Taylor Mason: From ‘closet ventriloquist’ to international comedian

International comedian and Moorestown resident Taylor Mason has been making people laugh since his “closet ventriloquist” days as a young boy.

Photo Courtesy of The Grable Group

Taylor Mason used to say he was the only living, professional comedian in Moorestown… Then, fellow professional comedian Dena Blizzard moved to town.

“I’m the second-best comedian in Moorestown,” Mason said with a feigned begrudging tone before going on to warmly extol his praises for Blizzard.

If “second-best” means winning Star Search, penning two books and performing his standup for audiences around the world, then Mason’s “second-best” certainly isn’t too shabby.

Mason grew up in a suburb of Chicago. When he was a boy, his mother rolled his socks in such a way that the opening looked like a smile. So, he put one of the socks on his hand and pretended like it was talking. He’s been making inanimate objects speak ever since.

He graduated from socks when his parents bought him an old plastic puppet to puppeteer, but as a boy, he kept his hobby largely to himself.

“I was a closet ventriloquist,” Mason said.

While attending the University of Illinois, Mason began performing as a disc jockey and standup comedian, and he completed his studies just as the comedy club boom was beginning to hit. He played the piano since the time he was small, so he found himself combining stand up comedy, ventriloquism and music into the act that he was performing at various Chicago piano bars.

In 1981, Mason was hired as the the musical director for The Second City Touring Company — an improvisational comedy troupe that was practically a direct line for “Saturday Night Live” cast members. He found himself working beside “mega-talented” people, including the likes of Dan Castellaneta, who would go on to voice Homer Simpson on “The Simpsons” and Tim Kazurinsky who went on to star on “SNL.” More importantly, it was at Second City that Mason met his wife, Marsia.

After logging some time at Second City, Mason worked steadily in comedy while earning his master’s degree in advertising from Northwestern University. In 1990, Mason auditioned for “Star Search” and went on to win the entire competition. Since then, he’s appeared on cable television, opened for the likes of Jay Leno and Jerry Seinfeld, travelled the world performing stand up and moved to Moorestown 25 years ago.

His act is a combination of music, stand up and ventriloquism with some audience participation thrown in for good measure. He said he tailors his act to fit his audience. Some weeks he may be doing a program for kindergarteners at a public school while other times he’s performed at an arena in front of 20,000 people. In any case, he follows two strict rules.

“Stay out of the bedroom and stay out of the bathroom,” Mason said.

Mason also strays away from cursing — even though “profanities are comedy adjectives” for some. By his own description, he’s not edgy or political. He said some comedians don’t care if they alienate half of their audience by getting political, but he’s hyper-aware that audiences are a bit more sensitive these days. He said he’s towing the line between not alienating people and not boring them.

He said when he started as a ventriloquist, he was practically the only one in Chicago, and today, the art form has since grown by leaps and bounds. Mason said these days, people are willing to watch shows and movies about gnomes and fairies, so a guy talking to a puppet isn’t as much of a stretch as it might have once been.

“I’m working more than ever before — even in light of the fact that it’s creepy,” Mason said, offering up some good-natured prodding to those who might find the puppetry unsettling.

These days, Mason is also doing his fair share of traveling for performances. He can be found on cruise ships, at corporate conferences and pretty soon, on YouTube as part of the Dry Bar Comedy Series.

For those who might wonder how one makes a living at ventriloquism, Mason has penned a book with the answers. He wrote “A Complete Idiot’s Guide to Ventriloquism” while working at Second City, and he’s currently working on his second book, “Taylor Mason: The Life and Times of a Ventriloquist,” which will detail all the funny things that happen to a ventriloquist. Let’s just say that Mason has had his fair share of fun with the security staff manning the X-ray machines at JFK Airport who think they’ve found a body in his suitcase.

Mason will perform in Moorestown on Friday, Feb. 8, as part of a fundraiser benefitting The First Baptist Church of Moorestown’s “PRISM of South Jersey: a safe/brave space for LGBTQ youth” as well as their community garden. Tickets are a $20 donation and can be purchased at http://www.eventbrite.com/e/taylor-mason-comedy-night-fundraiser-tickets-54401101158. For more information about Mason or to get tickets to one of his upcoming performances, visit www.taylormason.com.