A big well-muscled freight-loading dockworker with a beer drinking puppet must certainly have caused a stir at the Proviso East Trade Yards in Chicago back in the 70s. That’s where Patrick Murray showed off his latent talent as a ventriloquist at a company Christmas party.
“The guys went crazy,” recalls Murray. “I’d found an old puppet in a crawl space that my mom had given me when I was six years old that she got from a Sears catalog. It was a little boy named Rusty Riley. I rigged him so he could drink beer. He looked just like Paul Winchell’s Jerry Mahoney.”
Those same roughnecks would most likely get an even greater kick of out of Murray’s Ja-Makin’-Me-Laugh adult comedy matinee now playing at the D Hotel, downtown Las Vegas. Along with his sassy, brassy Jamaican costar, Matilda, the handsome blonde Irishman is keeping audiences in stitches and clutching their sides in glee.
“I like doing the whole man/woman angle. Here’s this big white dorky guy with a little black girl from the Islands,” says Murray, who got his inspiration for the persona while working in Jamaica at the Boscobel Beach Resort in Ocho Rios. “A lot of guys from the Islands encouraged me to come up with a Caribbean character. I started picking up on the local accent and sense of humor. They have a very funny outlook on life and such a magical way of talking and poetic accent. I thought I would make the puppet a female to make more of a contrast.”
Although Murray showed some talent with mimicry when he was a child, it wasn’t until much later when he was browsing in a novelty store with his father and came across a four-dollar home ventriloquist study book that he began honing his craft. He would practice on his fellow workers with Rusty during graveyard shifts at the docks.
“The guys were all telling me to take my talent and get out of there. The job was really hard physically and we worked in freezing winters and blazing hot summers. They all showed up for my first performance at A Little Bit of Magic in the Southside of Chicago. It scared the heck out of the owner: all these huge enormous guys drinking him out of house and home.”
Murray’s father was the hard sell. “I didn’t tell him about the first show because I was afraid to tell him. My dad was a teamster and a truck driver. So was my brother.” Murray mimics his father’s voice. “What do you think this is? Disneyworld? You’re in the Union! You can’t quit this job!” After a few months, Murray got up the courage to show his dad an advertisement for the show in the newspaper. His father said, “So what. The ventriloquist has the same name as you.”
“He came to see the show and so did all the guys from work. Later they asked, ‘who was that guy banging on the table and laughing so loud?’ That was my father,” says Murray.
Matilda replaced Rusty Riley and several subsequent puppets when Murray met artist Verna Finley at a ventriloquist convention in Kentucky. “She makes soft sculpture puppets. They look less creepy than wooden dummies. I described a Caribbean type character to Verna. She’s such a great artist! When you pick Matilda up she seems to come to life.”
And come to life she does daily at The D Hotel. Matilda cuts loose with a rapid stream of discourse on the discomforts of traveling in today’s harried security-minded environment. She disses electronic message systems and directories. She wages war on the redundancy of modern medicine and the numerous potential side effects of prescription and over-the-counter drugs. And Matilda has a hysterically funny take on bureaucracy in Miami, Florida.
Patrick Murray seems as dazzled as his audience by his dusky-skinned, beaded and brazen sidekick. His lips never move even when Matilda is on an atomic rant. “It takes a lot of practice to keep sharp,” admits Murray. “You have to really concentrate. You’re trying to do manipulation, the accent, the jokes, and moving the puppet. There’s so much going on. You have to concentrate.”
When asked how he manages to do a duet with Matilda, Murray chuckles. “It’s a trick. When people ask me that I always say, ‘if you had a hand where I had my hand you’d be singing too!’”
Hopefully you won’t be singing anything other than praises at the “Ja-Makin’-Me-Laugh” comedy matinee at the D Hotel. I can guarantee that you, mon, you will be laughin’ off da booty! – Christine McKellarFor tickets and show times click here http://www.thed.com/entertainment/ or call the D at 800-274-5825. Tickets are priced at $21.95 for general admission and $27.01 for VIP which includes one complimentary beverage.