give his best performance each and every time.
"It does take a great deal of time," he said. "A ventriloquist really is a comedian with a little bit of puppetry involved. Therefore, the material is very important. Once you get the basic skills down, then it's mastering the material. The material has to be original and it has to be fresh. It shouldn't be too far out though. The average person on the street should be able to relate to it. It has to be contemporary."
Oliver's act really began to sparkle in 1996 when he came up with the idea to incorporate his family dog Irving into the act.
"One day I was looking at Irving and I said, 'hey, I bet you have a lot to say.' I went to my veterinarian as well as to the humane society and got the green light of approval. It just became an instant hit. Irving went on stage our first show together and the audience loved him. I have since added two other dogs that I acquired through private adoption and animal rescue. These dogs don't live in a kennel, they're part of my family."
On Saturday, Oliver brings his red-hot act to the WHBPAC with two shows at 3 and 7 p.m. To catch a sneak preview of his act or to learn more about Todd, visit his website at funnydog.com.
"When an entire family can watch a comedian and enjoy them and laugh together and not have to worry about profanity or unsuitable topics, I think that's special," said Oliver. "It's just clean, hip family fun and a lot of audience participation. We have a lot of fun, the show has been just so tremendously successful and I'm truly blessed that I have the ability to do this and I thank god for giving me the opportunity."