Parkview Elementary students had a few special guests at school Wednesday afternoon — comedian and ventriloquist Todd Oliver and his friends, Joey and Irving, who happens to be a talking dog.
Parkview was one of several Sedalia School District 200 schools treated to a performance from Todd Oliver and friends this week, prior to his Saturday performance at the Heckart Performing Arts Center at Smith-Cotton High School.
“I started out doing school assembly shows and over the years we’ve done thousands of them,” Oliver told the Democrat after his performance. “I used to tour schools exclusively. My first school show was in 1971 when I was 13. All the kids at all the (Sedalia) schools were just great.”
Oliver got his start as a child when he saw ventriloquist acts on variety shows.
“It just knocked me out that these little wooden-headed characters were so funny and charming. I went to the library and my teacher helped me and I found every book I could find on it,” he said. “I got a job working at a riding stable, saved up my money and bought Joey Clark, my first character. I just started out as a volunteer when I was a teenager. I did shows every week, and when you’re constantly doing three to four shows a week, you’re getting another education — the audience is a great teacher.”
Soon being a ventriloquist was “like a hobby that got out of hand.” Oliver got an agent and was booked on shows. In the 1980s, Oliver traveled the world on cruise ships performing his ventriloquist act, then ended up on a showboat in Nashville, Tennessee, and did a few television shows there.
“That’s when I got the idea for the talking dog,” Oliver said. “With the dog I invented the illusion that he’s a talking dog. That happened in 1996 and right away we got booked on shows.”
Oliver has appeared on several shows, including “The Tonight Show,” “Late Night With David Letterman” and “The Today Show.” Viewers may also recognize him from “America’s Got Talent,” where he made it to the top four. He also performed for 13 years on the showboat in Branson.
He no longer performs in Branson and has gone back to touring, and he noted he booked Sedalia in December so he could be near home, Springfield, for Christmas. After recent shows in Minnesota and Chicago, Oliver said he is “looking foward” to the Sedalia show this weekend.
Oliver’s shows are all family-friendly. During his performance at Parkview, he was joined by Joey and Irving, with both getting big laughs from the student audience. Oliver said several more characters are included in his Saturday show, which will be about 75 minutes. The show, with all original material, also includes multimedia elements.
“The big deal is families laughing together, kids and parents laughing at the same time. That’s the goal,” Oliver said. “I think that’s a very special moment for families, especially now more than ever in the world that we live in.”
Tickets for Oliver’s Saturday performance are $15 for adults, $10 for kids, and children 5 and under are free. Tickets will be available at the door the night of the show, or can be purchased in advance at toddoliverandfriends.eventbrite.com. Doors will open at 6 p.m. for the 7 p.m. show.
For more information, visit www.funnydog.com.
Nicole Cooke can be reached at 660-530-0138 or on Twitter @NicoleRCooke.