How Much Should I Charge?

"How much should I charge for my shows?"

It's one of the most frequently asked questions by ventriloquists and one of the most difficult to answer. I asked for reader response on this subject and several of you have responded. I have set up a "Themed Page" with those answers.
I would welcome additional comments, thoughts, and suggestions on this subject.

Hensen Framed Card

Congratulations Talitha Luben! You are the winner of this attractive framed postcard that was produced to promote Jim Hensen's Fantastic World, a Smithsonian Institution traveling exhibition, on exhibit April 3 - June 27 at the National Heritage Museum, Lexington, MA.


Remember this?

Happy birthday daughter!

After living with us for several weeks, Dawn, Steve and their three boys left last Thursday for their long flight home, arriving safely in Ethiopia Friday night at midnight. It goes without saying, our house seems very quiet - Adelia and I are still adjusting. :) It's definitely been a Summer for the memory books. Today is Dawn's birthday - Happy Birthday, daughter! Dawn was born the same month and year we purchased Maher Studios. Both enriched our lives in ways we could never have imagined and continue to do so!


From Michael Westmoreland

I am really enjoying my Scotty--I practice with him everyday. In regard to shows, I did a show for Southeast Elementary a couple Saturdays ago. I often take him to visit my patients (I am a hospice chaplain), and I use him regularly before and after my magic shows. I do magic shows and puppet shows with several different themes (mostly with a gospel message). I have a ministry to nursing homes and hospice so I do a lot of impromptu with my puppets and now with Scotty.

Isaacson framed card. signed

Congratulations, Bobby Goodwin, you are the winner of this Framed Great Ventriloquist card of Bob Isaacson and "Speedy Wheeler". Signed!


What to charge for shows?

Question: How should I charge for my performances? I am new at this.

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Answer: Generally, I found that new ventriloquists fall into one of two categories:
1) Those who think they are more skilled than they actually are, and
2) those who are more skilled than they realize.

Here's the important question: Are you able to deliver an entertaining show? Do you have an entertaining act? After seeing you perform once, would your audience want to see you again?

In fairness, without having seen you perform I do not feel I can suggest a price for your show. Prices will also vary according to client and occasion. It will help if you can find out what other entertainers (magicians, clowns, etc.) are charging for similar jobs. I realize the following is not very helpful, but I used to answer this question by saying, "Don't charge more than you're worth, and always deliver a bit more than you were paid for."

Most new performers begin with a few volunteer shows to gain experience before putting a price on their services. Maybe you have progressed beyond this step? If not, then that may be something you will want to consider.
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And now I invite blog visitors to weigh in with their comments on this subject. I am preparing a "themed page" for your comments.

Be a winner today!

Here's another chance for anyone
who does not have one of my "Dummy Dollar Collector Coins" -
just send me an email and say,
"I want one."
It doesn't get any easier than that.
Mr. D
(Offer good while supply lasts.)


Animated Poster Picture Puppets

In 1982 I created a series of posters with pictures taken from a child's coloring book that I animated with moving mouths. Some had moving eyes as well. That same year I gave a workshop at the FCM Conference (Winona Lake, IN) that included ideas for making simple puppets. For that event I printed a set of patterns for the animated poster puppets.
I thought all those patterns were all lost until I recently came across a set that Almira Kirkham, missionary in Mexico, had reprinted (by permission) in Spanish. Even though I can't read my own directions, it's fun looking at the pictures!


Penguin vent figure

Last Fall I had an inquiry about the possibility of making a "Penguin" figure. The idea caught my curiosity.

With Penguin thoughts in mind, I prepared to order one of these large plush penguins (see photo) thinking I could convert it to a true vent figure (hollow body, turning head on head post, lever controlled mouth and maybe even flapping wings). With a degree of enthusiasm I sent this picture to the customer who quickly sent me his "no thanks".

At first it was a bit of a let down, then we both had a good laugh when he explained to me that he was not wanting the stately bird from Antarctica; rather he was looking for the "Penguin" figure from the movie, "Batman"!

