Jeff Dunham is no dummy.
Dunham, a forefather of the resurgence in the art of ventriloquism as a serious entertainment form, started performing the craft in the fourth grade and has turned into an internationally known comedian with co-stars made of felt, wood, and his alter-egos.
Dunham – along with his partners in crime Walter, Peanut, Jose, Achmed the Dead Terrorist and the rest of the bunch – will be performing his Disorderly Conduct concert Sunday afternoon at United Wireless Arena.
Dunham feels that ventriloquism vanished as a popular art form because of the lack of great performers like Edgar Bergen, Jim Henson and Shari Lewis.
“I think a few folks that are good performers as ventriloquists have caused a resurgence in the acceptance of vent as a legitimate form of entertainment,” Dunham said in an internet interview earlier this week. “There are a couple of generations right now who, up until the past couple of years, had never seen a good ventriloquist. The one thing I pride myself on is I’m trying to put a fresh patina on an old, tired and sad art and make it hip and fun again.”
The comedian has done five Comedy Central specials, including one last October called “Minding The Monsters.” His fourth special on that network “Controlled Chaos” premiered with 8.3 million viewers.
Dunham’s popularity has grown to a premiere on the Bio Channel – “Jeff Dunham: Birth of a Dummy” – and an autobiography, “All By My Selves: Walter, Peanut, Achmed, And Me.”
He says part of his success is to go along with the crowd; just go on stage and have fun.
“In my show, there is a little something for everybody,” Dunham said. “You can pretty much leave your brain at the door. It’s not brainless comedy, but at the same time, I’m not trying to make you think real hard. It’s just come in; have a great time.”
Another of Dunham’s passions is his collection of classic American-made muscle and sports cars. Dunham teamed up with the Chrysler Group’s Mopar Street and Racing Technology team to create a customized 2012 Dodge Challenger SRT-8 dubbed “Project UltraViolet” at the SEMA Car Show in Las Vegas.
Walter the Retiree is probably the character most people relate with for his no-nonsense, hold no words, straightforward approach to life. Almost every person knows a “Walter," including Dunham, when it comes to the inspiration for the character.
“The inspiration for Walter came from two folks,” Dunham said. “One was a close friend’s father who was exactly like Walter, and was even named Walter.
“The second source of inspiration came from Bette Davis when she was on Johnny Carson the last time. Here was a woman who had been everywhere and done everything and had opinions on it all. She spoke her mind and didn’t give a rip about what anyone thought about her.”
Page 2 of 2 - One question that Dunham gets is his favorite character on stage. He said, many times, it’s whatever the particular audience likes and he’s having a ball right along with them. It’s a tough question, but some of his characters have actually opened doors that might not have been there before.
“It goes without saying, however, that Achmed certainly has allowed me to break through in places that otherwise might have remained closed for a while,” Dunham said. “His clip on YouTube put whatever ride it is that the characters and I are on into a very high orbit. Our European shows are certainly a testament to that. Folks in London, Stockholm, Copenhagen, Helsinki and Oslo were nuts for the characters, especially Achmed.
“So is (Achmed) my favorite? I couldn’t say that and hurt Peanut’s feelings.”