Punchman's tips
Richard Coombs


I was a non swazzler from the age of 9 until I was 19 when I put Punch and Judy away for about 20 years .. (mostly due to the fact that the voice I 'did' for Punch whilst Ok for me as a kid , was starting to feel a bit 'silly' as an adolescent lad )

Five years ago I started carving my puppets for my personal renaissance with 'Mr P' and at the same time tried again with swazzling...again using the swazzles I had bought as a lad ... and also some metal ones I made at the time.

But absolutely no joy ...which made me very despondent , as I was making all these new puppets and was starting to feel as though I would never have a chance to use them.

Anyone else who has given swazzling a genuine attempt , but with zero success, might just have a high arched palate like mine.

Dismiss this out of hand if you want ..but I would bet it is the case.

And I would also guess that the swazzles you are currently trying with are fairly 'flat' and fairly large.

For the technical minded ..this means you don't have a good contact seal between the swazzle and your mouth , so more air ( or as much ) goes over the top of the thing as actually goes 'through' it -- result no squawk -- Or perhaps worse for the learner who does not know how it is supposed to feel ...some Mr Punch voice ..but only when you use huge amounts of puff !

Consequently you think "Surely this isn't how everyone else does it ? This is taking huge amounts of effort" ( but then as everyone is quick to tell you how difficult it all is , you assume that must be how it should feel ...so you give up eventually, as you realise you could never sustain that sort of effort for the duration of a whole show).

The swazzles I purchased as a kid produced a mixture of nothing at all , or a tiny bit of 'Punch voice' but only with lots of effort and puff .

I knew I hadn't been sold 'duds' as the bloody things would make a great 'kazoo' noise if put between my lips and blown.

This noise was infuriating as it hinted at how good Punch could sound if only I could get it going inside my mouth !

There was also no joy with the ones I made myself back then ( this I realise now is because all I was doing was making them to the exact same dimensions as the bought ones ) ...and why not ? - that is what the "professional" ones looked like, it must be right .

There was no Internet back then ..no 'Punch and Judy on the Web' to let me consult other Punchmen .

And the few illustrations I could find in library books all gave similar swazzle dimensions .....it was all so frustrating ...it just had to be something that I was doing wrong .

That is why I gave up.

If I hadn't already invested the effort into making a few puppets this time round , I would probably have given up again.

But I do swazzle today .

And the ones I use are more curved and a bit smaller ..consequently they do fit my palate and they do work for me .

If you have drawn a blank so far , I would urge you before you give up altogether , to spend a little time and try this out :

Round one : Cut up two or three expired credit cards into as many differing sizes of paired rectangles as you can. Use the size of any swazzle you have ( or have seen) as a start point... try a few bigger ..but mostly try a good few smaller sizes.

Even try out some radically longer shapes. Make more than one set of each size as well

Get whatever cotton tape you can find in your local sewing machine shop or haberdashers ( you can start the eternal quest for the 'perfect ' weave and weight of tape at a later date once you have achieved some success .. but for now anything will do )

Heat the rectangles with a hairdryer , holding them in the jetstream using two spent long matchsticks (sometimes called 'cooks' matches ) as improvised 'tweasers' to hold the plastic -- or wooden chopsticks are good too...anything that won't heat up and burn your fingers.

A D.I.Y 'Heatgun' softens the plastic much faster if you happen to have one , but a hairdryer on full heat will do .

The plastic will quite suddenly go all floppy - take it out of the heat , and give it a second or two so it is not too hot to handle- then bend the plastic into curves while still malleable and drop them instantly into a glass of cold water.

I'm taking nothing for granted here , so I will say that you need to heat and bend each bit of plastic one at a time.....but having made one curve , you can shape the next warm bit of plastic over the first to get a reasonable 'pair' ( so long as the first one is cold and wet they shouldn't stick together )

Try as many different depths of curve as you can from shallow to quite arched.

Then tie 'em up with pre soaked cotton tape ( sorry if I am covering ground you already know ...but some of the books handily omit to tell you that you should only work with wet tape , not dry)

Again vary the slackness/ tautness of the tape across the different swazzles.

I think you will be extremely unlucky if you don't have a glimmer of hope with one swazzle if you make a variety of about 18 or so.

Work out what it is about that one that made it better for you than the rest? Was it the size? , the curve? , or the tapes tightness ( or lack of)?

Unfortunately you still have a lot of variables.

So all you can do is repeat the process .. Round 2 ...but this time cut all the palstic rectangles to the size that showed most promise.

Use that size ..but make several sets of differing curvature.

Tie the tape through all of them ...but this time all at one tightness ( that which produced your first 'successful' one)

Experiment with those.

Which curvature allows you to produce the best noise when the swazzle is ' in position ' in your mouth?

This 'position' is where your arched tongue touches the roof of your mouth or soft palate or meeting place of the two ...forget where anyone else tells you it should sit ..its your gob ..and it goes where your anatomy dictates.

When you find the one that fits best and gives the best results ..yes you've guessed it : Round three: now you make several swazzles all of that same size and curve ( you have a little less work here , as the plastic will bend again with more applied heat ..so you can re-use the swazzles from 'round 2 ' of tests )

Now make them all up with different slackness of tape and try again.

By trial and error you will find the best swazzle for you

With any luck by this stage a few of them will work quite well

Find the optimum one ( the one that lets you get most squawk and sound out for minimum breath pressure )

ONLY THEN are you at the same start point as everyone else who first picks up a swazzle with the intention of mastering it ( They have been luckier than you so far, in that the dimensions of the ones shown in books ..and /or the ones offered for sale , are of a size and type naturally suited to their flatter mouths)

Now you have an even playing field ... It does not mean that you wont have to work long and hard to master it ... it doesn't mean it wont make you gag and heave at first ..it doesn't mean you wont get a sore mouth for a while when using it .........but it does mean you will have a reasonable chance of success.

Like me , it might mean you have a swazzle that will do the job , but wont give the full range of 'musicality' that some of the best swazzlers can get from their differently shaped ones .

On the other hand they may only get such lovely stuff out of theirs because of years of practice ; who knows?

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