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Sep 18, 2014

If you watch only one Tony Award-winning video that encompasses the history of ventriloquism this year... make it Jay Johnson: “The Two and Only. Now, I know what some of you are thinking—ventriloquism? Blecch! But hear me out.

JAY JOHNSON podcast excerpt: "On 'Soap,' the show's creator, Susan Harris, would give us these moments of great pathos and sadness, followed by something completely hysterical. Each scene was its own little moment. They would shoot two or three different Chuck and Bob scenes and put them in two or three different shows. I felt that I was an actor playing the part of a ventriloquist. The fact that I was a ventriloquist was the reason I got the job."

First of all, if you’re a TV fan of a certain age—say, mine or older—you will recognize Jay Johnson from his role as “Chuck Campbell” on the long-running, late 1970s ABC sitcom “Soap.” It also starred Billy Crystal as primetime’s first major gay character and Jay Johnson as its first ventriloquist.

JAY JOHNSON podcast excerpt: "That's the farthest I've ever thrown my voice."

We’ve had a lot of gay characters since then, but not another recurring ventriloquist character to the best of my knowledge.

In “The Two and Only,” which was originally conceived for and performed on the Broadway stage, Johnson goes to laugh-out-loud extremes to detail the early days of ventriloquism—imagine someone throwing his or her voice during the Dark Ages—and eventually he interwines the industry’s history with his own.

JAY JOHNSON podcast excerpt: "I don't understand why ventriloquism has this negative stereotype. I know in sitcoms and mystery shows it's always very convenient to have the villain be a split personality. And a split personality could be a ventriloquist... I suppose. There's a reluctance to even assign ventriloquism to entertainment. It's not something you wake up Saturday morning and say, 'Tonight, we're going to see that!"

I’ve had my own fascination with ventriloquists since I was very young—watching Paul Winchell and Jerry Mahoney on a black & white TV as a boy, and later discovering old-time radio episodes of Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy. I don’t know about you, but I’m really going to enjoy this.

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