I remember as a kid, staying up late on a Saturday night watching Hey Hey it’s Saturday with the family. One evening they had a guest appearance of a ventriloquist from America, David Strassman.
Although, at the time, it was just a guy and a puppet that talked, and I was maybe 10 years old, I was so captivated. As I grew up, I would always hear about David Strassman touring Australia, yet I somehow always missed his shows. Well, that changed last night when I finally got to see this legend perform on stage on Tuesday November 15th at Melbourne’s Athenaeum Theatre! But did he live up the expectations I set as a child?
David Strassman in the Chocolate Diet is a show centred around one of his many characters, Ted E. Bare and his struggles with the love of chocolate, all things sweet, and going on a diet. The moment the show began and Ted E. Bare was brought out, I found myself smiling from ear to ear, reminiscing of the times I saw him on TV as a kid, and I was loving every moment.
Ted E. Bare’s persona is so sweet, lovable, and wholesome. Just trying to be the best version of himself. I found myself feeling empathetic towards his battle of trying to be healthy, yet loving all the good things.
The show took a slight dive when Chuck Wood came out on stage. Perhaps it was the mood of the room and the lack of reception that Chuck received for his jokes, but I just wasn’t feeling it. The topics of choice for Chuck’s segment seemed to fall flat and I found myself waiting for the next part of the show to kick in. I could also tell that Strassman was feeling the same by the body language and the interactions he was having with Chuck. Even to the point of calling out the lack of laughter from the audience. But being the true professional he is, Strassman powered through and made the most of what he was getting back. I really admired that.
Aside from the Strassman staples of Ted E. Bare and Chuck Wood, we were also treated to an appearance from Grandpa Fred, Ted E. Bare’s grandfather who had some questionable lifestyle choices. Buttons the Clown, an alcoholic clown that apparently even surprised Strassman with a brand-new emotional response that has never happened before. Kevin, the alien sharing that he has no desire to invade Earth because we have already screwed it up, not being afraid to be blunt to the audience about the future of the planet. Last but not least, the cute and comedic Sid Beaverman with a classic stand up set of ‘dad jokes’. Out of all the additional characters, Buttons the Clown and Sid Beaverman were the highlights. I do love a good dad joke and those that laughed along during his set are my kind of people. Of course, Ted E. Bare is still the fan favourite.
One thing that really surprised me when the show started was that it is clearly only one person up on that stage. Yet, with the puppet next to him, Strassman effortlessly creates the illusion that there are two individuals having a conversation.
Ventriloquism is not a simple artform, and even for the seasoned professional like Strassman, there are still words and phrases that are almost impossible to pull off. Strassman cleverly disguises these challenges within the character of the puppet he is performing with. It might be a deliberate mispronunciation of the word or saying it in another way, only to have Strassman correct the words of the character that is generally met with “Yes, that too” as a response. I was amazed by how fluid the conversations were and even more impressed by Strassman’s uncanny ability to pull off sound effects such as a wheezing laugh, a hiccup, animal noises, and even stuttering. All expertly executed without the movement of his own mouth.
Technical ability aside, David Strassman is an incredibly clever and quick-witted comedian. About ten minutes into the Ted E. Bare part of the set, some patrons arrived late. Arriving late at a comedy show is a big no-no, especially if you are sitting down at the front. Mid conversation Ted just stopped talking and glared down into the audience. It wasn’t just Strassman heckling the latecomers, but Ted also got in on the action. Even when Strassman stumbled on lines or lost his place in the show due to an audience interaction, he was able to recover quickly and get back into a rhythm.
Having toured here for decades, Melbourne is like a second home to Strassman. It was refreshing to hear nods to local places and stereotypes as part of his show, and how much he genuinely understood and loved Australia. All of this is proof that Strassman’s crowd-work is flawless and a talent that any comedian would be envious of.
If the wholesome moments of the performance were not already enough, last nights show was also a charity performance with proceeds going to Heart Kids. A charity that raises funds for children fighting heart disease. At the end of the performance, Strassman introduced the charity organisation and stated that with ticket sales alone, we had already raised $10,000 for Heart Kids.
To add to it, Strassman held an auction where he sold several plush versions of Ted E. Bare, each with a red heart drawn on his chest and a signed tag. Each purchase also included a meet and greet with a photo at the end of the auction. I had a few bids myself but was quickly out-bid. Strassman was blown away by the generosity of the audience and I left the venue with my heart so full. It’s so wonderful seeing people amazing in their craft, but to use their talents for good is something else. I even purchased my own giant Ted E. Bare on my way out.
Overall, the positives were overwhelming and made for a fun and enjoyable evening. The jokes that fell flat were quickly forgotten about, the wholesome and hilarious moments live on. I was so glad that I finally got to see this legendary comedic icon up on stage in The Chocolate Diet, and I would happily catch him on his next Australian tour.
David Strassman in the Chocolate Diet is now playing at Melbourne’s Athenaeum Theatre until this Sunday the 20th of November and continues in Adelaide from the 29th of November until the 4th of December.
For more information and ticketing, visit:
Photography by Adam Shane.