It's wonderful. It's magical.
Yes, it is.
Love the eyes.
I love yours too.
This is about to get a little weird.
Oh yes, I'm falling.
Okay, hit it Michael.
The vent's convention's definitely the highlight of my year.
Well, it's good to see you again.
-What are you working on? -I don't even know.
You legitimately got your ass kicked for doing ventriloquism?
Of course, because you're the guy who plays with dolls.
I'm a little nervous right now.
At a ventriloquist convention, you'll find everything.
It's a hot day in Kentucky right now.
About to head into the 41st Annual Ventriloquist Convention.
It's also known as Vent Haven 2017.
It's the only place in the world that this many ventriloquists
all gather under one roof.
Before I heard about this convention, I didn't even know
ventriloquism was still a thing.
It seems like something out of a B-list horror movie.
And ventriloquism has been associated with black magic and
devil worship since its genesis in ancient Greece.
I did hear that ventriloquist used to use it as a, sort of, a pawn
to say they're conjuring the dead and some were burned at the stake.
Luckily, that doesn't happen today.
It wasn't until the 18th century that ventriloquism was no longer
seen as the work of Satan himself
and emerged as a popular form of entertainment.
Nowadays, this type of puppetry isn't as popular as it used to be.
But it still has a surprisingly large following.
And about five hundred people from across the country come to
Vent Haven Convention every year.
We've been here forty years.
Forty years. We're really a fixture here.
So who are these diehard puppet fans?
In the age of smartphones and video games,
why do these people choose to stick their hand up a puppet
and pretend it's talking to them?
I came here to try to find answers.
So we just got inside of the convention.
We're about to go meet with a master ventriloquist
by the name of Dale Brown.
He's going to give me some pointers.
And just generally introduced me into this art.
My name's Taji.
How are you, Taji?
And you're -
Should we do this with Chip or you?
Either way? Yeah.
Maybe, we'll start with Dale.
Tell me how long have you been coming to this convention?
I've been coming to the convention since about 1982, I think.
And why ventriloquism?
Cause they're very lonely people.
Most ventriloquists you talk to will say that they were very shy as kids.
Could never get in front of groups.
But once you have a puppet in your hand, you get up on stage,
all the attention is on the puppet.
So for some reason, it's an outlet.
This is my girlfriend, Cha Cha.
Say hi, Cha Cha.
He's the older man.
They're all strange.
I've noticed that you guys argue a lot.
Or not argue but you make fun of each other.
That's true. Usually the puppet will make fun of me.
Is that usually how you don't-
Usually no because the puppet always wins.
And how exactly are you doing this right now?
You want to see how they work?
I kind of do if that's alright with you.
Yup, that's fine.
It's not like a magician's trick thing? It's alright or?
And the way a hard face, this is called a hard figure because.
So you can take his head right off?
He doesn't get mad?
Yes, I do.
So he has blinkers so his eyes will blink.
And then, this one will make his eyes go back and forth.
I think that the eyes of a puppet are what make it look alive.
I'm always moving his eyes just a little.
Do you guys hang out when you're not performing?
No, my wife would never let that happen.
We believe they're alive when they're on stage.
And as soon as we're off stage, they're a tool.
Although Dale taught me techniques from the perspective of a veteran
in the dummy scene, I wanted to see what the young and sexy future of
ventriloquism looked like.
Now we're going to meet with Jeff Goltz.
He's a young up-and-coming ventriloquist.
I believe he's only eighteen years old.
He's won the open mic for the juniors several years in a row.
And we're just going to find out what it means to be young
in this world of ventriloquism.
There's a lot of old people here.
I'm the only young person.
I mean there's like five of us.
-There's five of you? -Yeah!
And we all hang out because there's no other choice, man.
I've been coming here for nine years.
Nine years. Yeah. How old are you?
I'm eighteen. So I was ten years old.
Which is too young for this.
Why would I ever be interested? But I was and I loved it.
I stuck with it all the way through school despite the several beatings.
You legitimately got your ass kicked for doing ventriloquism?
