By Julia Hatmaker | firstname.lastname@example.org
Michael Paul and his “bird of prey” are Gabrielle Union’s “jelly, jam and apple butter.”
Paul, a Philadelphia native, earned the praise from Union and her fellow judges Simon Cowell, Julianne Hough and Howie Mandel during the June 11 episode of “America’s Got Talent.” The comedian, ventriloquist and puppeteer earned four “yes” votes for his audition on the program, letting him move on to the next stage of the competition.
And yet, Paul had put off auditioning for the NBC show for years.
“I know a lot of working acts are afraid of ‘AGT,’ even though it’s amazing,” he said, citing the reality show nature of the show and how factors outside of a performers control can affect an act.
“I think I had ignored it out of fear of being critiqued on such a large stage,” he said.
But fear is something Paul has been at work conquering.
“Over the last couple years I have been in a neat part of my life where I don’t want to be afraid of things,” he said. “I want to do everything that scares me and to just participate, without the expectancy of a result, in everything I do — whether that’s going on a date or going on ‘America’s Got Talent.’”
He also knew he needed some sort of change in his life.
“I think that anyone in any career — you get to a point where maybe things are feeling a little stagnant and you need to jumpstart it in some way,” Paul said. “America’s Got Talent” promised to do that.
The act has been years in the making — 8 years in fact. Willy was actually the first puppet creation for Paul, who started out as a stand up comic. He went on to do improv, then started puppeteering for the Jim Henson Company.
The inspiration for Willy partly came from a childhood trip to Six Flags where Paul saw a birds of prey show. He walked away knowing that a bird was exactly what he wanted.
However, the animal he received from his parents wasn’t what he expected.
“It was just a pooping machine,” Paul recalled. “It didn’t participate. It wasn’t fun. It just pooped.”
So it’s only to be expected that poop would be a large part of the Willy appearance on “America’s Got Talent.”
Willy’s poop is actually made of two different 99 Cents Store hand creams. Two are required to get the right consistency.
“If it’s too thick, I can’t press it to come out of the machine — if it’s too loose then it keeps coming out and it won’t stop,” Paul said.
It took a lot of trial and error to get right.
“It’s so sad because my sister is a lawyer. She’s like ‘I’m helping change the constitution in Philadelphia to make people’s lives better’ and I’m like ‘well, I’m trying to make this bird poop come out.’”
Going into “America’s Got Talent,” Paul knew he couldn’t compete with the ventriloquism skills of previous acts (such as 2017 winner Darci Lynne Farmer).“All the other ventriloquists on that show sing and do impressions — and I don’t do any of that,” Paul said. “If anyone’s seen my full show, the puppets are just one scope of what I do because I’m a standup comic first.”
But with only two minutes for his act, he knew he didn’t have time to fully showcase all of his talents. So his brand of ventriloquism comedy (with a touch of potty humor thrown in) became the focus.
Paul was pleased with his performance and wowed by the reaction it garnered from judge Mandel.
“I think you just changed your life tonight,” Mandel told him. “You were so good and so funny at what you do. I love you.”
“I didn’t think I needed that validation, but getting it certainly was important to me,” Paul said, adding later: “Hearing that accolade from Howie certainly touched me and I think you can see that. It meant a lot.”
Paul is currently based in Los Angeles, but he hopes to return to his native Philadelphia at some point. When he does, he’ll be ordering a cheesesteak — Californian attempts at Philly’s signature sandwich just don’t cut it. “It’s just never the same as it is in Philly,” he said.
That being said, Paul is a wise man and refuses to weigh in on the cheesesteak debate.
“I am Switzerland!” he said. “To me, it’s about the company that I’m sharing the cheesesteak with.”
You can learn more about Paul at his website, michaelpaulonline.com. You can also follow him on Twitter at @MichaelPaulLive.
“America’s Got Talent” airs Tuesdays at 8 p.m. on NBC. Learn more at nbc.com/americas-got-talent.
Julia Hatmaker may be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @JuliaHatmaker. Start your day in the know by signing up for our newsletter, “Good Morning, Pennsylvania.”