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Bare-Handed Puppetry

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It's a hand... poof... it's a person.
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Splitting the difference between puppet shows and mime, this performance technique paints and/or costumes a human body part, usually the hand, to resemble an independent character. The performer then manipulates their decorated body part to create the semblance of life, often accompanying its movements with dialogue or sound effects via ventriloquism.

Methods of converting body parts into characters vary widely, from undecorated skin to rough-sketched facial features to hyper-realistic Body Paint to glued-on eyes, hair and costumes. Filmed examples sometimes enhance this with CGI.

The hand is probably the most common body part employed for Bare Handed Puppetry, often by forming a loose fist, turning it sideways, and rocking the thumb up and down so that the gap between thumb and the palm's edge resembles a "mouth". Individual fingers are also a common choice, allowing multiple characters to be portrayed by a single performer. In filmed media, an actor's upside-down chin may be adorned with facial features so that the performer's real mouth is incorporated into the character. Pornographic variants featuring dressed-up genitalia also exist.

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Related to Organ Autonomy, but invoked for entertainment purposes. Also see Impossible Shadow Puppets.


Examples:

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    Arts 
  • Animal hand painting is a specialized form of Body Paint art.
  • One of the earliest documented examples of ventriloquism as a performing art is an engraving from 1753, which depicts Sir John Parnell speaking via his hand.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Thumb Wars! is a Star Wars parody in which the characters are portrayed as human thumbs in costumes, with CGI faces on their anterior sides.
  • Aldo Bat Thumb by the same guys, that parodies Batman.
  • In Fun and Fancy Free, Edgar Bergen entertains party guests by making his hand into a puppet of an old lady.
  • The Helping Hands that grab Sarah in Labyrinth, which form faces to talk to her, are real puppeteer hands painted to look like they're made of stone.

    Literature 
  • Repairman Jack. In The Tomb, Jack amuses Vicky by drawing a face on his hand and turning it into "Mooney", a silly puppet-like character with a chirpy voice.
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    Live-Action TV 
  • One alien character constructed on Jim Henson's Creature Shop Challenge had a puppeteer's fingers for "teeth", painted and with false nails to make them pointed.
  • Senor Wences, who appeared regularly on The Ed Sullivan Show, is possibly the Trope Maker (in the TV world, at least) since he was the first mainstream ventriloquist to extensively use this artform. "'Salright?" "'Salright."
  • The parody sports show Thumb Wrestling Federation, which stars thumbs topped with Mexican-style wrestling masks. The "referee" and "commentators" wear wigs and googly eyes.
  • An episode of Red Dwarf has our leads doing the "chin puppet" technique to pass themselves as an alien race called Vindaloovians. It doesn't work.
  • The Nanny and Gracie do this at a talent show in the Season 1 finale.
  • Shirley does this to entertain Laverne when the latter is sick. It's Mr. Getwell!

    Puppet Shows 
  • Oobi is almost certainly the Trope Codifier. All of the characters on this Nickelodeon show are the puppeteers' own hands, with eyes attached to a finger like rings. More often than not, each character has some kind of additional accessory — such as Uma's barrette, or Kako's toboggan cap. The program once had a strong following of Muppet fanatics, since its cast is made up of Muppeteers and it began as a co-production of Nick and Sesame Workshop. Frieda, a recurring character, is actually a foot with eyes attached to a toe. Frieda's puppeteer, Cheryl Blaylock, needed to train herself to perform with her feet after getting the role.
    Cheryl Blaylock: I had to actually go back to Puppetry 101 to train my foot to lip sync. Oh yes, I was determined to do some kind of toe wiggle that could be convincing.

    Web Original 
  • Homemade "chin puppet" clips are very common on YouTube.
  • OobiEyes.com, a former online catalogue of unofficial Oobi puppets that closed in 2013, had a YouTube "partnership offer" that gave customers free Oobi eyes if they created web videos with their products. The result was a wide variety of Oobi tributes and spoofs appearing on YouTube, including entire series about bare hand puppet characters. Due to the former popularity of such videos, a wiki exists (of course it does!) for cataloging homemade films starring Oobi puppets.

    Western Animation 
  • Sussie and her parents from The Amazing World of Gumball are live-action chin puppets. Their personalities match their bizarre appearance.
  • In the Batman: The Animated Series episode "Christmas with the Joker", the Joker draws "Laffy the little elf" on his hand to use as a comic foil in his broadcast.
  • In an episode of South Park, Cartman turns one of his hands into a bare-handed puppet of Jennifer Lopez. The puppet (remaining in-character in the whole episode) becomes a celebrity, and a rival for the real Jennifer Lopez...
  • In one episode of My Gym Partner's a Monkey, Jake becomes a big hit around school by making a face out of his butt and making it speak with a funny voice.
  • SpongeBob SquarePants:
    • In the episode "Survival of the Idiots", Patrick makes a face from the rolls of his back. "My name is Patback."
    • After breaking up with Patrick in "Naughty Nautical Neighbors", SpongeBob tries to think of three other friends. When he can't think of any, he draws smiley faces on the three fingers he's holding up and sadly intones "The gang's all here."

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