Jeff Dunham, one of America’s favorite comics and the star of Comedy Central’s highest-rated specials, is bringing his cast of beloved characters to Phoenix’s U.S. Airways Center for his “Disorderly Conduct” tour.
Best known for his famed troupe of sidekicks, Dunham is bringing with him Walter the Grumpy Retiree, Achmed the Dead Terrorist, the beer-fueled Bubba J, the manic purple creature Peanut, José Jalapeño, the spicy pepper from south of the border, and Peanut’s own ventriloquist dummy Little Jeff, a mini-version of the ringmaster himself.
The most successful working comedian today, Dunham took time out of his busy schedule, which includes readying his first animated film, “Achmed Saves America,” out on DVD on March 18, to email with GetOut.
Q: About a dozen years ago your publicist implored me to catch your show at the Tempe Improv because, in her words, it would be the last time you’d be playing a ‘smaller venue.’ Here we are in 2014, and you’re selling as many tickets as Paul McCartney, Billy Joel and Elton John. Does the magnitude of what your show has become surprise you?
JD: Yes. When in the middle of 18 years of comedy clubs, I always imagined the ‘big time’ as being theaters that seated 2,000 people. I never even conceived of a tour bus and arenas.
My two favorite clubs in the country for years were the Tempe Improv and the Comedy Connection in Boston, which is no longer there. Those were clubs that sat well over the typical 300 people for a club, so those much larger audiences made me wish for the theaters.
But now when I walk out, and it’s 6,000 to 16,000 people, it’s a bit sobering. As for doing those same kinds of numbers in other countries? Well, I never, ever imagined anything like that. Helsinki, Finland? Tel Aviv, Israel? Are you kidding? How did this happen? I never, never take it for granted.
Q: Your characters have been described by many critics as extremely politically incorrect, especially Achmed the Dead Terrorist. This almost screams at me that your characters are allowed to have free reign when it comes to saying what’s on most people’s minds but are afraid to say in public ... are there subtle messages in your show?
JD: If there are perceived subtle messages in my shows, it’s people inventing them or interpreting them for their own devices or amusement. It’s just like listening to the lyrics of your favorite rock band’s songs and being convinced of what they mean. I’m pretty sure ‘American Pie’ was never about Buddy Holly dying ... If you listen closely, I’m pretty sure it’s allegory for how Don McLean hated baked goods.
Q: Hollywood calls, and they’re offering $20 million for you to reprise Anthony Hopkin’s role in ‘Magic.’ What’s the new plot twist and does it end badly for you?
JD: Well, ironically, that movie loosely paralleled my own career arc up until the point that Hopkins and Fats (his dummy) offed his William Morris agent at a log cabin in the woods. Couldn’t happen because I’m no longer with William Morris.
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