‘Laughter is the Best Medicine’

Retired pharmacist Steve Aldridge found a second career as a ventriloquist and magician, using humor to better the world and bring joy to others one smile at a time.

by Kari Apted

Retired pharmacist Steve Aldridge admits there was one powerful remedy he did not learn about in pharmacy school: “They didn’t teach me that laughter is the best medicine.”

A firm believer in humor’s healing power, Aldridge now enjoys a second career as a professional ventriloquist and magician. He and his entertaining troupe of dummies frequently perform for church groups, day care centers and senior citizens. One of Aldridge’s most popular dummies, Luther, bears an uncanny resemblance to former presidential candidate Bernie Sanders.

“I started messing around with new material when Bernie was really hot last year,” Aldridge said. “Luther is an equal-opportunity puppet; he’s political but non-partisan.” 

Luther and Aldridge like riffing on the current political climate.

“Politicians get a lot of exercise,” Aldridge said.

“Yes, they do,” Luther retorted. “Running their mouths, jumping to conclusions and stretching the truth.”

“You’d have to be a dummy to want to be a politician,” Aldridge said, his cohort responding with a long, blank stare. “Luther, do you have patience for people?”

“You just watch things going on and think about how to find the humor in it. Then you edit it to fit your target audience. Cecil, my country bumpkin dummy, and I have a seven-minute spiel on the new pastor at church. It’s a favorite with church groups and seniors.”

Steve Aldridge

“I do,” Luther said. “It’s my tolerance for idiots that needs work.”

Aldridge caters his show to each specific audience, noting that ventriloquism requires a storyline, not just telling joke after joke. 

“Probably 80 percent of my work is done for seniors, and that topic is a whole show right there,” said Aldridge, adding that he wants his senior audiences to forget their aches and pains for a little while as they enjoy a good laugh. “Church, politics, the doctor’s office—there are lots of lines just in these three areas.” 

A board-certified geriatric pharmacist, Aldridge naturally became familiar with what makes elderly audiences tick. Between 1991 and 2008, he was a frequent guest on famed radio host Ludlow Porch’s show, answering health- and medication-related questions. At the height of his radio career, Porch was broadcast on 65 stations across the southeast. 

“I was really nervous during that first show,” Aldridge said. “It was the fastest three hours of my life, but when it was over, I thought, ‘I can do this.’ It was great training for performing in front of a live audience.”

Although storytelling is a major part of a successful ventriloquism career, Aldridge does not consider himself a professional writer—even though his creative talents were detected early.

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“When I started my second English course at [the University of Georgia], my teacher told me to go into journalism,” he said. “I think she was disappointed when I told her I was going into pharmacy instead.” 

Aldridge has become a pro at finding comedy everywhere he looks. 

“You just watch things going on and think about how to find the humor in it,” he said. “Then you edit it to fit your target audience. Cecil, my country bumpkin dummy, and I have a seven-minute spiel on the new pastor at church. It’s a favorite with church groups and seniors.” 

Aldridge also credits late comedian Red Skelton with inspiring his tales. 

“I love going to the Comedy Barn in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee,” he said. “Few young people have heard of Red Skelton today, but his skits are still totally relevant. He did a lot of pantomime in his shows, just a lot of comical, goofy stuff that still makes people laugh.”

The self-taught ventriloquist also learned how to perform magic tricks on his own. He incorporates them into his shows to add variety—and to give his voice a break. 

“Ventriloquism can be very hard on the voice,” Aldridge said. “Adding magic tricks to my shows creates pauses for my voice to recover.”

Aldridge always had an interest in magic tricks and credits a Texas magic shop owner with teaching him the basics. 

“My son lived near a magic store in Ft. Worth, Texas,” he said. “When I’d visit my son, I’d go to the shop. I was interested in magic but didn’t know how to do any tricks. At the time, I was doing a lot of talks to seniors about Alzheimer’s and depression, so I asked the magic shop’s owner to show me some tricks that I could use in those talks to keep them interesting. That shop owner was a good mentor for me.”

Aldridge hones his skills by attending an annual magic convention in Pigeon Forge, where other magicians reveal how their tricks are done. He now has over 55 different magic tricks in his bag and especially loves the reactions he gets from school-aged children.

“Today’s kids are really smart,” Aldridge said. “You do magic tricks for them, and at first, they aren’t impressed. They say, ‘I know how you did that. I saw that on YouTube.’ So then I have to pull out something they don’t know, and their jaws drop. They’re like, ‘How did you do that?’ It’s a lot of fun to watch their faces change.” 

Aldridge, Luther, Cecil, Carlos the Parrot and Fluffy the Chicken are still accepting show bookings during the COVID-19 pandemic, eager to spread their belief in the healing power of laughter. You can book a show by contacting Aldridge at radiopharmacy@yahoo.com.

Click here to read more stories by Kari Apted.

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