McElroy Fan

This picture went unclaimed by its original winner for nearly 60 days, so I offered to award it to a collector or McElroy fan who could convince me they would appreciate it for what it is. A number of you responded and I have to say, several of you presented a convincing case. But in the end, I've selected Mark Garrett of Ontario, Canada.

Mark is not only a fan of the legendary McElroy brother fguremakers, but he is a student of their work, and uses their advanced mechanical design as inspiration for his own work. While not I dentical to the McElroy's, Mark's work shows advanced figuremaking skill as well. See the results of his latest work in the photo (right).


Vent emcee

Question: I am getting ready to be emcee with the two dummies (one at a time); which of the booklets do you suggest, "From Start to Finish" ?
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Answer: As A ventriloquist, you are unique. Using your vent skills as emcee will prove to be very popular. Your bits will be short so the books that have short dialogues bits or single jokes in dialogue form will work best for you, I believe.

Any of the Gag File books (Start To Finish is one of them) would be good since they contain individual jokes and gags in dialogue form. Also worthy of consideration:
Banquet Performing
Short Routines
Letters To Freddy
Comedy Dialogue Fillers
You will find all these and more on http://www.maherbookstore.blogspot.com/


Nancy Kelly

by Bob Abdou

In 1995 I saw an ad in the Penny Pincher magazine for a
"Maher Studios" dummy and magazines for sale.

Unless you are a vent, you probably won't recognize the name "Maher Studios" when it comes to selling a dummy, so I called the seller (Nancy White Kelly, file photo left) and she was very nice. She was retiring and wanted to sell everything she had left: the dummy, an Axtell bird and many old magazines and photos.

I purchased them and never heard from her again but she left me with some great memorabilia.

So since this figure was new to me, I used him for my writing comedy course in Atlanta.
As a footnote, the photo (right) shows me on stage for the very first time. The year was 1995, and the performance was at The Punchline comedy club in Atlanta. I still have it on tape. It was graduation night for our comedy writing group. The figure I'm using is Chip (now called Teddy), another figure I got from Nancy Kelly. Inside his trunk were a couple of dummies and puppets, old Oracles and photos I treasure to this day.

"Figure with a thousand faces"

Bob Neller's "Reggie" was one of the fully animated figures built by the legendary McElroy bothers. Bob often referred to Reggie as the figure "with a thousand faces". One of his advertising postcards showed Reggie with a variety of expressions.
Bob Abdou sent me one of the vintage postcards to be used as a prize on this blog. I matted and framed it (photo left) and am awarding it by today's drawing to: Gio Bruno.

Bob Neller Ventriloquist Course

The Bob Neller audio CD instruction Course on Ventriloquism is still regarded as one of the best on CD. Prepared after more than 40 years of professional performances. Hear Bob explain clearly and precisely how to produce the proper ventriloquist voice with perfect diction. And Neller's technique and instruction on Distant Voice Production and presentation is not only unique, but truly amazing. For the novice or Professional. Purchase now, HERE.


Detweiler Reunion; August 2010

For anyone so inclined, I have put together a photo album of our family reunion activities for your perusal: Click Here

The new owners of 800 W. Littleton Blvd. graciously held an open house for our family. After a period of 12 years, it was therapeutic memory stimulus for us to walk through our former home and location of Maher Studios.

Baby Wah Wah

Harris Deutsch

Once a quarter I do a puppet workshop for 7th grade students. This puppet, Baby Gaga, is an example of using the concept of familiarity. Most people in the class will know of the singer Lady Gaga. I helped make her, my wife along with my mother actually did most of the work.

