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El Paso County Fair opens Saturday with several 'characters'

July 17, 2014 Updated: July 17, 2014 at 4:45 pm
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A man with a thousand voices is one of the stars at this summer's El Paso County Fair.

OK, maybe not a thousand, but definitely at least a dozen.

Joe Gandelman, a ventriloquist from San Diego, will perform daily with about 12 of his characters at the fair in Calhan. It opens Saturday and runs through July 26.

"I always like performing," he says. "I have very stressful things going on, as most people do, and while I'm doing the show, I'm blotting it all out. I'm in the moment with all the characters - talking to them, looking out into the audience, having fun with the dialogue. I especially like the interaction" with the audience.

Must See Do Must Do: What's happening this weekend around Colorado Springs

Gandelman was a newspaper reporter in the '80s for the San Diego Union-Tribune when he got his first puppet.

"I covered the border and Ronald Reagan, and it was so stressful I wanted a hobby," Gandelman says. "I wrote to (ventriloquist) Paul Winchell about a dummy, and he told me to go to a magic shop."

He bought a $90 dummy, and eventually quit the paper in 1990 to do his act at schools and fairs around the country. He just went international, too, accepting a job that will take him into schools in Canada and British Columbia.

When it comes to his field of work, Gandelman is picky. He never liked Shari Lewis and her famous puppet, Lamb Chop, he says, because Lewis always smiled when her puppet spoke.

"It's easier to talk when you smile," he says. "(Ventriloquist) Jimmy Nelson didn't do that. I don't do that either."

One of the tricks of his trade, which he often reveals to kids at shows, is to substitute the 12 challenging letters of the alphabet with easier letters. The letter "P," for example, is a hard letter to say without moving the mouth.

So if Gandelman's main puppet, John, says "Colorado Springs," he'll substitute the "P" with a "T," and say "Colorado Strings."

About 25,000 people attend the El Paso County Fair, says Suzan McCoy, fair events coordinator. She's selected fair entertainment for nine years and found Gandelman online.

"He has lots of different characters and he was funny," she says.

This year, she also found "Wild About Monkeys," a show starring a man and his mandrill monkey, Dagney.

Other entertainment includes an exotic petting zoo, with a zebra, camel, monkey and kangaroo; the Crabtree Carnival, with 15-20 rides; and two NASCAR speedsters, Kenny Schrader and Kenny Wallace, who'll race their cars.

Saturday through July 26, gates open at 10 a.m., activities start at 11 a.m., El Paso County Fairgrounds, 366 10th St., Calhan, $7, $5 ages 55 and older, $3 ages 3-12, free 2 and younger; Saturday free for active duty military, veterans and their dependents; Monday free admission for all; 520-7880, elpasocountyfair.com

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Jennifer Mulson, The Gazette, 636-0270, jen.mulson@gazette.com

Other events

Serenity Springs Wildlife Center's 21st Anniversary Party - With music, food, bounce house, games, prizes and more, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday, Serenity Springs Wildlife Center, 24615 Scott Road, Calhan, $10, $5 with military ID; 347-9200, serenitysprings wildlife.org.

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