Jeff Dunham: The Many-Faced Comedian
Ventriloquism is much more than speaking without moving one’s lips. Having lost its charm, there came a time when ventriloquism was considered a dying art form. Audiences grew tired of the same old characters, jokes and tricks, and the art form once immortalized by the greats such as Fred Russell, badly needed ‘fresh blood’ – a resurgence of sorts.
In comes a man who’s been described as ‘a dressed down, more digestible version of Don Rickles with multiple personality disorder’ and called ‘America’s favorite comedian’ by Slate magazine. A comedian who made performing with dummies cool again, Jeff Dunham has only one thing to say to his fans
‘Silence, I keel you!’ – That of course with his comedy and unlimited supply of talent
Jeff Dunham was just fourteen when he made his first appearance on television. When most of his friends were busy being teenagers, he found himself performing all over the country. It all paid off when in 1990 at the tender age of 28, he got his big break and fulfilled his lifelong dream by appearing on ‘The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson’ in 1990.
Every comedian’s Holy Grail, The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson was responsible for giving many comedic talents a leg up. Some of the names on the list include David Letterman, Drew Carry, Jay Leno and Joann Rivers. However, it failed to do the same for Dunham. Even though Dunham got Carson’s signature approval by being invited to sit on the couch next to him after the performance, it failed to give Dunham the exposure he had hoped for. Nevertheless, not the one to be disappointed, Dunham still enjoyed the experience.
In 2003, Dunham appeared on Comedy Central Presents where he featured Jose Jalapeno on a Stick, Walter and Melvin the Superhero Guy. Initially Comedy Central was a little hesitant to give this talented performer air time, however realizing they needed more diverse content, the executives at the station decided to gamble. In 2006, Comedy Central aired Arguing with Myself which brought in two million viewers and also sold two million DVDs. It would be safe to say Comedy Central hit the jackpot.
Stars of the show
One thing that sets Dunham apart is the characters. He invests both time and effort in building up the character’s personalities. He also works tirelessly on their physical appearance and the manner in which they speak. Each dummy is modeled after a specific stereotype that aims to make fun of the inherent differences between people and cultures.
Over the years, Dunham has created a host of different characters for his shows and it is hard to choose which one is the best. So here are the top five dummies Dunham works with.
One of Dunham’s earliest characters, Walter is a grumpy old veteran who used to work as a welder, before becoming one of Dunham’s creations. In his old age, he has become quite cynical and does not approve of what’s happening in the world, especially his wife of forty five years. With a permanent scowl and arms constantly crossed, Walter complains about everything under the sun. If you haven’t seen Walter, here is a small snippet to give you an idea.
Jeff Dunham – Well if reincarnation happens, who would you come back as and what would you do?
Walter – I’d come back as my wife and leave me the hell alone!
2.Sweet Daddy Dee
Sweet Daddy Dee is among Jeff’s retired side characters that made his last appearance in “Jeff Dunham: Arguing with Myself.” A black man who calls himself a pimp which translates to “Player in the Management Profession”, Sweet Daddy Dee is quick witted, a talent he uses to constantly keep Dunham in check. Sweet Daddy Dee wears a flashy suit, matching hat and several gold chains. Here is a small taste of one of Sweet Daddy Dee epic takedowns
Sweet Daddy Dee – [to Dunham] Dawg, you’re not white, you are *neon* white! You so white, you make Barry Manilow look like a brother!
3.José Jalapeño on a Stick
Jose was the first character Dunham created. A Jalapeno on a stick as the name suggests, Jose has a thick handle-bar moustache and wears a small sombrero. Playing on Latino stereotypes, Jose usually appears with another character called Peanut and his humor is usually self deprecating and matter of fact.
José – [to Dunham] Do not drop me senor, (because) then I’d be José Jalapeño on the Floor.
Peanut is one of the most popular characters in Dunham’s collection and as a result has featured in almost every one of his major shows to date. It is hard to determine what he exactly is, but he refers to himself as a “Woozle.” He is mostly colored purple, with white fur covering some parts of his body, as well as a tuft of green hair on top of his head. He also has a single sneaker on his left foot. His comedy is based on his over the top and energetic talking style as well as his need to constantly make fun of Dunham and Jose Jalapeno. He can be irritating at times for Jeff and is also known to interact with various audience members on occasion as well.
Dunham – There’s a lot of history in this city.
Peanut – Translated (that means) Old. As. S**t.
5.Achmed the Dead Terrorist
Achmed first appeared on Dunham’s 2007 show “Spark of insanity” and went on to become an overnight sensation. Some clips from the show made it onto YouTube and amassed millions of views within a few months. The character itself is supposed to be a funny take on the issue of terrorists and is in the form of a skeleton, wearing a white turban. It is also revealed that he has already blown himself up, and loves to make politically incorrect jokes.
Dunham – So you’re Muslim?
Achmed – I don’t think so.
Dunham – You don’t think you’re Muslim?
Achmed – No.
Dunham – Why not?
Achmed – Look at my tag. It says: “Made in China”.
The first guy through the wall always gets bloodied. Dunham was sidelined for many years only because his act was unique and his talent a little different. With ventriloquism making a comeback, Paul Zerdin winning America’s Got Talent in 2015, it’s safe to say Dunham has resuscitated an art form which certainly needed a breath of fresh air.