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 show Jay Johnson: The Two and Only - in which he analyses his lifelong obsession – had two months on Broadway 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.
Jay Johnson: The Two and Only is presented in London by Clayton Collier Theatrical, Stewart F Lane / Bonnie Comley, Tiger WGP and Martin Witts. It’s the second production to post early closing notices at the Arts Theatre in less than a month. The musical sex comedy All Bob\'s Women, which was scheduled for a ten-week season, closed four days after opening to a critical mauling (See News, 27 Jun 2008).
- by Terri Paddock