Whatever You Do, Don't Read This Man's Lips

How's this for a mid-life career switch?

From front-line journalist to comic ventriloquist.

For two decades, Joe Gandelman practiced the reporter's trade. As a free-lancer in India and Spain, a staffer for the Wichita (Kan.) Eagle-Beacon, and then a suburban and border reporter for the San Diego Union.

In late 1990, he chucked it all to follow what had been just a stress-relieving hobby. He likes laughter.

Rather than working with editors, he now works with John Raven (who sasses him badly), Norbert Raven (a Mortimer Snerd-like numbskull), a baby, a turkey, a crow and a senior citizen. They're family.

"You have to believe the character is real," he said. "One kid asked me, 'Isn't it funny talking to yourself like that?' I was (stunned). When a character is doing a routine with me, he's alive, he's another actor."

Fewer than 50 ventriloquists nationwide are thought to be making a passable living. In San Diego, Gandelman, 42, is the only ventriloquist listed in the entertainer section in the Yellow Pages.

He does birthday parties (including my son's), bar mitzvahs, school assemblies, mobile home recreation rooms, anniversary parties and more. For adult shows he'll go slightly R-rated and political.

He was an opening act for the Kingston Trio and has done some comedy club gigs (the Elephant Bar in La Jolla, the Bonita Store, the Funny Farm in Temecula). He auditioned for a TV commercial hawking cornflakes.

He'll do the Gilroy Garlic Festival this summer: "I'm a seasoned entertainer."

He's a 33rd-degree nostalgic: "My idols are from the 1950s."

He sent a thanks-for-the-memories video to Senor Wences as a birthday tribute. He has a fully stocked video library of "The Honeymooners," "Three Stooges," "Burns & Allen," the "Jackie Gleason Show" and Uncle Miltie.

He's talking about writing a book with Jimmy Nelson (creator of Farfel, the dog, of Nestle's chocolate fame). His dream routine would be a paean to Abbott & Costello.

Chasing stories is a snap compared to breaking into show biz. He's had to sell part of his autograph collection--including his Laurel and Hardy.

Then again, art requires sacrifice.

Idea Not Catching

Herb Sullivan of South Mission Beach had an idea for selling his latest creation.

The creation is a small booklet called "That's My Idea," a guide to help inventors keep from being ripped off.

He placed an ad in USA Today, with an 800 number for sales. He received but five responses for the $14.95 guide.

This from an ad that cost $605 and appeared in 3 million newspapers for three days.

Sullivan figures this proves one of three things: 1. Nobody reads classified ads. 2. There are not more than five people in this recession-wracked country with $14.95. 3. There aren't more than five people in the country with ideas worth protecting.

Not to worry about Sullivan, though.

He's also selling his own line of ladies' beachwear, called California Smile. Form-fitting, bright and with embroidered lips in strategic positions.

Designed so the lips can be removed, thus displaying a crescent of flesh on your buttock or bosom.

"Very popular with lady bartenders," Sullivan explains.

Calorie Conviction

Here it is.

* Know your enemy.

To stop the spread of bellies below the belt line, the San Diego Police Department is offering an all-day nutrition class. By order of Chief Bob Burgreen, cops can attend on-duty.

One of the first lessons: "What is a calorie?"

* Product watch.

A San Diego firm has invented a water-soluble lubricant called Astroglide, which it says can prevent condoms from bursting at inappropriate times. Don't ask.

* Steven Gaffen of University City works for National Cinema Network, which sells advertising for movie theaters.

Which may explain why his 4 1/2-year-old son, Ari, spying some dogs of a certain breed, explained, "Look, the actors from '101 Dalmatians.' "

Tony Perry's column also appears Monday, Wednesday and Friday. He can be reached at 544-6032.

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