Last night, after watching The Painting, I searched Netflix for “Terry Pratchett,” probably because it was Richard Coyle’s birthday and he had starred in Going Postal. There were no Pratchett related films, but Netflix offered me, Terry Fator: Live from Las Vegas. If you don’t know him, Fator is a ventriloquist who won Amerca’s Got Talent. I knew him from the documentary Dumbstruck. And since watching it, Google offers me ads for his Las Vegas show all the time.
As usual, Netflix’s rating system was dead on. It’s “best guess” rating for me was 3 stars, while the average rating was 3.8 stars. At first, I thought this was odd. Fator is a ventriloquist, after all. I love ventriloquists and puppets. But reflecting on it a moment, I had to admit that I wasn’t that impressed with Fator. He is a passable ventriloquist and not much of a puppeteer. What he is, however, is an exceptional singer and impersonator. So it wasn’t too surprising that Netflix thought I would be lukewarm on it.
What I wasn’t prepared for was just how uncomfortable Fator is on stage. This isn’t unusual for a ventriloquist. But given that he doesn’t even try to do puppetry, much of the show is frustratingly static: man standing with puppet. The show actually gets substantially better when Fator does a song himself, even though he’s still far from relaxed.
A bigger problem for me is that the show is not well written. The bits are tired with very little wit—most of them are variations on old jokes. And it is painfully clear that they are just meant to kill time in between songs. I suppose that would be fine if I enjoyed the songs more. But most of the time, the songs just seem weird to me. Why is the guy singing while holding a puppet? But sometimes it does work, as in his final number, a duet of “What a Wonderful World” with his turtle doing a rather weak Kermit the Frog voice and Fator doing a passable Louis Armstrong. At least there is interaction in the routine.
Ultimately, Terry Fator provides an act rather similar to Jeff Dunham. There’s no doubt that Fator is distinctly better than Dunham. But both acts appeal to lowbrow tastes. Dunham is marginally more funny, but Fator has the musical numbers and is technically far better. And as a show in Las Vegas, that’s fine. On video, it just sits there (like Fator and his puppets) and is marginally interesting but hardly entertaining. I think this clip shows Fator at his best and worst:
I know it is a matter of taste, but I continue to come back to the far less popular Dan Horn. Horn is by far the best puppeteer I’ve ever seen working as a ventriloquist. He’s also one of the better ventriloquists and his material is strong. But ultimately, when I watch him, I think I’m watching two people up on stage. The weirdness I feel while watching Fator’s awkward performance simply isn’t there with Horn. That’s not to put down Fator. And I can see why Fator’s act fits in rather well in Las Vegas in a way that Horn’s would not. But the two performers show the vicissitudes of fame. Here is just a taste of Dan Horn: