David Strassman believes in magic – and so do his audiences by the conclusion of his shows. A difficult performer to categorize, he combines classic ventriloquism with an intricate balance of comedy, magic and illusion, virtually bringing his puppets to life before our eyes. Chuck Wood, who most frequently accompanies Strassman on stage, is a puppet who dreams of being a "real boy." With Strassman in control, Chucks dream doesnt seem altogether out of the question. For the finale of their act together, Chuck abruptly fires Strassman for treating him like a puppet. Strassman storms off stage leaving the limp puppet on a stand, and the audience on the edge of their seats, waiting and cheering, "You can do it, Chuck!" After several tense moments, the puppet "comes to life" with a routine designed to startle any audience; Chuck out heckles his hecklers, responding without missing a beat. Of course, he does eventually rehire his friend Strassman.
David began his show business career at age twelve. After seeing his first magic show, nothing his parents said could squelch his determination to try his hand at magic. His psychiatrist father, sure that the boys enthusiasm was nothing more than a phase, purchased five professional sleight of hand tricks to "get it out of Davids system." Quite the opposite occurred. Difficult though they were, young David immediately mastered the tricks and staged a show in his backyard for the neighborhood kids. For 59 cents, they got 15 minutes of professional magic, the finale of which had the young magician vanishing in a cloud of smoke.
The next major step of Strassmans career came about in junior high when he had to decide between math, French and ventriloquism for an elective class. He chose the latter. Illusionist that he was, Strassman showed the unusual talent for ventriloquism, imbuing his puppet with such an amusing and life-like persona that his teacher lost no time in encouraging him to market his skills. He showcased his talent at neighborhood parties, putting together short programs with two minutes of ventriloquism and 15 minutes of magic, and sent away to Wisconsin for his first "Chuck Wood." "It seems like Chuck was born with his personality," says Strassman. "In a way, he represents another side of me, but sometimes he comes back with a response that surprises even me!"
After high school, Strassman was accepted at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York, where he studied acting. It was his father who first suggested that he try street performing. "I guess he figured if I was going to waste my life acting, I might as well try to keep from starving," say David. "The idea seemed absurd at first, but went to Central Park, found a bench and pulled out a puppet. In 10 minutes, I had made $15, and street performing began to seem a great deal more logical!" The enterprising young man quickly worked out a lucrative schedule of working the Village Friday and Saturday nights, Wall Street during lunchtime and Broadway just before the theatre. Before long, he was one of New Yorks favorite street performers, making such an impact that he has since seen included in several books chronicling the great comics.
Eventually, he went in search of new turf, playing the streets of London, then the nightspots of Paris. His first headlining offer came from a Parisian cabaret, which Strassman describes as "wild like something out of a movie!"
After conquering Europe, Strassman returned to New York, where he played comedy houses such as The Improv, The Comic Strip and Catch A Rising Star, first as an opening act, working his way up to headliner. His first professional gig was at The Playboy Club in New York where he claims to have made more money in a week that he made in s year performing on the streets. In 1979, he took his act to the West Coast, breaking into the highly competitive comedy circuit at such hot spots as The Comedy Store, The Improv and the Magic Castle. Signing on with personal manager Rick Marcelli, who launched the highly successful career of David Copperfield, Strassman made great strides in refining his act with Chuck. He geared his material predominately toward family and television audiences, making appearances on a number of television shows including "American Bandstand," "The Paul Rodriguez Special," and "The Late Show". His film credits include "Whats Happening to Walter," starring Vic Dunlop, which is currently in production at Paramount, New Worlds "Humanoids From The Deep," and Orions "The Wanderers," as well as several others. He was recently featured in a Showtime special, "Showtime Comedy Club," which is set for a summer airdate. It was Strassmans screen appearance, which led to his recent string of Ralphs commercials where he uses a "Wood-like" puppet to promote the grocery-store chain.
Strassman enjoys taking his talents on the road at every opportunity. In addition to appearances at Caesars Palace, Las Vegas; Caesars, Atlantic City; John Ascuagas Nugget, Reno and the Las Vegas Sands Hotel, he regularly performs at clubs throughout the US.
Several years ago, Strassman decided it was time for Chuck to go solo – "he had been threatening to do so for years." With the help of a friend who had contributed to the design of the Titan missile system, Strassman began engineering robotics which were ultimately machined at the NASA research facility in Berkeley. Chuck then under went a series of "surgeries" which rendered him capable of standing alone, with Strassman controlling by remote from up to a mile away.
When asked about his future, Strassman replies, "My ultimate goal is to bring to life a whole little world of puppets. Their personalities and the values they embody are as endless as my imagination." The latest addition to his comedy team is Ted E. Bare, Chucks roommate and antithesis, who has a warm, endearing, naïve personality. Ted E. Bare is already equipped with a car that he is capable of driving. Since Strassman is a pilot, Ted may consider taking up flying. Also in the works is Audrey, Chucks girlfriend, who is a frequent subject of the teams material, but has not yet made her stage debut. Aside from their comedic value, Strassman finds that his puppets are extremely effective in commanding the attention of children, making them powerful educational aids. Although Chuck Wood may be more than a little mischievous, he often speaks out on issues such as drugs and politics, thus taking opportunities to reinforce positive social values. "But," says Strassman, "what I like best about Chuck is that he works real cheap!"