Review: Strassman Supreme

Strassman Supreme
By Michael Day West Australian

Even before ventriloquist David Strassman came on stage, his offstage threats about mobile phones had the capacity crowd laughing.

The volume increased when Strassman appeared carrying his new character, Grandpa Ted E. Bare, and did not drop all evening.

Abuse is an integral part of Strassman's humour and he started off, through Grandpa, by calling everyone "chowderheads".

The use of a foreign term to Australian audiences was misleading because there was plenty of evidence to come of a master entertainer's ability to make his show local.

Strassman teased the Eagles, made references to Telstra, to the shark at Cottesloe and even to Rottnest.

He unwrapped one finely honed skill after another. An example was when he risked inviting audience questions to test the psychic powers of puppet Chuck Wood.

His replies were lightning fast and funny, including one trumping a woman who asked him to guess her bra size. A heckler who took him on paid the hilarious price.

Strassman enticed volunteers but exercised the artistic discipline to avoid humiliating them - a cheap technique of some hypnotists - and created one of the highlights of the show.

Because Strassman is the PhD of ventriloquism, it may sometimes escape the audience how clever he is at physical manipulation of the puppets. He has enhanced that ability with astounding mechanical and robotic devices.

The first instinct of an audience is to inspect the ventriloquist to see how the voice transfers from his vocal cords to the puppet - do the lips move, is the mouth open, are there ripples in the neck?

Strassman is the sultan of surreptitiousness. A flicker of a lip move becomes a smile, a diversion directs an impertinent stare elsewhere.

The core of his gift is to make the puppet seem a live, thinking, talking, autonomous creature. It is all very well to do it with Chuck Wood, who looks like a tiny human but it is a mystery, in retrospect, how he gets adults to listen to a bear, a private eye dolphin, a beaver or a scary alien.

Strassman took an occasional break from the exhausting demands of self-dialogue but they were filled in by Sydney comedian Stef Torak, whose rap sampling was a treat.

The audience members were mostly in their late teens and 20s though there was a fair sprinkling of the middle-aged. Quite a few clutched teddy bears.

The show comes with a recommendation that children under 13 should not attend. Many of the jokes would be above their heads or too far below the belt for them.

Through the use of his puppets the entertainer was able to make explicit sexual references, swear, threaten violence and issue put-downs relating to physical characteristics which might not be thought funny by mixed audiences if delivered by a stand-up comedian - but in this context had them howling with laughter.

Strassman could have been tempted to be cruder but he seemed to have judged his audience's taste with precision. Another moderating influence was the character Ted E. Bare, whose innocence is the counter to the malevolent Chuck.

Those looking for sophisticated humour and social commentary will not find it but Strassman indicated in a couple of jokes that he could move upmarket if he wanted. A brilliant theme exemplifying this potential is the running gag where he breaks the spell - by having the puppets point out he produces their voices - and then quickly casts the same spell back again over his thralls.

On reflection, there is a suspicion Strassman's occasional "mistakes" with the voices are just a device which not only extracts even more laughter but binds us to him.

It temporarily reassures us to think the god who controls these puppets is human like us - but we are soon reminded we are wrong.

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