subscribe to rss feed
subscribe by email

Puppet Kaos - where Kelvin Kao plays with puppets and tell random stories

Ventriloquism 101

In case you didn’t already know, the winner of this season’s “America’s Got Talent” is Terry Fator. Terry Fator is a ventriloquist, impressionist and puppeteer, all wrapped up in one. Recently I saw a bunch of videos of Terry Fator’s performances on America’s Got Talent on a post from and man, I was so blown away by his performances. He’s not only a skillful ventriloquist, but he also has great timing, does great impressions, and is very charasmatic.

Although ventriloquism literally means talking from stomach, I’ve learned that it’s actually a lot like regular talking in terms of where the sounds are produced (still the voicebox and mouth). The difference is that you want to hide your lip movements to appear as if you are not speaking. If you are interested, here’s a web page about ventriquolism that I found to be very useful. Believe it or not, ventriloquism is actually not that hard!

Of course, I have to say that it still takes a lot of practice to be a great ventriloquist. When I say that it’s not hard, I’m saying that it’s not difficult to learn the basics. This is like saying, it takes a lot of practice to become a great painter, but it should not be that difficult to pick up a paint brush, dip it in paint, and run it across the surface of the paper. This is also like saying, it takes a lot of practice to become a pianist, but it’s not that hard to put your fingers on a keyboard to produce sounds. So, it’s not that difficult to get started but it takes lots of work to refine the skill. When you read this post, keep in mind that I’ve only started practicing since a week ago and while I consider it a fun thing to try, I’ve never intended to become an expert in it. With that in mind, here’s the basics as I understand it.

1. Ventriloquism is all about hiding lip movements: There are many words that you already know how to say without moving your lips. For example, say “egg” in front of a mirror and pay attention to your mouth. Now, depends on how you speak, you might have your mouth more wide-open when you are saying the Eh sound and more closed when you make the G sound because you are done saying the word, but say it again… and this time, try to keep your mouth in the same shape throughout. It should not be hard if you consciously try it. You can try to say other words or sentences too. Now try saying it with a big grin that shows teeth. If you can do it, you already know the basics of ventriquolism!

2. Avoid or modify sounds that require lip movements:
Some sounds require lip movements. For example, the F sound requires your upper teeth to touch your lower lip, the M sound requires you to bring your upper and lower lips together, the W sound requires you to round your lips, etc. Now, it’s physically impossible to pronounce these words correctly without moving your lips, so there are a few ways of dealing with this.

The first way is to mentally filter the things you are about to say. Instead of “picking” something, which has the P sound that requires you to move your lips, say “choosing” something. If you don’t say that words that requires your lips to move, then you won’t have trouble hiding your lip movements. The sounds to watch out for are B, P, V, F, M, Th, Q, W.

The second way is to replace or modify certain sounds. This is a lot like talking with an accent. For example, instead of “this” and “that”, you want to say “dis” and “dat”. People will still understand you, because people will substitute in what they think should be the correct word to go in there. Likewise, “fantastic” would become “hantastic” or “hoo-antastic”.

The third way is to move your lips anyway, but while you do so, hide your mouth movement somehow. This is the only way to go if you want to pronounce every word correctly. You can accompany the lip movement with some head movements too so people don’t pay as much attention. You can practice to keep your mouth as closed as possible so the lip movements are subtle and hard to see. You can use good puppeteering skills to distract the audience to look at the puppet instead of you. But whatever you do, you are like a magician. You want your audience to look at something else (your puppet) so they don’t pay as much attention to what you are really doing.

3. Practice with different mouth shapes: Maybe you already figure out how to speak without moving your lips with a huge grin (I like think of it as pretending to speak like someone with a frozen fake grin because the botox or facelift had gone wrong), but since you should be reacting to what the puppet is saying, you need to be able to do it with different facial expressiosns (hence different mouth shapes).

4. Practice, practice, practice: Those are pretty much the basics, I guess. But to become really good at this, you want to practice and practice some more to perfect the skill. You want to be able to switch back and forth between ventriloquism and regular speak very quickly and naturally. You want to practice showing one expression on your face and showing another expression on the puppet’s face because you are two different characters. You want to practice so that your lips are very still when the puppet is supposed to be doing the talking. You want to practice to have confidence when you are performing too.

And so that’s Ventriloquism 101! (That’s an exclamation mark after the sentence, not 101 factorial.) I hope this has been helpful for anyone reading this that’s trying to get started. :-)

No comments yet. Be the first.

Leave a reply

CommentLuv badge