Jeff Dunham is an American ventriloquist and stand-up comedian who has gained popularity around the world for his puppet characters and funny stories. Born in 1962 in Dallas, Texas, he began ventriloquism at the age of eight when his adopted parents gave him a Mortimer Snerd dummy for Christmas. By the time Jeff Dunham was in the fourth grade he decided that he would not only be a ventriloquist – he would be the best ventriloquist ever. Throughout his childhood, Dunham practiced in front of a mirror, training himself to be able to “throw” his voice, mimic accents and create characters.
Peanut was born sometime in the mid-80s. When Jeff Dunham graduated from Baylor University in 1986, he began performing in comedy clubs in the Southwest with characters like Peanut and Jose Jalapeño. These early shows received mixed reviews from fellow comedians and audience members. Many comedians felt that Dunham’s act was not “true” comedy because the act would fall apart without his puppet props. Dunham says that the first few years were tough, because while the characters of his puppets were well developed, the jokes were not. Dunham appeared on television several times during the 90s. This video shows Jeff Dunham performing with Peanut on VH-1’s “Stand-up Spotlight” in 1992 after being introduced by Rosie O’Donnell. Many of the gags used in this skit still appear in Jeff Dunham’s shows, An example is Peanut singling out an audience member, waving a hand across his own head and yelling, “Neeeooowww!”
The most delightful part of Jeff Dunham’s show is that he allows the audience to acknowledge the puppet characters as puppets, instead of trying to pass them off as living, breathing creatures. Dunham does this by pointing out structural parts of the puppet’s anatomy, as shown in the “stick in the elbow” gag, and by having the puppet comment on the human-puppet interaction, as with the “where is your other hand?” gag.
Despite setbacks in the 90s, Jeff Dunham continued to chase his dream, honing his comedy skills and developing contacts in the world of entertainment. It was only in the early years of the 21st century that Dunham’s comedy acts began to receive the attention and appreciation they deserved. His videos became incredibly popular online, which brought the comedian much needed exposure and filled his performance venues. By 2012 Jeff Dunham had won several awards, including “Ventriloquist of the year” (twice) and “Comedian of the Year”. He is now considered to be one of America’s favorite comedians. See Jeff Dunham’s Wikpedia entry for more details about his comedy career, or visit jeffdunham.com for tour dates.