In the beginning of the routine, I play a blues run on my harmonica and have her sing in "baby". Wah wahs instead of words. Then I "interpret", by having her Mime sing (as you noticed no moving mouth), while I provide the words.
Sometimes I use the Nursery Rhyme Blues ( a song I thought I created, but found many others have come up with similar ideas). Singing things like, "Humpty Dumpty - sat on a wall", then wail a bit of a blues run on the harmonica...) In some class rooms and even adult venues, audience members will join in and add a nursery rhyme of their own.
Also at other times I combine known lyrics, with improvised words...
Woke up this morning ,
I woke up 3 times last night.
got a funny feeling,
my parents don't treat me right.
Looked at my diaper..
it was no fun..
something was oozing out the corner
like mustard on a bun...
(From an old Garrison Keillor Radio Show that stuck in my memory)
Her flower has been replaced by an aluminum foil bonnet. Yesterday I started work on a paint brush puppet. Got the idea from a classroom video on puppet making where a puppet was made from a wooden spoon. I changed it to the brush because the built in "crew cut" hair.
Be safe,well and creative..


1974 Pocket Puppet

This catalog ad came from the Maher 1974 Catalog. The mini-puppets (handmade by Kevin and myself) were popular, but we only offered them for a short time due when they proved more labor intensive than expected. I wish I had had the foresight to hold back a couple! But, just as well I didn't - I'd just end up giving them away, and this way I will save the cost of today's postage!


"Drop-through" neck

The figure you see here is an "Archie" Knee Pal. I'd estimate his date of manufacture as the mid '70's due to the "living mouth" and "Drop-through" neck style..

Hundreds of the Knee Pal figures were made in this manner before Lovik switched to the "ball socket" design which is pretty much standard on today's figures from all figuremakers.

On the "drop-through" models, the base of the neck did just that - it dropped through the neck opening into the body. The head was supported at its proper height when the end of the headpost reached, and rested upon, the inner base of the body.

Archie was always one of my favorite characters from that series of figures. The figure shown here was for sale by its owner but has now been sold.


Practice Tips

From Terry Fator

When I was a young vent back in the 70's I would devour every single issue of the wonderful magazine called "Newsy Vents". Quite often it had articles about how to be more successful and make a better living with ventriloquism, and inevitably those articles would say that the key was one simple word.: practice.

What a horrible word! Or is it? I suffer from an affliction that many of the fine vents I have met suffer with as well, Attention Deficit Disorder. I find it absolute agony to sit down and force myself to concentrate and rehearse. I had this same condition as a young child, and it threatened to destroy my dreams of becoming a world-famous ventriloquist and accomplishing my vision of being a headliner in Vegas. I had to find a way to overcome my difficulty.

I found that the best way was to practice when I was forced to do something I really hated or bored me. For example, when my family was on a long car trip I would allow my mind to wander off into the future and imagine myself as a top vent, and try to create a new character that I could use in my act. I would write new routines and jokes, and before I knew it we would be at our destination!

Our family had a janitorial business, and I think I hated that work more than anything else in the world! So as I wandered the buildings vacuuming and emptying trashes i would practice saying sentences and singing without moving my lips. Again, before I knew it the job was over and I had gotten in several hours of rehearsal. My favorite exercise was finding words that were impossible to say ventriloquially and repeating them infinitely until I was able to say them perfectly. (My brother still tells everyone the stories of my saying "Peter Piper Picked A Peck of Pickled Peppers" forty thousand times without moving my lips!)

Anyway, I recommend that you find the time to rehearse when you want a distraction. that will allow you to create characters, write material, perfect your lip movement and much more. But remember that you will still need time in front of the mirror learning to make your new friend move and act realistically. There can be absolutely no substitute for that time! But I'll let you in on a little secret: The hardest part of that exercise is actually starting. I promise that if you can just get over the hurdle of that feeling of dread and the complete lack of wanting to do it, once you are actually standing in front of the mirror working on it, it really becomes a joy!

I know, I know, you think I'm crazy. But mark my words and the next opportunity you have just do it. Pull out your character and set up in front of a mirror and start to talk to him or her. Watch carefully how they look when they talk, and try to make them imitate your head movements and (if applicable) your eye movements. I promise you you'll enjoy it. Just get over the hurdle of your apprehension and the battle is won!

Well, I hope this helps! Just never forget: the more you practice the better you'll get.

Today - a duo-prize!

I'll sign the book and as a bonus I'll slip one of my Collector Coins within the pages. Two prizes in one. And the winner is: Alex Eatros!


