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So Easy A Dummy Can Do It!

He's no dummy ... Brian Hagelgans, center, an amateur ventriloquist and regional sales manager for Video King, is creating a series of videos, "So Easy A Dummy Can Do it," touting our entire product line and all things Bingo. The videos will be posted on the Video King Network Channel on YouTube.

'So Easy A Dummy Can Do It' Makes YouTube Debut!
Dynamic Duo 'Vents' About Video King!

So Easy A Dummy Can Do It ... Don’t be alarmed. We’re not exactly talking down to someone, but in this case, rather through someone ... err thing ...

Through the “magic” of ventriloquism Brian Hagelgans is developing a series of videos for Video King, touting the simplicity of using our entire line of electronic gaming products, beginning with our Champion II™ and TAB-e™ touch-screen tablets.

A regional sales manager, Hagelgans will write, act and direct in the series, “So Easy A Dummy Can Do It,” along with “Uncle Pops,” his right or is it left-hand man, a character he created specifically for Video King.

Coming soon to a computer-screen, i-phone or other social-savvy media device nearest you, the first installment will be posted on the Video King Network Channel, hosted by YouTube, for global review.        

But as a small boy, ventriloquism was the last thing Hagelgans ever wanted to do. In fact, much like Pinocchio, (the wooden boy puppet) safe to say he was petrified.

And that ain’t no lie ...

“I’d seen ventriloquists on TV and never wanted a dummy. They scared me to death,” he said, still recoiling at the memory.

But as fate would have it, like many of us, he was forced to face his greatest fears.

“My mom worked at a little department store in Delaware, Ohio. In the window was a box with a Charlie McCarthy doll (part of a very famous ventriloquist act, back in the day.)

All he happened to utter was “Look Mom,” and to his horror, the next thing he knew the dummy was lying, waiting, amongst his presents under the next Christmas tree.

Needless to say, their relationship didn’t start, nor, end, well. “I destroyed that dummy. I beat him up and flew him down stairs. I painted him silver, red, and turned him into a robot. He ended up in the trash,” he gleefully admits, with more than a bit of residual relish.

Then something peculiar happened ...

At about 12 or 13, Hagelgans, as if possessed, became interested in ventriloquism.
“I took a mail order course and read every book I could on it,” he said.

Nor was he following in anyone’s, that he knows of, footsteps ...

“I come from a musical family. My dad sang the Gospel, like an angel ... My mom is a piano teacher, and always played for dad’s singing.

“My brother plays all kinds of instruments, as do his son and daughter, who also sing. I’ve never been musical,” Hagelgans said.

Instead, he was moved to take a different route. He began throwing, instead of projecting his voice ... err ... voices, (in layman’s terms, making the dummy appear to be speaking while you remain silent) he said.

Which got him into a fair bit of trouble, at least with certain family members, while he worked on perfecting his routines.

“I pissed off my brothers. When their girlfriends came over, I’d sit on the couch and do wisecracks.”

Then others would begin “projecting” their voices, making sure they were heard – without a certain “mouthpiece” – loud and clear.

“Why don’t you put that #$@^*& thing away,” they often said.

“You can make people mad,” he admits, sounding like he was lucky to reach adulthood, by the way he liked to pester his older brothers.

But he wasn’t about to pull the plug on his fake-believe, little friend. Besides he had too much invested.

Becoming more serious, at least in ventriloquism, Hagelgans made the ultimate sacrifice, at least for a young boy teen at that time.

After calling every magic store he could find, he finally discovered one, which had a dummy for sale. A rare find in those pre-internet days ... but it was out of state.

“It was special made for someone and they put $50 down, but never came back ...  “The owner offered it to me for $350, but I had to sell all my Atari games for it,” he said.        

Doing so, his parents drove him all the way from Delaware, Ohio, to Detroit  “to pick the little guy up,” he said.

An optimistic, he saw it as a “good lesson” in which to learn.

“It helped me want to work. I sold something I loved for something I wanted.” Nor did he ever misuse, abuse or abandon this one.

“I still have him, I named his Alex,” he proudly said.

About the same time, he also dropped out of sports, but maybe for more self-serving reasons. “I wasn’t the biggest guy, but I was good. I was a first-string punter in football through eighth grade, but I didn’t want to get killed on the field, moving up to Varsity,” he said.

Buying a second dummy, he became even more ingrained, carving a name for himself through the drama program and variety shows held at school. Pretty soon, his entire family would get in on the act, but only as supporting cast.

“Throughout most of junior and high school, mom and dad every summer took me to Fort Mitchell, Ky., the annual ventriloquist’s convention,” he said. “I got to meet a lot of the professionals, who were in the top of their field.”

And, he didn’t come home empty-handed, not counting the dummies he had held. “I participated in a lot of contests. I won two national awards at the junior level,” he said.

But the talent wasn’t something he was exactly born with. “It took a while to learn. A lot of practice in the mirrors. A lot of talking between you, yourself and I,” he said.

Though over time, throwing his voice became second nature to him. “There are only five letters in the English language you can’t say without moving your lips,” he said, revealing his hand a bit, when the dummy would allow it ...

Then came his brush with infamy.

“After high school a guy took an interest in me. Said he was an agent, but he really was just big in advertising. Said he could make me a star ...”

