To Serve, Protect … And Laugh: Policeman/puppeteer loves bringing smiles to people’s facesPublished 10:00pm Saturday, March 29, 2014
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Mild-mannered Brookhaven police officer William Durr has a purpose in life – to serve, protect and laugh.
Durr, who’s been an officer for three years now, also is a puppeteer and said he does it for the kids.
“I love making people smile,” he said, “especially children.”
Durr recently appeared on the front page of The Daily Leader when he was seen at Brookhaven Elementary during the Read Across America program reading a Dr. Seuss book to students – or should we say, Chunky the Monkey was reading to the class? Durr was in full uniform and there representing not only his little known comedic side, but putting in some good public relations for the department.
“The chief felt like it would be good PR,” he said. He laughs recalling how the police chief found out about his hidden talents.
“Chief [Bobby] Bell came into roll call one morning playing my video from YouTube on his phone,” he said. “I’d told him before, that when the school asked for volunteers to read to students that I wanted to be the one to go.”
Durr has worked with youth groups for many years. Before he became an officer he was a mental health technician with Juvenile Rehabilitation Facility in Brookhaven. Durr has served as youth minister for several churches. He was also the youth minister in 1999 for Southway Baptist Church; that’s where he started working with puppets.
“I had these two little cloth hand-puppets. I performed for children’s church and would spend 10-15 minutes doing little skits,” he said.
In 2009 Durr was in a play at Brookhaven Little Theatre when he met John Landriss, who gave him a book on ventriloquism and encouraged him to branch out and do more with his puppet skills. Durr explained that he’d been playing around with ventriloquism since he was a boy.
“When I was eight years old I had a Charlie McCarthy ventriloquist puppet,” he said. “I loved doing that and practiced with it a lot.”
After getting motivated to get back into using his talent, he started looking online for an affordable ventriloquist puppet when he came along puppet maker Kem Poyner.
“When I called him he was working on a puppet and said it wasn’t sold yet,” he said. So, he bought it. Durr said his ventriloquist puppet, or ‘hard puppet,’ is one of Poyner’s one-of-a-kind creations. This purchase became his first character – Cody. He is his only ‘hard puppet.’
“He is a sweet, but clever little boy,” Durr said. “He appears to be about five-years-old.”
Durr said that though his act seems from the hip, he actually sits down and writes comedic material to use. He said he’s a fan of the famous stand-up comic Jeff Dunham.
“But, I don’t use the language that Dunham does,” he said. “I’m very family friendly.” Durr said he plays to mostly family-style crowds.
“I have done a 50-year class reunion,” he said, “but, mostly I do children’s churches, elementary schools, day cares, had a part in Brookhaven Children’s Summer Camp, birthday’s… things like that.” He said his next gig will probably be some local schools, as a couple of teachers have called and asked him to come to share stories with their classes.
Axtell Expressions, an artistic group in Ventura, Calif., that hand-makes custom and stock characters, made all of his soft puppets.
Each of Durr’s puppets has its own personality. The other characters in Durr’s show are Todd the Turtle, Vern – a kooky-bird, Chunky Monkey and a very interesting sketch artist trickster.
Todd the Turtle is low-key, Durr said.
“He’s got a real slow cadence to his speech,” he said, “but, he thinks he’s quick.”
Vern, his kooky-bird, has played to a homeless shelter in Texas. Durr got into Vern’s character and sounded like a haggard old sailor. He said Vern was an instant hit.
“That was a great show,” he said. “The people really loved him and he got a lot of laughs.”
Chunky the Monkey was a Christmas gift from his wife Tressie. Chunky is middle-eastern and has a friendly disposition – he loves reading stories to children.
Durr said his family is very supportive and his little boy, who is 8, likes trying his hand at ventriloquism.
“He’s the reason why I’m on YouTube,” Durr said. “I put the video on YouTube for Nash to see Cody and myself singing Nash’s favorite Christmas song, Jingle Bells.”
Durr’s sketch-art trickster takes the art of drawing criminals very seriously, Durr said tongue in cheek. He takes a moment to draw the image of a face on an eraser board and mysteriously the eyes move around.
“I get a big reaction with this one,” he said. “The kids really get a big kick out of it.”
Durr said people interested in his characters should visit him on Facebook or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.