Of course! Because you're the guy who plays with dolls.
Like, come on.
And I was small.
But once you're funny, people kind of stay away from you.
Like if you can respond quick and stuff like you know you got it.
So it's this way. This is my room.
And my mom might be there just as a warning.
Can we meet your mom?
Sure her name is Mama Lisa.
Yeah. Mama Lisa is the best.
I have a camera crew with me.
Come on in.
-My camera crew. It's VICE. -Oh, really?
How's it going? Oh, God.
-I should make my bed guys. -I'm Taji.
-Hi, I'm Lisa, Jeffrey's mom. -Nice to meet you.
We heard a lot about you already.
Oh my goodness, come on in.
-It's probably a mess in here. -It is a mess but I have puppets.
Did you growing up used to bring puppets to school?
No, I would not want to get beat up.
How old were you when you left school for home school?
Oh, this is recent. This is very recent. This is like a year ago.
So you basically rode it out until the end almost. It seems like.
I went from the middle of junior year, I was like,
it's either I'm going to die here at high school like I'm not going
to live because I have a lot of mental health problems.
I was like I'm not going to live here but, if I leave I'll be fine.
And I was fine.
And now I'm fine. I'm very happy. Much more happy that I left.
I mean it's probably the best decision.
Drop out of high school kids.
That's good advice.
My mom's like "Jeffrey!"
Okay, but you're doing much better.
That sounds just kind of harsh.
I think a lot of the real, the funny and the real creative people
struggle with that.
Like with depression and cause they're different.
To try and live within the norm of school is hard.
He's doing much better now.
It felt a lot like prison though.
Which is fine. It's not that big of a deal.
I think it taught me how to be funnier.
Jeff gave me a glimpse into what it's like to grown up
in the Vent Haven universe.
But I wanted to see what the new kids on the block had to offer
this ancient art form.
I headed to the Junior Open Mic where budding ventriloquists
try out their act.
And the judges are professional puppet masters who hand out
You know this is one of my all time favorite points in the convention.
So we're going to have some fun
getting to know these young people today.
Let's bring up our first act.
My name is Mervin.
Mervin Young. Yay!
Do you even know where we are?
Are we at the Santa Clause convention?
No. Where are Hope and Mike?
Oh, Timmy. You've misunderstood.
It's OPEN MIC.
Speaking of high school. Aren't you now in high school?
Yeah. I just got through with freshmen year.
Oh, so you're fresh meat. I mean freshmen?
Tomato, want to say bye to everyone?
Bye, bye, bye, bye, bye, bye, bye.
Landon, you were just adorable.
I mean you have such stage presence and polish.
You got a great smile right there.
Let's see more of that, okay? Because have fun yourself.
You're far more professional than a lot of people might think
when they hear your age.
So really good job there.
It was actually really fun to watch these young, super cute kids
going to stage and pretty much pour their hearts out
through the form of ventriloquism.
And I was blown away is all I can say.
Wait, you got to get in here too.
Oh, this is Landon.
Landon and Mervin.
So, do you have friends here?
Other than Mervin?
Yes I do. I have many friends.
This is actually my second convention.
And you're like wow! We really are like a family.
I know almost everyone here.
It's such a great feeling to see everyone.
What about outside the convention? What's it like for you?
It's a little odd.
I'm not the athletic type.
I'm kind of like the wall flower at school.
I'm the shy kid.
Ventriloquism has really help me.
Suddenly, I'm the one everyone is looking at so it's fun.
I like his necklace.
Where did Mervin come from?
I started making puppets because my friend did it.
And so he sent me some patterns and I wanted to make an old man.
In the ventriloquist world, you see a lot of old man figures or puppets.
But I wanted to make something different.
So that maybe a retiree would be funny.
I'm a retiree.
Cause you're tired. That makes sense.
But in a way deep down inside you are -
An old man. That is exactly right.
He is forgetful.
He has nose hairs deep down inside. You are on track
What's your end goal with this?
My goal - I would like to become famous from ventriloquism.
And the that's the goal.
