By Dave Woods
Digital market development manager
BRANSON, Mo. —
For more than 105 years -- dog years, that is -- canine comedian Irving (no last name available -- he’s kind of like Cher, I suppose) and Todd Oliver, his comedic partner, have been making Branson audiences laugh.
The two have sailed the high seas of Table Rock Lake aboard the Showboat Branson Belle, performed in theaters around Branson and have now landed at the New Americana Theatre on Highway 76. A large statue of Irving, the show’s star, sits obediently in front of the theater.
More recently the pair gained national acclaim by performing to standing ovations on NBC’s “America’s Got Talent.” The pooch and his partner didn’t take the top prize, but Irving -- obviously the brains of the operation -- said that it was a good experience.
Irving said that Todd wanted to spend more time with his family, so he was happy to accommodate his longtime stage partner. They work together like paw and glove.
The pair have performed on stage with David Letterman, Craig Ferguson, Jay Leno and even Chuck Norris. Irving took a few minutes to talk in between shows recently, catching me up on what life’s been like since the national exposure of “America’s Got Talent.”
One-on-one with the popular pooch
Dave Woods: Tell me a little about your relationship with Todd.
Irving: I was in this show, and Todd came in and walked up to my cage. I told him, “Sorry pal, we’re full. You will have to come back when we have an opening.”
DW: How long did you have to put him off?
Irving : I could tell he needed a lot of help. He couldn’t even tell his own jokes, so I had to teach him. There’s nothing sadder than an out-of-work ventriloquist.
DW : You had to teach him the trade?
Irving : Before he met me, the way his lips moved he could fan a fire.
DW : What did you see in Todd that made you give him a break?
Irving : Money! He had a family to feed.
DW: That’s all it took?
Irving : I figured that if his family is eating better, then I’ll get the leftovers and it will all work out.
DW : How long have you and Todd been working together?
Irving : Fifteen years. It has been a good partnership the entire time. If I want anything I just jerk on Todd’s chain, and he gets right on it.
DW : Sounds like a marriage, working with the same person for that long of a time.
Irving : He talks for me and I think for him. It works out pretty well. The truth is that if it wasn’t for me, Todd wouldn’t work at all.
DW : Do you like working in Branson?
Irving : Yeah, Branson is kind of like Mayberry with a cover charge. We love it.
DW : What is the secret to your success?
Irving : Here’s how it works. I’m man’s best friend. If people are good to their dogs, man and dog can accomplish anything.
DW : Do you have to keep Todd on a short leash?
Irving : Now that I’ve got him potty trained it’s a lot better. His wife’s the one who keeps him on a short leash. I just sit back and watch. People can laugh at me and I can laugh at them, too.
DW : Is Todd appreciative of all you have done for him?
Irving : He is. He knows which side of the dog biscuit his success is buttered on. No question about it.
DW : You sound like the Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis of Branson.
Irving : Yeah, but I make Todd wear the dress. I think it’s disgusting. He wears one of his wife’s. He won’t even get his own.
America’s Got Talent
DW : What was appearing on “America’s Got Talent” like, and how hard was it to convince the judges to let you drag Todd along for the ride?
Irving : As long as he didn’t have rabies and had all of his shots, they were fine. They just wanted to make sure he wouldn’t bite anybody or lift his leg on the furniture.
DW : What did you learn from your time on the show?
Irving : That Howard Stern needs a haircut, Sharon Osbourne needs a muzzle and Howie Mandel needs a toupee.
DW : There is a big statue of you in front of the New Americana Theatre. Is that kind of fame easy to handle?
Irving : I think it looks more like Todd than me, but it lets people know where the show is.
DW : Do you see your relationship with Todd continuing? Are you going to throw him a bone for a couple of more years?
Irving : We’ve got a real tough contract. I did have an accident on it, if you known what I mean. We have a lifetime contract filled with good laughs and good business.
DW : What do you want Joplin folks to know about you and your new show?
Irving : Little children, parents and grandparents are all laughing at the same time. There is nothing more wonderful than a family laughing together. Doggone it, I’m for the whole family. The Haygood brothers produced the New Americana show. They worked really hard on revamping the entire thing. They amaze me with what they did for my show.
DW : What about that Catherine Haygood? Not too hard on the eyes, huh?
Irving : Boy, oh boy. If I had two legs and she was single ... well, she still wouldn’t go out with me.