Photo Caption Winners

Photo Caption Winners (in random order):

"POP, goes the eagle!" Donald Woodford
"You're hearing is getting bad ...I asked you to make me a 'Talking Carrot!'" Dave Showler
"WOW! I never saw a pinata with headstick AND candy!" Steve at The Dummy Shoppe
"I'm sorry, Dad. He just lost his head when I asked him why he was at the family reunion." Major Wes Green
"The head? I just wanted a drumstick!" Mike Palma
"Is this how you get a head in this business?" John Degel
"Getting a head start." Abhijeet Deshpande
"I think I can sell this on eBay..." Tom Basso
"What a 'birden' I have created!' Kirk Rabe
"Oh, my - I forgot how to put this thing together!" N Jay
"Dad! I swear ...I didn't break it!" Tom Farrell
"Oh! You meant, 'Split Personality!'" Bob La Belle
Only in America can one hold up the bird and everyone says,
'Oh...Cool; I want one.'" William Duff
"BUSTED!!" David Ferdinand
Thank you to all who entered - nearly 75 total - you didn't make selecting easy! I'll have a couple regift items for each of the winners. I could have picked a few more "winners", but I ran out of regift prizes for this time.

Special award winner

"I hate when this happens!" Howie Myers


Another Themed Page

In March, Adelia and I made a road trip to Las Vegas to attend Terry Fator's First Anniversary Show as his guests. I keep a photo journal of that memorable trip and have now set up a themed page for anyone who would like to join us for a review of that personal highlight in our vent career.


Practice Tips & Advice from the Pros!

How would you like to sit down with Jay Johnson, Taylor Mason, Mark Wade, Brad Cummings, Ken Groves, Dale Brown and half dozen other professional ventriloquists and have them tell you their secrets of successful practice and show preparation, as they do it? Now you can. I've set up a themed page you cannot afford to miss. Priceless proven advice and it's all free! Check it out:



We've had family reunion activities going on for a couple weeks with this past week being the main event (although some activities continue). Many of you met one or more of our children when we brought them with us to one of the many conventions we participated in over the years. Now adults with families of their own, it was a rare and wonderful time to have everyone together for several days!
Adelia and I are seated in the photo (right) with our kids (left to right according to age, beginning with the youngest): Dawn, Joy, Kevin, and Lynette.
Kneeling: Hannah and Nicole Scheuerman; seated: Adelia and Clinton Detweiler.
Standing (L-R) Stacy and Jordan Detweiler, Joy and Dale Scheuerman, Faith Detweiler with Dad, Kevin, behind her and mother, Sonja Detweiler, holding Jaci Detweiler (daughter of Jordan & Stacy); Lynette Beasley with husband Terry behind her and their daughter, Gina; then the Dawn & Steve Bryan family: Cooper (white T-shirt), Cy (blue shirt), and Jack (sunglasses).


This photo is unmarked, but I have heard from several readers who have correctly identified the ventriloquist as Megumi Takahashi with her vent figure, Taka-Chan. Thank you.


My ancestor?

When I finished building this figure, and took a look at the photos, I had a flashback to memories of photos my Grandfather Hostetler who was a member of the Amish until the age of 18. Except Grandpa's dark hair was quite curly!
This figure is one-of-kind and for sale now on eBay, where it will remain at "reverse auction" (with price lowered $10 per week if necessary) until sold. Click Here for more photos, price, and descriptive details.

Willie revival

It's interesting - I won't see one of these vintage dolls come through my shop for several years and then I'll see several. This Spring I had three come to me for repair/upgrades in one 30 day period. You see the "before"and "after" of one job here.

I enjoy working on them as they take me back in my thoughts to the early days of Maher Studios when Fred and Madeleine Maher used these dolls as the primary source for figures sold by the Maher School of Ventriloquism when it was located Detroit, Michigan.

(Baby Cry) - also eBay

I frequently hear from vents who want to work up a "baby cry" bit for their shows. Few novelty effects are more popular and impressive than the comedy "baby cry". On this CD you can hear Col. Bill Boley teach and demonstrate how a lifelike "cry" is produced and presented. Proven audience tested skits are included. You will also hear other professional ventriloquists demonstrate their version of the "baby cry".

