Comedian Jeff Dunham is trying to revive the art of ventriloquism. But instead of CPR, he has three puppets. There's a grumpy old man named Walter, who has "written" a book and hawked rental cars for Hertz; a wacky purple Woozle named Peanut, who's described as "cool, hip, irreverent"; and Jose Jalapeño on a Stick, a pepper with a mustachioed face who speaks in a kind of broken English that turns "very" into "berry" and "killers" into "keelers." Dunham's latest creation is a felt-and-wires version of Osama bin Laden. The prognosis for ventriloquism isn't looking too good.
But for a guy who makes his living pretending to have conversations with and be outsmarted by a group of inanimate objects, Dunham does more than just get by. He grew up in Dallas and earned a bachelor's degree from Baylor University, despite dropping out for a while to perform in a Broadway touring production. Then he moved to Los Angeles. Since then he's toured the comedy-club circuit and made the rounds of late-night talk shows. But recently his dance card has been full. There was last month's appearance in his own Comedy Central special, an every-other-week gig on The Best Damn Sports Show Period and a segment on Fast Living, a show about celebrities' extreme hobbies featuring Dunham's helicopter he built from a kit. And that's all in addition to the average 40 weeks of tours--or 250 shows--per year.
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Of course, quantity doesn't necessarily equal quality. But for those who are happy to overlook the fact that they're watching a 30-something guy play the straight man to the wisecracking lump of fabric he's also giving voice to, Dunham is their man. After all, he does refer to himself as the "nation's premier comic ventriloquist." As soon as we find a second, we'll test that claim.