The One Puppet Jeff Dunham Tried Back In The Day That Now Has Him Saying, ‘What The Hell Was I Thinking?’

Jeff Dunham is, without a doubt, the most famous ventriloquist in the world. This is evident by the fact that not only has he become a household name, but so have the characters that he creates. Peanut the quirky purple "woozle," Walter the old curmudgeon, and José Jalapeño on a Stick are beloved characters (or as he would call them, “dummies”) that have come to life in his various comedy specials over the past 30+ years of work in the entertainment industry. Obviously, when bringing these folks to life, one is going to realize that they’re not all winners, and this is how we got Tony the Talking Meatball.

I recently interviewed Dunham to talk about his upcoming Comedy Central special Me The People, when he dished on his box of failures, or as he refers to them the "what the hell was I thinking?" characters. His favorite amongst the dummies is a meatball who, of course, has an Italian accent.

I will tell you, though, there are characters that I have, a trunk full of characters that I call, ‘what the hell was I thinking?’ And those usually go back to the earlier days. So my favorite ‘what the hell was I thinking’ was, I had Jose Jalapeño On A Stick. The oldest character in my act, I came up with him in ’83. So the talking food thing was working. I thought if a Mexican jalapeno pepper works, why not an Italian meatball on a plate of spaghetti with an Italian accent? This'll work! And, yeah, what the hell was I thinking?

Truthfully, I'd be down for an entire special that consists of nothing but his "what the hell was I thinking?" characters, as Tony sounds kind of delightful. There’s not a lot of footage of Tony out there (understandably so), but I did manage to grab this screenshot, just to give you some reference regarding what this character was and also to confirm Tony did exist. 

Still of Jeff Dunham from Food Network.

(Image credit: Food Network)

Although Tony The Talking Meatball didn’t quite work out, for one reason or another, there’s one joke, if only one, that Jeff Dunham is still proud of. As he explained:

There's only one joke that worked, and it was this: ‘Do you speak Italian?’ And he says, ‘no.’ And I said, ‘why not?’ And he goes, ‘because I don't have-a-no hands!’ That was the only joke that worked. So, yeah. Tony The Talking Meatball. That was what it was.

Dunham made it clear that he had no intention of reviving Tony, so unfortunately we can't look forward to an appearance on Me The People. However, the upcoming special will see the introduction of a new character named Url, who seems to be something of an entitled millennial. 

Although this will be Dunham's seventh Comedy Central special and he's become a staple on the network, more recently the comedian made his way over to Fox as The Masked Singer’s Pi-Rat. Thankfully, Dunham's costume came with its own puppet, staying on-brand even in disguise. (If you are a fan of that show beyond the comedian's crooner talents, we have every Masked Singer reveal outlined for your convenience.) 

Beyond that, Jeff Dunham has cemented his place in pop-culture by making appearances on various television shows. He even created a “horrifying” Tim Allen puppet for Last Man Standing. Regardless of his pop-culture relevance, he’ll always be a stand-up comic first and foremost. In case you're the on-demand type, he has a ton of content available on Netflix, and what we consider to be one of the best to ever grace Amazon.

You can watch Me The People on Comedy Central when the special premieres on Friday, November 25, at 8:00 p.m. ET. He’s also on tour right now, so check out his website to see if he’s coming to a city near you. If stand-up isn’t quite your jam, there’s plenty of new television coming out in 2022, and we’ve even got you hooked up with TV through 2023.

Jeff McCobb
Senior Video Producer

Jeff is a film buff who is ridden with 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.