All of this talk about ventriloquist Jeff Dunham and his new Comedy Central series got me thinking about another man and his puppets. Particularly since his DVD was staring at me from behind my laptop. It's time to take a look at Terry Fator, 2007 million-dollar winner of NBC's America's Got Talent and star of the recent DVD, Terry Fator: Live From Las Vegas.
Like Dunham, Fator has toiled for many years at his craft. Unlike Dunham, though, Fator was barely hanging on for a while, there; even though the latter was more than just a ventriloquist, combining that craft with the ability to sing and perform celebrity impersonations. As he told the audience at The Mirage, "It took me 26 years to get here, and I'm glad to be here. Finally." For years, he was in the background at your county fair. Now, after America's Got Talent, he had signed a five-year, $100 million deal with The Mirage resort and casino, working five nights a week for 48 weeks a year. Here's a teaser for the DVD:
The opening scenes before his 70-minute set show Fator trying to gather up his puppet friends, who are cavorting in "real-life" situations around the resort. The show itself reveals just how ready Fator was to be a Vegas headliner. He opens with his version of "At Last" by his puppet Emma. There's Winston the Impersonating Turtle, performing a magic trick and taking a jab at Criss Angel in the process, and singing as Roy Orbison. Fator makes some timeless jokes about the Vegas experience, then steps out from behind his puppets to showcase his own singing voice. Why? "After seeing me on TV, most people don't realize I can sing," he joked. But he knows that what got him to Vegas wasn't his singing, but his ability to do so without moving his lips and while operating colorful puppet characters, so "Puppet Boy" trots them out, one by one. His Walter is a cowboy in an American flag cowboy shirt — he's no old crank, he's a ladies man with a fondness for puns. Oh, and yodeling. There's Maynard, the self-proclaimed best Elvis impersonator; Julius, who can sing with soul; Dougie, Fator's annoying neighbor; Vikki, a saucy Mae West type; and even a big crowd-pleasing audience-participation number. For his move to Vegas, Fator also has added a lovely lady (real, not puppet) to help move the show along as his stage assistant.
A half-hour into it all, Fator shows up in a Michael Jackson outfit with red Thriller-era jacket, wig and glove, busting out his own MJ impersonation and jokes. It's not utterly tasteless, but Fator knew well enough to have attached a short note inside his DVD case to explain to buyers that he had taped this special a few months before Jackson's death this July. "What you will see in this release is a captured moment in time. I have nothing but the utmost respect for Michael's talents…as I do for all of the musical giants I include in my Las Vegas act. These are the show business legends I admire most, and mixing them with humor in my show is what makes it all work," he wrote.
The DVD case also includes a booklet excerpting the opening of his autobiography, Who's The Dummy Now? Extras on the DVD include two commentary tracks. The first has Fator, comedy writer Rick Kerns (hired by Fator when he got the Vegas gig to add more gags) and director Mark Goffman including behind-the-scenes background on the show and Fator's career arc; the second offers perhaps the most evidence that he's also a comedian, as Fator turns the tables on himself in an MST3K-like, meta-multiple-personality-disorder litany of jokes about the show uttered by his various puppet voices.
Here's a brief look back at the moment Terry Fator broke through in a big way on America's Got Talent: