Jeffrey "Jeff" Dunham, an American ventriloquist, producer and stand-up comedian, is considered to be the top-grossing standup act in North America as well as one among the most successful acts in Europe, according to Pollstar. Here are some very interesting facts about the comedian:
Dunham has been hailed as ‘America’s favorite comedian’ by Slate.com. According to Pollstar, he is the top grossing stand-up comedian in North America and successful acts in Europe as well.
He was born Jeffrey Dunham on April 18, 1962 in Dallas, Texas and was adopted by Joyce and Howard Dunham, a real estate appraiser, when he was three months old.
His curiosity in ventriloquist was aroused in 1970, when he was present with Edgar Bergen’s famous character Mortimer Snerd’s dummy and a know how album as Christmas gift from his parents.
He made up his mind to become professional ventriloquist in his fourth grade and started practicing in front of the mirror following Edgar Bergen’s routines.
From his sixth grade, he was regular at the annual international meeting of ventriloquist ‘the Vent Haven ConVENTion’ in Fort Mitchell, Kentucky. After few summers, the organizers were forced to declare Dunham a ‘retired champion’ for others were overawed by his presence.
At school all were jittery of him for he was saying things that they could never getaway. He realized a dummy could crack a joke and level an insult that he was too shy to touch. He made fun of his teachers, lampooned prominent business man in the audience.
While at school, he started trotting along with his dummy for whoever would hire him. He did bible stories at church, performing at ‘Six Flags’ as a summer job, a commercials for a Datsun dealership and posed each year for his school year book.
After graduating from school in 1980, he set himself a goal of appearing on the talk show ‘The Tonight Show Starring Johny Carson’ in ten years’ time. Though he was hailed as future star, his goal was seen as farfetched for a comedian then.
He was touring around the country on weekend doing up to 100 private shows a year while pursuing his graduation in communication at Baylor University. He was earning around $ 70,000 annually.
After his graduation in 1986, he struggled despite honing his act at comedy club. He once walked out of ‘Catch a Rising Star’ a comedy club in New York after the emcee at the club kept on postponing his show.
Late 1988, he movedfrom Texas to Los Angeles, in pursuit of success and realized the comedy in his act were underdeveloped. He also realized the comedy world was not welcome to ventriloquist.
Dunham found a friend in Mike Lacey, who allotted steady slot at his club ‘The Comedy & Magic Club’ in Hermosa Beach. With some input from Bill Engvall, he sharpened his act by moving away from G-Rated materials toward more adult oriented theme.
End of 1988, Dunham was booked for the ‘The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson’ show only to be cancelled on the day of scheduled taping. He was told that he was not ready for the show.
On April 06, 1990, he finally lived his dream of appearing on the Jonny Carson show and was invited to sit on Carson’s couch, as a mark of approval. He saw this as a big career break.
His struggle continued till end of 1990s as his television appearance dwindled with it the audience. He found paying bills for his extended family difficult.
He started appearing in more than 200 shows a year in clubs to make good the loss of television shows. He also used question card for the audience and maintained fan based data base.
In 1998, Dunham was awarded the ‘American Comedy Awards’ for being the funniest male stand-up comedian.
His successful appearance on the ‘The Best Damn Sports Show Period’ in 2002 and ‘Comedy Central Presents’ in 2003 were not good enough. He was given less show time, for they felt he was not good enough for them.
In 2005, he decided to gamble with his own comedy DVD and on April 11, 2006, a stage performance ‘Arguing with Myself’ taped in Santa Ana, California, was released. The ‘Comedy Central’ aired it with good response and more than two million DVD was sold.
His second special ‘Jeff Dunham: Spark of Insanity’ taped in Warner Theatre in Washington, D.C, in which he introduced his most controversial character ‘Achmed the Dead Terrorist’ became an internet sensation. This brought Dunham his stardom.
The character ‘Achmed the Dead Terrorist’ had crossed language barrier and with his Christmas Special, premiered on ‘Comedy Central on November 16, 2008, was watched by 6.6 million people. The special’s premiere was the highest rated telecast in Comedy Central history.
On November 04, 2008, Dunham released his first music album ‘Don’t Come Home for Christmas.’ The album’s special was the parody of ‘Jingle Bells’ song by Achmed entitled ‘Jingle Bombs.’
In March 2009, he signed a multi-platform deal with Comedy Central, which included a fourth stand-up special, product partnership, a 60-city tour and a television series called ‘The Jeff Dunham Show,’ which premiered on October 22, 2009. The show was cancelled after a season.
On September 25, 2011 he premiered his fourth special ‘Jeff Dunham: Controlled Chaos,’ on Comedy Central and went on to premier three more. The ‘Minding the Monsters,’ All Over the Map’ and ‘Unhinged in Hollywood.’
Dunham is the only person to have won the ‘Ventriloquist of the Year’ award twice. In 2008, he was voted by fans the Top Comic in Comedy Central’s Stand-Up Showdown.’
A commercial ad of his character Achmed the Dead Terrorist, was banned by the South African Advertising Standard Company in response to complaint the ad portrayed all Muslims as terrorist. In response Dunham said he would consider renaming the character as Achmed ‘Bill’.
In November 2010, he published his autobiography ‘All By My Selves: Walter, Peanut, Achmed and Me. Earlier in 2003 a collection audience questions and answers during the live performance was published as ‘Dear Walter.’
In May 1994, he married Paige Brown, whom he met at the Comedy Corner, Florida and adopted her daughter Bree. The couples were also blessed with two daughtersAshlyn and Kenna. They separated in 2008.
On October 12, 2012, he married Audrey Murdick, a nutritionist, personal trainer and body builder. They have twin boys named James Jeffrey and Jack Steven.
Dunham in addition to building his dummies has hobby of restoring antiques and is fond of building and flying his own kit helicopters from Rotorway helicopter kits.