RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Achmed the dead terrorist's son has joined Walter the curmudgeonly old man and the talking pepper José Jalapeño on a Stick to become the latest member of Jeff Dunham's suitcase posse.
Dunham, whose performances have made him one of the top grossing stand-ups, returns to television with his puppet crew on Sept. 25 for his latest comedy special, "Controlled Chaos" (Comedy Central, 9 p.m. EDT). The show will give Achmed, Walter, Jose and another new puppet, Little Jeff, the chance to say all the things Dunham can't say without offending someone in the audience.
After two days of filming at Richmond's Landmark Theater, Dunham sat down with The Associated Press to discuss the upcoming special and his life as a comedian and ventriloquist.
AP: What can people expect from this special or one of your performances?
Dunham: What I love about my show is that 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, and if a couple of eyebrows are raised, and I step on a couple of toes, well great. That's not what I set out to do, but I feel with comedy, you do have to push the envelope enough to offend a handful of people in the crowd.
AP: You go into your personal life in this special, including your divorce. Do you use that as a means to find the humor in life?
Dunham: If I'm going to make fun of other people and other things, I'm going to start with myself. I'm the brunt of the joke many times from the characters. I think that endears an audience a little bit. I don't have anything to hide. I come out on stage and I just tell them about my life. ... We all have good and bad relationships and that's what I talk about.
AP: One of the pictures you show the audience is of you and your first ventriloquist doll. What attracted you to it and made you think it could be a career?
Dunham: It was the simplicity of walking through the toy store and seeing this dummy ... and something appealed to me about it. I asked for it for Christmas and then just started studying and teaching myself. Here I was, this unremarkable kid, as average as average could be — wasn't popular with girls, wasn't popular with my other classmates, I was a little bit pudgy, and I was no good at sports, I was shy. And now I had this dummy, and I could sit up in front of the class and make people laugh and then make fun of the principal or the teacher, or my other classmates and I'd get laughs and get accolades.
AP: But is ventriloquism sort of a dead art now?
Dunham: When somebody who is 9 years old comes to me and says they want to be a ventriloquist, I think that's great because it's a great hobby. ... When somebody who's 28 years old comes to me and says they want to be a ventriloquist, I think, have you eliminated every other possibility of a hobby? And I just think that it's kind of sad because really, your life's gotten to the point that you're going to pick up a doll and make it talk for other people? That's really sad dude.
Even in vaudeville days, ventriloquists were the guys that came out between the real acts. ... I've come along and tried to paint a new patina on a tired, old art and make it fun and accessible.
AP: How do you develop what characters you use in your act?
Dunham: Things will hit me one day and I think, 'I think this will be funny.'... Then I'll make a cheap version of that dummy, try it on the stage a few times, and then if it works, I'll create the real dummy and just keep going with it. ... You say racist, you say whatever. If people come to my show, if they call me racist, I have created some stereotypical dummies that are funny to a lot of people. ...
I just come up with these characters that, on the offset, when somebody describes it, it's going to be, 'That guy's a racist. ... Really? He's got a black pimp, he's got a Muslimish character, he's got a white trash trailer park (character). He's awful!' Come to the show please before you make that judgment.
Michael Felberbaum can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/MLFelberbaum.