Jeff Dunham is an American ventriloquist and stand-up comedian who has also appeared on numerous television shows, including Star Search, Late Show with David Letterman, Comedy Central Presents, The Tonight Show and Sonny With a Chance. He is familiar to Comedy Central audiences for his three specials on that network: Jeff Dunham: Arguing with Myself, Jeff Dunham: Spark of Insanity, and Jeff Dunham's Very Special Christmas Special. Jeff Dunham also starred in The Jeff Dunham Show for one season on the network in 2009. His style has been described as "a dressed-down, more digestible version of Don Rickles with multiple personality disorder". Describing his characters, Time observes, "All of them are politically incorrect, gratuitously insulting and ill tempered." Jeff Dunham has been credited with reviving ventriloquism, and doing more to promote the art form than anyone since Edgar Bergen.
About Jeff Dunham
Dunham has been called “America’s favorite comedian” by Slate.com, and according to the concert industry publication Pollstar, he is the top-grossing standup act in North America, and is among the most successful acts in Europe as well. As of March 2009, he has sold over four million DVDs, an additional 7 million dollars in merchandise sales, and received more than 350 million hits on YouTube (his introduction of Achmed the Dead Terrorist in Spark of Insanity is the ninth most watched YouTube video ever), making him one of the most-viewed entertainers of all time. Spark of Insanity received the best reviews of any DVD on Amazon.com in 2008, and A Very Special Christmas Special was the most-watched telecast in Comedy Central history, with its DVD going quadruple platinum (selling over 400,000) in its first two weeks. Forbes.com ranked Dunham as the third highest paid comedian in the United States behind Jerry Seinfeld and Chris Rock, and reported that he was one of the highest earning comics from June 2008 to June 2009, earning approximately $30 million during that period.
In January 2008, Dunham was voted by fans the Top Comic in Comedy Central’s “Stand-Up Showdown”. He is the only person ever to win the “Ventriloquist of the Year” Award twice, was nominated “Comedian of the Year” by the TNN Music City News Country Awards, and has drawn praise from the Dallas Morning News for his technique and timing.
Some have accused Dunham’s characters of being racist caricatures, sexist, and homophobic. In 2008 a TV commercial for a ringtone featuring Dunham’s character Achmed the Dead Terrorist (see Characters below) was banned by the South African Advertising Standards Authority after a complaint was filed by a citizen stating that the ad was offensive to Muslims, and portrayed all Muslims as terrorists. Dunham responded that “Achmed makes it clear in my act that he is not Muslim.” However, the Advertising Standards Authority noted that the name Achmed was of Arab origin and was one of the names of Muhammad. Dunham responded, “I’ve skewered whites, blacks, Hispanics, Christians, Jews, Muslims, gays, straights, rednecks, addicts, the elderly, and my wife. As a standup comic, it is my job to make the majority of people laugh, and I believe that comedy is the last true form of free speech.” He further commented, “I’m considering renaming Achmed, ‘Bill.'” (Dunham has conceded that he does exhibit particular sensitivity to the “conservative country crowd”, or those characterized by “basic Christian values”, as they are one of his largest constituencies, and part of his upbringing.) The Islamic Human Rights Commission recognized Dunham in 2009 for his “outstanding Islamophobia”.
Dunham was heckled and criticized for mocking TV critics during a July 2009 press tour to promote his then-upcoming Comedy Central TV series, as well as Comedy Central programming chief Lauren Correo. In October 2009 the series, The Jeff Dunham Show, enjoyed good initial ratings, but was not well-liked by critics, who did not find it funny, and either questioned the wisdom of translating his act into a series, or conceded a prejudice against Dunham, his previous specials, or ventriloquism itself. J. P. Williams, the producer of the Blue Collar Comedy Tour, has opined that Dunham’s act is not funny on its own merits, and that his material gets a greater reaction because of the puppet characters that it would otherwise not garner by itself.