A minute before COVID-19 made it cool, my Daily Mail article went viral. The headline went from The UK, to Iceland, Italy, Slovenia, Slovakia, Lithuania, Russia, Estonia, Latvia, China, Thailand, Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Australia, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Kenya, Colombia, Puerto Rico, Brazil, and finally Guatemala. Yes, I am a celebrity in Guatemala. The headline read as follows, “Ventriloquist Who Splashes Out $20,000 on Her Puppets So That They Have Their Own Bedroom Dumps Her Fiance After He Says It’s Them Or Me.”
When it happened, I discovered the headline hit I was on a vacation with my family. It was a surprise, and while a pleasant one I was simply a lone ventriloquist who supported herself and her puppets by delivering singing telegrams. My apartment was so filled with puppets, puppet clothes, and costumes I could barely walk. Weeks before I had spoken to The Daily Mail, but I had no clue this was going to happen. In my bed, lights out, I yelled to my mom, “MOM! Get in here now!”
“Just look,” I said pointing to a page where they were talking about me in Hindi.
My mom didn’t raise an eyebrow nor was she as mystified as I was, “And?”
“And I’m everywhere Mom!”
“Yeah, and you worked hard and people are catching on. This is what we wanted, remember? Send me the links so I can print them out and put them in your memory box. And start to look for quality management that can get us to the next level too.”
My mom is often the smartest person I know. For years she had quasi-managed me. While she believed in my talent, she was the first to admit she didn’t know the industry and we were both near sighted one eyed people in the Valley of the Blind, constantly reinventing the wheel.
For years, I had no luck with agents and managers for a myriad of reasons. Some were well intended, promising the moon and being unable to deliver. Others had no idea how to represent me, submitting me for things I was wrong for. Then there were many who said they couldn’t make money off of me for whatever reason. After enough drama I endeavored to represent myself. Unlike many of my friends who had the name of an agent or manager on their resume, I was constantly on television and being booked for events. While I did a good job of hustling, I knew as enquiries were coming in from outside the United States I would need someone to help me. I distrusted these beings but knew they would be a necessary evil.
As I began to post my press clippings online a fellow by the name of Dan Smith (name changed to protect the guilty) reached out. He claimed to be a “Big Fan,” and he said he managed ventriloquists. Dan was effusive with his praise, which stoked my ego, already glowing from this press coverage. I looked on his page to see where he was. Dan was based in Missouri. He was a self-proclaimed “Christian” and “Man of God.” The warning lights went up as I saw scripture quotes, but a lot of puppeteers are Christians and many are quite nice actually. I figured it didn’t hurt to listen, so I told him what I wanted, to tour outside of the US as that was where I was getting most of my publicity. Dan said we could talk about that, and we set up a time to talk. I was excited, but because I was burned so much before I also wanted to see what he could do for me.
Dan called the next day, and I was excited to talk to him. After exchanging pleasantries he said, “I have been a fan for a long time and it’s an honor and privilege to be talking to April Brucker let alone be working with her.”
“Thanks,” this wasn’t just flattering, but sounded like everything I wanted. However, there is an old line in scripture that the devil hides in flattery as the devil was a snake in the Garden of Eden. Still, what if he was the one who was going to push me ahead?
“I worked with a well known ventriloquist. She was a beauty queen. I made her. She still owes me big, but she wasn’t focused and burned me for a lot of money.” As Dan spoke, he was reminiscent of an abusive ex of mine, everyone always screwing him over and playing the victim. That’s when a red light went off, but I told myself to stop being so paranoid before I got more information.
“Who else have you represented? Have they been on TV shows? Are they touring?” Maybe I could get some names of some clients to cross check him. Any agent or manager worth their weight could answer that, and it was a fair question.
Instead, I was greeted by the very curt, “I have worked in all facets of the industry and know what I am doing and let me tell you I don’t choose to work with just anyone.”
The non-answer was answer enough, but I pressed a little harder, “Who are your clients exactly?”
Dan said, “Just so you know I am a good Christian and a soldier of God. If this doesn’t work out we can be friends. Remember that.”
Shocked by his evasive replies I decided to change the topic to our DM, “My press coverage is outside the United States and I want to tour. I need management that can make that happen. Are you my guy? In our DM you said that could be discussed.”
I already had a feeling the answer was no, so I waited for Dan to respond, “Let me be honest, anyone telling you that you are good enough to tour just wants to sleep with you. And let me tell you what people say behind your back. They say I am wasting my time by making this phone call. That you are a terrible ventriloquist, an even worse puppeteer, and a horrendous comedian. Right now, you are on the road to no where, but I am the man who can change that.”
“You are a man who can’t even name his clients,” I said, shocked by this change of tone. All I had done was press him for his credentials and he had turned on me. My instincts were right. This man was an abuser, he was luring me in and it was already starting.
“Well if you decide to become one of my clients, which would be smart because I am a genius, I can’t have the head of the cruise ship calling and saying your lips move. My reputation is already on the line making this call.”
This needed to end and now. I was a fool for letting it go on this long and I would be a bigger fool for letting this continue. The only way Dan was getting near my career was if I had a taser and a restraining order, “Cruise ships aren’t the place for me. I get sea sick. I don’t think you are the person to help me.”
I thought I was being nice by ending what was clearly becoming toxic, but just as Dan was incensed I questioned his credentials he became more incensed when I rejected him outright, “You know, you think you are famous, but you are like Sonny Bono. Everyone made fun of him. He was the butt of all the jokes. You know what happened, he became a Congressman. FACE IT, YOU NEED ME! YOU NEED ME! STOP FIGHTING GOD AND DESTINY!”
If now was not a time to abort mission I didn’t know what was, “Listen dumb ass, Sonny Bono wrote those routines. He wrote the songs. Congressman is a great job. I need you like I need a positive PAP Smear. Fuck off Felicia.” CLICK. While it was disappointing to still be my sole advocate, I was also relieved I didn’t let Dan near me because he would have only ruined me.
Dan wasn’t done. He sent me a DM that read, “You are a lousy ventriloquist, terrible comedian, and a wench. No wonder your ex hit you, you deserve it.” Note, this was in reference to a post I did advocating against domestic violence where I shared a candid post about abuse I suffered at the hands of a former partner. The message didn’t upset me, if anything it was an indicator my instincts had been correct and I had done the right thing. Of course Dan blocked me so I couldn’t reply back, because that’s what Jesus would do.
Three months after The Dan Smith Disaster, my waiting paid off. I ended up scoring a manager who is not only knowledgeable about the variety arts, but has gotten me to work at a much higher level than I ever dreamed possible. While I didn’t end up touring Europe, under his guidance I put together a Vegas show, which is a building block towards a European tour. April Unwrapped is on hiatus because of COVID-19, but I remain hopeful about the future. In case you are wondering, my current manager is not a Christian but a spiritual agnostic. Not only is he a better mentor than Dan Smith, but he’s a better person as well.
My issue with Dan was never the feedback, I feel we can all benefit from constructive criticism. It was his abusive streak when questioned. Apparently I wasn’t the only one who felt this way. About a year after the fated encounter, I heard through the grapevine that he was to be avoided in the vent community and was being sued by a former client who was also pursuing a restraining order. Dan apparently blamed the lawsuit on Satan, Barack Obama, and COVID-19. Dan missed his chance to represent me as I was never a terrible comedian and ventriloquist. I’m mediocre. Get it right.