A ventriloquist entertaining children at the Pueblo, Colorado, Buell Children's Museum.

Ventriloquism, or ventriloquy, is an act of stagecraft in which a person (a ventriloquist) manipulates his or her voice so that it appears that the voice is coming from elsewhere, usually a puppeteered "dummy". The act of ventriloquism is ventriloquizing, and the ability to do so is commonly called in English the ability to "throw" one's voice.



Originally, ventriloquism was a religious practice. The name comes from the Latin for to speak from the stomach, i.e. venter (belly) and loqui (speak).[1] The Greeks called this gastromancy (Greek: εγγαστριμυθία). The noises produced by the stomach were thought to be the voices of the unliving, who took up residence in the stomach of the ventriloquist. The ventriloquist would then interpret the sounds, as they were thought to be able to speak to the dead, as well as foretell the future.

One of the earliest recorded group of prophets to utilise this technique was the Pythia, the priestess at the temple of Apollo in Delphi, who acted as the conduit for the Delphic Oracle. Python subsequently became one of the most common words used in classical.

One of the most successful early gastromancers was Eurykles, a prophet at Athens; gastromancers came to be referred to as Euryklides in his honour.[2] The New Testament (Acts 16:16-18) relates the story of a girl who had a "spirit of Python" (e;cousan pneu/ma pu,qwna) and followed Paul and his companions around the city of Thyatrira, crying out after them.

In the Middle Ages, it was thought to be similar to witchcraft. As Spiritualism led to stage magic and escapology, so ventriloquism became more of a performance art as, starting around the 19th century, it shed its mystical trappings.

Other parts of the world also have a tradition of ventriloquism for ritual or religious purposes; the Zulus, Eskimo, and Māori are all adept at this practice.[2]

History of modern-day ventriloquism

Ventriloquist Edgar Bergen and his best-known sidekick, Charlie McCarthy, in the film Stage Door Canteen (1943)

The most familiar type of ventriloquist seen today is a nightclub performer sitting on a stool with a wooden dummy on his or her lap. This comedic style of ventriloquism is, however, a fairly recent innovation, which began in the days of vaudeville in the late 19th century. The vaudeville acts did not concentrate on humour as much as on demonstrating the ventriloquist's ability to deceive the audience and his skill in switching voices. For this reason, many of the performers used multiple figures, switching quickly from one voice to another. Jules Vernon was one of the more famous American vaudeville ventriloquists who utilised multiple figures. Englishman Fred Russell pioneered the use of one single figure with his dummy, Coster Joe. Perhaps the most famous vaudeville ventriloquist, however, The Great Lester, used only one figure, Frank Byron, Jr., and it is Lester's success that started the ventriloquist-with-one-figure routine that is ubiquitous today.

Ventriloquism was immensely popular in the middle of the 20th century, thanks in great part to the work of one of The Great Lester's students, Edgar Bergen. Bergen popularised the idea of the comedic ventriloquist. Bergen, together with his favourite figure, Charlie McCarthy, hosted a radio program that was broadcast from 1937 to 1956. It was the #1 program on the nights it aired. Bergen continued performing until his death in 1978, and his popularity inspired many other famous ventriloquists who followed him, including Paul Winchell, Jimmy Nelson, Jeff Dunham, Shari Lewis, Willie Tyler and Jay Johnson.

Another ventriloquist popular in the United States in the 1950s and 1960s was Señor Wences.

Ventriloquism's popularity waned for a while, probably because of modern media's electronic ability to convey the illusion of voice, the natural special effect that is the heart of ventriloquism. A number of modern ventriloquists have developed a following as the public taste for live comedy grows. In 2001 Angelique Monét performed on Theater Row her one woman off Broadway show of Multiple Me where she portrayed several personalities using multiple dummies to display the shifts.

Notable ventriloquists

Making the right sounds

One difficulty ventriloquists face is that all the sounds that they make must be made with lips slightly separated. For the labial sounds f, v, b, p, and m, the only choice is to replace them with others. A widely-parodied example of this difficulty is the "gottle o' gear", from the reputed inability of less skilled practitioners to pronounce "bottle of beer".[3] If variations of the sounds th, d, t, and n are spoken quickly, it can be difficult for listeners to notice a difference.

