|Birth name||Franklin Taylor Mason|
|Born||February 22, 1956
|Genres||Ventriloquist, Comedian, and Musician|
|Notable works and roles||Bananas, Thou Shalt Laugh|
Franklin Taylor Mason (born February 22, 1956) is a comedian, ventriloquist and musician.
Early life and career
The son of a radio farm broadcaster and a homemaker mother, Mason was born in Hinsdale, Illinois, and grew up in suburban Chicago. His father, Bill Mason, worked at WGN Radio and Television, a local Chicago station that featured farm news in the early mornings and every day at noon. This served as an introduction to show business for young Mason, who often accompanied his father to broadcasts. His father was also hired by farm groups to speak at their conferences and meetings, and Mason was a regular sidekick to his father’s speeches.
His childhood was stereotypical for the time: piano lessons, Little League, summer vacations and church dinners. His father was a deacon in the Congregational Church, where the Mason family attended every Sunday morning.
They moved to Ottawa, Illinois, while Mason was in high school, and he graduated from Ottawa High in 1974. Mason then attended the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where he majored in agriculture and communications, graduating in 1979. While there, he played varsity football for The Fighting Illini, and suffered a knee injury during his junior season. This led to an entire autumn in an ankle-to-hip cast, during which time Mason began performing at his fraternity as a disc jockey and comedian for dances. By the time his football career (he received the Illini Champion award and varsity letters) and undergraduate education ended two years later, Mason had become a campus favorite by spinning records and telling jokes at parties, college functions and university events.
During these two years of performance, Mason re-discovered a ventriloquist puppet given to him for a 10th-birthday gift by his parents. Reviving his skill as a ventriloquist, he combined the puppet, stand-up comedy and music into a sort of one-man variety show.
Mason moved in with an aunt and uncle in Oak Brook, Illinois, during the winter of 1980. He was working part-time as a waiter when he was discovered by Arnie Morton, a restaurateur, who found Mason playing piano and entertaining guests at a wedding. Morton offered Mason the job of playing the see-through glass piano at Morton's in Chicago, where Mason worked during the balance of 1980. He often used his ventriloquist puppet to heckle the clientele who came to the bar, and this act led to jobs at Chicago piano bars.
Mason was hired as a musical director for The Second City Touring Company in the spring of 1981, and he worked as a musician for almost a year at the theater, learning improvisational comedy and theater, while helping to open the “Second City - Etc.” room. He met his future wife, Marsia Mason, who worked as an assistant to the creative managers of The Second City, Bernard Sahlins and Joyce Sloane.
Mason was admitted to The Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in the fall of 1982, where he spent the year in graduate school, earning a Master’s Degree in Advertising in June 1983. During those 12 months at Northwestern, Mason began working as a ventriloquist at Zanies Comedy Club, just one block south of The Second City Theater. By the end of 1983 Mason was working full-time in show business, either with Zanies or The Second City, getting a full education in comedy writing and performing. Sometime in 1984 Mason became the house emcee at Zanies, working 4-5 nights a week, where he paid his dues; he also created material for his act and set the groundwork for a career. He helped open Zanies Comedy Club in Nashville, Tennessee, in 1984; in 1985 he and Marsia moved to New York City. His act at the time revolved around a wooden-headed classic dummy and the piano. His material was clean (he did not use profanity) and his act was gaining some notoriety locally in Chicago.
Mason worked his way into the emcee position at Catch a Rising Star in New York, and he worked there for three years, 1986-1989.
Mason began a career at this time playing college campuses, mostly through NACA (National Association of Campus Activities). Over the next 11 years, until 2000, Mason did more than 1500 college shows, and won two “Family Entertainer of The Year” awards. By 1990 Mason began making television appearances on all the popular shows of the day: Evening at the Improv, Comic Strip Live, Caroline's Comedy Hour and MTV Half-Hour Comedy Hour.
In late 1990 Mason auditioned for and was cast on Star Search, hosted by Ed McMahon; he was the grand-prize winner, earning $100,000 and some notoriety in the comedy world as a result. He did The Comedy Club Network show for Showtime on cable-TV, and that led to an appearance on Comedy on Campus, a comedy special for Showtime that aired around 1993.
Mason moved to southern California in 1992, where he lived until 1995. He headlined in many of the major clubs and played hundreds of college dates over the next few years. He had added a couple of puppets to his act, began using a portable electronic keyboard and maintained the clean edge to his performances. He had discarded the hard, wooden-headed puppets for smaller, soft puppets (something like Muppets) and these allowed him to pack more into a bag. His act packed small, but played big.
Sometime in the late 1990s Mason added a life-sized sumo wrestler puppet to his act, and began to let audience members come up on stage and manipulate the puppets as he tried to synchronize the puppet mouth with words. This became a signature of his and he rode the routine to great success.
He and his wife had two children and had moved to southern New Jersey in 1995. Off the beaten path of show business, Mason picked up work in a variety of locations: Branson, Missouri; Myrtle Beach, South Carolina; resorts in The Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania; Las Vegas; Atlantic City; and the ever-present colleges and comedy clubs.
Sometime in 2000, Mason was invited to perform at Praise Gathering, a Christian conference in Indianapolis, Indiana. To make this opportunity worthwhile and somewhat unforgettable, Mason made a large puppet that looked like the host and Christian songwriter-singer-performer Bill Gaither. That performance led to Gaither offering Mason a spot on his Homecoming Concert Tour. In 2001 Mason began a three-year stint playing large basketball and hockey arenas around the U.S. with Gaither and The Homecoming Artists. Mason revamped his act, adding a pig puppet (PACO) and routines written specifically for the Christian audience. Gaither had Mason perform on three of his best-selling videos, filmed at Carnegie Hall New York; The Sydney Opera House in Australia; and Red Rocks in Colorado.
Taylor had a successful. albeit strenuous, run with HigherLevel Father-Son Basketball Camps from 2003-05. His multi-year commitment concluded with the much ballyhooed College Mennonite Show in July of his last summer with the organization. During the three summer commitment, Taylor shot an impressive 47% from the 3PT line and won Basketball Golf twice.
His latest adventure is a new variety show featuring family friendly adventures of one certainly terrific star puppet named ChildrenTalk, a comically curiously natured co‐host will star along with actor and ventriloquist Taylor Mason.
In 2013, he wrote a humorous introduction for Unclaimed Baggage: Voices of the Main Line Writers Group, a volume of short stories penned by the members of the group.
Mason continues to write and perform comedy, ventriloquism and music. He has worked extensively for The Disney Cruise Line, plays comedy clubs, private parties and corporations.
|2002||Ken Davis and Friends: Comedy Concert||DVD|
|2003||Here We Go||VHS/DVD|
|2005||Bananas - Taylor Mason||VHS/DVD|
|2005||Bananas - Taylor Mason 2||VHS/DVD|
|2006||Thou Shalt Laugh||DVD|
|2007||Thou Shalt Laugh 2 - The Deuce||DVD|
|2008||Thou Shalt Laugh 3||DVD|
|2009||Thou Shalt Laugh 4||DVD|
|2011||Thou Shalt Laugh 5||DVD|