David Zacarte and his puppet Benito squabble about girls and politics Monday evening during the first show at the Curry County Fairgrounds. CNJ photo by Mike Linn.
By Mike Linn
Twenty years ago, when David Zacarte said he was making half a million dollars a year as the chief executive officer of an investment firm in Los Angeles, his grandfather came to his office and gave him a crash course in the art of being a ventriloquist.
Later that night, Zacarte tried what skills he learned on his two oldest daughters.
“They started laughing hysterically and ran out the door. I thought I scared them to death, and then about 20 minutes later they came back with about 10 other friends,” said Zacarte, the feature ventriloquist at this year’s Curry County Fair. “I saw something light up in their eyes, I don’t know what it was but it just touched me.”
Six months later, Zacarte walked out on his high-paying job. He’s made his living as a ventriloquist ever since.
His first paying show, a young girl’s birthday party, paid just $20.
Admittedly not yet prepared for the gig, Zacarte tape recorded his puppet’s voice and had his secretary play the tape from behind a curtain.
But Zacarte said that plan backfired when the tape machine broke and the curtain fell, leaving his secretary with a fist full of tape and crying before the audience.
The birthday girl’s father — who just happened to be a talent agent — told Zacarte that it was either the worst show he’d ever seen or the best well-scripted show.
“I told him that was the best well-scripted show, and he said ‘I know you’re lying but you have potential,’” Zacarte said.
The man took Zacarte under his wing, and for three years the novice ventriloquist did shows at $20 a pop in nursing homes.
“I consider (this talent) a gift from God more than anything,” Zacarte said. “I wanted to take a chance at life and do something that was really worth while.”
On Monday evening, Zacarte was able to incite laughter from young and old alike during his early show with puppet “Benito” at the Curry County Fairgrounds.
“He’s good, he interacts with the crowd a lot,” said Richard Zamora, who belted his fair share of laughs during the 40-minute show.
Gabrielle Segura, 10, was especially enthralled with Benito, an obnoxious, big-eared mouse concerned with the environment and that too many girls liked him.
During the show Benito told Zacarte he wanted to vote for a 2004 presidential candidate who was concerned with the environment.
Who would that be? Zacarte asked.
A tree, Benito replied, adding that last election his puppeteer voted for a “Bush.”
Zacarte, who has three different shows and two separate puppets, said he will perform for adults and children at this year’s fair, the later shows being more adult-oriented.
Besides Benito, Zacarte also performs shows with Dr. Quack, a politically incorrect duck and unlicensed psychologist running for president of the United States.
He said he will perform patriotic shows on Tuesday and Wednesday especially for military personnel and airmen at Cannon Air Force Base.
The California native said he performs at about 200 venues a year, and has no regrets about leaving his CEO job.
He said he believes all his shows have a positive message about life, mixed of course with jokes.
“One minute the audience will be laughing and the next minute they’ll be crying because they’ll be feeling emotions,” Zacarte said. “There’s nothing greater than that. I just can’t even describe the feeling.”