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Puppetry Pandemonium

Jeff Dunham and his cast of characters are Not Playing with a Full Deck.

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Jeff Dunham was eight years old when he saw a Mortimer Snerd dummy on a toy-store shelf. He pointed it out and his parents bought it for him. Then he checked out a library book on ventriloquism. Weeks later, he (and Mortimer) gave a book report on Hansel and Gretel, during which he “spent the majority of the time picking on classmates,” he recalls. “The motivation to continue was simply—I’d gotten laughs and successfully entertained
my classmates.”

Tell us about your new Planet Hollywood show. It’s not your mother’s puppet show. I’ve taken an old art form and put a new face on it. It’s stand-up comedy, but the comedic vehicle is ventriloquism with well-defined and relatable characters, wrought with conflict and tension.

Is there a meaning behind the show title, “Not Playing with a Full Deck?” Most of the titles we come up with give a nod to the fact that what I do for a living isn’t exactly normal. For decades, Hollywood has portrayed the ventriloquist as being a bit odd at best, and understandably so. I’m tipping between nuts and not nuts: It’s what you’d expect from a guy who’s spent 10,000 hours perfecting his craft by carrying on in-depth conversations with himself.

Your characters are very opinionated. How do you give them a personality and voice? I never use my act to express my own feelings, or to push a political agenda or moral beliefs. Like a playwright, I’ve tried to create characters who are believable and real. So whatever these characters say, I’m doing my best to make sure they stay true to who they are.

Talk about Walter—the grumpy old man. Walter is a curmudgeon who tends to lean right politically. He’s outspoken. Like a lot of old people, he speaks his mind and doesn’t care what anyone thinks about him. It makes for great comedy to let him say what he wants and argue the opposite side.

What was the inspiration for Bubba J? Mortimer Snerd. It’s difficult to name a popular group of characters that doesn’t have a goofy member in the troupe. There’s just something charming about being innocently stupid and not caring.

For tickets, visit jeffdunham.com, the PH Showroom Box Office; or call 800-745-3000.