Posts Tagged ‘ventriloquist’

Otto And George

April 25, 2014

Wednesday April 23rd, 2014 – Island Lake, IL

I heard more sad news today that another outstanding comedian has died. The year is not even half over yet, and there have already been too many of these kinds of stories to report. This time it happens to be another tremendous talent that I personally crossed paths with, and it’s painful.

Otto Petersen was without question THE funniest ventriloquist I have ever seen. Not only that, if I had to narrow it down to the top two or three laugh out loud funny acts period of all time, his name would be included in the conversation right up there with Rodney, Carlin or anyone else.

I worked with Otto and his figure George at Zanies Comedy Club in Vernon Hills several years ago. “Otto and George” was a huge act on the east coast, and I had heard of them (him) for years. Otto had a reputation of being a monster act, and comedians would speak of him with reverence.

Very rarely does something so trumped up beforehand live up to the hype, but Otto and George not only did that – they surpassed it by far. I hosted four weekend shows, so I got to watch the act four straight times. Laugh for laugh, it was right up there with the absolute best I have ever seen.

There are always exceptions to every rule, and Otto was a shining example. His act was off the charts as far as comparing it to anyone else’s anywhere. For one thing, he was beyond just being “off color” or “dirty” to the point of almost being a felony. His act was a mix of raw, rude, vile, vulgar, coarse, disgusting, racist, sexist, lowbrow, shocking – and absolutely 100% brilliance.

It takes a LOT to make most comedians flinch, as we’ve seen it all. I saw a lot before I ever got into comedy, but the first time I saw Otto and George live it made me cringe in utter horror – and also convulse in laughter. That guy took NO prisoners, and subtlety wasn’t part of his repertoire.

A lot of times an act will attempt to work ‘the edge’ – that imaginary line that separates what is considered to be in good taste and what is considered inappropriate subject matter. Sometimes an entertainer ventures slightly across the line whether calculated or not, and it can be controversial. It creates comedic tension, and when done well can be very effective. Working the edge is an art.

What I loved about Otto was that there was no tension involved whatsoever. He would venture out WAY past the line, and not worry about straddling it. He got away with it because he wasn’t the perceived bad guy – George was. That’s why it worked so well, and he took full advantage.

I have a ventriloquist friend that went to see Otto and George, and he said “It was ok, but Otto is a terrible ventriloquist. His lips move all the time.” He was the ONLY one that would happen to notice that, because the rest of the audience was too busy laughing. He destroyed for the entire weekend, and I am fortunate to have been able to work with him. He was in a class by himself.

We talked a bit between shows, and he was very reserved and down to earth. We hit it off, and I liked him a lot. He was also a dented can as most great performers are, and that’s probably why we bonded. I felt his pain. He passed way too young, and the world is less funny because of it.

Otto (Petersen) and George was THE funniest ventriloquist act I've ever seen and one of the funniest live acts period. What a talent, and he passed far too young.

Otto (Petersen) and George was THE funniest ventriloquist act I’ve ever seen and one of the funniest live acts period. What a terrific talent, and nice person too. He passed far too young.

More About Fame

April 25, 2013

Tuesday April 23rd, 2013 – Fox Lake, IL

   I’d like to spout off a little more on the concept of being famous and all that goes with it. It’s a complex subject, and I’m not even sure if I fully understand it. What I do know is there is a huge difference between having name recognition and being an actual draw. I want to become a draw.

   There aren’t many who can say that, but those who can have the world by the ‘nads. Being able to fill seats brings power, even though actual talent isn’t a requirement to do it. What is needed is an easily identifiable product that a significant amount of people are willing to pay money to see.

   I’ve been trying feverishly to become a legitimate draw for decades, and have failed miserably no matter what I’ve tried. The closest I have come by far are the ‘Schlitz Happened!’ shows I am doing this month in Milwaukee, and I’m hopeful I can continue to build on that. It feels like a hit.

   But even if it is, I’ll only be a draw in the Milwaukee area and maybe Wisconsin. Sure, I might work my way up to having a loyal following and that following could number into the thousands or even hundreds of thousands – but that won’t make me famous. True fame is an extreme rarity.

   Only a very very VERY few in any category manage to generate instant name recognition with the masses, and with the internet generation getting more and more fragmented by the minute it’s becoming even more difficult. The days of worldwide fame are coming to a close, but the era of selective stardom is just getting started. More and more people are becoming partially famous.

   This seems like an ideal plan, and the chance at having the best of both worlds. Not being able to leave my hotel room isn’t my idea of fun, but that’s what being truly famous entails. Michael Jordan talked about that in an interview I saw, and it made me not want to ever reach that level.

   It was bad enough when I worked on cruise ships. I challenge anyone that thinks being famous is desirable to work one week on a cruise ship and see if they still feel that way. I was tired of the random but constant recognition after only a week, and I did it for the better part of eight months. 

   There was no place to hide beside my room to avoid it, but who wants to be cooped up inside a tiny room without a window on a cruise for a whole week? After a while, I felt like I was inside a fish bowl and everywhere I went I was being watched. No place on the ship was safe from attack from anybody at any time. I could be eating a meal or even in the bathroom and it would happen.

   I’d say 95% of those who approached were extremely nice. They’d say something to the effect of how they enjoyed the show, and then went on their way. It’s their right, and I respect it. Then there was the 5% who made it hell by telling bad dirty jokes or trying to get me to buy Amway.

   It’s all a big numbers game. There are what – seven billion people on the planet now? Who gets to be famous to the highest number of that total? The Pope? The U.S. President?  What comedian is known to the most people worldwide? I wouldn’t have a clue. It’s probably a Muslim mime or a Chinese ventriloquist. I do know it isn’t me, and I don’t think I’d know what to do if it was.

   I was trying to crunch some numbers and I’d guess after all these years I’ve performed live for probably 750,000 to one million people not counting radio and TV appearances. That may sound like a lot, but out of a total tally of seven billion it doesn’t even make a tiny dent. Even if I got on network TV daily, people overseas wouldn’t know me. I won’t seek fame, but I will try for rich.