Sounds like a Steven King novel, but what I am about to describe is a collection of true stories about a raccoon puppet, an unbelieveably lifelike raccoon spring puppet. A spring puppet is different from other puppets in that you do not put your hand in it or have any sticks or strings to control it. It has a coil spring inside which enables the user to move it by simply holding it as if it were alive. “Rocky Raccoon” is a commercially available puppet I have used and sold since 1980. In that time I have gotten good, real good. In fact, many fellow magicians who travel to national magic conventions tell me I am the best they have ever seen. Lord knows I have written a lot of material for the character. To this day there are folks around the country doing routines I wrote in the 80s. So much for intellectual property rights.
Be that as it may, I have entertained tens of thousands of people, and scared half that many nearly to death with this thing. I learned very early that the key to realism with a spring puppet is to move it slowly. Real animals don’t jerk around, they have purpose to their movements. So for the first several months I spent a LOT of time watching how my dog and cats reacted to the world. I then simply put that learning into practice as I honed my puppet skills. It eats, it looks and it runs but, most importantly, it jumps! And always when you least expect it.
In the many years of performing with Rocky, I have had someone pull a knife on us more than once. The sudden appearance of the blade is not nearly as funny as the accompanying “I’LL CUT THAT THING!” Once in Atlanta, I actually had someone whip a gun out from under his coat. Fortunately Rocky was on the floor by that time and not in my hands.
The key to remember is this, it isn’t real. But when it is coming at you, most people react rather than think and the result is great comedy and the occasional panic attack. I have never caused a heart attack, but I have come close. And I have avoided causing a premature birth by having the sense to size up my victim before I let it fly. And there is a whole other skill I have developed, picking the right target. You can see it in their eyes when they are not quite sure whether it is real or not.
I did a show for a high school football team one spring at a camp. There was a HUGE defensive tackle in the front row that I could just tell was the one. “Let me put him away,” I said as I turned to the right. Little did he know I was lining up my target. BOOM! I let it go and hit him square in the chest. “WOWWWWWW!” He yelled as he went backwards in his chair and landed in his quarterback’s lap to the delighted laughter of his teammates.
Then there was the lady in a shopping mall where I was doing strolling entertainment. The raccoon is key there since it draws a crowd for me. They come to see what it is and, after I make it play dead, I segue into magic. But this particular day a lady approached me with an armful of packages and a 32 oz. Coke. I ran it up my arm and, after looking closely, she said, “That’s not real.” “That’s right, ma’am,” I replied. “I have a dead animal in my show, don’t tell the kids.” He ate a little something out of my hand as she leaned in to look closer. “That’s not real!” she said again. “I already told you that,” I said as I beat him on my hand to show he was not real. “Let me put him away,” as I turned to my right. BOOM! She screamed bloody murder, packages went everywhere, she dropped her Coke, then slipped and came down right in the middle of the puddle, elbows hitting tile, and wound up with Rocky laying next to her head. She looked at it one more time and said, “That’s not real!”
My good friend Bill G was in town a few years ago and went with me to a mall performance. “I’ve seen you before,” he said, “Now I want to watch how the crowd reacts.” So he watched as, once again, I nailed a lady with her family, with her screams and all that. As I walked off in one direction, they headed in the other, with Bill close enough behind to hear their ensuing conversation. A few minutes later he came back to where I was, laughing out loud. “What? I asked. “I was listening to that family, and to what one lady said to the one you threw the raccoon on.” “What?” I asked. “That thang liked to latch on to you!” he said. We both laughed over that one for quite a while.
These are only a couple of tales. There is another entire chapter dealing with celebrity encounters you don’t want to miss. Keep a look out for “Attack of the Killer Coon – Part Deux” coming soon. And, if you are so intrigued you must have a Rocky Raccoon for yourself, you are so lucky because I SELL THEM! For information on how to order your very own Rocky Raccoon, complete with training manual, follow this link: www.jimchester.com/magic_comedy/rockyraccoon.html. Click on the “Add to Cart” link and you will be able to order your very own. Payment is through PayPal. With a little practice, you too can soon be flirting with potential bodily harm and lawsuits. See you soon for Part Deux.