December 4, 2008

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Insane in the membrane
Comedian Jeff Dunham comes to Verizon
By Dana Unger dunger@hippopress.com

With a suitcase full of bizarre, definitively non-PC characters, including a talking jalapeño on a stick, the skeleton of a dead suicide bomber, and a beer-swigging redneck, ventriloquist Jeff Dunham’s comedy act has found fans and detractors. But no one can deny that Dunham has found success through his cavalcade of felt-covered characters, playing 250 dates a year in venues, comedy clubs and private appearances, receiving comedic honors, and appearing on numerous television specials.

Dunham will bring his “Spark of Insanity” tour to the Verizon Wireless Arena in Manchester in two performances on Saturday, Dec. 6, at 3 p.m. and 8 p.m.

Dunham got his first big break when he was invited to sit on Johnny Carson’s couch on the Tonight Show after his first appearance in 1990. Since then, he’s appeared on countless other TV shows, and has in fact been on the Tonight Show more than any other ventriloquist in history.

Dunham has made a name for himself through his unique family of characters, known as the “Suitcase Posse.” There’s Sweet Daddy D, the Machiavellian showbiz manager of the group; the buck-toothed redneck Bubba J; Walter, an old, bitter curmudgeon of a puppet; José Jalapeño, Achmed the Dead Terrorist, the superhero Melvin, and Peanut, a purple puppet that may best be described as a cross between a gorilla and something  that hatched out of the brain of Sid & Marty Krofft. Though all are caricatures — Walter in particular was inspired by a Bette Davis appearance on Carson — Dunham has said that there is a little bit of him in all of the characters.

Throughout his comedy career, Dunham has racked up an impressive list of honors. He was voted “Funniest Male Stand-Up Comic” at the American Comedy Awards, an honor shared with such other comedians as Robin Williams, Jeff Foxworthy and Jerry Seinfeld. In 2008, he was got the top honor in Comedy Central’s Stand-Up Showdown, where fans across the U.S. could cast their vote on the Comedy Central Web site for their favorite comedian.

Dunham and his posse of puppets have also made several appearances on shows like Fox Sports Net’s Best Damn Sports Show, Hollywood Squares, Entertainment Tonight and Good Morning America, as well as an episode of the WB’s Blue Collar TV.

The ventriloquist funny man has also branched out into his own television specials. His first special, Jeff Dunham: Arguing with Myself, came out in 2006 and featured his typical act as straight-man to his strange, fuzzy crew. His second special, Jeff Dunham: Spark of Insanity, followed hot on its heels in 2007. This month, Jeff Dunham’s Very Special Christmas Special premiered on Comedy Central and became the highest-rated telecast in the network’s history.

Dunham also recently released his first comedy album, Don’t Come Home for Christmas. The CD contains original holiday songs as well as a parody of “Jingle Bells” by Achmed the Dead Terrorist, called “Jingle Bombs.” All of the songs for the album, with the exception of “Jingle Bombs,” were written by Brian Haner, who’s recently joined Dunham’s on-stage act as “Guitar Guy.”