A Brief History
half-face ventriloquist mask
Joel Hodgson (stand up comedian and MST3K creator) sees Halloween masks which can be manipulated to make the mouth move, and comes up with the idea of using half-face masks for an audience participation bit.
Joel develops this premise as part of his standup routine; with a pair of caveman masks on audience members, he 'interviews' the two cavemen then does a lipsync routine to Aretha Franklin.
Ronn sees Joel perform this routine and sees the potential for use with ventriloquism, and starts exploring this idea.
Ronn does an early version of his routine as part of his TV show in the UK, which is 'an instant hit'.
Following some discussion, Ronn licenses the audience participation mask concept from Joel.
Ronn performs the mask routine with a child volunteer on the Children's Royal Variety Show.
The mask does look a bit primitive, and it doesn't yet have that 'big mouth' impact, but it works.
The Ronn Lucas Show (Ronn's British Show for Thames TV) features a double mask routine with two audience members (a married couple).
There's a whole bit about dressing them in clown costumes, during which the wife goes off-stage to 'get changed'. When she comes back she's suddenly very handsy with Ronn - after a song we (and her husband!) discover that it's actually a professional actress in the clown costume and the wife pops out of a huge 'surprise gift box' wheeled onto the stage.
Now pretty much recognisable as the Mighty Mouth™ mask.
Ronn performs the routine on Comic Relief's American Comedy Festival, and is awarded the producer's recognition 'The Man Who Stole the Show'.
There are many notable performances of the mask routine over the years, including performing for President Clinton in 1998 and President Bush in 2001.
Ronn continues to refine the routine over the years, (and is still doing so, right up to this day).
Ronn puts the mask on Jerry Lewis as part of the 2007 MDA Telethon.
The use of a moving mouth mask by other ventriloquists has been the subject of a great deal of debate and conflict over the years. Ronn has not claimed the concepts of moving mouth masks or audience participation individually, but has claimed that he (and Joel Hodgson) did originate the combination of a half-face moving mouth mask with ventriloquism in an audience participation 'bit'.
There are other performers who claim various earlier origins of this type of 'vent mask' act. It is not clear whether this is indeed the case, but there were no other well-known ventriloquists performing an audience-participation mask routine before; after Ronn started performing it, there have been several.
Fellow ventriloquist Terry Fator licensed the mask from Ronn in 2008.
In 2015, British ventriloquist Paul Zerdin won America's Got Talent with material including a mask routine. Following the win, entertainment manager Rick Marcelli highlighted similarities between Paul Zerdin's material and the work of other ventriloquists including Ronn and David Strassman.Read more:
Following many years of disagreement with other ventriloquists regarding their rights to use masks for audience participation routines, Ronn and Joel team up with Axtell Expressions to make the official vent-mask and performance rights available to buy.