“When I was a kid, you could make a phone call and talk to a human and nowadays, it’s all automated,” explained Terry Fator of the inspiration behind his newest character Rusty the Robot who he introduced into his show, “Terry Fator: The Voice of Entertainment,” last week. “So, I thought it would be kind of fun if there was a robot [character] that’s going to take over every job at The Mirage and then I find out, while I’m talking to [Rusty in the show], that he is going to take over my job too.” However, regardless of the puppet’s intentions, the Vegas ventriloquist’s thriving career is alive, well and protected against any proposed robot takeovers as he enters into his sixth year as a headlining performer at The Mirage.
And even with Rusty’s threats of replacing Terry considering the new puppet is capable of singing virtually any song in any voice, with more than half of a decade of performances at The Mirage (and since without the ventriloquist well…you know), Fator says that his experience as a headliner has been, “Surreal. It’s amazing and I guess when I look at it and I think man, six years of a successful show in Vegas is such an unbelievable thing and the oddest part about it is that it never occurred to me that it wouldn’t work.”
Making it work by continuously updating his show with new materials and characters, we caught up with the multi-talented performer and even got to know Rusty a little bit better too.
Q&A with Terry Fator and Rusty the Robot
Q: Terry, how did you begin your career in ventriloquism?
A: Well, you know, I tried to think of anything that I could do that would make me a person who would be able to keep from getting beat up. I was a little scrawny kid and bullies were always picking on me so, I found that if I was able to make them laugh and play tricks on them like throw my voice and stuff, it actually kept the bullies away from me. So that’s one of the reasons why I started doing it.
Q: You didn’t get bullied for playing with dolls?
A: No because most of the time I would just be doing it with humor and stuff and then once I started performing for the school and for the class and everything, the dummies were always so funny that they never, I don’t think they ever put it together that it was a doll. I would have been in trouble if they had.
Q: If ventriloquism didn’t end up working out for you, what career do you think you would have instead?
A: That’s a good question. What’s the dental plan from “Thunder from Down Under?” No just kidding, I don’t know. I didn’t care what I did as an entertainer; I just wanted to be an entertainer. I didn’t care. So I was like if ventriloquism doesn’t work out, I’ll be a singer or I’ll be a comedian or I’ll be something, as long as I’m on stage.
Q: Terry, what is a fun or interesting fact about being a ventriloquist that most people do not know?
A: Did you know a ventriloquist invented the artificial heart? And, the disposable razor. Paul Winchell is his name. Paul Winchell and Jerry Mahoney. He also did the voice of Tigger on the Winnie the Pooh cartoons but he was an inventor and he patented the first artificial heart that is still used now in surgeries.
Q: What has been your most embarrassing moment during your ventriloquism career?
A: Well, there are a lot of embarrassing moments. Mostly when the puppet’s mouth, if the string breaks… but probably the most embarrassing was I went on stage and they were playing the playoff to go and get the new puppet and I brought the wrong puppet on stage. I’m sitting there and I look over and I went, ‘oh my gosh!’ and I ran back, and grabbed the other puppet and I couldn’t stop laughing for like five minutes because I just couldn’t believe it. It was the funniest thing because the lights came up and I looked down and I realized I had the wrong puppet. So that was embarrassing and funny at the same time.
Q: When you’re not performing, how do you like to spend your time?
A: Skydiving… I’m just kidding. I don’t do anything dangerous at all – never. I play video games. I love to go to movies. I try to go to a movie at least every couple of days after shows. I love to do that. And I like to play PS4, I like to play Destiny.
Q: What is your favorite spot to eat here in Vegas?
A: I like to eat at home. I like to cook, I’m a cook. But if I do eat out, it’s probably going to be [at The Mirage] at Stack. And that’s not just a plug because I work here, it really is amazing and their homemade jelly donuts are probably one of the best things I’ve ever had. So it’s probably Stack.
Q: Explain the relationship you have with your puppets… they are so real… but they aren’t. I feel like it could be a little strange walking into a room and they are all just hanging out. Is it strange sometimes?
A: Rusty: He can’t talk about it, it’s a family show.
