Jeff Dunham is the most successful ventriloquist working today. He's also a best-selling author. But he didn't get there by just shooting his mouth off. In fact, to preserve his voice for his evening shows, he does interviews by email. A few questions for Jeff? We had more than a few.
How do you create a new character?
None of them have a similar genesis. Ideas come from different places. I do everything from materials used to complication of movements, to what type of paint and how it's applied. I construct the characters myself, and much blood, sweat, and angst is put into every one of them. Then, and the more difficult part, is creating material and writing the funny stuff!
Are there ones that just didn't work?
Back in the late '80's, I had already been performing with Jose Jalapeno for a few years.. I thought, “The jalapeno worked... Why not some other food!?” So, I created a giant meatball on a giant plate of spaghetti. I called him, “Tony, the Talking Meatball” and, of course, he was Italian. Well, the ONLY joke that worked was, “Do you speak Italian?” “No.” “Why not?” “I don't have-a no hands!”
Why is there so little ventriloquism around these days? When I was growing up, we could name at least five ventriloquists. Is it a dying art?
I think a few folks that are good performers as ventriloquists have caused a resurgence in the acceptance of vent as a legitimate form of entertainment, and that there are a couple of generations right now who up until the past couple of years, had never seen a good ventriloquist. The one thing I pride myself on is I'm trying to put a fresh patina on and old, tired and sad art and make it hip and fun again.
How do you rehearse? Does a lot depend on the mood of the crowd? Or can a show be tightly scripted?
It just depends. Depends on how I feel and how the audience is. And if we have a two show night... if we have time to goof around. But if it's the late show - then yeah... I'll have a little more fun. It's really a lot of fun to mess with the crowd.