ERLANGER (Kentucky) • For years, ventriloquism has held a reputation as being dorky at best and sinister at worst. But the mood was upbeat the other week among the 525 human attendees at this year's Vent Haven International Ventriloquist Convention here at an airport Holiday Inn.
If 13-year-old ventriloquist Darci Lynne Farmer could win the 2017 edition of America's Got Talent, maybe their passion has a future.
Two other ventriloquists have won America's Got Talent and one of them, Terry Fator, is high on the Las Vegas food chain. The other ventriloquist is Paul Zerdin, who won the 2015 edition.
Jeff Dunham, whose popular characters include Peanut and Bubba J, has nine television specials under his belt.
Guinness World Records lists him as having sold the most number of tickets for a stand-up-comedy tour.
The annual meet-up is the primary time when vents, as they call themselves, can get together, talk shop and display their skills in showcases and open-mic events. This year, there were workshops covering topics such as Extending The Life Of Your Soft Puppet.
"This is a unique place in that you will see a professional sit next to an amateur next to a semi-pro," said the convention's executive director, Mr Mark Wade, who lives near Melbourne, Florida, and is in his 60s.
"I'm not knocking magic conventions, but the professionals get in their little groups and talk to one another and they ignore all the other people."
Ventriloquism is basically a double act in which one person plays both the straight man and funny man - a welcome throwback at a time when comic duos are gone from the stand-up scene. Unlike puppeteering and magic, ventriloquism has not been re-evaluated in hip theatrical circles, even if some practitioners test the boundaries.
Dunham was stumped when asked if he knew of a vent equivalent to alt-comedians. "I couldn't tell you anybody who's the alternative ventriloquist," he said after a pause, "but what an interesting thing to become. You could have odd dummies doing odd things."