There are stars who can pack arenas, but Jeff Dunham might be the only entertainer who can lay claim to achieving this solely with the use of his right hand and the voices inside his head.
The master ventriloquist and stand-up comedian isn't just arguably the most popular ventriloquist on the planet, he is one of the most successful stand-up comedians in the world. Period.
Look no further than the record-breaking ratings of his Comedy Central stand-up specials like Spark of Insanity, Controlled Chaos or his most recent special, Minding the Monsters, not to mention the millions of copies sold on DVD.
In a career that spans more than three decades, Dunham, 51, has cracked up capacity crowds by playing straight man to one of his large variety of politically incorrect characters: the curmudgeonly Walter; wild, Latino-esque hombre Jose Jalapeño on a Stick; white-trash redneck Bubba J; the hyperactive furball Peanut; or the boney suicide bomber, Achmed the Dead Terrorist.
Dunham brings his Disorderly Conduct tour to Rupp Arena on Saturday. Via email, he talked to us about his material, how he comes up with his characters and reviving a lost art.
Question: Ventriloquists in today's comic landscape have to be especially good to stand out. Considering the immense success you've had, do you feel a special sense of accomplishment that so many more people are appreciating this particular form of comedy?
Answer: I do feel a sense of accomplishment. Like I always say, the one thing I pride myself on is I've worked hard to put a fresh patina on an old, tired and sad art, and make it hip and fun again.
Q: In addition to developing jokes for different characters, your "band" has grown over the years. At what point do you decide that a new character needs to be created?
A: I try to come up with something every year or two. There's a whole bunch of characters that have come and gone. But I keep the main guys.
When time permits, I try out new material at the end of my shows to see how well they are received. The same goes for a new character.
Q: A lot of stand-up comedians are "solo" acts with autobiographical material, and audiences usually walk away feeling like they know a little more about the performer. Since your comedy is primarily delivered through characters you create, do you feel like the audience gets to know who Jeff Dunham is?
A: Each character is an exaggerated version of me. At the beginning of my show I share personal stories that strike me as funny. I think it gives the audience a peek into my life offstage.
Q: You are one of the most successful comedians in the world. You have a huge following, popular Comedy Central specials and have sold countless DVDs. What is left for you to accomplish?
A: I hope in the near future that we can do a couple of films and bring the characters to life on the big screen, plus continue to expand our presence worldwide. At this point, we're just having fun filling the dance card.
When: 5 p.m. Dec. 7
Where: Rupp Arena, 430 W. Vine St.
Tickets: $44. Available at (859) 233-3535, Rupparena.com or Ticketmaster, 1-800-745-3000 or Ticketmaster.com.