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Ventriloquist, comic Dunham had no 'plan B'

| Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2013, 9:01 p.m.
Andrew Smallz and Jared Raskind
Ventriloquist and comedian Jeff Dunham

Not so long ago, I was opening for Jeff Dunham at the Pittsburgh Improv, and Dunham was introducing Pittsburgh to his newest character, Achmed the Dead Terrorist. He was a little worried Achmed might be too edgy — “too popular,” is more like it.

I was more worried about Dunham paying someone to stand in line to get him the new $400 iPhone that was just released. Good thing Dunham stayed with his Achmed character. A half billion hits later on YouTube, I think Dunham is doing OK.

Three of his comedy specials are the highest-rated in Comedy Central history. Dunham isn't just nationally famous; he's world-famous, selling out theaters everywhere.

Dunham will be bringing his cast of characters to Pittsburgh on Dec. 6 at the Consol Energy Center as a part of his Disorderly Conduct Tour.

Despite being restricted to voice rest, Dunham was kind enough to answer some questions via email.

Question: How did you know you wanted to be a ventriloquist for a living?

Answer: There was never a plan B. I've been a ventriloquist since the age of 8. All through elementary school, junior high, high school and college, I was performing as a comedian/ventriloquist. I started performing in comedy clubs my freshman year in college. I graduated from Baylor University in 1986 with a bachelor of arts degree in radio/TV/film. I continued the club and college performing until moving to Los Angeles in 1988, when I then pursued the “big time” in comedy. I started headlining all the major clubs throughout the country. In 2006, my first hour-long Comedy Central special aired, followed by three more specials and a bunch of other cool stuff. Here it is, 2013, and we continue to sell out theaters and arenas across the country and around the world. It's all been great fun!

Question: Are there any new characters that you're working on now?

Answers: Achmed Jr. and Little Jeff are the newest part of the team. I try to come up with something every year or two. There's a whole bunch of characters that have come and gone over the years, but the main guys are with me for the long haul. I am definitely scratching my head trying to figure out what the next new thing will be.

Q: How did Achmed the Dead Terrorist help your career?

A: It goes without saying, Achmed certainly has allowed me to break through in places that otherwise might have remained closed for a while. His clips on You Tube took us into high orbit.

Q: Do any of your characters have personal ties to your life?

A: Each character is me, just exaggerated beyond the socially acceptable point for anyone living outside a suitcase.

Comedian Matt Wohlfarth is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.

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