“S.J. Davis — the highest paid ventriloquist,” says John F. Buhler, the manager of the California State University for the Advancement of Teaching. “S.J. Davis gets $350,000.” He is not alone. According to a New York Times analysis of public records, every U.S. performer who makes more than $100,000 earned at least $300,000 in 2014. Most often, however, the highest paid were in the entertainment and real estate sectors, and the highest paid also tended to hail from the Northeast. In Los Angeles, John J. O’Neill, the president of Studio C, the biggest of the L.A. theaters, raked in a reported $1.4 million in 2014. He makes around $5,500 an evening. On the Manhattan side of town, the top 10 highest-paid ventriloquist performers each made around $1.8 million. “That does not seem a lot until you compare it to the bottom end of this business,” Mr. Buhler says. “It would surprise me if there was a single top ten performer who made $1 million.”
What’s the difference? Mr. Buhler argues that it comes down to compensation. In the United States ventriloquists earn a lot less per performance, with many of their paychecks subsidized by insurance, retirement and severance bonuses. “The average performer making $100,000 is now making $50,000,” Mr. Buhler says. “That’s a significant step up.”
The top 10 highest-paid ventriloquists in 2014 were all from L.A.
Which raises questions. Are these paid performers really so special, so special that they are paid so much less than the average person? And even if they are, why is that good news? “People can be extremely good at ventriloquing,” Mr. Buhler argues. “The fact that you’re paid less than the average person may not be enough.”
And if ventriloquing can’t pay them well, what is the point? “It makes me think of people making the low end of the socioeconomic spectrum, even though they’re doing the same thing,” says Mr. Buhler. “It’s an interesting question.”
In the end, I’m sure that John D. Lewis Jr., whose face, like his name, has been plastered all over every
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