The “agent” got Hagelgans radio and TV spots, co-starring with the owner of a local sweatwear chain of stores.

“The owner was nice, suave, in his 20s. I thought this guy has got it all. He’s young, tall, got movie-star good looks. He’s an owner, has stores in many locations. He’s doing commercials ...”

Years later, the man, who Hagelgans actually drove around, even home, now sits in jail, convicted of a murder for an insurance scheme.

“They made a movie out of his life story,” said Hagelgans, so thankful it wasn’t curtains for him, rendering him, no disrespect, another stiff.

As for the “agent,” he had a lot of connections, got Hagelgans a lot of work, but somehow seemed to never pay. Another valuable lesson learned, he said.

Ready for more adventure, he then joined a traveling game show, called “Blizzard of Bucks,” where he met his best “partner.”

Don’t worry, she’s no “dummy,” and don’t you ever call her that ...

This black belt in Tae Kwon Do would eventually become his real-life wife. Traveling the college circuit, Hagelgans said they criss-crossed the country five times over, playing to crowds ranging in the thousands to smaller-sized halls.

“It was so popular, they added a second act,” he said. The show, which pulled its contestants from the audience, consisted of all kinds of zany competitions.

“It was fun. We had all kinds of games. We’d play ‘Chubby Bunny,’ where contestants wearing bunny ears would see how many marshmallows they could stuff in their mouths, or try to bounce balls off their heads wearing sombreros,” he said.

Finalists would then win 30 seconds in a money machine, grabbing as much cash as they could stash. But after two years, the constant travel and excitement grew thin.

“We wanted to get out of show business. It was rough on her. We had a fall out with the agency. It was a grueling schedule,” he said. But it didn’t sour him on show business.

“I wouldn’t trade it for anything, and I’d do it again if I had the chance,” he, not having to think or is it blink twice, decidedly said.

After that, Hagelgans did mobile DJ-ing, while looking for a “decent” sales job, he said. His ears perked up when he heard about Video King and pull-tabs back in the late 1990s. Interested in a sales position, he was bemused when the interviewer pulled out “all this Vegas-looking stuff.”

“I thought, what do videos and pop cans have to do with gaming,” he said.

A quick study, he seemly passed the “audition,” and has been with Video King, a global provider of electronic gaming systems, game designs and Bingo hall equipment, ever since.

As for his dummies, Hagelgans, now a father of three, kept them shelved for many years. “I kept them in the case and would take them out with the kids and mess around once in a while,” he said.

Then in 2006, he started getting “the itch.”

After late-night, talk-show host David Letterman did a segment on ventriloquists, he knew he wanted to get back into it, but needed a “spark,” he admits.

Again, “fate” reared its not so pretty, some might say, head.

“In 2007 on eBay I found a dummy, made by the same guy who originally made ‘Alex’ from Detroit, and it was in mint condition.”

Although he did have hair haphazardly attached, Hagelgans decided to give the old fellar, not a classic beauty by any measure, a bit of a makeover. This would give rise to his “Uncle Pops” character.

Over the past few years, the character would develop and a new, more advanced dummy would be introduced as “Uncle Pops,” retiring the previous version, as seen in the Video King video, he said.

Then another opportunity, much like the dummies, seemed to fall right into his lap. When Video King talked about producing company videos for YouTube during a staff meeting, Hagelgans raised his hand, dummy in tow, and chimed in.

“Instead of some basic video showing features, handsets and blowers, I thought we could spice it up, add a character who’s a Bingo player,” he said. Which led to the “So Easy A Dummy Can Do It” concept. “It’s an old line, but as a pun it works,” he said.

Given the green light, Hagelgans – who’s also eyeing the nightclub and comedy circuit – set to creating the character and writing the script.

“The biggest thing is how to get an old guy puppet and make it different than just the tired, old-guy routine, with droopy voice,” he said.

After trying different scenarios, he came up with a pot-bellied, bald-headed character, whose high-pitched southern drawl is based on one of his grandmother’s acquaintances, from 30 years back, he said.

So be careful what you ask him ...

Like that crazy relative, who likely drew his genes from the shallow end of the gene pool, you never know what this cantankerous, oft-inappropriate speaking “person” is apt to “say,” he said.

“He’s just a crazy, old guy. Kind of ornery. He gets riled up really easy, but he’s very young at heart,” he said, a tad bit defensively.

But don’t be fooled. This isn’t your average dummy ...

“Some of the dummies are made with varying degrees of reality. From cartoony to lifelike,” he said. “Most dummies have eyes that move from left to right. I am really fascinated by the mechanics. If dummies just blink all the time, that bothers me. I wanted something more unique than the standard fare,” he explained.

Although it takes him more coordination to control Pops’ “emotions,” this is the “real” deal.

 “This one has winkers, eyelids. A moving mouth. He can stick his tongue out. His upper lip and eyebrows move. His eyes roll throughout the conversation. I love that,” Hagelgans said.

So what started out as a nightmare has become a happy reality, for someone else who is still a boy at heart.
“I’m having fun with it. I now own dummies with features I could only dream as having as a kid,” he said.

And who knows, if “Uncle Pops” gets good enough, he might just take on a life of his own.

However, don’t count on him ever becoming a silent partner ...

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