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What's Up Magazine

Jeff Dunham and Friends Head to Baltimore

Dec 23, 2013 11:15AM ● By Jake Russell

See Jeff Dunham with his buddy Peanut at Baltimore Arena on Dec. 30. (Andrew Smallz and Jared Raskind)

By Jake Russell

World-renowned ventriloquist Jeff Dunham will take his act and his wacky cast of characters to Baltimore Arena on Monday, Dec. 30 as part of his Disorderly Conduct Tour.

Dunham, known for his innate ability to bring his short friends to life, brings a special kind of wit and self-deprecating humor anyone can appreciate.

Whether he’s talking to his wild and manic buddy Peanut, who likes to poke fun at the soft-spoken José Jalapeño, or allowing his curmudgeonly old pal Walter an outlet to vent about life, Dunham knows how to keep the conversation going with a vast range of personalities.

With his out-of-the-box performances (literally and figuratively), it’s no surprise he has been named to Forbes’ Celebrity 100 list the last two years.

Dunham recently took the time to talk to What’s Up? as he prepares for his return to Baltimore.

WU: You've been performing since you were in middle school. Breaking into comedy is hard enough as it is. How tough was it for you to make it as a ventriloquist in an entertainment culture filled primarily with standup comedians?

JD: I fought that battle from day one. There’s a disdain for ventriloquists – you’re lumped in with plate spinners, accordion players and mimes. It’s considered quite sad and dated. I’ve been at it forever. I’ve been on the road for over 20 years and comedians respect that. I spent years learning what makes people laugh.

WU: All of your puppets are different in their design and personality. What is the thought process behind developing a new character and do you foresee any new ones on the horizon?

JD: None of the characters in my act 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 "everyman" – everybody has that guy in them. 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 Sept. 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. What has kept them alive all these years is the connection folks have with each one of the characters. Our newest characters are Achmed Jr. and Little Jeff. I’m scratching my head trying to think of the next new thing.

WU: How old were you when you developed the ability to talk without moving your mouth? And what got you to start trying it?

JD: I was about eight years old and I did a book report on ‘Hansel and Gretel.’ I did about 30 seconds on the book and then about 10 minutes picking on my classmates, our teacher and the school. That's pretty much the formula I have for shows now: Give the audience a few minutes of meaningful stuff then make fun of everyone and everything for an hour or two.

WU: Is there a comedian you looked up to and tried to style yourself after when you were younger and trying to break into the business?

JD: Edgar Bergen was my main influence. He had the number one radio program, numerous films and merchandise featuring his characters. He made Charlie and Mortimer American icons.