I spend too much time looking at Facebook. I try to avoid it. But it seems to be in my habitual repertoire of morning activities. I go back and forth between email, Twitter and Facebook looking for something to change. Something to spark my interest. Rarely is there anything. I’m procrastinating doing the work I should be doing. Whether that work is for my job or the work of writing.
I scrolled through the posts on the Atlanta Comedy FB page, a page predominately followed by current or aspiring comedians in and around the city. Most posts are promotional; open mics being put on by comedians; acting “schools” offering classes.; photographers promoting head shot packages. I scroll right past this stuff and a single post caught my eye. It was a photo of a flyer that had obviously been created as a Word document and converted to a jpeg. It contained a photo of a middle aged black man wearing black sports blazer over a black shirt and holding a black ventriloquist dummy. The caption above said “Anthony & Leroy.” I think of ventriloquist acts in the same regard I think of prop comedians. Ventriloquists are the original prop comedians. Their prop is a dummy. Without them the dummy is useless. Without the dummy, they don’t have an act. At first I wasn’t sure who was Anthony and who was Leroy. The names could be interchangeable. However, I did think the more hack and obviously pandering version was if the dummy was named Leroy. It was. Though Anthony was dressed all in black, Leroy was dressed in an outfit that looked very 1970s, complete with large Afro and colorful clothes with a large collar.
The flyer contained a website, a local phone number and the words “Available for Hire.” He was posting on the FB page to drum up work. I had to know more. I went to the website. There I learned that Anthony & Leroy have been an act since 1974… over 40 years! That’s an incredible amount of time to be hustling in the comedy world! The first hit on YouTube was a video of their act being performed on the street. Leroy yelling comments to passersby in an indeterminate city (which I could only assume was New York) in an indeterminate decade (my guess is sometime in the 1980s judging by the fashion). Later generations have seen Triumph the Insult Comic Dog basically do the same kind of thing. In the video, Leroy says some one-liners to people on the street while Anthony speaks into a microphone to provide the voice. After each joke, Anthony does an exaggerated physical laugh. It’s so big that it’s almost a prat fall. The scene instantly cuts to someone standing on the street laughing and you hear… an inserted laugh track. I found another YouTube video of the act performing at an amateur night at the famous Apollo Theater in NY (again it appears to be from the 1980s) to thunderous applause.
Here was an artist and performer trying to stay relevant in a comedy world that may have passed him by. It’s as if Anthony & Leroy had been sealed in a time capsule in 1985 and suddenly released in 2015 and trying to get back at it again where they left off. This is only what I could see from the videos.
As an human and artist, I fear getting old and no longer being relevant or feeling important. I’ve seen it many times in the comedian who is still doing an act that he honed over 20 years ago and who stopped writing. They may insert new pop culture reference into old routines but it’s the routine that feels dated. It’s like putting new tires on an old car. It frightened me. Someday that could be me. George Carlin stayed relevant right up until the day he died. That’s because he never stopped writing and evolving with times in which he was living. I hope Anthony & Leroy are doing the same thing.
I admire their hustle. The drive to get out there and do what you know and love in a world that may not be buying what you’re selling. You can still be a ventriloquist today. There are plenty. You have to update the props and material to reflect the current time. Just look at Jeff Dunham and Carrot Top. They’ve got shows in Las Vegas! I would love to see a black ventriloquist act that’s relevant to today. In the internet age, there’s an audience out there for everything. You just have to find it.
I don’t want to laugh at Anthony & Leroy. I want to laugh with them.
(I just realized that throughout this writing referring to the act as “they” as if Leroy was also a person. That just made me laugh. The world is absurd and wonderful.)