Otto Peterson and his dirty doll George throw us back to vaudeville's golden age
For those of us who feel that we were simply born too late for the vaudeville circuit, Otto Peterson, the comedy underground’s most vaunted ventriloquist, and George, his puppet, are a bit of a retro thrill – especially when you realize Otto & George are as filthy as any of the acts hoisted on stage at the Gayety between Lili St-Cyr’s milk baths.
Unlike most comedians on the bill at the Nasty Show, Peterson considers that his roots are in "ventriloquism, hanging out in magic stores, and Abbott and Costello" rather than in stand-up comedy. Still, he is a long-time favourite of Nasty Show host Bobby Slayton (as well as George Carlin and other comedy heroes), and lately, his man-and-puppet routine has got him a spot presenting at the Porn Awards, which Slayton hosted. How was it?
"Ah, it was all right," he says. "I didn’t feel welcomed in by them, if that’s what you’re asking. I got a picture with Ice-T – that was cool. But no, I didn’t get swept off to any orgies, and it was pretty hard on the nerves."
Clearly, Peterson is an old-fashioned guy not terribly comfortable in the porn world, and may indeed have the soul of a poet. He used to have a clean act – he busked in Central Park before being seduced into the nasty circuit.
"I think I started to ‘work dirty’ more for [the benefit] of other comedians than the public, because I was looking for their approval," he says. "I’m thinking that they’re thinking, ‘Who is this schmuck with a puppet? Ed Sullivan’s dead, what the hell are you doing?’ If you can shock other comedians, then you’re Superman, because they’re completely fucking jaded."
Still, though, there’s something to be said for "nasty" comedy rather than the clean, sitcom-ready stuff.
"A lotta the guys who do ‘clean’ shows are these filthy pigs who go to prostitutes, and then come back and do cheesy clean stuff. Me, I’m a pretty strait-laced person, I don’t go to hookers or strip clubs, but I don’t have too much to talk about in terms of topical political comedy. I’m more about the body functions."
Otto & George
At the Nasty Show
Club Soda, July 12-17