IT MUST be a riot living with a ventriloquist.
After turning off the lights, Wanlu would sometimes say good night to his half-asleep family by using one of his many voices. Just for kicks.
Wanlu, a Hall of Famer (five-week champion) on the TV5 show ?Talentadong Pinoy,? shares his Antipolo townhouse with partner Debbie, two young children?Gabby and Elijah?and over 20 puppets.
He makes it a point to practice his routine every day, ?doing at least two characters at a time.?
He calls his act ?ventrillusion,? a combination of ventriloquism and magic tricks. He started out as a magician in 1988 and only learned ventriloquism (with the help of books, CDs and the Internet) four years ago.
A dentistry undergraduate, Wanlu (born Juancho Lunaria) used to work in a Yaw-Yan gym owned by a magician, Nap Fernandez.
?Master Nap taught me magic and later, another friend, Burik the Clown, encouraged me to turn pro,? he said.
The walls of his home are decorated with vintage posters of legendary magicians like Harry Houdini and Howard Thurston. Strewn all over the place are various puppet toys as well: Miss Piggy, Kermit the Frog, Groucho Marx, Charlie McCarthy.
When he joined ?Talentado? in 2009, he was still a veritable newcomer and built up his repertoire by acquiring various figures online. ?I got secondhand puppets on eBay,? he said.
Antique figures can be quite pricey.
?I once owned a Theodore Mack original that dates back to 1919. Mack created Charlie McCarthy, the figure of Edgar Bergen,? he pointed out.
Among the ventriloquists he admires are Bergen, Paul Winchell, Jimmy Nelson, Jeff Dunham and Terry Fator.
He explained that the term ?dummy? is considered politically incorrect in the United States. As such, he?d rather call these dolls as ventriloquist?s figures which are divided into soft and hard: ?Soft figures are made from rubber, latex or foam. Hard ones are from wood or fiberglass. I own at least seven soft figures and 14 hard ones.?
Most of the figures are imported, bought from US suppliers, but one is proudly Philippine-made.
?The head of the Manny Pacquiao figure was made by a local mascot-maker. I just sent it to my supplier abroad so that the internal mechanism could be installed,? he said.
The Pacquiao figure is called PeksMan. ?Now a congressman, Peksman wears a barong Tagalog in his gigs,? Wanlu said.
The star among his figures is Nicolo the mischievous little boy.
Recently, he added a playmate for Nicolo, a little girl called Nikulit.
Other mainstays in Wanlu?s shows are Ozham the Indian fortune teller, Lola Osna the grandma, Kurt the Fil-Am, Kap the barangay captain of Talaba, Congressman Dominador (a.k.a. Con Dom), Mang Kaloy the bum, Andhokz the chicken, Santiago the parrot, Gonzo the animatronic monkey, Gort the alien, Lo-Syang the Siamese twins, and Luwan (who was cast as a murderous possessed puppet on TV5?s ?Midnight DJ?).
He said that Lo-Syang was in demand at mall shows during the Chinese New Year celebrations last month. Nicolo has his own puppet, Lolo Oban, a miniature figure that?s only a few inches.
He also has several marionettes: Elvis, Michael Jackson, the juggler, the belly dancer, the rollerblader, and the Egyptian mummy.
Wanlu has passed on his marionettes to Martin and Ivan, grown-up sons from a previous marriage, who recently joined the second season of the ABS-CBN reality search ?Pilipinas Got Talent.?
The ventriloquist, who has converted the TV room into the figures? own ?bedroom,? feels like a little boy again, surrounded by toys in this room.
He has a van that often serves as a mobile dressing room for quick road trips, but he confessed to being hesitant to check in his figures when he travels by plane.
?Once, Nicolo and Con Dom, in their cases, had to go through the X-ray machine at the airport,? he recalled.
A terminal official panicked.
?I explained that it was a boy and an old man,? he quipped.
Only then did the officer realize that he?s Wanlu.
?When I first joined ?Talentado,? some fans couldn?t even spell or pronounce ventriloquism. They thought I was just lip-synching prerecorded spiels,? he recounted. ?Now, even the taho vendor in our neighborhood knows what ventriloquism is all about.?