Having been in the ventriloquism community for over three decades, and met Jeff Dunham, Terry Fator and many other greats, I’ve heard puppets referred to by a number of names.
Generally, here’s how ventriloquists refer to their puppets:
The most commonly used term is ventriloquist figure, and second most common is sidekick.
There’s more to this, based partly on the discussions I’ve heard at the VentHaven International Ventriloquist Convention, which I share below:
LIST OF WHAT VENTRILOQUISTS CALL THEIR PUPPETS:
- Vent Figure
Let’s check out each of the terms and consider the Pros and Cons.
1) Ventriloquist Figure (or Vent Figure, Figure)
At the VentHaven International Ventriloquist Convention, there have been many discussions about what to call our fun little pals. The consensus is the most proper term is “Vent Figure.”
Half of the illusion of ventriloquism is made possible by the belief that your little pal is real. If you call him or her a “dummy,” for instance, it’s going to be a reminder the character is not real.
That’s the last thing we ventriloquists need – a reminder it is fake.
When you call it a ventriloquist figure, it is proper, gives respect to the character we want the audience to believe is real, and everyone wins.
2) Sidekick (or Comedy Sidekick)
I first heard a puppet referred to as a Sidekick by Jeff Dunham in an interview he did for what I believe was People Magazine back in 2001. It’s great because you can also call it a “comedy sidekick” if you’re trying to appeal to an audience who appreciates stand-up comedy.
He referred to his entire crew of sidekicks as a Posse.
When you hear these terms, you imagine real little people spouting off their funny opinions to Jeff. It works, but each ventriloquist needs to figure out what works best for them.
I’ve heard the little dudes referred to as Characters by someone who I respect greatly – Myself.
I personally like character because it seems to carry with it mainly positive attributes. Plus, if you’re hoping to someday turn the personality you’ve created into more than just ventriloquism, like children’s books, children’s programming, merchandise licensing, etc., then character seems fitting for such a thing.
At one point, a manager I had at the time sat me down and explained that creating a fun show can lead to $10 million. If you can create a “world,” it can be $100 million plus.
Think of Winnie the Pooh, Charlie Brown and Peppa Pig. These are massive brands based on characters.
Not Recommended – Dummy
This term has too many negative connotations. At the VentHaven Convention, they generally discourage you from using it.
It’s tough because if you are speaking to a general audience, they will typically know instantly what you are referring to if you say “dummy.” As far as communication goes, this would seem like a wise move. It is very efficient. They know what you’re talking about, and it takes very little explanation.
My website, after all, is tied in with the word.
I even sort of don’t like the term, even though it rhymes with “funny” and I own the domain name (liketony.com) and the copyright is mine too. I still use funnydummy as my brand, though, because it is so easy for people to remember.
My guess is they think my characters are “funny,” and I’m a “dummy” for being a ventriloquist as a profession. Ha ha.