Jeff Dunham returns for Comedy Central special filmed at DC’s Warner Theatre

WTOP's Jason Fraley speaks with comedian Jeff Dunham
Hear our full conversation on my podcast “Beyond the Fame.”

WTOP's Jason Fraley chats with Jeff Dunham (Part 1)

Comedic ventriloquist Jeff Dunham is making his return with the one-hour standup special “Jeff Dunham: Me the People,” which was filmed last month at Warner Theatre in D.C.

The special premieres this Friday on Comedy Central and Paramount+ at 8 p.m.

This is Dunham’s 11th special and the second that he’s taped at Warner Theatre. The first was filmed in the fall of 2007.

“It’s kind of full circle,” Dunham told WTOP. “Things kind of took off for me after that. I’ll tell you, you can feel the intellect of a crowd by how they laugh. … That D.C. audience, they were sharp, they were quick that Saturday night. They were hot, hot, hot.”

Expect to see a new spin on classic puppets like the curmudgeon Walter, who dons aviators as President Joe Biden after similarly spoofing Donald Trump a few years ago.

“When Trump was in office, I had Walter, my grumpy old curmudgeon, he was Grump with the hair,” Dunham said. “Now we’ve got another guy in office. People said Walter looks just like Biden, so I embraced that … Being Trump you say things that are inflammatory and ridiculous, and when you’re Biden you say things that make absolutely no sense.”

Born in Dallas in 1962, Dunham got into ventriloquism as a kid, impressing his classmates and teachers. Upon graduation, he gave himself a goal of appearing on “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson” within the following 10 years. He succeeded on his ninth audition.

“I graduated in May 1980 and I was on ‘The Tonight Show’ in April 1990, so I made it by one month,” Dunham said. “The magic came when Carson waved me over to the couch … He turns to me at the end of the show and goes, ‘Walter, I hope we’ll see you again.’ Walter goes, ‘It’ll be a cold day in hell before you get me back on this damn show.'”

Dunham admits that the comedy landscape has changed since the Carson days.

“It used to be with Will Rogers, Bob Hope, Carson and Leno, you never knew what their politics were, they never picked a side and made fun of both sides,” Dunham said. “These guys didn’t go for the jugular … Leno and I had that conversation: you make fun of the one person, you don’t make fun of a group of people. I’m just making fun of what’s going on.”

His latest tour is called “Still Not Canceled,” a reference to his more controversial characters, including Achmed the Dead Terrorist, which he debuted in D.C. in 2007.

“He was my answer to 9/11,” Dunham said. “I said, ‘I know where Osama bin Laden is, he’s dead in my suitcase.’ … I went to the Middle East in Abu Dhabi for 4,000 Muslims. Who was their favorite character? Achmed the Dead Terrorist … Two nights later in Tel Aviv, Israel for 4,000 Jewish people, who was their favorite? Achmed the Dead Terrorist.”

Dunham also defends his Latino puppet named José Jalapeño on a Stick.

“Never have I ever had a Hispanic person complain about José Jalapeño,” Dunham said. “When I left him out of the show, people were upset! So many Hispanic people say that he’s their favorite character because I’m not making fun of anybody. He’s a jalapeño on a stick with a Mexican accent and he picks on Peanut as much as Peanut picks on him.”

Peanut is, of course, the hyperactive, purple-skinned creature called a “woozle” with white fur covering most of his body, a tuft of green hair and one sneaker on his left foot.

Other characters include the trailer-park redneck NASCAR fan Bubba J and the brand new character Url, spelled like a web link URL, who wears a hipster beanie and air pods.

Of them all, Walter fits our current moment the best. He’s not speaking for the rest of his pals, but we ended by asking Walter what it’s like having Jeff’s hand up his, um, backside.

“He has soft hands,” Walter said. “He lost his watch.”

WTOP's Jason Fraley chats with Jeff Dunham (Part 2)

Hear our full conversation on my podcast “Beyond the Fame.”

Jason Fraley

Hailed by The Washington Post for “his savantlike ability to name every Best Picture winner in history," Jason Fraley began at WTOP as Morning Drive Writer in 2008, film critic in 2011 and Entertainment Editor in 2014, providing daily arts coverage on-air and online.

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