Over the summer, a ventriloquist who is not Ronn Lucas won “America’s Got Talent.” But it’s not likely to change Lucas’ life one way or another, any more than it’s going to make ventriloquism a new fad.
You see, ventriloquists exist outside the space-time continuum of show business. Only about one per decade is allowed any national attention. But their relative scarcity also means Lucas is the only one of his kind among the 75 or more shows in town (unless the “Talent” winner, Terry Fator, parlays next week’s Las Vegas visit into a full-time gig).
A montage of film clips in Lucas’ live act shows him on “Nip/Tuck,” then cuts to a fuzzy videotape of him performing for Ronald Reagan.
Lucas’ boyish face is ageless, but a guy he pulls up as an audience volunteer tells him, “I’ve got kids that saw you about 20 years ago.”
The jokes in his current Luxor act are old enough to name-check Ross Perot and new enough to mention Lindsay Lohan and Sanjaya from “American Idol.” But most of the jokes have no time reference, and probably were in the show when the guy’s kids saw it.
Lucas spent nearly five years as a bedrock afternoon attraction at the Rio, until casino shake-ups in 2006 sent him looking around. He spent a few months of this year in Steve Wyrick’s theater adjacent to Planet Hollywood before landing the better-trafficked location on the Luxor’s attractions level.
It’s an easy-going 75 minutes, in which Lucas doesn’t pretend that ventriloquism as a skill can replace even a minute of comedy. “I’m good,” he insists, good-naturedly milking applause for the super-ventriloquist trick of sounding like a muffled voice locked in a trunk. “Some of you are not getting this. That’s OK.”
And it is, because the successful ventriloquists know that only other vents study their technique. What they’re really doing is keeping team comedy alive, without having to split the money.
Lucas has several sidekicks: a robotic dragon named Scorch, a Muppet-like cowboy named Billy (watch carefully and you’ll see his eyebrows move up and down to add facial expressions, like a comic strip character) and a little punk rock guy with an attitude about divulging his name.
You know the drill. Lucas plays Dick Smothers, the stiff who feigns outrage when the puppet comes on to women in the audience, or throws some PG-rated lines over the head of the 5-year-old in the front row.
If he stopped there, the act would be an iffy proposition for an increasingly adult-leaning Las Vegas. But there’s the audience-participation bit in which he turns a crowd member into a human dummy, which slays “the old goats” in the audience — the dragon’s words, not mine.
The finale is a tour de force that breaks Lucas’ craft down to a minimalist sock puppet and then breaks it down even more until he’s talking to the hand. When it’s over, you walk out feeling more like you’ve seen a guy go the distance to entertain you than a guy who has done this show 11 million times.
That’s almost as impressive as not moving his lips.MIKE WEATHERFORDMORE COLUMNS
who: Ronn Lucas
when: 3 p.m. Saturday-Thursday
where: Luxor, 3900 Las Vegas Blvd. South
tickets: $36.45-$47.45 (262-4900)
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