$10.00 postpaid. Purchase HERE.

By drawing, I am also awarding one free today, to Jose Louis Camacho


Home again!

My two Banana puppets appear to be feeling comfortably at home in Bob Abdou's puppet/figure room - certainly better off than when they were boxed in my storeroom! I love Colorado as my home, but for a pair of bananas, Texas has become quite "appealing"!

Get a grip

Once the spring (or rubber band) has been attached to the mouth of a Jerry Mahoney, it becomes difficult to grasp the mouth and pull it from the head to make necessary adjustments. I have a simple little trick that solves this problem and its being employed here although it is hard to see in the photo. I take a piece of masking tape about four inches long, pressing one end to the underside of the chin,and the other end onto the tongue area of the mouth, making a loop. Then the excess middle loop portion of the tape is pressed together (sticking to itself) forming a tab which is used to pull the mouth unit from the mouth as needed. When finished, just remove the tape.


Charlie make-over

This very early model Charlie McCarthy by Juro doll company was sent to me by Chad Dunlap for upgrading. It was Chad's boyhood doll and now as an adult he has desire to get back into ventriloquism with minimal initial investment. Rather than start over with a totally new character, the decision was made to reincarnate Charlie, a very practical solution. These photos show several random steps in the upgrade process.

M. A. Denemark provided me with this new copy of Howard M. Olson's book, Everything That's Ventriloquism. It's an amazing little book, filled with sage wisdom, advice, and "how-to" instruction and tips. I have only this one copy and it is being awarded today to Jimmy Tighe.


Mask Puppet

Question: I want you to make me a face mask. Can you give me a cost of how much it will be and how long you would need?
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Answer: Unfortunately, it's not that simple. Although I've had dozens of requests over the years, I do not build mask puppets. I've shown a photo of one here that was sent to me for painting, but I was unable to learn the name of the builder, sorry. Have you tried a Google search?


Willie Winkle

Question: I have looked over your site and really like the gentleness of the faces that you produce. I did see a doll named "Georgie" that was made by you that I particularly liked the most, but did not see it on your site. Can you make another one like this one? I have attached a picture of it with this email. If possible, I would like blinking eyelids added to the features. If this is possible, how much would the doll cost and how long would it take to make it? Thank you, Tim
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Answer: This character was known in the Maher Studios Catalog as "Willie Winkle" and was created and built by Craig Lovik. He was probably the best seller of the entire Knee Pal series of characters. So popular, in fact, that the mold was used and reused so often it became unusable and had to be discarded. That was more than a decade ago. Thus, the character is no longer available. Sorry.


Vent Throat movement

Question: I've worked part way through my Maher Home Course of Ventriloquism and have a question. While my lips move are static during practice, I notice that my throat moves a fair amount. I've had a chance to watch Terry Fator, who sings and does complex dialogs, and I hardly detect any movement in his throat, while Jeff Dunham appears to have a fair amount of throat movement. Any tricks for removing that jiggling throat other than wearing a turtleneck sweater? Jim

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Answer: Throat movement is a result of moving your tongue. It has nothing to do with the voice itself. I don't know any way to stop the throat/Adam's Apple movement other than keep your tongue still - obviously an impractical solution for a ventriloquist! It seems a problem that only men (and not all men) have as vents; I've never received this question from a female. Yes, you could hide some of the movement with a turtleneck. I've known vents who have done this. My advice is to simply ignore it and concentrate on making your act as entertaining as possible - no one will even notice (or be concerned with) any throat movement. Jeff earned 34+ million last year using this approach - if it works for him it must have merit.


