Terry Fator is pure entertainment. His act, including more than a dozen puppets and an astonishing range of impressions and characters, is non-stop fun. There is something to make anyone laugh, but, even harder to find, there is a lot to make everyone laugh. In this divided world, Fator manages to find a way to make everyone in the audience feel comfortable and welcome, and to leave his audiences astonished by his versatility and delighted with his gentle humor. He is one of the most popular performers ever to appear on “America’s Got Talent,” where he won the top prize, and is now a headliner at The Mirage in Las Vegas. In an interview, he talked about getting started in grade school, the only thing that made him nervous on “America’s Got Talent,” and the trick to doing Donald Trump.
Have you always loved performing before an audience?
Yes, I was always an entertainer from the time of about two or three. I could always impersonate everything and anything. I was the kid that probably was incredibly annoying because I could be at K-Mart and then they would say, “There’s a Blue Light Special in the Boys Department.” And I would go, “There’s a Blue Light Special in the Boys Department” in exactly the same voice. When a siren went by I tried to impersonate the sirens. I was one of those kids that just knew how to copy people and things and animals and everything else.
I remember standing on a table, singing to an audience and they were cheering and laughing. I remember distinctly thinking, “I really like this feeling. This is a great feeling.”
You appear in the wonderful documentary about ventriloquists, Dumbstruck. Some of the families are not very enthusiastic about ventriloquism. What was your family like?
I was always kind of a weird little comedy kid anyway so I kind of brought laughter into the family. We had a difficult childhood. My father was very abusive and we worked a lot. I was always the kid that could find the comedy in whatever situation so you know we also worked a lot. My parents had a janitorial business. Because there were no other workers other than the family there were times when we had to work thirty-six straight hours with no sleep. We would clean apartment complexes and we would have to do two hundred fifty apartments in a weekend and so we would just work, work, work a whole weekend without any kind of rest or sleep. I was that kid that was always finding the comedy in whatever and cracking jokes. So I think when I started doing ventriloquism, it was something new but I was making them laugh so they didn’t really care.
My dad was never supportive but my mom was supportive and my brothers and sister were. One time, I was maybe eleven or twelve, and I told my family. I said, “I can’t seem to get a rapport with my puppet. It doesn’t feel like it’s a real person so I’m going to carry my puppet when I’m around the house and bring my puppet to dinner. And don’t think I’ve lost my mind. I’m not losing my mind. I’m just trying to learn to talk with my puppet as if it’s a real character, a real person.” So I would sit there and I would have the puppet interject at the dinner table and I never did cross a line. I felt like they were family members – the puppets you know. And no, I’m not afraid for a puppet to sit alone in the room with me at night. They don’t come alive unless I’m holding them.
What kind of an adjustment did you have to make going from relatively small audiences to the kind of audiences that you get now?
The odd thing about the “America’s Got Talent” thing, the only time I got nervous was when I was when I wasn’t sure if I was going to go through to the next level or not. That was when the nerves were but it was more of trepidation. “Oh my gosh, is this the end? Am I going home or am I going to get to go through?” It never even occurred to me that I was on television in front of millions of people. I totally forgot that there were cameras there. All that mattered as soon as I set foot on that stage was the live audience and the judges.
An audience is an audience and I do it for the love of the audience and for the love of the craft. Being famous has its perks and being successful is great. But the only reason, the real drive for me and the reason I want that fame is because it translates into people in my audience that enjoy what I create. The rest of it just doesn’t matter to me at all. It really matters that for every person that’s there to give them the best show that they can and the fact that somebody is enjoying what I create is what drives me.
What makes someone a great ventriloquist?
I think the real key is creating characters that people fall in love with and identify with. We are kind of magicians in a sense in that we make inanimate objects talk.
How long does it take you to introduce a new character?
Every character is different. It depends on who that character is and the characters also evolve over time. With Donald Trump I tried really, really hard to get the voice but it’s really physically impossible to do Donald Trump’s voice without moving your lips and the reason is you have to purse your lips in order to get that certain tone. So I really didn’t focus as much on trying to get a real legitimate impersonation of his vocal tone and more just to keep the bigness of his character. I don’t do political humor, I don’t bring politics at all into my act. I’m one of those people that just feel that you know we’re entertainers and it’s not our job to try to convince one person, any one of our political opinions one way or the other. They are there to be entertained. The reason that I never had a Barack Obama or George W. Bush or Hillary Clinton puppet is because those people are known specifically for politics. With Donald Trump, he is an iconic person that we all know of for several different reasons, whether it’s a reality show or the guy who owns the Miss Universe pageant or the Trump Tower or a casino owner. I don’t make fun of Donald Trump because I don’t want to irritate half of my audience. I just have fun with the bigness of his character, with his personality. I just want to have fun and make people laugh so I am a very positive person and all my comedy is very uplifting and positive.
