AS she prepares to play Solihull as part of this year’s Birmingham Comedy Festival, ventriloquist Nina Conti reveals the secrets of her craft.
“There’s still a sort of stigma attached to it,” says Nina, talking about a talent that has time-and-time again been described as a dying art.
“I will do my best to make people see it in a different light.”
So what is the secret to the act? What separates those performers who get booked for the Royal Variety Show from those whose hand-knitted sidekick is quickly banished back to the box?
“Integral to the work of a ventriloquist, for me, is finding funny characters. If you do that the ventriloquism itself almost becomes irrelevant.
“Also, believability is important so that your distance from the character is natural and not wooden - looking like you are listening rather than looking like you’ve had a botox treatment. Oh, and try not to move your lips!”
She first picked up a puppet in her early twenties, when the entertainer Ken Campbell sent her a “teach yourself” kit.
“I had never been interested in ventriloquism and still wasn’t, but Ken had a way about him, that impels you to do his bidding.
“So I tried it out. I filmed myself doing it, so that I had hard evidence to show him that it wasn’t for me, but lo and behold I impressed myself in the video.”
She has come up with a number of characters to take on stage, but her favourite is a mischievous monkey who “doesn’t suffer fools gladly.”
“He’s also got a kind mouth and for some reason I imbue that with great intelligence. I expect him to be able to say something rather profound.
“He doesn’t let me down and I enjoy him as a character for his wisdom.”
While she admits the simian is essentially a glorified oven glove, she wasn’t persuaded to swap him for a costly custom-latex puppet.
The character took months to build and was probably Nina’s most extravagant purchase but was nonetheless cut from the show.
While the 39-year-old has recently appeared on such primetime programmes as QI, Live at the Apollo and Let’s Dance for Comic Relief, she hadn’t always sought the big stage.
“I was quite keen to avoid going into acting because it seemed deeply unoriginal and my parents were both actors.
“So I studied philosophy instead of going to drama school and thought hard about our life in the universe, how arbitrary existence is, our moral imperatives, and I emerged three years later a wannabe actress.”
Nina Conti: Dolly Mixtures is at Solihull Arts Complex on October 5. Tickets available on 0121 704 6962.