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A puppet show for adults

Some unruly and un-Muppet-like puppets will soon be taking over the Centrium stage — including Achmed the Dead Terrorist, Walter the disgruntled senior, José Jalapeño on a stick, and Bubba J. the beer-fuelled redneck.

Oh yeah ... their straight man, Jeff Dunham, will be there too.

The popular ventriloquist and stand-up comic from Texas, who performs in Red Deer on Thursday, has been described as a dressed-down Don Rickles with multiple personality disorder.

Dunham has also been called America’s favourite comedian and is one of the top-grossing stand-up acts. This means that a lot of North Americans like their silly humour served up with an obnoxious edge, since Dunham’s puppets tend to be politically incorrect, bad-tempered and insulting.

But Dunham might argue that’s all the more ammunition to satirize society with.

While some critics have disparaged his act as sexist, homophobic and racist (his Achmed the deceased suicide bomber character was banned by South Africa’s advertising standards authority for being offensive to Muslims), Dunham has responded by saying he’s skewered “whites, blacks, Hispanics, Christians, Jews, Muslims, gays, straights, rednecks, addicts, the elderly and my wife. As a stand-up comic, it is my job to make the majority of people laugh, and I believe that comedy is the last true form of free speech.”

The comedian was born nearly 52 years ago in Dallas. He was adopted as a three-month-old into a devoutly Presbyterian household.

He began taking ventriloquist lessons at age eight after his parents gave him a Mortimer Snerd dummy for Christmas. According to Wikipedia, he would practise for hours in front of a mirror and study Edgar Bergen routines, determined to master the craft. As an only child, he enjoyed exploring his own ideas about the world, and these eventually influenced his act.

Dunham began performing at schools, banquets and churches as a teenager, and kept it up while attending Baylor University as a communication major.

He got his first break in 1985 when he was hired to entertain the Broadway crowd while Mickey Rooney and Anne Miller changed costumes in the show Sugar Babies.

He later played Los Angeles comedy clubs, despite getting flack for not being a “true comedian” because he relied on props. Since ventriloquists were not overly welcome in the world of stand-up comedy, Dunham’s agent would book him as a “comedy duo.”

Having honed his humour on the comedy routines of Seinfeld and Bill Engvall, his then G-rated act became edgier. Dunham was invited to do The Tonight Show in 1990, an episode of Ellen in 1996, and the Hot Country Night Series. But it wasn’t until 2003 that he really seized the limelight with the first of his appearances on Comedy Central.

After his second special, Jeff Dunham: Spark of Insanity, aired on the network in 2007, he became an Internet sensation. His clip of Achmed the Terrorist from Insanity attracted 140 million YouTube hits.

His specials began to be dubbed into different languages in 2008 and he began performing internationally.

The twice-married Dunham, who is the father of three daughters, has since appeared with various puppets on an episode of the TV series 30 Rock, with Steve Carell and Paul Rudd in the movie Dinner for Schmucks, and other projects.

His fifth one-hour special on Comedy Central, Minding the Monsters, aired in 2012 to 7.5 million viewers, making it the most watched special of the year for the network.

Dunham’s last TV show aired in December. In the animated special Achmed Saves America, his incompetent suicide bomber character is whisked by a bald eagle to the U.S., where he discovers the joys of frozen yogurt and all-you-can-eat buffets.

Tickets to Dunham’s 7:30 p.m. show at the Centrium are $73 from Ticketmaster.

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