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Published: Thursday, 10/18/2007

Ventriloquist Jeff Dunham brings suitcase full of friends to the Stranahan Theater

BY JOSHUA BOAK
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Comedian Jeff Dunham confers with a couple of his friends, who include a grumpy retiree, a Muppetish native of Micronesia, a super hero, and a terrorist. Comedian Jeff Dunham confers with a couple of his friends, who include a grumpy retiree, a Muppetish native of Micronesia, a super hero, and a terrorist.
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Jeff Dunham happily lets dummies talk for him. And so far, it s proving profitable.

The comic ventriloquist has managed to revive an act that practically disappeared with the death of vaudeville.

The DVD sales of his first Comedy Central special, Jeff Dunham: Arguing With Myself, topped 500,000 copies.

It s been a 19-year overnight success, reflected Dunham, 45, in a telephone interview.

Fresh off his second Comedy Central Special, Spark of Insanity, Dunham will bring his suitcase of dummies to the Stranahan Theater on Sunday.

Rather than the technical gags of sipping water while the dummy cracks wise about his surprisingly extensive love life, Dunham concentrates on developing characters.

His fascination with ventriloquy began during his childhood in Texas, when he received a dummy for Christmas.

After learning how to throw his voice, Dunham started presenting third-grade book reports with a dummy, devoting five minutes to a routine about his teacher and classmates.

By the time he graduated from high school, Dunham promised himself an appearance on The Tonight Show before his 10th reunion. He landed the gig right before the reunion, not that Dunham, who is married with three daughters, used his fame to impress the prom queen.

Among his dummies are Walter (the gassy, grumpy retiree), Peanut (a Muppetish native of Micronesia), Melvin (the super hero with a huge schnoz), Achmed (a terrorist detonated to a skeleton) and Bubba J. (the beer-lovin redneck).

People don t think I m making fun of them, Dunham said of Bubba J. They think I m making fun of the people who live in the trailer next to them.

The characters have interests and hobbies, just as Dunham does. A friend recently introduced him to Halo 3, the multi-player combat video game set in 2553. Peanut, naturally, became a big fan.

Some dummies have attracted a fan base, particularly the menacing Achmed.

The military guys all want their picture taken with him, Dunham said.

Jeff Dunham performs at the Stranahan Theater, 4645 Heatherdowns Blvd., at 7 p.m. Sunday. Tickets, $30 to $35, are available at the theater, 419-381-8851; Ticketmaster, 419-474-1333, or online at www.ticketmaster.com.

Contact Joshua Boak at:jboak@theblade.comor 419-724-6728.



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