In the newest version of Terry Fator: The VOICE of Entertainment, the acclaimed ventriloquist/impressionist introduces his latest “friend,” suave Latino Fernando V. Francisco, to his audiences. But, this time, all but the humor gets lost in translation – in a hilarious juxtaposition, it seems that Fator has finally created a puppet that is pulling HIS strings, so to speak.
Yes, just as Fator’s right-hand puppet, Winston the Impersonating Turtle, decides to come out of his shell and leave the spotlight of Fator’s show to burrow his way into the bright glow of Hollywood, comes Fernando, who loves women and song -- but mostly women. Like the rest of Fator’s eclectic cast, Fernamdo, who sings romantic Latin songs a la Julio and Enrique Iglesias, would like to take over the prime spot on Fator’s lineup. However, there appears to be a little barrier – as in language -- which leads to a host of comical miscommunications. Look who’s talking now.
“I had the idea for a character like Fernando 20 years ago when I used to play a lot of South Texas Theaters,” explains Fator, who introduced the new puppet in celebration of his seventh anniversary at The Mirage and a five-year extension to his contract. “Ninety percent of my audiences was of Mexican descent and I wanted to create a character that could translate for me – and translate wrong. A few months ago, I was talking with my writers and that’s when Fernando was born.”
Fernando joins the loveable cast of characters including Winston, Rusty the Robot, Vikki “The Cougar,” country legend Walter T. Airdale, stoner Duggie Scott Walker, Julius the soul singer, tween Emma Taylor, the “World’s Greatest Elvis Impersonator” Maynard Thompkins, and Wrex the Crash Test Dummy, among others. Fator lets each one’s personality come through on its own and, amazingly, they all seem real. Their personas and antics are also parodied in amusing videos and stills that play into each routine on large video walls on stage.
“The key is to make sure that the puppet acts like a human being,” Fator acknowledges. “The soft puppets have zero facial expressions and I’ve spent hours in front of the mirror cocking their heads in every direction to make it look like they have facial expressions. Where the hard puppets are concerned, their eyes move side to side just as a human being’s would. But I have spent thousands of hours on this – I have no life.”
Even though that last comment was made in a joking tone, in reality Fator has a whole new life with his new bride, Angie, his third wife. He says that he is more creative than ever before, thanks to her supportive personality.
“I never knew what it meant to have a soulmate or how deep love could be,” Fator expresses. “She’s a godsend. I believe that God brought me Angie when I needed her most. My sister passed away last year – we were very close – and I had trouble with my family. Angie was a rock. I knew within two days that we were meant to be together. She was never married before. We met in April and were married in September. We sleep all tangled up and I’ve never done that before. I was married to my first wife for 18 years and to my second for four, although we were together for six. I can’t describe the connection and abundant love I feel with Angie. It’s absolute fulfillment.”
In tandem with that, Fator also surrounds himself with a few people who help him achieve professional fulfillment. Although he has been creating and performing with his puppets for 30 years and says that he can pretty much do it in sleep, Fator does have writers that he brainstorms with. While there is some ad-lib quality to his show, most of it is scripted. Knowing what his puppets are going to say and do, their facial expressions come naturally to him. He also designs all the videos and stills.
“I love to play with it and go off,” he admits, talking about the ad-libs that pop in. “That allows me to be fluid and organic. But I always come up with the idea for a new character or new routine and my writers and I will write an initial draft of the script. We’ll laugh for three straight hours. But the weird thing is that if we’re all laughing, it’s guaranteed not to work. It will be hit or miss. But when we all say ‘it’s ok,’ it gets gigantic laughs. It’s like digging for gold – we have these gold nuggets of comedy in there. It’s a fantastic and exhausting process. And it’s harder to write clean. We don’t write anything blatantly dirty but we also don’t want the adults to think that they’re seeing Barney
“I can’t pander to anybody,” he adds. “I have to write what’s funny to me and 80 to 90 percent of the time it works. It’s fun to play with things. For example, I don’t get into political humor but it’s fun to play with political things such as Donald Trump’s hair and Fernando being in love with Hillary Clinton and singing ‘Hero’ to her. I’ve learned that if I make a mistake on stage, the key is not to panic. Rather, I bring the audience into it with me. They want to be entertained and they enjoy it when the puppets rip me.”
On an interesting note, Fator’s voice doctor, whom he sees once a year, tells him that what he does – ventriloquism and singing impressions simultaneously – is just not physically possible and that he wants to study his vocal chords.
“That won’t happen until I’m through with all this,” laughs Fator, whose unique talent of celebrity impressions through ventriloquism moves him flawlessly through the cast while performing songs by Ricky Martin, Lady Gaga, Adele, Tony Bennett and Roy Orbison, among others. “I believe that God has called on me to lighten the load. People laugh and think about happiness for a little while. I’m not looking to change the world but rather to offer a ray of sunshine and hope in a dark world.”