Jeff Dunham has single-handedly rescued the art of ventriloquism from what looked like its final resting place: old Ed Sullivan videos.
Just take a look at what Dunham – and his intrepid squad of dummies – has done recently:
• He has a show on cable’s hippest channel, Comedy Central.
• He recently guest-starred on broadcast televison’s smartest show, “30 Rock.”
• One of his video clips, “Achmed the Dead Terrorist,” is the fifth most popular YouTube video of all time.
• Pollstar named him the top-grossing comic of 2009.
He routinely fills up arenas, and on Wednesday, he’ll arrive at Spokane’s biggest venue, the Spokane Arena. Thousands of fans will be there, shouting Dunham punchlines and catchphrases.
The Los Angeles Times recently quoted a ventriloquist historian (yes, there is such a thing) as saying that Dunham “brought some respectability back to an art form that has been sorely lacking.”
Not since Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy has a ventriloquist been so widely popular.
Dunham cites Bergen as his inspiration. He realized right away that a dummy can give a comedian an exhilarating form of freedom; the puppets can say the outrageous and ridiculous stuff that the comedian can’t.
He told the Los Angeles Times that he “loved the feeling of getting away with stuff that I, Jeff, could never get away with saying.”
So he has Achmed the Dead Terrorist saying he was the victim of “premature detonation.”
He has grouchy old man Walter, pretending to be a greeter at Wal-Mart, saying, “Get your (blank) and get out. Have a nice day.”
Or his redneck puppet, Bubba J., saying: “I’m tired of hearing that NASCAR fans drink too much. … It’s true, I’m just tired of hearing it.”
This is what made Dunham the top-grossing comic of 2009, and one of the top-grossing acts of any kind, finishing ahead of Dane Cook, Bette Midler, Bob Dylan and Taylor Swift.
He averaged almost 7,000 people per show, a huge number for a solo comedy act.
But then again, he’s not really a solo act. Just ask Bubba J., Walter and Achmed.