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Wednesday, 26 September 2007 00:00

Funny guise: Ventriloquist extraordinaire Jeff Dunham to appear at WCU on Oct. 4

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By Sarah Kucharski • Staff Writer

The problem with trying to interview a ventriloquist is that he — in this case Jeff Dunham — represents not just himself but multiple other personalities — in this case five — and in summoning a cast of half a dozen from the back of his throat said ventriloquists’ voice was shot by the time we were supposed to talk.

“I hope that the information I sent to you will suffice,” wrote Dunham’s PR rep.

Sigh.

Dunham, who will be performing a sold out show at Western Carolina University’s Fine and Performing Arts Center Oct. 4, is hot right now. His brand of off-color comedy tempered by hand puppets landed him an hour-long special on Comedy Central that premiered Sept. 23. Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy this is not. Dunham’s newest member of the so-called “Suitcase Posse” is “Achmed the Dead Terrorist,” who has failed miserably in his suicidal tasks, thanks mainly to impotent anger, and a “premature detonation.”

In closing out the “Spark of Insanity” special, Dunham pits Peanut, a purple self-described “comic genius” who claims origin from an uncharted island in Micronesia, against José Jalapeño’ who avoided his destiny to be eaten when he teamed up with Dunham after an accident in his home country of Mexico, which landed him on a stick. The three debate illegal immigration and life on a stick. It’s politics and jokes about having things lodged in bodily orifices.

Dunham has brought the art of ventriloquism to a new generation that last saw Shari Lewis and the high-pitched Lamb Chop on PBS. Dunham’s last Comedy Central airing, Jeff Dunham: Arguing with Myself, was one of the network’s highest rated hour-long standup specials ever, with multiple repeats every month for the past year. The show’s DVD went quintuple-platinum (500,000 in sales), which isn’t shabby considering that the average comedy DVD sells around 25,000 copies — and that’s when the comedians aren’t ventriloquists.

Dunham’s had more appearances on The Tonight Show than any other ventriloquist in history, as well as spots on The Best Damn Sports Show Period, Blue Collar TV and CMT’s Fast Living among others. The Fast Living feature highlighted one of Dunham’s other interests — building and flying his own full-sized helicopter.

Building things is part of Dunham’s character, as he creates the members of his “Suitcase Posse.” The DVD extras of “Spark of Insanity” feature the construction of Melvin the Superhero — a mild-mannered, no-real-power superhero who wants to save our country from evil, meanwhile he keeps getting locked inside the suitcase. Also, Dunham’s creation and oldest member of the posse is Walter, the out-spoken elderly and non-PC curmudgeon, who reasons that his marriage has lasted for 47 years because, “That old bitch will NEVER die...”

For those that miss Dunham’s Oct. 4 show in Cullowhee, the following nights he’ll be hitting Lenior and Wilson with a mid-month show in Raleigh. There’s also a Dec. 27 show in Charlotte, tickets to which would make an excellent holiday gift for the comedy fan in your circle of friends and family.

Dunham’s performance is part of the Fine and Performing Arts Center’s 2007-08 Galaxy of Stars Series. The next performance in the series is Jungle All the Way: An Animal Band Christmas on Nov. 29, followed by the Asheville Symphony Orchestra’s Holiday Pops Concert on Dec. 15. For more information or tickets, visit www.wcu.edu/fpac or call 828.227.2479.

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