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Local ventriloquist to appear at Ga. Tech

By Jason A. Smith

jsmith@henryherald.com

A local comedian is hoping that his brand of "clean comedy" will attract a wide range of audiences this weekend.

Ventriloquist Willie Brown, of McDonough, will perform today at Georgia Tech, at 7 p.m.

Brown, 47, said his passion for ventriloquism was born when he was a child.

"I was really into magic," he said. "I love the art of magic, and I was amazed by the art. Ventriloquism is very similar, because it's an illusion."

Brown said his desire to perform was given a boost in 1980, when he 15 years old. He said he was awarded the title of "most promising ventriloquist" at an event in Fort Mitchell, Ky.

Brown began to hone his skills, drawing inspiration from ventriloquist, Jay Johnson, who appeared on the 1970s television series, "Soap," with a dummy named Bob. Brown said the show further influenced him to follow his dream.

"I took a home-study course that I found in the back of a comic book," he said. "I followed everything it told me to do, and became a professional."

Brown said he performed in talent shows and at other events while he was in college. He said that over the years, he has sometimes struggled to find an audience because of the popularity of other types of entertainment.

"You see singers and you see dancers, but you don't see ventriloquists," he said.

Brown said he was later a featured performer at the Comedy Store in Los Angeles, Calif., which he calls "a rite of passage for any comedian." He said although the experience was good for his ego, it "wasn't really totally fulfilling."

Making an adjustment in his work as an entertainer, Brown started to perform at various churches. He said doing so has benefited his Christian faith, and his life overall.

"It changed my whole focus on what I'm trying to do," he said. "That's why I started the Clean Comedy Clinic. We call ourselves The Laugh Doctors. We heal you with our medicine."

Places of worship which have featured Brown in recent years include Higher Living Christian Church in Hampton, and Tabernacle of Praise and Agape International Ministries, both in McDonough.

Lucius McDowell, the pastor at Agape International Ministries, said he saw Brown perform last year during a comedy event at the church. McDowell described the experience as a "tremendous blessing," and said Brown has "mastered" the art of ventriloquism in a manner which appeals to people of all ages and backgrounds.

"He's got jokes for everyone, from a cross-cultural perspective," said McDowell. "There's not a dry moment within his presentation."

As Brown's career in ventriloquism has progressed, he has incorporated two characters into his performances - Woody and Uncle Rufus.

"Woody's my main character," he said. "He's a homeboy type of guy ... my sidekick. He's cool, he's hip and he's smart, and he's got a good heart for the most part."

As he created Uncle Rufus, Brown said he was inspired fellow comedian, Jeff Dunham, and Dunham's dummy named Walter. Brown said he also used his personal experiences to develop the character.

"I sent pictures of my father, my uncle James, and [actor] Ossie Davis to the guy who made [Uncle Rufus] ... in the Philippines," said Brown.

Sensing he was a topic of conversation during a recent interview with Brown, Uncle Rufus began to reveal more about himself. Speaking to Brown in a gruff voice, the character proudly announced he is the "head deacon" at his church.

"Why are you the head deacon?" Brown asked.

"'Cause they wouldn't let me be the pastor," said Uncle Rufus.

"Why wouldn't they let you be the pastor?" asked Brown.

"'Cause I'm the head deacon," Uncle Rufus answered.

Brown, who has two children, said he considers himself to be "evolving" as a performer. He said he hopes the audience at Georgia Tech will see it is possible to be both "clean and funny" at the same time.

"A lot of people think that if it's clean, it's not funny, but that's not true," said Brown. "Remember, I come from comedy clubs. You have to be funny in comedy clubs, or they'll chew you up and spit you out. My show's going to make your stomach hurt."

Brown will be performing at Georgia Tech's Ferst Center for the Arts, during the "11th Commandment: Thou Shall Laugh!" show. Tickets to all events at the Ferst Center are sold through the Ferst Center Box Office at (404) 894-9600.

For more details, visit www.williebrownandwoody.com.