Jeff Dunham was a lone wolf in the world of ventriloquism for a long while, having had a slew of TV specials since first releasing Comedy Central Presents: Jeff Dunham on the titular network in 2003. These days, however, ventriloquists in mainstream acts aren’t as difficult to come by, and a lot of this is due to the massive popularity of America’s Got Talent, which has seen three ventriloquist winners and countless contestants over the show’s 17 seasons. With Dunham having paved the way for a lot of these folks, one can’t help but wonder if he feels as if they’re crowding the space he used to monopolize. So I just straight-up asked him about that.
We recently caught up in order to discuss his new Comedy Central special Me The People. When I asked how Jeff Dunham felt about the emergence of ventriloquism in the mainstream, he said the following:
Welp, there you go. Jeff Dunham has no ill will towards his competitors and feels as if they’re all working together to eliminate the stigma surrounding ventriloquism. It’s nice to hear that Dunham is now comfortable identifying as a ventriloquist first and foremost, because even though he made his career incorporating comedy into his acts, he told us he would never do a straight stand-up set. Three decades is a long time to be playing with puppets, and while some of his early career decisions have Dunham wondering what the hell he was thinking, he’s finally at a point where he can safely consider himself to be a ventriloquist/comedian.
The first ventriloquist to take the big prize on AGT was Season 2’s Terry Fator. He takes a different approach than Dunham, as his act is more musical, but inevitably includes comedic elements. Next was ventriloquist/comedian Paul Zerdin from Season 10, followed by 12-year-old Darci Lynne from Season 12. Terry Fator was described as Darcy Lynne's “hero,” and she too has an act that’s largely musical.
That is a massive amount of winners when you consider how few ventriloquists are household names. The art form’s popularity on the show has even gone so far that we’ve even seen Simon Cowell in puppet-form and Darci Lynne singing alongside a famous muppet. It hasn’t slowed down either, as Terry Fator will be returning for America’s Got Talent: All-Stars early next year.
Jeff Dunham may have made it clear that he has no ill will towards his peers, but he still has a fairly competitive attitude. When I asked if we can look forward to a televised boxing match between he and Fator, he responded with this:
This is proof that even though the ‘V’ word now comes first, he'll always be a 'slash-comedian.' You can catch his new special Me The People on Comedy Central and various streaming platforms. If stand-up (or ventriloquism) isn’t quite your jam, there’s plenty more coming up on our 2022 TV premiere schedule.
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Jeff started his career producing television commercials in his hometown of Fresno, California. After a few years, he came across the opportunity to make a living talking about his favorite thing: movies. Jeff is a film buff who is full of gratitude that he gets to spout opinions about them for a living. He currently resides in Los Angeles, where he spends his time complaining about Los Angeles.