PALMER -- Ventriloquist Michael Harrison held a puppet on his hand at the Bluebonnet Stage at the Alaska State Fair. What had the audience -- more than 100 people from small kids to grandparents -- laughing?
A wedgy joke.
And I admit, it was funny. Harrison, 45, has three routines during the show, and about seven puppets, one of which was a volunteer audience member named James. When James opened his mouth, a high-pitched voice pierced the silence, followed by giggles.
"That's a little voice for a big man," Harrison made the puppet respond.
Harrison began his performing career doing magic when he was 10. Soon after, he got into ventriloquism and has been performing around the world for the last 25 years, at fairs, on cruise ships, at festivals and at corporate events.
He said there is a learning curve in ventriloquism but one of the biggest challenges is developing a personality for the characters.
"You have to really sell the personality," he told an audience member after the show.
Another puppet, Shotgun Red, "the world's smallest country singer," is part of the act with Steve Hall and his band, playing at 1, 3 and 5 p.m. daily on the Colony Stage. One of his bits includes running down car brands by the letters of their names -- not just the famous jokes about the real meaning of "Ford" and "Chevy," but foreign models, as in:
"FIAT? Fix it again, Tony."
"KIA? Keep it in Asia."
"SUBARU? That's easy, just read it backwards: U R A BUS."
Charles Oakley has been making a living doing fine art for more than 20 years. But last year, he discovered a medium he'd never tried before.
This year, he is the man sitting behind the spray paint table at the booth labeled "Yo! Spray Me!"
Most of the time, the humpback whales or sunset scenes he paints are done on paper. But Oakley doesn't discriminate against creative requests.
For one of the members of the BMX Stunt Team that performs outside Oakley's booth, he painted an Alaska mountain scene on his helmet. He painted a similar scene on a snowboard last week. Thursday he did a truck tailgate.
And it takes him just a few minutes to paint the scenes.
The most important part of the equation to Oakley? Almost half of his spray paint comes used from the Anchorage Hazardous Waste Collection Center -- for free. In the next five years he'd like to expand his business to raise awareness about the environment.
Lucy Vang, 18, sat in a chair at Clown Around Face Art, getting her face painted. This is the second year she has sprung for a Garfield on her cheek.
"I like the fun choices of face paint here," she said.
After 20 years of painting faces at the fair, Cathy Doores, one of the owners of the booth, does have a lot of choices for kids. Photos of more than 100 paint options line the walls of the booth that she runs with her sister, Carrie Doores.
When Doores was 16, she started doing hair at the booth and moved into face painting when she was 19.
"I grew up with this," she said.
The fair can be expensive, but Dean Phipps, marketing director, said this year more events than ever are included with admission.
I visited the fair earlier this week with two boys, Conor and Quinn Janigo. We grabbed a bag of kettle corn for $4, more than enough for the three of us, and checked out some free events while we munched. The boys were enthralled by the stunts at the BMX bike show, with bikers who have competed in the X Games. They also enjoyed the Fred Scheer's Lumberjack Show. Quinn got a wood chip from one of the logs signed by the lumberjacks after the show -- a free souvenir.
Other exciting freebies? The Birdman of Las Vegas does five exotic bird shows per day in the Pebble Corral. And Brad's World Reptiles, Wild and Dangerous Desert, is open in the Creation Station all day every day, complete with animals from José the alligator to tiny turtles.
Find Kaylin Bettinger online at adn.com/contact/kbettinger or call her at 257-4349.
By KAYLIN BETTINGER