US comedian David Strassman has spent last 38 years with his hand up a puppet’s bum. Of course it’s been totally consensual. In that time he has become one of the world’s most accomplished ventriloquists, even appearing on his own talk show here with Channel Nine, Strassman, where his puppet and filter-free alter ego Chuck Wood interviewed celebrities. Strassman is modest about his impressive accomplishments, commenting that ‘ventiloquism is one notch below a juggler.’
‘I have always tried to keep the show edgy. The show is crazy. It’s not the Wiggles!’
In keeping with his desire to continually innovate, David Strassman’s new show iTedE sees him create five characters and engage them in a six-way conversation using robotics.
‘It’s a 25-minute sustained conversation,’ says Strassman. ‘It’s mind blowing. I have a hand-held remote where each finger of my remote operates a puppet’s mouth. Through practice I have been able to autonomously operate these characters all at the same time.’
Strassman does this while he gives a TED talk. Or at least he tries to. No doubt there is significant heckling from his creations. Ironically this is a show about the impact of technology and, of course, the reason his robotic hecklers have a voice is thanks to technology! The irony certainly isn’t lost on Strassman.
‘I can’t get the puppets off the iPad, and I think if everyone is too busy on their screens then no-one is going to see live shows. The TED talk is on the suspension of disbelief as social media. It goes a bit dark because at the end I have a mental breakdown and I have an epiphany about the fact I am using the very technology I am critiquing.’
While it’s an edgy contemporary narrative, Strassman is clear: ‘It’s not a political diatribe’.
Although when it comes to politics Mr Strassman is very sorry. In reference to Trump he enthusiastically apologises.
‘I am so embarrassed! Australia is my second home – you really have your act together here as a society. When I look at my president and my politicians, well Donald Trump makes your politicians look professional. Even Barnaby Joyce looks good in comparison.’
One of the benefits of being a ventriloquist is that in a climate of political correctness, Strassman’s creations are able to push the boundaries.
Chuck Wood for example is the puppet that says what he thinks.
‘He is the mean-spirited bad boy evil puppet,’ says Strassman. ‘He represents the fantasy we all have of wanting to challenge authority. When we were children we are taught the word No and told we have to edit what we way in public. Not Chuck Wood.’
In fact all Strassman’s puppets give him licence to say stuff he otherwise wouldn’t be able to. Like Grandpa Fred who says, ‘How do you like planet Earth? It could use one-third fewer white people… Donald Trump… he is uneducated, childish, narcissistic, immature, has ugly hair, is a lying sack of shit… oh you think I was talking about Donald Trump. No, I meant Pauline Hanson…’
Strassman has never played at Byron before although he’s visited numerous times. His home town Ojai in California, a little city that has a very similar feel’ is filled with Hollywood actors and yoga and shops with crystals and marijuana is legal. It’s a really similar community to Byron.’
Don’t miss his first Byron show, and catch some contemporary Australian commentary with Buttons the Clown, who has been abused by Cardinal Pell who says he’s been touched by the hand of God and now the church pays him a royalty!
‘With a puppet you can say that,’ says Strassman, ‘because it’s not about making fun of the serious issue for the victims, it’s about satirising the church’s response.’
David Strassman presents iTedE at the Byron Theatre at the Community Centre on Friday.
Tickets at byroncentre.com.au. Enquiries to 6685 6807.