Friday, April 25, 2014

Otto And George

Wednesday April 23rd, 2014 – Island Lake, IL

   I heard more sad news today that another outstanding comedian has died. The year is not even half over yet, and there have already been too many of these kinds of stories to report. This time it happens to be another tremendous talent that I personally crossed paths with, and it’s painful.

    Otto Petersen was without question THE funniest ventriloquist I have ever seen. Not only that, if I had to narrow it down to the top two or three laugh out loud funny acts period of all time, his name would be included in the conversation right up there with Rodney, Carlin or anyone else.

   I worked with Otto and his figure George at Zanies Comedy Club in Vernon Hills several years ago. “Otto and George” was a huge act on the east coast, and I had heard of them (him) for years. Otto had a reputation of being a monster act, and comedians would speak of him with reverence.

   Very rarely does something so trumped up beforehand live up to the hype, but Otto and George not only did that - they surpassed it by far. I hosted four weekend shows, so I got to watch the act four straight times. Laugh for laugh, it was right up there with the absolute best I have ever seen.

   There are always exceptions to every rule, and Otto was a shining example. His act was off the charts as far as comparing it to anyone else’s anywhere. For one thing, he was beyond just being “off color” or “dirty” to the point of almost being a felony. His act was a mix of raw, rude, vile, vulgar, coarse, disgusting, racist, sexist, lowbrow, shocking – and absolutely 100% brilliance. 

   It takes a LOT to make most comedians flinch, as we’ve seen it all. I saw a lot before I ever got into comedy, but the first time I saw Otto and George live it made me cringe in utter horror – and also convulse in laughter. That guy took NO prisoners, and subtlety wasn’t part of his repertoire.

   A lot of times an act will attempt to work ‘the edge’ – that imaginary line that separates what is considered to be in good taste and what is considered inappropriate subject matter. Sometimes an entertainer ventures slightly across the line whether calculated or not, and it can be controversial. It creates comedic tension, and when done well can be very effective. Working the edge is an art.

   What I loved about Otto was that there was no tension involved whatsoever. He would venture out WAY past the line, and not worry about straddling it. He got away with it because he wasn’t the perceived bad guy – George was. That’s why it worked so well, and he took full advantage.

   I have a ventriloquist friend that went to see Otto and George, and he said “It was ok, but Otto is a terrible ventriloquist. His lips move all the time.” He was the ONLY one that would happen to notice that, because the rest of the audience was too busy laughing. He destroyed for the entire weekend, and I am fortunate to have been able to work with him. He was in a class by himself.

   We talked a bit between shows, and he was very reserved and down to earth. We hit it off, and I liked him a lot. He was also a dented can as most great performers are, and that’s probably why we bonded. I felt his pain. He passed way too young, and the world is less funny because of it.

Otto (Petersen) and George is THE funniest ventriloquist act I've ever seen, and one of the funniest live acts period. What a terrific talent, and nice person too. He passed way too young, and I'm very sad to hear of it.

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