By Dianne R. Davis
Do these names have anything in common? Walter, Peanut, José Jalapeño on a Stick, Bubba J, Sweet Daddy Dee, Melvin the Superhero Guy, Achmed the Dead Terrorist, Diane, and Achmed Junior.
If you know, then you are most likely a fan of comedian/ventriloquist Jeff Dunham. Jeff travels the country with his “characters” filling huge rooms with the laughter generated by the sometimes outrageous comments from the mouths of these fictional beings. Some say his characters are racist caricatures, sexist and homophobic. Most say they are hilarious.
We checked in with Jeff as he gets ready to perform in the Colosseum at Caesars Palace on Saturday evening May 7 at 8:00 p.m.
Q. Some say your characters are racist caricatures, sexist, and homophobic. Do you respond to that?
A. In my show I try and make fun of myself more than anyone, and I believe that we should all be able to laugh at ourselves.But I heard a great comic say once that if you're aren't offending a couple of people here and there, you're not pushing the envelope enough. I know there's a fine line, but I feel that most folks have a good sense of humor and can take a joke. I'm always very suspicious when folks are 'offended', because more often than not, the 'offended' are offended for someone else, and aren't any part of the group being picked on.
Q. Do you favor any of your characters?
A. I'm a bit of a chameleon when it comes to having a favorite: Whatever that particular audience of the night is liking the most, I'm having a ball right along with them. It goes without saying, however, that Achmed certainly has allowed me to break through in places that otherwise might have remained closed for a while. His clip on You Tube put whatever ride it is that the characters and I are on into a very high orbit. The recent shows in Europe are certainly a testament to that. Folks in London, Stockholm, Copenhagen, Helsinki, and Oslo were NUTS for the characters, especially Achmed. So is he’s my favorite. Don’t tell Peanut it would hurt his feelings
Q. Are any of your characters modeled or inspired by actual people?
A. Oh sure. Walter was my friend's father. That’s where I got the name as well.
Q. What advice would you give a young person who wants to be a ventriloquist or comedian, or my gosh, both?!
A. Practice whenever you can, wherever you can.
Q. Do you have a favorite charity that you support?
A. We contribute to homeless shelters and food banks across the country.