Trailblazing ventriloquist, David Strasssman, is the ultimate puppet master. He talks about his new show, breaking into Nasa and snotty Kiwi celebs

Most people say they hate ventriloquists until they see your show.
Honestly, I feel the same way. If someone were to say to me: ‘Hey, let’s go see a ventriloquist or get your tooth pulled’, I’d opt for the tooth pulled. I don’t blame the world. First of all, it’s creepy if it’s not done right … there’s something weird about a bad ventriloquist. You can kinda see through the guy that he’s not a talent, that he’s just doing it cos he really does have a second personality or never got over with playing with dolls.

Do you feel like you are blazing a trail for other ventriloquists?
This year at Edinburgh, I think there’s a historical first, this will be the first time three ventriloquists [including Strassman] have ever played the festival at once.

So you’ve got some competition, too?
Nina Conti, she’s the only ventriloquist on the planet who I give two thumbs up to. I love her work, she is unique. She puts character in her puppets, but takes it a step further and goes theatrical … To me, the other ventriloquists are kind of a circus.

Tell us about your new show Duality.
It’s basically a two-man play about a very sick ventriloquist who all his life uses his puppet to talk to himself. It’s also an exploration of the inner voice we all have, and in the show we discuss everything from psychology, philosophy and poetry, to war, God and religion. In this show, the idea is that the puppet is the stronger personality and has been noticing that the ventriloquist has had thoughts of suicide, and if the ventriloquist dies the puppet dies as well. It’s very dark but very funny.

Your use of robotics in puppetry is groundbreaking. Is it true you broke into Nasa when you first wanted to rig up robotics for puppet Chuck Wood?
When we figured out how to put robotics in we couldn’t figure out the clutch. So a mate of mine worked at the Nasa research facility at Berkley in California. He had a friend who was a machinist so we sneaked in after hours, past blackboards with Einstein calculations and planetary mechanics. He machined us a clutch while we played with liquid nitrogen.

You had a chat show in Australia and New Zealand. Did Chuck’s questions get you into trouble with any of the celebs interviewed?
In New Zealand, I did both of the Finn brothers in separate interviews because they were fighting at the time.

Your interview with Tim Finn was particularly awkward. It’s on YouTube.
Yeah, it’s very weird. I did three series in New Zealand. It’s a wonderful place …but after the second series there was no one left to interview – it’s such a small country … and a couple of people got a bit up themselves, like, ‘I don’t deserve to be on this show with a puppet!’

» Leicester Square Theatre, Leicester Pl, WC2H 7BX
0844 847 2475
Jul 30-Aug 1

Also at Pleasance Courtyard, Edinburgh
Aug 6-30

Interview: Alison Grinter