Q&A: Jeff Dunham
Jeff Dunham, a regular at Caesars Palace, is recognized as comedy’s most prominent ventriloquist after more than a decade. Dunham says Las Vegas is an important stop no matter where he’s been or where he’s headed next. “I never take that for granted. It’s one of the most important places for me because of what it is and where it is and who you’re in front of, that varied audience that you don’t get at your average local venue,” he says. Las Vegas Magazine's Brock Radke recently caught up with the global star, who’s back onstage at the Colosseum Aug. 29.
You’re doing a 60-city international tour called Passively Aggressive. How do you know when one tour stops and a new one begins?
I’ve been doing big arenas for around 10 years now and before that it was 20 years of comedy clubs, and I’ve done eight or nine specials but never really gotten off the road for more than a couple weeks at a time. It’s really one joke at a time. I write a handful of jokes on the tour bus and sprinkle them throughout the show, work on them and keep some, and eventually every few years the entire show turns over. And you tape the new show (for a TV special) and put it on the air. I guess I’m in the middle of that now, so the tour ends when we tape the next special, which could be January or February.
Why is Caesars Palace such a special place to play?
The guys that book that room are very careful. You go through that hallway and look at the posters on the wall and it’s like, wow, wow, wow. And that stage is special to me because of Edgar Bergen, who was probably the most famous ventriloquist we’ve ever had ... and his very last show was at Caesars Palace. He announced his retirement and said, “Every good vaudeville act has an opening and a closing, and it’s time to pack my friends and say goodbye.” He died in his sleep that night. It doesn’t get more poetic than that. I met him one time. There are plenty of pitchers or quarterbacks you can look up to as a young baseball player or football player, but not many iconic ventriloquists.
You filmed your last special, Relative Disaster, in Dublin. Why Ireland?
I had done a handful of shows in the U.K. and Ireland recently and those audiences were just the best comedy audiences anywhere we went. There are crazy and great comedy audiences everywhere, but some of the biggest laughs we got with that show were in Dublin, so why not? And when it comes to politics, they know our politics better than we do, but they’re not emotionally involved.
You introduced a new character in that special, the crude Irish infant Seamus. How difficult is it to create new characters, especially when you have so many that are so beloved that you’ve been using for such a long time?
Yeah, that’s true. As odd as it sounds, we are a team. I know these guys so well. I do have to think in multiple personalities. If I’m a good comedy writer, I can have one question to ask each character and they’ll each have a different joke for that question. I really have to know them inside and out. The latest character is the personal advisor to Donald Trump in the White House. With politics now, it’s difficult to make political jokes without picking sides. It’s a tough tap dance for comics. I try to stay down the middle as much as possible because I want everyone to have as much fun as possible.
You’ve walked that line before with other material, like with your character Achmed the Dead Terrorist.
Yeah. I remember talking to Jeff Foxworthy when he started doing the stuff about “You might be a redneck,” and there were people saying he might be offending a lot of his audience with this. But what Foxworthy said was that the audience, those people don’t think you’re making fun of them, they think you’re making fun of the people in the trailer next door to them. And now the redneck thing is celebrated.