It's to create meaningful characters that everyone can relate to
or get something from. So it's really fun.
Landon was so adorable that you'll never know he had a
cranky retiree inside him.
I've began to wonder what kind of puppet would suit me.
So I head to the place in the convention where the dummies
were bought and sold.
The Dealer's Room.
Look at this one.
These ones do kind of almost have a more expensive look to them.
So generally what are some features that actually make these this pricey?
Some of them are very special.
Some of them have upper lip that flips up.
That looks really fancy.
I can't even do that with my face.
I know. I can't do it either.
But the puppets can.
The eyes, the eyebrows can move or not move.
And all of that affects the pricing.
So is it usually best not to cheap out on them?
Usually, it's an investment.
So if you're putting that much money into it, you want to get
the one you plan to use for a long time.
So typically these ventriloquist dummies run about $300
all the way to $60,000.
Which is a bit out of my price range.
However, I came up on this Balloon Puppets book by Ron Lighty.
And in it is a photo that kind of resembles a vagina.
But also is a bird, by the name of Florence the Funny Bird.
So we're about to go meet with Ron and hope that he will give me a
Florence the Funny Bird to test out.
Well, I'm glad I found you, Ron.
Yeah, I am too.
There we go.
So you take it and put in there like a pistol.
You take your trigger finger go back it up and slightly push down.
Hello! How are you? Like that.
So get your hand in there as far as you can.
Oh right there.
Get it in there even further.
And then pull back and then your thumb ought to be here to push down.
Oh, so just like this. Yeah, like that.
I wonder what's going on in here?
See you guys later.
Oh no. Here he is.
Oh, hello! Which way to the group photo?
Hey, I'm Florence the funny. Oh you got a nice power strip there.
Oh man, you're going to power it up with that one.
Alright, we have a couple of people in the back. There's stragglers.
You guys sitting on the bench and thank you.
The annual group photo is a chance for participants and their puppets
to get together and document their time at the convention.
It's been taken every year since 1976.
And this year, Florence and I got in on the action.
What's your name?
Sorry if I scared your children with my bird.
When I first started what I did was I touch these two teeth together.
Oh hey, how you doing?
Pretty good, pretty good.
I'm Lawrence the Funny Bird.
Pretty good, right?
Alright, love it.
Are you good?
Okay, let's do it people!
Thank you very much!
Axtell! Mary Ann Taylor! Group shot right up here.
Are you ready to do six minutes?
Yes. Right now?
But I can work you a spot.
I got Lawrence Funny Bird now.
At the beginning of Open Mic tonight.
I would love to.
Okay, you're on.
I'm going to go practice. Thank you. I'll see you there.
So I was just offered a spot at Open Mic tonight which I heard is a place
where anything goes.
So hope they're ready.
Can I have like a quick kiss?
-Nice shirt too, by the way. -Oh, thank you.
The man himself. When does he come on?
Jeff Dunham's lecture 4:45.
Jeff Dunham is the most successful ventriloquist in the world.
And his annual lecture here is by far the most popular event.
Dunham is one of the very few puppeteers whose act has
reached the mainstream making him one of the highest paid comedians
in the world. Selling out entire arenas of thousands of people.
I personally find his act incredibly racially insensitive,
with characters like Achmed the Dead Terrorist.
No, no, it's Accchmed.
That's what I said.
No. You said Achmed. It's Accchmed.
I kill you!
The Pimp Sweet Daddy D.
It's not Sweet Daddy. It's Sweeeet Daddy Deee.
And of course, Jose Jalapeño on a Stick.
Where is your green card?
You seem like other stick.
Despite my distaste for his humor, he is the top dog here.
So I really wanted to check out his lecture and learn from the best
before my performance tonight.
So let's just see if it works before we...
I understand. I understand what you're asking.
But he doesn't want to be filmed so you have to respect that.
You guys going out?
So originally we were told that we can film the Jeff Dunham talk.
But then last minute when we came in with the camera,
Jeff Dunham actually personally requested for us not to film it.
Additionally, Dunham has turned down our multiple requests
to interview him.
