Portland ventriloquist no dummy

There’s a good chance you’ve been entertained by this fellow if you’ve lived in the area for some time. Find out where you can see some of his “characters”, and learn more about his fascinating art. It’s the perfect activity for a rainy weekend …

Marty Richmond of Ping Pong’s Pint Sized Puppet Museum of Portland helps ventriloquist Dave Miller carry in his show props.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
Kicking off its current exhibit, “Ventriloquism – A New Dawn, Ping Pong’s Pint Sized Puppet Museum of Portland proudly presented well-known ventriloquist Dave Miller in live shows, last month.

In addition to famous historical ventriloquist figures (popularly called “dummies”), Miller loaned the museum 24 of his figures. “They’ve never been in a museum before. If I were to ask them, they’d probably complain about being strung up, hung up, and put on stands. Most of these characters are not easy to please!”

Ventriloquist Dave Miller introduces one of his favorite co-performers, Herkimer.

To him, each dummy seems to have a life of his own, Miller told East Portland News. “I’m not crazy, I know that it’s not a real person. But when I pick it up, I think of it as a real person – one who can skillfully adlib and be funny.”

Since it had been a while since he’d done a show, Miller took out one of his favorite figures, named Herkimer, to practice. “When I took Herkimer out of a suitcase, the first thing he ‘said’ was, ‘My God, Miller, I thought you’d died!’. He always comes up with funny comments like that.”

During the show, Herkimer taunts, teases, and sasses ventriloquist Dave Miller.

His fascination with ventriloquism began in grade school when an entertainer performed at his school. “I was very impressed, and decided I wanted to that. In 1953, I walked by a Goodwill store in Southeast Portland, went in, and noticed a “Charlie McCarthy” doll on the shelf. I bought him for $5 bucks.”

Although Miller has performed all over the west coast, and as far east as Kentucky, he’s always considered himself a “semi-professional” entertainer. “My ‘day job’ was working as a graphic illustrator. I worked for Tektronix for 27 years, and for Columbia Helicopters 10 years, providing technical drawings. I did some cartooning, also.”

It’s less about not moving lips when they speak than having a funny, well-written routine, Miller said. “I try to be entertaining most of all.  Entertaining first, and then working with my lip movements so they are not obvious.”

The antics of ventriloquist Dave Miller and Herkimer have everyone laughing.

The best part of performing for him, he said, was interacting with his figures. “I get away with saying a lot of things that you wouldn’t normally say. Within reason, the dummy can be very insulting to people. When the dummy says it, it comes out very funny. If I were to say some of these things I would probably get punched in the nose!”

While performers like Jeff Dunham have become famous enough to fill an arena, all ventriloquists share a common bond, Miller said. “It’s fun to put life into something that is otherwise inanimate.”

“Ventriloquism – A New Dawn”, is on display at Ping Pong’s Pint Sized Puppet Museum of Portland through April 27, Thursdays through Sundays from 2:00 until 8:00 p.m. It’s located in Sellwood at 906 SE Umatilla Street. Learn more by visiting their website: CLICK HERE.

© 2014 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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