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February 15, 2018

Jeff Dunham's fans prove he's no dummy

The popular, sometimes controversial ventriloquist inspired more comics to take up the stagecraft

Comedians Interviews
Jeff Dunham F. Sadou/AdMedia

Jeff Dunham (posed with Walter the Puppet) is honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk Of Fame on Sept. 21, 2017.

A ventriloquist is the most popular comic in America, by some standards. Jeff Dunham delivers xenophobic humor through his collection of dolls. Dunham, who played to a packed Wells Fargo Center this past Sunday, is clever enough to deliver his politically incorrect bits through characters such as the edgy Achmed the Dead Terrorist.

"Silence, I kill you!,” Achmed shrieks on a number of occasions.

Love him or hate him, Dunham, 55, has resurrected ventriloquism

“The reputation of ventriloquists aren’t good,” ventriloquist Terry Fator said. “But that doesn’t matter because people flock to see us. They love us.”

Fator, who signed a staggering $100 million residency contract in Las Vegas three years ago, admits he owes much of his success to Dunham.

“I have to give Jeff Dunham a lot of credit,” Fator said.

“He really helped pave the way and bring ventriloquism back. It’s an art form. His success is amazing compared to what other comics accomplish.”

The crowd at the Wells Fargo Center couldn’t get enough of Dunham’s envelope-pushing humor. The audience appeared to love his curmudgeonly puppet, Walter, and the loopy Jose Jalapeno on a Stick.

But what is it about Dunham – who performs tonight at the Santander Arena in Reading – that makes him so successful? 

“He doesn’t hold back,” Bob Grayson of Northeast Philadelphia said on Sunday. 

“So many other comics are worried about offending people. Dunham and his dolls just go out there and kill it by not worrying about who they will offend. He lets it fly, but it’s not just about shocking people. He’s funny. If he weren’t funny, he wouldn’t be able to sell out places like he has over all of these years.”

I can get away with things that other comics can’t because of the puppets."

Three years ago, when Dunham was asked why he was so successful, he had a simple answer. 

“If you can combine outrageous and funny, you’re in business," he said. 

When he asked Achmed if he’s Muslim, the puppet claims that he is not an adherent of the religion of Islam and is anxious to reveal his true background. 

“Look at my butt,” Achmed said. “Made in China.”

“Jeff Dunham is not afraid,” Jack Walron of Cherry Hill said on Sunday. “He pushed the envelope. I just don’t think there are many performers who will do that since they worry about what people will think of them.”

When Dunham was asked three years ago about the significance of his dummies, he came off candid.

“I can get away with things that other comics can’t because of the puppets,” Dunham said. 

“It’s kind of like working with cartoon characters. With the puppets, I can push it. That’s where the fun comes in for me. Some people might think I cross a line, but that’s apparently a small percentage of people. Most of the people who come out love it.”

Jeff Dunham appears Thursday, Feb. 15 at the Santander Arena, 700 Penn St., Reading. Tickets are $52.50. Show time is 7 p.m.

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