The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

Midget with an attitude

“Ever see a midget eat popcorn?” he says. “They stick their whole arm in the bucket and come out with one kernel.”

There’s more.

“How do you drown a midget? Spit on him.”

His jokes about midget sexual positions, however, are too vulgar to reprint here.

Story continues below advertisement

Americans have long been strangely intrigued by little people, and Vento is both very short and very willing to accommodate others’ politically incorrect fascinations with him.

This has made him famous.

Vento, 43, has appeared on “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno,” “Good Morning America,” even “CNN World News.” He worked with Rodney Dangerfield, Eddie Murphy and Tim Allen on the comedy circuit. Maxim Magazine called him “Milwaukee’s Favorite Midget” for dressing like a pimp and dancing on tables with drunken college girls.

“I’m the Michael Jordan of midgets,” Vento says. “If I was six-feet tall, I’d probably be just another schmuck in the crowd.”

But before he was McDonald’s original Hamburglar, before he gained international notoriety as the midget who ran around a restaurant with a nacho-filled sombrero and before his 15-year marriage crumbled under the glare of celebrity, Vento’s big dreams began at a newspaper stand on Wisconsin Ave.


In August, Vento opened Ripples on Water, a nightclub at 530 N. Water St.

Inside, there’s an aquarium-themed dance floor, an old-school jukebox, shoot-’em-up arcade games and, invariably, attractive women surrounding Vento. The house specialty drink is a plastic fish bowl filled with Everclear, rum and a mystery ingredient (“I’d tell you what that is, but then I’d have to kill you,” he laughs).

Sitting in the nightclub’s back office, Vento talks about the stunts he’s pulled for publicity. He’s done whitewater rafting, streaked and skied (“midgets should never ski,” he says). For the Ripples grand opening, Vento jumped out of an airplane.

“Ever heard of dwarf tossing?” he says. “Well, I found out from the ‘Guinness Book of World Records’ that the longest dwarf toss was 12-feet, three-quarter inches. So I got someone to pay me $1,000, which I donated to a camp for children for AIDS, and let them throw me out of an airplane. I fell 10,000 feet before I pulled the ripcord.”

Unofficially, the dive shattered the previous world record for dwarf tossing by approximately 9,987 feet.

A dangling gold crucifix and curly black chest hair peak through Vento’s partially unbuttoned Hawaiian shirt. This is Vento’s uniform these days, along with a black mustache and knowing leer.

“In all the businesses I’ve had before, I always played a character,” he says. “This is pretty much the real me, no costumes, no nothing. Just the crazy guy himself.”

Vento has been a paid performer since he was 12. His colorful resume includes car salesman, Las Vegas card dealer, stand-up comedian and a mascot role as Mr. Yuk.

None of this compares to a whirlwind one-year gig at Nacho Mama’s, a restaurant that was turned into a six-story parking structure soon after Vento departed in 1999.

As a part-owner of Nacho Mama’s, Vento walked from table to table and offered patrons nachos and salsa from his oversized sombrero. Somehow, this gimmick became worldwide news. Even Vento’s relatives in Italy saw him on TV.

Cameramen camped outside Vento’s home. Fans stopped him in the grocery store to autograph a loaf of bread or carton of milk. He publicly feuded with the Little People of America, an organization that considers the word midget offensive and called Vento’s actions demeaning. Truly this was the rock star life.

“It’s really a fascination with women, too,” he says. “All the women that I see are like 20 years younger than me. They’re always curious about a short guy, and I feel it’s my responsibility to show them. ‘Course, it did cause me a divorce, but that’s OK.”

After hundreds of interviews, thousands of nachos served from his head and the failure of his marriage, Vento was on the verge of burnout. So he left Nacho Mama’s and bought an apartment near where he grew up on the East Side. He went fishing with his son, who is now 12 and a full foot taller than his father. He set his alarm for 4:30 every morning and watched the sunrise over Lake Michigan.

He reflected on his life.

The son of Italian immigrants, Vento was the first generation of his family born in the United States. His parents were normal height, but Vento was born with a rare hormone disorder that kept him short. Doctors said he’d never see the age of 30.

Vento’s childhood was spent in and out of hospitals, undergoing tests and getting shots. He was the size of a two-year-old until he was 8 or 9. He attended school for the handicapped because his legs were too short to climb stairs or reach toilets.

This was when Vento also learned the perks of his size.

“I’d have the vocabulary of a 12-year-old but look like a 2-year-old,” he said. “People would hear me and say, ‘Did he really say that?’ That used to blow their minds.”

In those days in the 1970s, Italians formed a tight-knit immigrant community. Vento often accompanied his grandfather to an Italian news stand on the corner of 3rd Street and Wisconsin Avenue. The vendor was a little person named Frank, who was also a performer in movies and in the Ringling Bros. Circus.

“Frank was actually who I wanted to be,” Vento said. “All the other midgets I’ve seen in my life are like, ‘Oh, this is my cross to bear, oh me, oh my.’ And he was like, ‘The hell with you! You don’t like me it’s your fault, not mine.'”

Frank saw something in young Vento.

“He’d say to me, ‘Kid, someday you’re going to be something,'” Vento said. “And I was like, ‘I hope so!'”


Vento made his triumphant comeback in 2000 when he became the “house pimp” for Have a Nice Day Cafe. His job description: Wear polyester, furs and a feather in his top hat and use whatever means necessary to keep the party going. Sometimes, that meant breaking up a drunken fight or two.

“For some reason, when I bark, people back down,” Vento says. “If someone shorter than me talked to me like that, I would just spike them down.”

Vento’s characters are over-the-top, but they’re tame compared to midget porn, midget wrestling or “midgets gone mad” Web sites that can be found with a simple online search. Vento doesn’t think any of this crosses the line.

“The only thing I take offense at is if someone leaves here and says they didn’t have fun,” he says. “When it comes to business I’m very serious. No matter how corny I come off to be, it all revolves around dollars and cents.”

Vento has a shrewd business plan for Ripples: keep it open for two to three years until the novelty wears off, close it up for six months, and then reopen it under a new name.

Vento says it won’t bother him if he loses the limelight. But he has no regrets — especially about giving shots of tequila to attractive blonds or ridiculing little people on “Howard Stern.”

“Obviously, I’m not going to be a major league baseball player,” he says. “But I’ve done anything I’ve wanted to do.”

Ripples on Water ??????