Welcome to the seventh and final instalment of this series of interviews that originally appeared in Rubber Chicken magazine. Editor and publisher Peter Aubery has made them available for the Kids Entertainer Hub audience.
In this series, Peter picks the minds of kids entertainers Charlie Frye, Jimmy Carlo, John Kimmons, Bill Abbott, Michael Diamond, and Paul Daniels. In this episode, Peter talks with Daniel Sylvester Battagline, aka Sylvester the Jester, about being a stupendous character performer.
Do you base your character on anybody?
No. It’s like a composite of a lot of different [characters]. There are no human characters in cartoons who are super funny. They’re mostly the foil—Elmer Fudd and even Popeye and stuff like that—so I have to make up my own. It’s just me.
How did you get the idea for such a genius act? Were you inspired by anyone?
No, not really. Not at the beginning. It was a couple of different things that led me that way. I thought of doing cartoons before I even knew anything about magic. I was sitting in study hall thinking about how funny cartoons were, and a friend and I were talking about how would you do that stuff in real life.
I totally forgot that I had that thought or that conversation with this guy until somebody asked me that question. And for the first time, I went all the way back to being a kid in study hall. When I started to learn magic and stuff, it was somewhere in the back of my mind. Then I saw “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” and I thought, “I’m going to begin; I’m going to try this.” It started off with a few things, a few bits I had already done that weren’t in the cartoons, and they just kept evolving slowly, slowly.
Did Jim Carey influence you at all?
No—well, possibly a little bit. What that really did for me was when I first did my act, people had no construct for a living cartoon character. They didn’t watch me like I was entertaining; they watched me almost with shock. Then that movie The Mask came out and then suddenly overnight I was a genius because people were like “How is he imitating Jim Carey?” One lady wrote about me: “He does in live action the things Jim Carey needs a bank of computers to achieve.”
How do you come up or get inspiration for your effects?
That’s a long, long answer. Inspiration can come from just anywhere. I have a million ideas in my head and things I want to do, but no idea is worth anything unless you can do it. Inspiration always comes from some mechanism I see or discover by accident, or even make by accident. It seems to be a solution to a problem of getting from point A to point B.
Have there been ideas that you really wanted to do but are just impossible to pull off?
Oh, I have thousands of them. I made the ACME magnet pills which was a really funny thing, and there was a routine about picking up women.
Do you have any theatrical background?
I studied theatre in college.
You’re a natural at mime. Did you study that?
I never studied mime. That’s just cartoons. They are stretching and moving like ‘whoosh.’ Also probably from seeing other people do it, I just try to feel like I’m that character on stage.
Even when you’re describing stuff, you’re in character. It’s unbelievable. You haven’t even got any props.
I think sometimes that I would be more successful if I did it that way. I think my whole costume and look freaks people out and I never thought that it would … I am self-taught but I have absorbed the construct of a cartoon.
Cartoons are your thing. So what’s your favourite cartoon?
My favourite cartoon is Daffy Duck. I think he is a genius. I went to the old folks’ home where they live now. Daffy, sadly, has Alzheimer’s Disease, but Bugs is still kicking and he says he is the genius, not Daffy.
Did you watch a lot of TV shows when you were a kid?
Let’s talk about your genius sound effects jacket. How on earth did you come up with that?
It’s not really a jacket; it’s a plastic vest. It started off as a toy that I found. I was talking about it with a friend of mine at a magic shop and I wanted to use it in my act, but there was no angle, no ‘in’ to that. What would be the setup?
So we had this toy called a body rock which made a few sounds like cowbells and bong noises, and this friend of mine was brilliant at making stuff. We customized the toy to use three buttons for three noises, and we took off all the other stuff it didn’t need and built it into this plastic thing I wore on my body. Then someone offered me $200 for it and I took that, and I made another one. This kept happening and each time I would advance the design and technology. I knew a little bit of basic stuff about electronics. I could solder so I would find sound chips in books and toys and wire them up to this vest. The vest I have today has 30 sound effects in it.
Heidi from Heidi’s Costumes wants to know if you make your own costume.
Where did you get it made?
I designed my costume myself. I built its metal frame and I took it to a girl who had made other jackets for me. She told me to go to someone else, and then I found this fabric that I thought would be really cool to use and they don’t even make it anymore. Then I made the shoes, the hat and the wig with the help of a friend who is a special effects guy. He cast my head and made the wig out of latex. It took about two days.
Do you do shows that are just for kids?
I’m scared to do just kids shows because I can be a scary character, but I love watching kids react to their parents reacting to me. I go into the audience and hit them with a sledgehammer. One of my favourite memories is when I was doing two shows a day in Australia. One day my audience was filled with Jews and Muslims, and I figured they wouldn’t get long, but they did. They were all having a good time. One Muslim lady dressed in traditional clothes held her baby out so I could hit the baby on the head with the sledgehammer! The kid had this shocked but happy look on his face.
When you get up in the morning, which sock do you put on first, left or right?
Oh Jeezo, man. I haven’t put on socks for a long time! Sometimes I spend an hour trying to work out which is the left sock.
Thank you so much for your time, Danny.