Ventriloquist Terry Fator explains why ‘overnight success’ is a myth



Credit: Terry Fator

He’s probably the only ventriloquist whose name you know. Perhaps you’ve seen him win the second season of America’s Got Talent, or at a show during his ten years (and still) as headlining at the Mirage in Las Vegas.

What I find inspiring is the story behind someone’s success: the 30 years of hard work it took for Fator to become the household name we’ll now pay to see.

More importantly, what can we learn from his journey? How do we discover our own inner talents, as he did, especially if we don’t see them molded for us or are not seen as worth pursuing?

Fator and I sat down to discuss this and more. He shares the key moment he discovered this path, what it took to ‘succeed’, how he used a challenge like ADHD to his advantage, and what we can learn about using comedy to break up. ice and build relationships in everyday situations.

Darrah Brustein: When you were a kid and got into ventriloquism (which I bet wasn’t the coolest choice), how did you find out and what motivated you to Continue ?

Terry Fator: I was ten years old and had a reading report to return, so I went to the school library and there was a book by the legendary Paul Winchell called Ventriloquism for Fun and Profit. I read it and I hooked it up. I bought a very cheap puppet and started training for hours every day. Soon I was performing for church groups and talent shows, and haven’t stopped since. Plus, as we all know, ventriloquists are considered to be as hip and cool as rappers, and women flock to men with puppets.

Credit: Tom Donoghue

Brustein: So many people mistake someone’s success for being achieved overnight. You honed your craft for almost 30 years before jumping into America’s Got Talent, and with that preparation you are now celebrating 10+ years of residency in Vegas. What advice would you give to others who are in a similar situation and who might get bored?

Factor : Never stop working. It still works. When you stop working, the dream dies. And if you love what you do, if you love to act, it doesn’t matter if you’re in front of an elementary school group of 20 kids, or 20 million people on America’s Got Talent.

Brustein: You have been called the “one person who ventriloquizes, prints and sings, all at the same time.” In a world where we are often advised to “stick to one thing”, what has been your journey to carving out your own niche in this way?

Factor : I think having ADHD helps, but the truth is, it wasn’t until I was forty that it all fell into place. I was on the road, doing 300 dates a year, and I was practically broke. From despair comes inspiration. I saved some money and saw Danny Gans. I saw this show and had an eye opener. I knew I could sing… and I was ventriloquist… and I could make impressions. Since none of these things worked well on their own, why not combine them? So I asked my puppet Walter T. Airdale to make an impression of Garth Brooks singing without moving my lips. And it worked !

Brustein: Some might be surprised to learn that you have been dubbed the “most successful person out of America’s Got Talent.” Why did you decide to audition, and what thoughts do you have now?

Factor : I decided to audition because I felt that if I could be noticed by enough people, I could increase my price at small town and county fairs from $ 250 per day to $ 350 per day. But I never imagined it would lead me to fulfill my lifelong dream of becoming a Las Vegas headliner.

Brustein: Comedy can be a great tool to connect. What advice do you have for us funny non-professionals on how to break the ice?

Factor : Listen and react in real time. Don’t go to a date or meeting with a joke prepared (unless it’s a speech). Be with who you are, listen to him and comment on where you are or on something in common in real time to follow up on his last remark. Or, as I say sometimes, as soon as there is something silly in the room that you can agree on, comment on it.

Brustein: What do you do to build a relationship with an audience, regardless of their size?

Factor : There are three things. The first is always to let them know how important they are to you, that you are on stage for them, not for yourself. The second is to interact with someone in the audience so that you are all united in having fun, not in a mean way. The third way is to let them know how much fun you are having with them; if you have fun, they have fun.

Brustein: You make over 200 celebrity impressions. Did any of them ever reach out and what happened when they did?

Factor : A number of people reached out, always favorably, but my favorite was after Winston the Impersonating Turtle and I (yes, we’re a team) did “Crying” on America’s Got Talent finale. Roy Orbison’s widow emailed me to let me know how grateful and delighted she was to be able, through me, to hear her husband’s voice come to life.

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