So we weren't able to get to talk to the Mac Daddy of the dummy scene.
I get that he's a big deal.
But we aren't TMZ.
And this publicity dodging definitely seems a bit excessive.
Oh man, I'm falling apart. Look at you! You dumbass!
Just going to stick this back in here.
We're going into the workout room and hope that no one's in there.
You're probably wondering why we're in the workout room right now.
It's actually the only place in this building, aside from the bathroom,
that has a mirror.
Hey! How's it going? How are y’all doing tonight?
My name's Taji.
I just came here.
It's my first time at the convention.
Really enjoyed myself so far tonight.
I actually brought a friend. This is Lawrence the Funny Bird.
He'd our buddy. He made the bird.
Hey Taji! How's it going? How's your set going so far? I just woke up.
It's going pretty well, you know?
I had a, you know, kind of a long day.
But I'm just glad to finally make it to the Open Mic.
You're no Open Mic person.
What do you think you're doing at this Open Mic?
You can't do this Open Mic.
Lawrence, that doesn't really seem sort of, kind of -
So it's going on 10:30 right now.
It's the last event of the convention today.
It's the Open Mic.
Which I hear has a lot of hype behind it.
It's kind of a place where ventriloquists can just open up,
and do as they please with the exception of cursing.
However, they can be offensive.
And I'm going to try out a technique where Florence the Funny Bird
just kind of talk shit to me.
And just kind of treats me like a piece of shit on stage.
You know, I'm going to head over there and give it a go.
Just kind of my big break here.
First of all I want to welcome everyone to the Open Mic night.
So without further ado, I would like you to meet our emcee.
He's been doing this for many many years, Mr. Bob Rumba!
I'm backstage right now at the Open Mic.
About to head onto stage. I'm actually the first act.
I'm a little nervous right now.
Alright, we're moving.
The first act was not supposed to be on this show.
But we really like him.
We're going to bring him out here.
It's probably the first show he's ever done ever. I don't know.
But here's he is.
He's not that mean though.
So how's it going tonight everyone?
This is Florence the Funny Bird.
So let's give this thing a go.
So as I mentioned or
maybe I didn't mentioned but the guy before mentioned,
I just came in from New York.
I got in at one in the morning last night. I'm a little tired.
Oh you just! You shut up there!
Yeah, you're from New York. You big dummy!
No, Florence. You're actually the dummy here.
That was really bad.
You are really a dummy!
And you're also bombing right now.
And it might have something to do with you being Arab too, I think.
Yeah, I went there. I mean just kidding.
Florence went there.
You are really, really getting on my nerves today.
Florence, that's not what you were telling me earlier last night.
I mean come on.
I swear. First, you come in from New York.
And you steal me from Ron.
And then you come on stage and you just act like a fool.
I just don't know what to say anymore.
Florence, I think I'm getting the red light soon.
Alright so now we're just going to go ahead wait until
the light goes red
And that's all. Thanks.
Alright, should we put on a real act now?
That was his first time though.
For his first time, it was really good.
I don't know how those guys do it.
But, I guess I'm feeling pretty accomplished right now.
I definitely have a new appreciation for this.
So I think what I found out is that it takes border line
racist jokes to be funny is what I learned tonight.
I mean I had like at least two people laughing.
What do you say Florence?
I'd say it went really, really bad and you should go kill yourself.
I kind of blacked out when I was up on stage.
And under the pressure to make jokes for a solid six minutes,
resorted to a racist joke about myself.
Which at least got me a couple of cheap laughs.
Even though I totally bombed, it seem like a pretty understanding
community to humiliate myself in front of.
Ventriloquism isn't easy.
But being a ventriloquist is probably even harder.
Despite my initial skepticism, I had to respect anyone who pursues
a passion that not many people can understand.
I truly liked everyone I met at the convention,
except for Jeff Dunham, who's a real asshole.
And the more I thought about it, the more I realized Vent Haven is a
weekend away from all the haters that used to fuck with you in high school.
And that's definitely not a bad thing.