Denny Naughton performs Tuesday at CSPS. — video still
“The first show I did was a talent show,” Dennis Naughton said, reflecting on his adventures as a ventriloquist. His mother had some advice after that fledgling performance.
“Maybe next time you shouldn’t read the routine out a joke book,” she told him.
He won’t be reading out of a joke book when he performs at CSPS in the New Bohemia District on Tuesday, Nov. 14 at 7 p.m. The event, which will also feature Dubuque guitarist and singer Ralph Kluseman, is a benefit for the National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library, where Naughton’s spouse, Gail, is the president and CEO.
Naughton has come a long way since his act came out of a joke book. With the help of a book he ordered out of the back of a Batman comic book, he kept working, and eventually his talent with dummies helped him get smarter — he paid for college with the money he made doing frequent ventriloquism gigs with his first character, Benny.
“Benny paid my way through college,” Naughton said, “and it was a lot better than flipping burgers.”
After earning his law degree, he lived in Dubuque for nearly three decades. “I worked up and down the Mississippi River,” he recalled. Corporate gigs and other events kept him busy. Since coming to Cedar Rapids, however, he has performed far less.
“This is sort of my coming out of the closet event,” he said of the CSPS show with a chuckle.
Naughton heard the great Edgar Bergen and his dummy Charlie McCarthy on the radio as a boy. He was also influenced by Señor Wences, whose act he saw frequently on The Ed Sullivan Show; Paul Winchell, who he would see on television on Sunday afternoons during the 1950s and ’60s; and Jimmy Nelson, who is perhaps most famous for a series of Nestlé commercials. Among more recent practitioners of the art, Naughton admires Darci Lynne, who recently won America’s Got Talent at just 12 years old — just one year older than he was when he first started.
Naughton has a talent show victory to his credit, too. In 1967, he won the talent contest the Iowa State Fair. He returned to the fair in 2017 on the 50th anniversary of his victory; this time he garnered something entirely different: his first boo for material about the current president.
What sort of material will be featured during the upcoming Denny Naughton and Friends Show? Well, Naughton isn’t sure just yet. He tries to included topical material in his act, which can mean waiting until mere days before the show before coming up with the details of the performance.
Naughton loves sharing the talent he has honed over many years.
“It’s just fun to make people laugh,” he says. “It’s very satisfying if you’re able to do that.”
Tickets for the performance are $25 and can be purchased online or by calling 319-362-8500. Remaining tickets will be available at the door on the night of the performance.
North Liberty celebrates Iowans' least favorite time of year with a festival's-worth of physical, social and family-friendly events, including its first ice rink. Pre-registration begins Monday, Nov. 20.