When he was 11 years old, Bob Abdou was given a puppet, a ventriloquist's dummy, as a present.

When he was 11 years old, Bob Abdou was given a puppet, a ventriloquist's dummy, as a present.

With it, he made people laugh.

"It was just a phase," he said last week, "but I remember it was a great phase in my life."

As it was then, so it is now.

Flash forward many years and Abdou, who grew up in New Jersey, moved to Atlanta, lived for a time in Philadelphia and recently relocated from Austin, Texas, to Columbus, has been a professional entertainer, a ventriloquist mostly but also a puppeteer, since 1996.

On his website, he states:

"Laughter is my greatest joy and compliment."

Abdou, who is looking to start booking appearances as "Mr. Puppet" at school assemblies, festivals, day care centers, birthday parties and "grownup events," as the website states, was born in Brooklyn. The family moved to New Jersey, where he lived until he was 21. He went into the printing business, where he had already been working part-time, right after graduating from high school.

"Nobody in my family ever said the word 'college,'" Abdou recalled. "We were taught, when you graduated high school, you left the house and got a job."

Abdou was working at, and making sales for, the biggest print shop in New Jersey, but he was doing very little beyond working and selling, and decided to make a change.

"I threw a dart at the map," he said. "That's a true story."

It's not true that he abided by the decision of the dart; that first throw landed in California, and Abdou can't abide the Los Angeles Dodgers. Loves the Mets, hates the Dodgers.

So he tossed the dart again, and this time it landed near Atlanta. Abdou landed there in 1981, just before the boom that would make Georgia's capital one of the preeminent cities of the South. Abdou found work once again in the printing industry and in 1986, started his own shop. It was a small one, but very profitable and with an excellent reputation, Abdou said.

It was also a very busy one, and by 1991, Abdou was in the same situation he had been in back in Jersey.

"I was making a lot of money, and I was miserable," he said.

He was also in a failing marriage, which is misery compounded, misery squared.

Before working himself into a heart attack at only a little past 30, Abdou said he decided to take up a hobby. Recalling with fondness that present he got when he was 11, Abdou ordered a ventriloquist's dummy, one that greatly resembled him, from the largest company producing them in the world at the time, Maher Studios in Littleton, Colo.

"I think I heard angels sing when the box opened," Abdou said.

He named the ventriloquist's dummy Woody D and began taking it with him on sales calls.

"People laughed and they gave me more business, which was not what I wanted," Abdou said. "It was actually working against me."

Atlanta has been home since 1978 to the Center for Puppetry Arts; Jim Henson and Kermit the Frog cut the ribbon.

"The first puppetry center in the United States, today it is the largest American organization solely dedicated to the art of puppet theater," according to the website.

Abdou, with absolutely no training as a ventriloquist or puppeteer but with a burning desire to know more about both, presented himself to Center for Puppetry Arts officials in 1992, offering to volunteer in any capacity they could use him.

They made him a greeter at the museum, and he did that every Saturday for the next four years.

"Believe it or not, that's where I learned who I was, what I wanted to do," Abdou said. "Children were telling me jokes that I still tell today."

When Abdou was unable to volunteer one Saturday, a young boy who was a regular at the museum inquired, "Where's Mr. Puppet?"

"That became my name," Abdou said.

Abdou met famous puppeteers at the center and in 1993 attended his first International Ventriloquists' Convention in Fort Mitchell, Ky. He's been attending ever since and serves on the hospitality committee.

With his entertainment career starting to take off, things were looking up for Bob Abdou, and then his world got turned upside down.

It turned out, Abdou said, that his bookkeeper had been embezzling from the company, and not paying sufficient taxes to the Internal Revenue Service.

IRS agents locked the doors of his print shop right around the time Abdou's marriage ended.

He went to work for a rival, but later left that job.

On the verge of a nervous breakdown, Abdou said that he called a friend in Chicago who was mentoring him as a ventriloquist. It felt as if, he told the friend, his life was over.

The friend told him to shut up; it was about to start.

And so it was.

Abdou become a full-time entertainer in 1996. Since 1999, he said, he has averaged 400 shows a year, except for this year when the move from Austin disrupted the normal flow of work.

He's looking to once again get his name, Mr. Puppet, and his act known, now in central Ohio after stints in Atlanta, Philadelphia where his wife, June Wilkins, was attending seminary and in Texas, where she had her first assignment with the Lutheran Church.

"Because I'm new here, I've got to start all the way from the bottom," Abdou said.

More information about Mr. Puppet and his dozens of puppets and ventriloquist's dummies, including videos of performances in such far-flung locales as Japan, is available at his website, mrpuppet.com.