Johnson is best known to UK television viewers from Soap, the 1970s American sitcom starring Billy Crystal, in which he played Chuck Campbell, a ventriloquist who used his ever-present dummy Bob as a brash alter-ego capable of voicing all the things that Chuck couldn’t or wouldn’t say.
Johnson started performing at age 11, when he discovered his natural ability to make a cousin’s doll come to life. Ventriloquism helped him overcome acute dyslexia and led to his own local television show in his native Texas while he was still in high school. Over the years since Soap, Johnson’s ventriloquism has continued apace off-screen. First seen Off-Broadway in 2004, his self-penned “solo” show Jay Johnson: The Two and Only - in which he analyses his lifelong obsession – had two months on the Great White Way in 2006 and went on to win the 2007 Tony Award for Special Theatrical Event.
Accompanying Johnson in his comic storytelling is an eclectic cast of characters, including Darwin (pictured with Johnson), a rare breed of jazz monkey who was born in a trunk in a comedy club; Spaulding, a tennis ball retired from the game after a particularly rough Andy Roddick match, and of course, reliable old Bob.
Promotional material promises that “throwing your voice has just come of age” with the West End premiere of the show. “Forget everything you think you know about ventriloquism,” says the press release. “Shut it neatly away in a box along with that fat little green bird who wished he could fly and that mangy Scotty dog that used to spit a lot.”
The Two and Only is presented at the Arts Theatre by Clayton Collier Theatrical, Stewart F Lane / Bonnie Comley, Tiger WGP and Martin Witts.
- by Terri Paddock