Arts & Entertainment

Dunham, dummies to deliver darn good time

There comes a time in every silly guy's life when opportunity knocks and he finds a way to dive into the not-so-politically-correct arena, spewing sarcasm and sass through the mouth of a dummy.

For two decades, ventriloquist Jeff Dunham has amassed a following for one simple reason: He uses a trunk full of wooden dummies to perform a side-splitting, gut-busting, hilarious comedy show.

Dunham's Spark of Insanity comedy tour makes a stop in the Tri-Cities on Nov. 14 at Toyota Center in Kennewick.

Dunham has been using dummies to entertain since he was 8 years old. He started by using a dummy to do book reports for school, then it was Cub Scout shows and on to church and civic organization events. All before he got to high school, Dunham told the Herald this week via e-mail.

"(I) kept up the work until well after college doing colleges and comedy clubs," he said. "Farmed a great fan base for almost 20 years and it paid off when we put out the first two DVDs. Now the touring is simply a blast."

His menagerie of dummies he constructs himself, right down to the dummies' movements and the type of paint used and how it's applied, he added.

"Much blood, sweat and angst is put into every one of them," Dunham said. "The more difficult part is creating material and writing the funny stuff!"

During the past 20 years, his humor -- expressed through the wooden chops of his dummies -- has sent many in Hollywood to the floor in laughter, including former Tonight Show host Johnny Carson.

Dunham's string of dummies includes Peanut, a self-described comic genius who claims he came from an uncharted island in Micronesia.

Then there's Jose Jalapeo, who was saved from being ground into salsa or served on a stick by Dunham. Melvin is a mild-mannered superhero wannabe who dreams of saving the world from evil.

The newest dummy to be added to the pack is Achmed the Dead Terrorist, who hates Lucky Charms and can't figure out why he's dead.

"I think folks really want to hear what a dead terrorist would say," Dunham said. "And then when they realize this particular terrorist is a bumbling idiot with problems in life, they realize he's human."

The old curmudgeon Walter is, of course, the senior member of Dunham's dummy brigade. Walter has a sarcastic remark for everyone and everything. Nothing is sacred for this dummy.

"The inspiration for Walter came from two folks," Dunham said. "One was a close friend's father who was exactly like Walter, and was even NAMED Walter."

The other source of inspiration came from Bette Davis when she was on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson for the last time in the mid-1980s.

"Here was a woman who had been everywhere and done everything and had opinions on it all," Dunham said. "She spoke her mind and didn't give a rip what anyone thought about her. It was incredibly refreshing and she had Johnny spinning in his chair with laughter. I thought, 'a guy with a mind like that in my act would be great comedy.' "

Dunham has no doubts that most people know someone exactly like Walter.

"It's refreshing when someone doesn't give a damn about being politically correct," he said.

Dunham's show might be irreverent, but there's no question it'll still be a belly-busting good time.

*Dori O'Neal: 582-1514; doneal@tricityherald.com

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