Oliver combines love of puppets, puppies

Combining his three loves in life – dogs, ventriloquism and rock ‘n’ roll – Todd Oliver will bring his show, “Todd Oliver and Friends” to the Community Arts Center, 220 W. Fourth St., beginning at 7:30 p.m. Friday.

Oliver, who calls Missouri home, developed an interest in ventriloquism when he was just 10 years old.

“I saw them on TV and I was just charmed by the whole art of ventriloquism,” he said. Oliver was gifted a dummy for Christmas, but the hobby was put on the back burner after his father passed away just three days after Christmas.

“When I was 13, I picked it back up again. I guess it was a hobby that got out of hand,” Oliver said. He volunteered in Minneapolis public schools, taking any gigs he could using ventriloquism. Through high school he performed two to three shows a week while earning high school credits at the same time.

He then advanced to school assembly tours, touring three to four towns a day, with multiple performances.

“It was a very hectic schedule, but I made just enough money from performing and it was great experience,” Oliver said.

Since then, Oliver has been building and perfecting his craft. His impressive list of appearances includes “The Today Show,”?”The Tonight Show with Jay Leno,” “The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson,” “The Late Show with Dave Letterman” and “America’s Got Talent,” where he was a semi-finalist.

“When they (America’s Got Talent) called the first couple times, I passed,” Oliver said of the opportunity. “I wasn’t comfortable being in a talent competition. But a tornado hit the theater in Branson, Mo., where I had been performing, and it knocked me out of work for four months. ‘America’s Got Talent’ calls at the same time. I just thought, I better do this. I had a good reason to do it.” After the misfortune of the tornado, Oliver decided to take the plunge. He and his dog Irving went in front of an audience of thousands, including judges Howard Stern, Howie Mandell and Sharon Osbourne, making it to the semi-finals in 2012.

The show doubled his viewership and also provided a learning experience.

“It was challenging in that I had to write material that was current, but I rose to the occasion. And they treated me very nice. It’s definitely been opening a few doors,” he said.

Those doors include releasing his own taped special on DVD debuting April 8, available through Walmart and Amazon.

In his show, Oliver combines the original music of his band, Smiling Eyes; puppetry with the puppets, Pops, Miss Lilly and Joey; and canine companions, Lucy, a Westie mix and Irving, a Boston terrier.

The personalities for the puppets came from personal inspiration of people Oliver had met – Joey was a smart aleck kid with big eyes; Miss Lilly a representation of his mother’s friends; and Pops was fashioned after a mixture of an uncle and a neighbor who Oliver always remembered as being a funny old man.

“After doing thousands of shows, the personality just develops. You have a relationship with the puppet, me and the audience. It’s a three-way type of dialogue as well because it’s a live show,” Oliver explained.

The relationship between Oliver and his dogs is seen on stage as well, with both dogs putting complete trust in him. They aren’t just business partners, the animals are his pets as well.

“They wag their tails when they go on stage. They like going to work and they like having things to do,” Oliver said. The animals are used to the sound and distraction of an audience, and are comfortable on stage. And while Lucy’s a little new to performing and not as seasoned as Irving, Oliver said she’s finding her way.

“These are my dogs; they feel secure when they are with me. They know they are safe. There is a trust and a faith,” he said. “And of course after the show everyone gets to love on the dogs, and they love that.”

With a hectic schedule, Oliver said he keeps calm by praying, reading and making sure to find places to take Lucy and Irving for a walk.

As for his show, Oliver said the show isn’t just for children. “I want to make people aware of this: it’s an all-ages comedy, but there’s nothing off color,” he said. “One of my favorite sounds is kids and parents laughing at the same time. That’s important in this day and age with the ever changing landscapes of families, pressures, stress, uncertainties. Families need to laugh together, I’m happy to be that.”

For more information on Todd Oliver, visit www.funnydog.com.

For ticket information, visit caclive.com or call 570-326-2424 or 800-432-7663.