Mason (The Complete Idiot's Guide to Ventriloquism, 2010) looks back over his life and career as a ventriloquist in this debut memoir.
Sometime in the 1960s, when the author was a young boy, he took a sock and pulled it over his hand, trying to mimic the famous ventriloquist Shari Lewis and her puppet Lamb Chop. His grandmother, a seamstress, added eyes and hair to his puppet—and thus began his lifelong fascination with ventriloquism. In this memoir, he recalls his childhood in Illinois, during which he describes himself as “a pudgy, piano-playing, puppet-loving, scared-of-the-bullies dweeb.” Later, he found himself to be a natural “hitter” on the football field, and he went on to play college football at the University of Illinois, where he also performed stand-up comedy at frat parties. Mason brought ventriloquism into his act and began cutting his teeth at Chicago comedy clubs. In the 1980s, he says, he crossed paths with other budding comedians, including Jerry Seinfeld and Richard Lewis. Some of his peers disparaged ventriloquism, but the author remained steadfastly committed to his art, developing a successful career that saw him perform at Carnegie Hall and even open for Tina Turner. The strength of this memoir lies in the transparency with which Mason describes the development of his act, from his various puppets—including a life-sized sumo wrestler, which some readers will find offensive—to serendipitous moments, as when a secretary gave him performance advice. Mason’s writing does possess an endearing, straightforward honesty: “My little trick is to advance by failing. I’m falling upwards. I write and perform so many jokes that, sooner or later, something is going to work.” He effectively demystifies how comedians hone their sets, with an apparent aim to encourage others. His prose isn’t laugh-a-minute funny, but there are many amusing moments, as when Mason wins over a tough crowd at a Warren Zevon concert by playing a piano. The memoir will prove a delight for Taylor’s fans, and informative for those starting out in the comedy industry.
A modest account of an eventful comedy career.