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Tony Nominee Q&A with Jay Johnson

Nominated for Best Special Theatrical Event, for Jay Johnson: The Two and Only. "Jay Johnson throughout his 30 year career, has converted generations of ventriloquist-avoiding Americans with his unique blend of charm, anarchy and innovative wit. In Jay Johnson: The Two and Only! he deconstructs and demonstrates his lifelong obsession, aided by a 'cast' that includes 'Bob,' 'Amigo,' 'Darwin,' 'Long John La Feat,' 'Nethernore – the bird of Death,' 'Spaulding,' 'Arthur Drew,' 'Jackie and Ga Ga,' and 'Squeaky,'" state press notes. "Best known for playing the schizophrenic role of Chuck and Bob on the groundbreaking television comedy, 'Soap,' Jay Johnson is widely regarded as one of the world's great living ventriloquists.

Ok, just assume that in this empty chair next to me is Bob.

Congratulations to you both then!

Thank you, somebody said – is this like your ultimate dream? And I said no, because what ventriloquist would dream about a Tony nomination?

Well, it is an acting form…

I've always seen ventriloquism as an acting form. It's not easily identified, but you are creating 2 characters at the same time, which is unusual for an actor to do.

Did you watch the nominations?

I don't read reviews and I'm very superstitious, so I didn't want to tune in, and said if something happens call me. If something happens, people always do. I hadn't woken up yet, but was in the middle of a nightmare, and in the dream we were obviously at some ceremony and it was obviously my dream, and I turned to my wife and said, "how'd it go?" She said "it was worse than you could imagine… Not only did you not get nominated, but they booed when they called out your name."

And then the phone rang and woke me up and it was Paul Kreppel, he's my director and he said "well…" and I thought this was still the dream, and he said – "we got it!" So for a few minutes, I was still figuring out if this was part of the dream, if it wasn't, and what exactly had happened.

And then the calls started flooding in?

We live on the West Coast, and it was still too early to call anyone so I'm going ok, ok, who can I call? The east coast already knows. So I'd call my friends, and say – "who of your friends was just nominated for a Tony? Me!" Bye. I never got tired of that joke, but I'm sure that they did.

Are you looking forward to the next few weeks and then to the awards themselves?

It'll be fun, and it'll be great and to be actually at Radio City is an honor. It's been a labor of love. I thought that the journey would be to tour around the country and then to maybe make it to Broadway. Instead it kind of happened in reverse that we made it to Broadway first before we started taking it out. Either way is really fine by me, I just wanted to keep doing the show and to keep having great audiences.

How has the show been doing on the road?

It's been doing great and we've been playing all over the place. We're lucky because our show can accordion to various sizes and we've even done the show with an intermission, which I don't like to have to do. It's a very expandable and contractible night that keeps it from being the same all the time which is how I like it and makes it easy to travel with.

Aside from the tour, what's next for you?

That's the problem – when you've worked on some dream for so long and someone says – what's next? It feels like I've got to start 30 years ago but it might be that I'm too old to do it! But there are definitely ideas and some talk about other projects. Somebody was talking about the idea of the arts of magic, ventriloquism and juggling and why does someone choose to do those vs. acting or singing and why do they want to do that and what draws them to it. They tell me that a magician is a juggler who can't do ventriloquism so that's how it begins…

Photo by Ben Strothmann

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