Terry: No, no actually there is this kind of relationship with the characters and here’s the reason why; I don’t really believe they are real, obviously not. You have to be psychotic to think they are real. However, I have to at some level believe and treat them as if they are real. If I don’t, you’re not going to believe it. So there has to be that kind of relationship where I have to be able to separate my psyche and say this is not me doing this; this is a completely separate entity and then sometimes, a joke will literally come into my head so fast and through the puppet’s mouth that it’s actually funny to me. It’s just one of those things that happen so fast and you just have to allow yourself to become that character and let them take on their own personal personality. It’s a very odd, strange thing but it’s just something that in order to be successful as a ventriloquist you have to be able to do.
Q: So it’s an acquired skill?
A: Absolutely. Tens of thousands of hours of practice, yeah.
Q: How often do you use your ventriloquism and impersonation skills to mess with people?
A: Oh, I love to [mess with people]. Like I’ll be sitting and talking with someone and I’ll throw my voice and then I do my own echo. I like to do that when I’m doing sound checks so it’s little things like that.
Q: How does it feel to celebrate your sixth year as a headlining act at The Mirage?
A: Surreal. It’s amazing and I guess when I look at it and I think man, six years of a successful show in Vegas is such an unbelievable thing and the oddest part about it is that it never occurred to me that it wouldn’t work. You know, apparently I talked to some of the people that brought me into The Mirage and they say, ‘man, you know my butt was really on the line here because they told me that if this failed that I would be fired’ you know, and it never occurred to me that people weren’t going to like what I do because it’s just fun. The show is geared intellectually for adults. It’s not a dirty show but intellectually the show is geared for the adult intellect. But yet kids like it because there are puppets but it just gives you 90 minutes of kind of becoming a kid again and laughing and enjoying yourself and music and it’s a little bit of everything so I knew people would love it.
Q: What was the inspiration behind Rusty?
A: Rusty: I decided I wanted to take over the show.
Terry: Yeah, exactly. So that’s kind of what I thought, it would be fun to have a robot. Because everything is going automated. So much of what we had when we were kids… when I was a kid you could make a phone call and talk to a human and nowadays it’s all automated. So I thought it would be kind of fun if there was a robot that’s going to take over every job at The Mirage and then I find out while I’m talking to him that he is going to take over my job too.
Rusty: That’s right, I can take over his job too.
Q: So Rusty, are you kind of an evil robot?
A: Rusty: Oh no, I’m just a robot. I don’t have an emotion chip. I’m not evil or good. I’m just a robot.
Q: Do you get along with the other puppets?
A: Rusty: Absolutely not because I’m going to replace all of them.
Terry: Well, so says he.
Q: What makes you unique from the other puppets?
A: Rusty: Because I am anatomically correct.
Terry: No you’re not! He thinks it is.
Rusty: That’s what they told me in my programming.
Q: Since you can impersonate virtually any voice, will you sing a little Garth Brooks for us?
A: Rusty: (begins singing Garth Brook’s “Friends in Low Places” in a very quiet voice)
Terry: No, no, no she doesn’t mean a little Garth Brooks, he is very literal I’m sorry, she means sing some Garth Brooks.
Rusty: Oh, sorry… (continues to sing “Friends in Low Places”)
Q: You were just introduced to the world last week… so far, what is the best part about your new found stardom?
A: Rusty: Oh it’s fantastic. I just love the women.
Terry: The women?
Rusty: The women can’t get enough of me. But don’t worry. I practice safe sex. I use WD40.
Q: What do you like to do in your free time?
A: Rusty: Oh, I just like to sit.
Rusty: Yeah. Usually my batteries are running down.
Q: So you’re powered by batteries?
A: Rusty: Yes. I use more batteries than all of the women who like “Fifty Shades of Grey”
Q: What are your hobbies?
A: Rusty: Telling dirty jokes.
Terry: Apparently. No, what kind of hobbies do you have?
Rusty: Oh, I have no hobbies. Not unless I’m programmed. I do a lot of solitaire.
Q: How were you given your name? You look pretty squeaky clean.
A: Rusty: I used to work at the Bellagio Fountains.
Q: Who would win a fight… you the Terminator or Wall-E?
A: Rusty: As Michael Jackson told Paul McCartney, (in a Michael Jackson voice) ‘I’m a lover not a fighter.’
Q: Rusty, what is a fun fact about yourself?
A: Rusty: I have no fun facts. Oh yes, you have to see there is a special surprise about me that you only get to see if you see the show.
Terry: If you want to see the special surprise about Rusty, it is very funny and quite unusual.