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Jeff Dunham is a popular comedian and ventriloquist, known for his crass yet clever antics with his puppets.
Jeff Dunham - Mini Biography (3:00)
A preview of "Jeff Dunham: Birth of a Dummy," which profiles the comic who has made ventriloquism hip again.
A short biography of Jeff Dunham whose devotion to dummies since he was a kid allowed him to achieve his dream when he appeared on "The Tonight Show" with Johnny Carson.
A 30 second preview of "Jeff Dunham: Birth of a Dummy."
Jeff Dunham knows the key to bringing his characters to life is giving them both an outrageous personality and a distinctive look.
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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.
"The one thing I'm proud of most is that my show has no social redeeming value whatsoever."
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.
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.
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