He can be a devil, but since Chuck helped David Strassman win a Herald Angel, he's always forgiven.
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Like his sinister comic artistry, Strassman's technology is highly individual. His skills were acquired, not at college or on a film set, but by trial and error while on the road (he spends an average of nine months in every year touring). An e Recognition for these talents, however, has come only gradually to this 38-year-old Californian. This year's Festival - the first time he has been to Edinburgh - was the only occasion in which he had won an award: The Herald's own Angel, which he received, incongruously enough, in the august theatrical company of director Peter Stein and choreographer, Pina Bausch. And yet for Strassman it's a question of redirecting people to the scorned arts of traditional ventriloquism, and its lost dramatic potential, by fusing it with the best of stand-up: ``The last 12 years I've played the comedy circuit, and I'm one of very few ventriloquists who headline comedy clubs in the States. '' But it hasn't been easy, particularly in America where the idea of what is basically a variety act barely gets a look-in in the conservative world of television comedy: ``America, when it comes to the media, is very afraid to do something new and they think they know it all. My manager would say, `Well I've got this new act and he's a ventrilo......' and the answer was `No' before the word was even out.'' It is in Australia and, it now seems, in Britain that Strassman is truly making his mark. Having never appeared here before he was quickly tipped as a potential Perrier Award winner. It is said that only an erroneous perception of his star status in the States prevented him proceeding further in the contest, but the attention was enough to interest the BBC, who have signed him up for a whole slew of scheduled and putative appearances. But it's no surprise to him that Antipodean and European success have come more easily than it has on home turf. It is on these two opposite ends of the globe that he feels the darker side of comedy and variety performance, and their subversive aspects, are more readily appreciated. Already British audiences are going for Chuck in a big way. It's tempting to bring up the subject of schizophrenia, and ask whether either of them is affected by it or not. But Strassman is careful not to get too freaky. ``Chuck just does what we all wish we could do, which is challenge authority in whatever form it is - whether it's a mob, a group, a parent - he has that ability because he's not real.'' But, as he continues to explain how he is not really Chuck, Strassman makes an amusing slip of the Jung: ``You know he's real but he isn't ..... I mean, you know he's not real but you think he is.''
It's exactly this veneration - macabre and hilarious though it may be - that Strassman gives to his puppets which is bringing ventriloquism back to life again: ``My approach to this art form is from a totally different perspective to other ventriloquists. They seem to use it as a display of novelty - `I can talk fast, sing fast' - and it's much more surface. Because I have a theatrical background, and a background in improvisation - and because I'm twisted - I enjoy exploring all the depths of my characters.''
n.David Strassman makes his British TV debut on the bill of the Royal Variety Performance on November 10. A Stand Up Show special featuring him will be shown on BBC1 on November 30.