Doll upgrades

Hi Clinton, I am sending a customer your way who is interested in having his Mortimer doll converted into a headstick model. He'll also inquire as to the cost of painting the head and hands. I told him how amazing your paint jobs are. Do you have a "standard" price for basic, deluxe and super deluxe modifications of Goldberger dolls and painting, so I can give folks an idea if they ask? Lee Cornell
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Thanks, Lee, for the referral. I do appreciate it. However - unless dolls are going to be repainted and fitted with a new larger hollow body and deluxe legs,, along with the addition of moving side-to-side eyes and raising eyebrows (what I call my "Super-Supreme" upgrade), I would refer your customer to our son, Kevin for the doll conversion/upgrade. I have retired from offering upgrade services on the Goldberger Celebrity Dolls when repainting is not required. I refer such jobs to Kevin who does provide the "standard", "deluxe" and "super-deluxe" upgrades: animatedpuppets@charter.net

All the various "Upgrade" terms can be confusing to the inquiring public, so in an effort to clarify, here are our definitions:

STANDARD UPGRADE: New hollow body torso (same size as present so doll can wear the same clothes it came with), head mounted on head post so head can turn, tilt, and nod. Lever control for mouth mounted on headpost so the mouth can be controlled from within the body.

DELUXE UPGRADE: All the features of the "Standard" upgrade PLUS Side-to-side moving eyes that self-center, operated with a control of the headpost. And a lifelike wig.

SUPER-DELUXE UPGRADE: All the features of both "Standard" and "Deluxe" upgrades PLUS Raising Eyebrows operated from a control on the headpost.

SUPER-SUPREME UPGRADE: All the features of the "Standard", "Deluxe", "Super-Deluxe" upgrades PLUS a larger body torso (clothes will need to be changed), new deluxe naturally contoured legs, and the head and hands professionally repainted.

Our son, Kevin Detweiler (Jackson MO), provides the first three upgrade services. I provide the SUPER SUPREME only.

Palm Springs - A look back

"Travelling south on Palm Canyon Drive in an antique automobile are ventriloquist Edgar Bergen and his constant companion, Charlie McCarthy, participants in the Desert Circus Parade. Photo taken 1947."

I have two original copies of this newspaper clipping, and they will be awarded by our give-away drawing today to Barney Young and Rose Baggerly.


Shop talk

Diversity at work. He came as a Caucasian to my shop for a change of ethnicity. Not a problem. The repainted and newly wigged figure is shown above and at left. At right is a photo I took for the owner showing the mechanics inside the head of this figure (now named "Curtis") from Selberg Studios.


"Boy, oh, Howdy!"

If you have wondered how to get into the head of one of these smaller vintage Howdy Doody dolls, the picture above tells all (well, maybe not all, but you get the idea). The mouth can be pulled directly out of the head. The bigger challenge is replacing the rubber band - each time I do that repair I ask myself, "How on earth did you manage to do that?!"
Note: The open and close balance eyes on this doll work perfectly. Because someone is certain to ask, I'll tell you now - this doll is not for sale. It was sent to me for repair by its owner.


"Ain't fair!"

You would think Walter would be pleased to be standing in the presence of a pretty young lady. Rather, he is quite peeved. Seems he just learned that in spite of appearances, Tessie Talk is actually his own age, five times over!

Thanks to Jeff Dunham we are awarding this Walter "talking" doll today to Ken Souza. Tessie Talk comes from my collection and is available for sale: $40 PP. mahertalk@aol.com


Coin comment ...

"Got the SUPER COOL COIN yesterday! MANY thanks to you for sending it to me and many thanks to you for creating it in the first place! It will now be with me every day as my "Lucky Coin" and I will carry it in a pocket without anything else so it will not get all scratched or marred! It is as cool as depicted in the photos and I am happy to have it. I may see if I can find a holder for it so I can turn it into a pendant to wear around my neck. TOO COOL!! THANKS!!!" Jim

Another sliding mouth character by Nunes

Ted Nunes has provided these detailed photos of the work he completed to create his "talking Ukulele". It also features a "sliding mouth." Of the design, Ted wrote the following:

"Here are updated shots of 'Huey' that show how I did the mouth and eye movements. I figured this same rig could be used with a photograph. In fact, I know it can, because I did it once -- I made a puppet of a co-worker who was moving away. At his going away party I broke it out and we all passed it around, doing impressions of him. He loved it, so I gave it to him. He later told me he lost it. Argh!"