David Pendleton was only six years old when his grandparents bought him a toy Charlie McCarthy dummy along with a Jimmy Nelson record called Instant Ventriloquism. “That record album spawned a new era of ventriloquists,” he said. “It taught the principles of comedic timing, scripting and composing a good dialogue between yourself and your character. Most performers of my age learned from that album including Jeff Dunham, Dan Horn and many of my contemporaries.”
The choice of birthday gifts proved impactful to his future. Today, he entertains audiences around the globe as a comedian and ventriloquist. He regularly performs for sold-out crowds at the Blue Gate Theater and Restaurant in his home state of Indiana, and he also appears on cruises with Chuck Swindoll, David Jeremiah, Charles Stanley, and Bill and Gloria Gaither. He was a frequent guest on the Daren Streblow Comedy Show on iHeartRadio, and he sometimes tours with Ken Davis and Tim Hawkins, two of his fellow members of the Christian Comedy Association, for which he serves on the board.
He has appeared on Bananas, a Sky Angel Network production that featured family-oriented clean comedians every week. He also performs a few times a year in One, a show at Myrtle Beach’s Alabama Theater, and he has been featured at numerous corporate functions, fundraisers, and performing arts theaters across the country.
On Saturday, February 17, he will bring his act to the New Covenant CCCU in Waverly along with his sidekicks Aunt Tilly (a 94-year-old spinster), Vern (an albino vulture), Buford (a hound dog) and his main character, Mack Elroy (a quick-witted troublemaker). Admission is free, and the show begins at 6 p.m. with doors opening at 5 p.m.
Originally from Urbana, Ohio, he gave his first performance to a “real audience” at age 8 during a cub scout talent show, and he was hooked. At age 11, he attended his first of many ventriloquist conventions held annually at the Vent Haven Museum Fort Mitchell, Kentucky on the outskirts of Cincinnati. This museum, which opened in 1973, houses a collection of more than 700 figures, thousands of photographs and playbills, and a library of books, all collected by puppet collector W. Shakespeare Berger. It was at Vent Haven that David first saw the McElroy dummies. (More about those later).
During his high school years, he did his “solid 25-minute act” for several civic groups in his local community, including nursing home talent shows. “I was fun and cheap entertainment,” he said, and this gave him some extra spending money while he also stayed involved in normal school activities. Following graduation, he majored in telecommunications at Ohio University in Athens and graduated in 1986. (Author’s note: He and I discovered during our interview that we both graduated from OU the same year.)
During his college years, he landed a job performing daily at King’s Island, a theme park near Cincinnati, and he began to consider entertainment as a long-term career.
“I loved King’s Island,” he said, and he enjoyed working with other aspiring performers. “That’s when I got serious about getting better at it. There is something about doing your show every day, five or six times a day, that really helps you develop your craft.” He was obviously good at what he did, as he was asked to come back to the park for several years.
Back at school, he also got involved with Campus Crusade for Christ, now CRU (cru.org), and he has worked 30-plus years as a comedian/ventriloquist performer for the organization. He also works for churches and a wide variety of different groups, both religious and secular.
He and his wife Lynda live in the Indianapolis suburb of Fishers. Their son Josh will graduate in media from Indiana University in May, and their son Jacob studies software development at Full Sail University in Winter Park, Florida.
A Unique Character
Mack Elroy’s many mechanical movements include floating side-to-side eyes, crossing eyes, upper lip sneer, stick-out tongue, floating eyebrows, wiggle ears, wiggle nose, light-up nose, and a flip-up fright wig, and he is a “single winker.” Check out David’s 2013 video demonstrating these many features HERE.
His puppet, Mack Elroy is named in honor of his creators, the McElroy brothers from Cincinnati. George and Glenn were two of the most famous ventriloquist figure makers of the 20th century. He is a rare find since according to David, the McElroys only made around 40-50 dummies with 30 known to still be in existence (nine of them are at the museum).
After seeing the McElroy characters at the museum, he dreamed of owning one someday, but they came at a high price. He had even tried to purchase one at a ventriloquist convention in Las Vegas in 1995 until he found out the cost was $13,000!
Then in 2002 following a performance, he was approached by a lady who told him she was touched by his message. She went on to say she had inherited her grandfather’s dummy, and she would like for it to be back in the hands of a ventriloquist who could carry on the legacy. Would he like to see it? When she mentioned it was made by a “couple guys in Ohio,” he jumped at the chance. Once he visited her home and found out she indeed possessed an original McElroy, he made the purchase, and Mack has been a big part of his act ever since.
David had the opportunity to meet the McElroy brothers at a ventriloquist convention and get their autographs when he was a teenager. They are now deceased, but he says there are some young people coming up who replicate their techniques and the things they incorporated into their mechanics. One is Austin Phillips who is working on a new character for David named Sergeant Boorah.
David Loves What He Does
And he especially enjoys the opportunity to meet so many different people. “It’s very gratifying when people come up after my show and tell me they really needed to laugh after a hard week, month or year, and they laughed until they cried, or until their stomach hurt, and they are so thankful,” he said.
He also shares with his audiences about what it means to have a relationship with Jesus Christ, and many come to him after the show to tell him how meaningful that was to them and how it really made them think. He gets this response the most at outreach events where his performance is immediately followed up by the opportunity for audience members to connect with counselors, such as when he performs at a prison. “That’s when I feel that it’s the most meaningful,” he said.
David and a few of his comedy friends had an interesting wilderness adventure a couple years ago. Comedian Ken Davis tells his version of the story HERE.
He generally co-writes his material with his friends who are comedy writers in the business. “I’m always looking for things, anything that makes me laugh.” In addition, he includes some musical elements in his show to keep it fun.
If he had a chance to live his life over, would he choose the same career? He says he doesn’t know what he would have done if he hadn’t become a ventriloquist. “I’m very grateful for the opportunities I’ve had to get to go to the places I’ve been and to meet and become friends with really special people because of what I do. It’s awesome.”
Find out more about David HERE.