|Here in the city of Reno I’m the emcee for a show that features a group of local comedians; and what show would be complete without a talking African Grey Parrot. Buckwheat of Kilimanjaro is always the headliner for the show, not only because he’s the best in the business, but also because nobody wants to follow a talking bird. You see, he’s better than any mere mortal. And I can’t blame anyone in the group for not wanting to go after him. He gets a more heart-warming response than any mere human could get.
Buckwheat and I put the show together, just like any comedy team does, bit by bit. His bits are shorter than mine, but we still practice a lot together. I write the straight lines and Buckwheat adds the PUNCH! He even improves from time to time. Wrong responses even give Buckwheat his own brand of humor.
Buckwheat has grown and become more confident. This is our second year doing this show (he just turned 4 years old), and I must admit that working with animals can be very rewarding...and sometimes frustrating. The Grey Parrot is by nature quite shy and this temperament makes it a challenge to bring out Buckwheat’s responses on stage. However, he likes to join in, especially when I give him his lead lines, and then we both wait for the audience applause and laughter to complete us.
Sometimes when Buckwheat is in his traveling cage waiting for his turn to go on stage, the audience will applaud another comedian. When this happens, Buckwheat jumps in and makes a clapping sound with his tongue or even a laughing sound when the audience laughs.
Buckwheat has learned as I have learned the sequence of the routine at a multitude of venues where we go to perform. From the first "hello" when his adoring fans see us...to the last "bye bye" when he’s being whisked away in his traveling cage and out to the car, he knows what to say. He’s learned what comes next so that in the middle he knows he can get away with interrupting me to say, "Joe..Joe, bark like a dog!" He always gets a big laugh for this line and a seed also, just for interrupting. Then before the encore, I say "Buckwheat knows when he’s done a good performance because he bows and says bye, bye." And then Buckwheat bows and says, "Bye, bye Buckwheat." Just like the way Rowan did to Martin on the old Laugh In show. Remember, he used to say, "Say good night Dick."
To put this into perspective, this socialization from place to place is much like the accounts I’ve read about how the African Grey Parrot goes from feeding area to feeding area in the rain forest. In the wild the Grey travels with the flock or with the mate. In Buckwheat’s case, he travels with me as his mate. Additionally, I offer him security and someone to relate to during the day’s entertainment work at schools, retirement homes and other various places to which we go.
We go to a school auditorium and set up for a show. Buckwheat gets on his little tee stand and then we wait for a whole "flock" of children to arrive. After they "descend," he begins showing off for them and receiving rewards, much the same as he would for a mate or for the birds at one of the maize fields and jungle clearings where the African Greys frequent in Africa.
Then at night, he returns home where he gets his evening meal of birdie banquiet and climbs up to his tall perch to go to sleep. I’ve also read that the Grey Parrot sleeps in the tallest part of the tree tops. I’ve never doubted this because I have proof that they like to climb at night. When we travel at night with Buckwheat, we’ve found that he’s almost impossible to travel with because as soon as night falls, he begins climbing to the highest place in the car. Whereas at home, often I will take him to bed with me. He sits contentedly while I scratch his head and my wife reads. He loves this especially when he has pin feathers in an impossible spot to reach. I’ll then take him to his cage so that he can climb to the tallest perch for a good night’s sleep.
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This article was published in the Fall 1996 issue of The Grey Play Round Table Magazine.