Ventriloquist's dummy

Modern ventriloquists utilise a variety of different types of puppets in their presentations, ranging from soft cloth or foam puppets, flexible latex puppets, and the traditional and familiar hard-headed knee figure. The classic dummies used by ventriloquists (the technical name for which is ventriloquial figure) vary in size anywhere from twelve inches tall to human-size and larger, with the height usually falling between thirty-four and forty-two inches. Traditionally, this type of puppet has been made from papier-mâché or wood. However, in modern times, other materials are often employed, including fiberglass-reinforced resins, urethanes, filled (rigid) latex, and neoprene.

Great names in the history of dummy making include Frank Marshall (the Chicago creator of Bergen's Charlie McCarthy,[4] Nelson's Danny O'Day,[4] and Winchell's Jerry Mahoney), Theo Mack and Son (Mack carved Charlie McCarthy's head), Revello Petee, Kenneth Spencer, David Strassman, Cecil Gough, Jeff Dunham, and Glen & George McElroy.

The most prominent and most prolific modern-day suppliers of professional ventriloquial dummies include Tim Selberg, Alan Semok, Ray Guyll, Conrad Hartz, Geoffrey Felix, Jerry Layne, Mike Brose, and Albert Alfaro.[citation needed]

Fear of ventriloquist's dummies

Fear of ventriloquist's dummies is called automatonophobia.[5] It also includes fear of wax dummies or animatronic creatures. Films and programs which refer to dummies coming to life include, Magic (1978 film), Dead of Night, Devil Doll, Dead Silence, and The Twilight Zone.[6]

See also


  1. ^ The Concise Oxford English Dictionary. 1984. p. 1192. ISBN 0198611315. 
  2. ^ a b Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh Edition, 1911, Ventriloquism.
  3. ^ Burton et. al., Maxine (2008). Improving Reading – Phonics and Fluency. National Research and Development Centre for Adult Literacy and Numeracy, University of London. p. 10. ISBN 9781906395070. "Note the lip movement for 'big'. This is, of course, the origin of the ventriloquist's 'gottle o' gear'." 
  4. ^ a b "Ventriloquism LEGEND Profile: Jimmy Nelson". 
  5. ^ , 
  6. ^ "Archie Andrews: The rise and fall of a ventriloquist's dummy". The Independent (London). 26 November 2005. 


External links

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.


Look at other dictionaries:

  • Ventriloquism — Ven*tril o*quism, n. [See {Ventriloquous}.] The act, art, or practice of speaking in such a manner that the voice appears to come, not from the person speaking, but from some other source, as from the opposite side of the room, from the cellar,… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • ventriloquism — 1797, from VENTRILOQUY (Cf. ventriloquy) + ISM (Cf. ism) …   Etymology dictionary

  • ventriloquism — [ven tril′əkwēven tril′ə kwiz΄əm] n. [< L ventriloquus, lit., one who speaks from the belly < venter, belly (see VENTRAL) + loqui, to speak + ISM] the art or practice of speaking so that the voice seems to come from some source other than… …   English World dictionary

  • ventriloquism — /ven tril euh kwiz euhm/, n. the art or practice of speaking, with little or no lip movement, in such a manner that the voice does not appear to come from the speaker but from another source, as from a wooden dummy. Also called ventriloquy /ven… …   Universalium

  • ventriloquism — n. to practice ventriloquism * * * to practice ventriloquism …   Combinatory dictionary

  • ventriloquism — ventriloquist ► NOUN ▪ an entertainer who makes their voice seem to come from a dummy of a person or animal. DERIVATIVES ventriloquial adjective ventriloquism noun ventriloquy noun. ORIGIN from Latin venter belly + loqui speak …   English terms dictionary

  • ventriloquism — noun Etymology: Late Latin ventriloquus ventriloquist, from Latin ventr , venter + loqui to speak; from the belief that the voice is produced from the ventriloquist s stomach Date: circa 1797 1. the production of the voice in such a way that the… …   New Collegiate Dictionary

  • ventriloquism — noun The art of projecting ones voice without moving the lips so that it appears to come from another source, such as a dummy. Syn: biloquism, ventrilocution …   Wiktionary

  • ventriloquism — (Roget s IV) n. Syn. ventriloquy, gastriloquism, polyphonism; see speech 2 …   English dictionary for students

  • ventriloquism — speaking so that the voice appears to come from elsewhere Styles of Speech …   Phrontistery dictionary

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”

We are using cookies for the best presentation of our site. Continuing to use this site, you agree with this.