Lee Cornell: Throwing His Voice Around
Writer / Jessica Pflumm
Photographer / Ron Stiemert
With over 35 years of professional experience, Lee Cornell has set the stage in the world of ventriloquism. Combining his talents of comedy, voice, music and magic, Cornell has entertained thousands with his cast of witty characters, all the while keeping everyone thoroughly entertained.
When Cornell was 9 years old, he was bitten by the ventriloquism bug. Television variety programs, like “The Ed Sullivan Show,” often featured ventriloquists. One popular legendary ventriloquist was Jimmy Nelson. After seeing Jimmy on TV, Cornell knew he wanted to be a performer.
That year, Cornell looked through the then-popular Sears Christmas catalog and saw a dummy he wanted (most ventriloquists use the term “dummy” or “figure” for their sidekicks). He received that dummy and a magic kit as gifts which allowed him to combine two skills. The dummy came with an instructional record album by Mr. Nelson, and Cornell learned from that record. At age 13, he was on his way, getting paid for his first performance, and as they say, the rest is history.
A TRICK OF THE EAR
Thanks to popular shows such as “America’s Got Talent,” ventriloquism has made a big comeback. By entertaining audiences around the globe, ventriloquists use dummies as tools to make people laugh. Explaining that your hearing is the “easiest sense to trick,” Cornell says that almost anyone can pick up this art form and make it their own by practicing, having clever characters, comedic storylines and overall making a connection with their audience.
After years of performing, Cornell wanted to provide additional resources for those interested in the art of ventriloquism. In 1997, he became interested in the then-new Internet. With an idea from his wife Cheryl, Cornell used his college degree in TV and Broadcasting and spent three months producing his “Ventriloquism 101” video, which teaches the art to everyday people.
He launched a simple one-page website. This course has evolved from a VHS tape to a DVD to a downloadable version. In its early days, Cornell put ads in The Linking Ring (the magazine of the International Brotherhood of Magicians) to attract customers. Calls and checks started to come in.
To this day, his website, ventriloquism101.com, is one of the top 10 ventriloquist sites in the world and has grown from one static page to a site that includes many products and services. He also runs his performance site, leecornellshow.com, for a more holistic look at all of Cornell’s talents, clients and associations. Here you can find how to book shows for banquets, corporate events, parties and private events. Cornell also keeps students and followers informed by writing a blog at ventips.blogspot.com.
Cornell’s family life technically started when he met his wife, Cheryl, when he was 19. Their initial meeting at work was memorable, but they lost touch. Fifteen years later, they met again while out with friends, and this time, they stayed in touch. A few years later, they were married.
Now a family man, Cornell is a father to a 20-year-old daughter, Heather, who graduated from Center Grove High School and attends Purdue, and a 16-year-old son, Austin, who is a junior at Center Grove. Cheryl is a hairdresser, and the two have been married 23 years.
Cornell’s day job shifted once his children were in school. He has worked as a Technology Consultant for 19 years. This allowed him to be home for his children’s sports, band and school activities, all the while keeping his ventriloquist website going on evenings and weekends.
ONE OF THE GANG
Every year in July, Cornell attends the annual Vent Haven ventriloquist convention near Cincinnati, Ohio. “It is a highlight of my year as I get to see old friends, and it is exciting to help get new talent started,” he explained. Each year, about 600 “vents” attend, and it is a gathering of like-minded talented people – some the largest names in the industry – and everyone is friends.
“People at the convention are so approachable, no matter what level, unlike stars in some industries,” Cornell stated. Near the convention site is the Vent Haven museum, venthavenmuseum.com. This historic and one-of-a-kind museum houses more than 800 dummies.
With clients such as IBM and Purdue and by keeping his act rated PG, Lee Cornell has brought a sense of nostalgic notoriety to the southside of Indiana. Thank you, Lee, for keeping this uniquely humorous art alive – and for keeping us laughing for 35 years!