A couple of years ago, I stayed at a hotel that had a vintage manual typewriter in the lobby, with a pristine stack of paper placed neatly beside it. I could not resist. I rolled in a piece of paper and began to hit the keys, enjoying what pianists call the action of the machine and the memories it brought back.
Then I got to the end of the line and waited. Although I learned to type the summer before my freshman year in high school and typed my school papers through high school, college, and law school and then used increasingly sophisticated typewriters in offices for the next five years, I had completely forgotten that it was up to me to hit the carriage return. I reached up and swung the lever, and very much enjoyed reviving the memory of that feeling of satisfaction, accompanied by the little bell. A computer will wait, sometimes impatiently, for you to continue. A typewriter will congratulate you for what you have accomplished.
This captivating documentary pays tributes to typewriters and the small but passionate group who still love and repair them. It is filled with delightful characters, and if they sometimes edge into Christopher Guest territory with their rhapsodies about the percussion and the ink flying onto the paper (the late Sam Shepard, adding an extra sense of loss to the film), or how typewritten words are “almost what thoughts look like” (John Mayer), they are still endearing and insightful. And, as ever the voice of decency and civilization, Tom Hanks shows up because he is a serious collector of vintage typewriters and he likes to give them to friends and urge them to use them.
Indeed, I am now guessing that the Greg Kinnear character in “You’ve Got Mail” who loves his analog typewriters so much may in fact be based on the real-life passions of the man who gets the girl in the film, played by Tom Hanks.
California Typewriter is the name of the Berkeley, California typewriter repair shop that may have to close as its owner is turning 70 and business is pretty much eclipsed by computers, except for the collectors and John Henry-types. The film alternates between the people at the store and typewriter aficionados, from a collector who literally dreams of owning one of the very first typewriters made by the man credited with inventing them to a sculptor whose medium is typewriter parts. Ever wondered about the odd QWERTY arrangement of letters on your computer keyboard? Did you know that typewriters created a whole new category of jobs for women, bringing them for the first time into workplaces other than schoolrooms and hospitals? The women themselves were called “typewriters.” There’s a music group that uses typewriters as their instruments. And historian David McCullough, who writes his book on his old Royal typewriter, mourns the loss of typed letters, speeches, and diaries, with cross-outs and inserts. “There is value in mistakes…You see the process.”
There is a bittersweet quality to the film, which has brief glimpses of people standing in long lines in the rain to get the new iPad, and tech conference presenters chirping about algorithms. We see the last typewriter manufacturer in the world close down, and its final 100 machines turned into a sculpture. But the very scarcity creates bonds. “I collect typewriters,” a man with a veritable museum in his home says. “But better than that, I collect typewriter friends.” And it is not a spoiler to note that the failing store of the title gets new access to customers from the very technology that disrupted its industry: a website.
Parents should know that this movie has some brief art images of bodies.
Family discussion: Have you ever typed on a typewriter?
If you like this, try: “The Shocking Miss Pilgrim,” with Betty Grable as a “typewriter” (secretary), and the delightful French film “Populaire,” a romantic comedy about a champion typist and her boss/coach
The movie is not “A Family Woman.” So much of it is his perspective and his journey. But one of the important things about playing a part like this, that it’s so important for my character to love him. She is there to show the audience that he is loved and loveable even when that might otherwise be hard to believe. It’s hard sometimes not to judge her for loving him but I had to as the actor kind of come to a point where I had to understand why she does. It’s funny because when I initially read the script I didn’t think of them as being super successful necessarily, but I did think she is attracted to his sort of kind of cockiness or that nature of that person. When he says, “What’s not to love?” she really loved that.
Digital Trends has a list of movies that received a “rotten” rating on the critic aggregator Rotten Tomatoes but deserve another look.
While I don’t agree with every choice (“Europtrip” is pretty bad) and some are uneven (“Troy”), I strongly endorse the inclusion of two great movies, “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” with Ben Stiller and “Defiance,” with Daniel Craig and Liev Schreiber. And if “A Knight’s Tale” is on cable, I usually find myself watching it.
Language has been steadily deteriorating in movies since the introduction of the MPAA ratings system replaced the Hayes Code in 1968. It used to be no f-words in a PG-13, then one was okay, and now two, as long as they do not refer to sex. As I have said before, you’d need a degree in semiotics to parse that one. And movies like the “Austin Powers” series get away with using a sound-alike, “frickin.” Studios have been known to add one or two strong words just to avoid the PG rating because they think tweens and teenagers won’t see PG films.
Now a Harris poll suggests that movies may start moving away from four-letter words.
Using “Jesus Christ” to swear is the biggest offense, with 33 percent of the general public saying they’d be less likely to see a movie if they knew beforehand of that particular piece of dialogue. “Goddam” was second at 32 percent and “f***” was third with 31 percent.
Some of the awards seasons biggest films have no strong language. If they are successful at the box office, we may see this become a trend.