By Jill Diver
Ventriloquist and stand-up comedian Jeff Dunham was raised in Dallas, Texas, and was given a Mortimer Snerd dummy when he was 8 years old. He began performing for audiences as a teenager, in various venues — school, church and local banquets.
Now, widely known for “The Jeff Dunham Show” on Comedy Central, Dunham is making an impression all over the country, performing on shows such as “The Tonight Show” and “Late Night with David Letterman.”
These days, Dunham is on the road for his “Identity Crisis Tour,” but he took some time to answer a few questions via e-mail for The Gloucester Daily Times.
Q: What is new with your act and what can your fans expect?
A: Well, like I always say, my show has no socially redeeming value whatsoever — you’re not going to learn anything. All you’re going to do is have a big goofy time and escape your problems for a while. But I do have a new character — Diane — that I think the folks will like.
Q: How did you get into this field of work, and what makes it exciting?
A: I was a shy little kid, I was terrible at sports, not one of the popular crowd, but to get up on stage in front of the class and be able to pick on my classmates or pick on the school or pick on the teachers or the principal and get some laughs out of it, it became some cool thing. I was up there challenging things and saying things that no other kids could say and not get in trouble. It’s easy to get lost behind the doll. People pay attention to the dummy and forget who you are and that you’re even there. I do my own stand-up, and that’s fun, but if somebody said you need to do straight stand-up comedy and you can’t use the dummy anymore, I would give up and go into real estate.
Q: Where do you come up with the material for your routines?
A: I realized early on that the ventriloquism needed to be just a vehicle for the comedy. It couldn’t be the focus of the act. In other words, I needed to focus on the material and the jokes and keep people laughing. The ventriloquism just happened to be my instrument. My funniest material comes from everyday life.
Q: How do you develop the characters that you use, what are their backgrounds, and do they have any reflection on people in your life?
A: Every character I’ve had in my act — none of them have a similar creation story. I actually thought up Peanut and designed him in my head. I described him to a woman that was making soft puppets and she drew up some sketches. And the character came to be just because he popped into my head. Walter, on the other hand … I figured he would be a good three minutes of the show. I created him thinking that nobody would enjoy a grumpy old character like that. Little did I know, he is an “every man” … everybody has that guy in him. Either they’re married to him or he’s their father, but people for some reason love him. So that character just stuck. Jose the Jalapeno … That’s the weirdest story. When I was in college, I was doing a radio campaign on the radio station and I was doing all the voices of this pizza. Every ingredient on the pizza spoke. And one of them was Jose Jalapeno. He ended up having all the funny lines, so I thought about making a dummy in the act. So, I thought, why not a Jalapeno on a stick. The genesis of Achmed began a year after September 11th. Sad and scary things were going on in our country — and still are — and I thought if I can make fun of those guys, there’s something people can laugh at in our country. And then the big surprise was that I had no idea it would go worldwide.
If you go:
Who and what: Jeff Dunham’s Identity Crisis Tour 2010
When: Saturday, Oct. 23, at 8 p.m.
Where: Verizon Wireless Arena, 555 Elm St., Manchester, N.H.
This ran in the Eagle-Tribune on October 20, 2010.