Multiple personalities will appear on the Cumberland County Civic Center stage on Friday, but there will be only one comedian.
Comedy Central star Jeff Dunham and his band of irreverent puppets return to Portland as part of the “Disorderly Conduct” tour. Dunham has entertained millions and racked up record TV audiences with sidekicks that include Achmed the Dead Terrorist, Walter the Grumpy Retiree, Bubba J, Jose Jalapeno, Peanut and Peanut’s ventriloquist dummy, Little Jeff.
Called “the most popular comedian in the United States” by Time magazine, Dunham first ventured into ventriloquism at the age of 8. He began performing at age 10.
These days, Dunham performs around the world to sold-out crowds, and his most recent Comedy Central special, “Minding the Monsters,” aired in October.
GO caught up with Dunham in the midst of his packed tour schedule, and he agreed to answer a few questions via email.
Q: I understand you took up ventriloquism at a young age. What attracted you to ventriloquism?
A: Here I was, this unremarkable kid in the third grade. I was as average as average could be — wasn’t popular with girls, wasn’t popular with my other classmates. I was a little bit pudgy, and I was no good at sports. I was shy. And now I had this dummy, and I could sit up in front of the class and make people laugh and then make fun of the principal or the teacher or my other classmates, and I’d get laughs and get accolades. I never wanted to do anything else.
Q: This is probably like asking about your favorite child, but do you have a favorite sidekick?
A: Whatever that particular audience of the night is liking the most, I’m having a ball right along with them. It goes without saying, however, that Achmed certainly has allowed me to break through in places that otherwise might have remained closed for a while. His clips on YouTube put us on the global map. Folks all over the world go NUTS for the characters, especially Achmed. So is he my favorite? I couldn’t say that and hurt Peanut’s feelings …
Q: Some of your material has prompted criticism that it’s insensitive and insulting to certain groups of people. As a comedian, how do you find a balance between satire and being offensive just for a laugh?
A: The puppets give me license to go a bit further than other comedians. I was taught that if the comedian isn’t offending people, he/she’s not pushing it enough. If 98 percent of people are laughing and 2 percent are ticked off, I’m doing it fine. I’m just trying to make the majority of people laugh, and don’t want to make fun of people’s religion or preferences.
The characters aren’t me, they don’t necessarily think the way I think. I’m not an angry old man, an ex-terrorist or a goofy white-trash guy. If one of them says something offensive, I can be shocked along with the audience and say something back. Walter’s very right-wing and conservative, and I play the more left, liberal side when I’m talking to him — which isn’t the way I think, I’m more like Walter — and that interchange makes it funny.
Staff Writer Avery Yale Kamila can be contacted at 791-6297 or at: