When you think of Rochester’s Blue Cross Arena, you think of “big.” Big events. Big music. Big-time sports. And…ventriloquism?
What’s that doing in this list?
Jeff Dunham, of course, who has made America and the world re-think this intimate art form in a BIG way – in fact blowing the lid off “intimate” and taking it to the masses.
He and his wooden friends are about to deliver another reminder January 15 when his “Controlled Chaos” tour stops at the BCA for some inspired zaniness.
Not your father’s ventriloquist? Well, your dad probably loves Dunham too.
“The one thing I pride myself on,” the Dallas native tells Freetime, “is I’ve put a fresh patina on an old, tired and sad art and made it hip and fun again.”
Has he ever!
By the end of 2011, he was being touted by other observers as the world’s highest grossing live stand-up comic. He concluded 2011 rated as the highest box office earning comedy concert attraction in North America for three consecutive years, two straight years in the world.
Did Dunham ever anticipate that ventriloquism, which some might consider a “small” entertainment expression, could have an arena-size audience?
“Comedy Central took it off the launch pad, and YouTube took it all over (to the tune of half a billion views of his online clips). For many years we’ve worked and did all the comedy clubs and the big surprise is the show went worldwide,” he replies. “We proved that on the last few European tours. The Europeans were just as enthusiastic and even knew some of the jokes. When that happens it is sobering.”
His show, he says, attracts folks from all walks of life and age groups. “It’s not uncommon to see a grandmother and grandson in the audience laughing out loud,” he says.
Last fall, his new 90-minute comedy special, Controlled Chaos, debuted as the most-watched cable show that evening, drawing 8.3 million viewers, and its DVD/Blu-ray released two days later by Comedy Central Home Entertainment and Paramount Home Entertainment immediately shot to the top of Amazon.com’s comedy chart and was number 4 in all of its home entertainment DVD/Blu-ray sales. It has logged platinum plus numbers.
His autobiography, All By My Selves: Walter, Peanut, Achmed and Me, is a bestseller and received a five-star reader rating on Amazon. It chronicles his rise to worldwide fame, starting with his first public performances for $5 a show as a fourth grader in his hometown, which was followed by many years of intensive touring on the comedy club circuit from his college years to adulthood.
A two-hour Bio channel special debuted on the entertainer last November 22, attracting 1.2 million viewers, the network’s top telecast. ABC-TV’s award-winning Nightline program followed Dunham on tour, and the entertainer made his film debut in a guest-starring role in Dinner for Schmucks, with Steve Carrell and Paul Rudd.
He also is the number one comedian on MySpace. And when his iPhone App was released, it made Apple’s Top 10 apps the first day it was available. One video alone of him and his dummy Achmed, the skeletal dead terrorist who does not yet know he is dead, has over 100 million views. One Hundred Million!
Why does he believe he has struck such a chord with so many people? Why does what he offers resonate for this many people?
“I think it’s the funny material and the characters. Everyone seems to have their favorite,” he says.
There are many from which to choose, including, in addition to Achmed and beer-fueled redneck Bubba J: the Hispanic Jose Jalapeno; grumpy old retiree Walter; black “manager” Sweet Daddy Dee: and manic purple creature Peanut, among others. “All of them are politically incorrect, gratuitously insulting and ill tempered,” Time has observed.
To which fans would quickly add: “..And hilariously funny.”
His dummies get away with observations we might all like to say, but we don’t because we censor ourselves, Dunham has suggested. “Sometimes I shut that (safety) valve off,” he explained.
Time noted: “That’s the trick of ventriloquism: it puts the taboos in someone else’s mouth.”
What is it about the appeal of ventriloquism? Why does it fascinate so many people?
Dunham: “I carry on dialogue, rather than monologue. It’s like a secret weapon. People listen more closely and there can be conflict just like in a sitcom.”
For Rochester fans about to see him live for the first time, he offers this observation on what to expect and what they might experience:
“Like I always say, my show has no socially redeeming value whatsoever — you’re not going to learn anything,” he notes. “All you’re going to do is have a big goofy time and escape your problems for a while.”
Editor‘s Note: Jeff Dunham brings his “Controlled Chaos” tour to Blue Cross Arena, Sunday, January 15.