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Five Minutes of Friendship
Jeff Dunham's already spilling the beans about his plans to smuggle a certain terrorist over the South African border
Dubbed America's favourite comedian and ranked third on the United States comedy rich-list, this is one ventriloquist famous for more than just a couple of dummies. He's a stand up comedian who has parked his ass on the holy comedy grail that is Johnny Carsen's couch, and created outspoken characters; Achmed the Dead Terrorist, old man Walter, Peanut and Jose Jalepeno, that are now international household names. Ladies and gentleman: Jeff Dunham is about to bring a spark of insanity to Cape Town. You know it doesn't make any sense...
I caught up with the master of ventriloquism, to talk about leaving your brain at the door, why Italian meatballs just aren't funny and how bumbling terrorists and alcoholic divorcees can transform into bizarrely lovable characters.
CapeTownMagazine.com: Jeff. Can you briefly describe yourself, for those of our readers who may not be familiar with you?
Jeff: "I'm somebody who found something as a kid that I enjoyed doing, continued to have a passion for it and never quit. Now, a portion of the globe is laughing along with me and, when people come to see my shows, it's a chance to leave their brains at the door. I'm just out there trying to make people laugh."
CapeTownMagazine.com: At what point did you realise you were hilarious?
Jeff: "Being funny didn't come until many years later. Most comedians will tell you that you haven't lived long enough to be funny until your mid twenties. The exact point that I thought I was funny was when my student union put on a college show just for me. That was my confirmation and I decided to make a career out of it."
CapeTownMagazine.com: You're regarded as America's favourite comedian, but have you ever had a joke that hasn't gone down too well?
Jeff: "The difference now is that I have to try out material in front of 10 000 people. As the years have progressed, I've become more tuned into what works – and hopefully my fans might be more forgiving. One of my new characters is Diane; a divorcee who drinks too much and has been married five times. I tried to write the character from a woman's point of view, which is the reverse of well-known character, old man Walter. It was really interesting to see women applauding and laughing louder than men.
"Off the back of Jose Jalopeno's success, I came up with the random idea for a character – an Italian meatball on a plate of spaghetti. This character didn't go down very well."
CapeTownMagazine.com: Why did you choose these particular characters?
Jeff: "Every comedian goes for the biggest laughs; for example, I introduced Jose Jalopeno in the South, where everybody loves Mexican food. I also try to find characters that relate to what is going on in my life at the moment. Diane is a new character that has been divorced many times, which I think most American's can relate to."
CapeTownMagazine.com: Your character, Achmed the Dead Terrorist is not afraid to say what he thinks, but are there any South African issues that you might steer clear of, during your visit?
Jeff: "I try to focus on the issues that are happening in the places that I will perform. I watch the news and write my material accordingly. Did you see how I tapped danced around that one there?"
CapeTownMagazine.com: How has Achmed been received elsewhere?
Jeff: "He's lightening in a bottle and there is something about him. Here is someone who is finally addressing the subject of terrorism unabashedly – we in the free world fear and loathe it and people are either scared of, or love, this bumbling terrorist."
CapeTownMagazine.com: Are all the characters coming to perform in Cape Town with you?
Jeff: "All of the characters will be there, along with new addition, Diane."
CapeTownMagazine.com: Did you have problems getting Achmed a VISA?
Jeff: "Achmed will be stowed away in my carryall."
By Lisa Nevitt
Catch Jeff Dunham at the Grand West Arena, from 24-25 September 2010. For more information, be sure to read Jeff Dunham in South Africa
For more rib breaking comedy events, be sure to browse through our Events Section.