Note: Gillan Ropero, a friend and fellow UST Journalism alumna, helped in the writing of this article. We were asked to produce a feature story from a mock press conference featuring the subject.
Walking unassumingly into the dim-lighted hall, he makes his way into the microphone platform wearing a plain black shirt, a good old pair of denim jeans, and a necklace with a black circular pendant.
For a guy whose life almost depended on maneuvering of fully clad hand puppets and delivering of punch lines in varying tones and accents, Wanlu, or Juancho Lunaria in his life behind the spotlight, sure dresses too simply, almost camouflaging into the dark walls of the hall. Without ado, he talks about his life story and the characters he brings to life through his hands.
“A lot of people don’t know this but I joined Talentadong Pinoy when I was just starting out as a ventriloquist. I was just a beginner when I [became] a Hall-of-Famer,” he shares matter-of-factly, revealing not only the fact that he learned puppetry about five years ago but also his ability to speak in a learned fashion.
As it turns out, Wanlu is actually a dentistry undergraduate. “Not a lot of people know that (I was an amateur ventriloquist) because, of course, I acted like I was a professional,” Wanlu quips, exhibiting throughout the conference his deadpan humor that tickles even the rarely-smiling person in the room.
Perhaps it was the magic he had in his hands since 1988, when he first became friends with it, that makes him a master of what makes people giggle. Or maybe it was in his voice, the very attribute that now allows him to meet famous fellow ventriloquists like Jeff Dunham and Terry Fator. Probably, it was his charm that was already there in his childhood—only that time, no one was able to witness it apart from himself.
A boy who was always left alone in the house, Wanlu shares his freshest memories as the bunso in the family. “I was forced to talk to myself, which trained me unconsciously for ventriloquism,” he says with a chuckle, openly admitting his nonetheless still “not so bad” childhood.
But it wasn’t his childhood dream, of course. “I [would have been] a cellphone snatcher,” Wanlu says jokingly, eliciting claps and heaps of laughter from the audience. “I’ve always wanted to entertain people,” says the practicing magician, who was actually a gas boy and a jeepney barker before he almost gave up in his first few tries as a ventriloquist.
He confesses how his agent at first opposed his venturing into stand-up comedy. “The very first gig, I remember, my agent told me ‘Wanlu, ‘di para sa’yo ‘yan. ‘Wag mo gawin ‘yan.’”
But Wanlu never tried to quit. “I always felt ventriloquism was something unique I could offer to them. I was quite confident that if I worked hard, I would get the results [that I wanted],” he says with a hint of amazement on how the craft has gone mainstream. “Now even a magtataho knows the word.”
He again fills the room with spontaneous eruptions of hilarity, delivering every punch line and joke with proper timing and mastery through his puppets Nicolo, the charming little boy with witty banters, and Congressman Dominador, who portrays a comedic dirty old man ridiculously called Cong Dom.
For this thriving artist, ventriloquism is no longer a job but a mission—an advocacy to provide amusement through making his own Pinocchios come alive with just minimal movement and a little play on voices.
This mission does not cease for the striving puppeteer, who reveals to the audience one incident that proves how “crazy” he turned out to be for his adopted kids.
Before he and his wife go to sleep at night, he shares, he bids good night to his kids and, yes, to his puppets. To this, his wife teasingly remarks, “Sira na talaga ulo mo.”
“If you want to succeed, you have to fool yourself (that) these are real characters,” says Wanlu, confidently admitting his so-called insanity. “When I first started, natatawa naman ako sa sarili ko. Kung natatawa ako sa sarili ko, [siguro naman] matatawa rin sila sa akin,” he says, adding that his driving force is himself.
“When I find myself funny, I want other people to be, too.”