Jeff Dunham

Jeff Dunham Biography.com

Comedian(1962–)
Jeff Dunham is a popular comedian and ventriloquist, known for his crass yet clever antics with his puppets.

Synopsis

Comedian and ventriloquist, Jeffrey Dunham was born on April 18, 1962, in Dallas, Texas. Beginning with his wildly popular DVD release, Spark of Insanity (2007), Dunham has been one of the world's top-grossing comedians. His characters -- popular and controversial at the same time -- have inspired praise from his fans, and sharp rebukes from his critics.

Early Years

Jeffrey Dunham was born on April 18, 1962 in Dallas, Texas, the adopted son and only child of a real estate appraiser and a homemaker. Dunham grew up in a wealthy Dallas neighborhood.

His ventriloquism career began at the age of 8, when his parents gave him as a Mortimer Snerd dummy -- a character made famous by the renowned ventriloquist, Edgar Bergen -- as a Christmas present. The dummy became a constant companion at Dunham's side, and he began accepting nearly any performance request that came his way. He was a regular at local Kiwanis clubs, and by high school Dunham was doing commercials for a Dallas Datsun dealership.

For Dunham, the performances allowed him to say the kinds of things to people in positions of power that he'd never be able to utter off-stage. And as his reputation as a ventriloquist grew in the greater-Dallas community, so did the size of his targets. At a Dallas Cowboys function, he poked fun at the team's Hall of Fame quarterback, Roger Staubach. Later, during a show for General Electric, he did the same with GE head Jack Welch.

“It's amazing how these little guys can say things that a mortal human could never get away with,” Dunham has said. “There's some sort of unspoken license ... when outlandish things come out of an inanimate object, somehow it equals humor.”

After high school, Dunham enrolled at Baylor University. The demands on his schedule did not let up. His weekends were consumed with airline flights around the country to his various performances. Around this time, Dunham also developed three characters that would be a continual part of his routine: the childlike Peanut; the grumpy old Walter; and the unusual looking José, the Jalapeño on a Stick.

Commercial Success

By the mid-1990s, Dunham had relocated to Los Angeles. In addition to a steady diet of comedy clubs, the ventriloquist was making semi-regular appearances on late-night television.

But it would take almost another decade for the hard working Dunham to achieve true mainstream success. That started to happen in 2006, when, after years of resistance, Comedy Central changed course and decided to showcase Dunham's self-produced one-hour special, Arguing with Myself. The results were astounding. More than two million viewers tuned in to see the ventriloquist, prompting the network to book him again.

That second performance, 2007's Spark of Insanity, hauled in record ratings and sold more than a million DVDs. His follow-up the next year, A Very Special Christmas Special, delivered similar results. After his act hit popular entertainment outlets, Dunham's success put him on par with comedy giants like Jerry Seinfeld and Chris Rock, in terms of gross sales and viewership. His limited-series program, The Jeff Dunham Show, was a Comedy Central record breaker, and he demonstrated comic reach internationally -- a feat which few comedians can boast.

A Controversial Comic

Still, Dunham's material and style aren't for everyone. Some critics have complained about his sophomoric humor, something Dunham, who seems to delight in the fact that his material isn't terribly complicated, doesn't shy away from.

Others have suggested that Dunham, who has a large conservative following and whose fame came in the wake of other blue-collar style comics like Jeff Foxworthy, feeds off of stereotypes. One of his popular characters is Achmed the Dead Terrorist, and insults between the performer and his puppets have included the line, "You're from Planet Retard."

But Dunham defends his performances by saying he's an equal opportunity insulter. "I've skewered whites, blacks, Hispanics, Christians, Jews, Muslims, gays, straights, rednecks, addicts, the elderly and my wife," he has said. "As a standup comic, it is my job to make sure the majority of people laugh, and I believe that comedy is the last true form of free speech."

In late 2010, Dunham published his autobiography, All By My Selves: Walter, Peanut, Achmed and Me.

Jeff Dunham married to Audrey Murdick in 2012. The couple welcomed twin sons, Jack Steven and James Jeffrey, in October 2015. He also has three daughters, Bree, Ashlyn and Kenna, from his previous marriage to Paige Brown. 

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