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Archive for May, 2009

Jeff Dunham and Brian Haner

May 10th, 2009

Julie and I went to see Jeff Dunham at the American Airlines Center (home of the recently hapless Dallas Mavericks) on Friday.  I’ve been a fan for years and had begun to count him among my top four favorite performing comedians, but this show has me beginning to consider Jeff the funniest man alive.

He’s my age, so at about the same time in the same part of the country he and I were doing our first gigs at age 8.  Yep, I started out onstage at age 6 doing my first bit part in a musical (Mom was the director of the local high school theater department) but my first solo gig was as a ventriloquist.  I did mostly church crowds back then, plus my school of course.  It never occurred to me to look into getting paid for it.  Apparently it did to Jeff.   He was actually audited 5 years later.   I gave it up when my falsetto voice went away (never to completely return, and that was my character’s voice) but I’ve always had a special place in my heart for vent work.

Very few people realize what a combination of actor, comedian, puppeteer, singer and organized schizophrenic a good ventriloquist must be.  Not to mention the hours and hours of practice it takes just to develop the basic lip control.  Try this, part your lips slightly and try to say this sentence, “Badgers find many wonderful people vexing” without moving them.  Several consonants, normally created by lip movements, must be recreated with significant tongue gymnastics.

To Jeff’s list, add comedy writer and master craftsman.  I didn’t know this until I saw the live show (an absolutely inspired slide slow for people waiting in their seats showed facts and figures, pics from his past and a hilarious Q&A with Walter.  One of my favorites was Q: Ginger or Mary Ann?  A: Mrs. Howell).  Except for Peanut, his wisecracking, hyperactive purple alien character (the first one I saw him with) all of his now very famous ensemble, Walter, Jose Jalapeno, Bubba J and Achmed the Dead Terrorist were made by Jeff.  That’s HUGE.

I’ve thought many times about doing a snake puppet bit in my show, but Jeff and Terry Fator have raised the bar very high as to what would be good enough to warrant the weeks and weeks of practice it would take to regain my labial skills and develop a routine worthy of including.  I have the concept in mind, including the adaptation of a principle from magic that would make my figure completely unique, but also quite expensive.  We’ll see.  I’ve said it before.  With the right resources, I could be Snakefreid and Roy.

So as the show began, we were introduced to the opening act – Guitar Guy!  Yes, he speaks!  His show was standup and musical comedy, and it was absolutely wonderful.  His real name is Brian Haner and even though he’s currently playing straighter man to Jeff’s straight man (no mic – just take the abuse in silence, please) don’t be surprised to see Brian hitting the big time on his own soon.  His show rocked.   I’ve always loved a well-written comedy song, and this guy delivers.   He’s also one of the best solo guitarists I’ve ever seen.  His finale was breathtaking.  His son is Synyster Gates, lead guitarist of very successful band Avenged Sevenfold.  That apple didn’t fall two inches from the tree.  Talent out both ears.

As for Jeff, the new material was even better than I expected, interwoven seamlessly with bits the audience clearly knew as well as he did.  A good belly laugh is as medicinal as anything a doctor or a shaman can deliver, and the show was chock full of ‘em.  He started off with some standup of his own, and it was good to see Jeff getting the laughs directly for a change.  Then we were treated to everyone we wanted to see, Walter (who knows how to be topical in Jeff’s hometown) Achmed (Jeff’s simultaneous control of his voice, mouth, body, eyes, and eyebrows is just unbelievable) Peanut, Jose Jalapeno (on a Steek) Guitar Guy of course – and an encore with the redneck return of Bubba J!

Humornirvana. Two thumbs up.  Best performance I’ve seen this century.  Congrats, Jeff and Brian.  Well done.

And then?  Well, thanks to the perfect temperatures, out in the SUV were three road boxes.  We spent midnight to 4am shooting a creepy snake-in-the-bathroom scene for an upcoming indie film called “Love Thy Neighbor.”  Stay tuned for more on that.

Back to Mississippi!

May 6th, 2009

We love doing Market Street Festival for our friends at CableOne. It’s a great event that draws huge crowds of very fun people. The bands are always excellent, the food is a delightful slice of the South, and this year even the hotel knocked the ball out of the park.

CableOne put us up in a jacuzzi suite with a widescreen, and it was roomy and sumptuous. Just the place to recover from a ten hour drive.

We did shows at 10, noon and 2 on Saturday the 2nd and the crowds were wonderful. For some reason, the festival had rearranged the locations of several things, much farther away from our stage than any previous year (this was my eighth) but we pulled in enough for all the seats and lots of standing room.

Despite all this, the local paper barely mentioned it even though the festival itself dominated the front page. Apparently there is some kind of unhealthy media rivalry going on between the various agencies in Columbus.  Figures I guess.  Being the most popular festival in the area, there would be a few power plays involved.

Anyway, like I touched on in my post about Market Street last year, even though I have never lived there, Mississippi is in my blood.  My mother was born and raised in Jackson, and we visited often.  My aunt and several cousins live in Wesson.  Most years, that’s where we have Thanksgiving.

I recently learned something from Mom’s past that’s pretty funny.   When she was attending Jackson High, there was a sock hop that her friends were going to, and they asked her along.  The school had hired a garage band from Tupelo High.  Average copy tunes from the era, but a pretty decent band.  Her friends wanted to meet the band during a break, and Mom remembers thinking the lead singer came off a little full of himself.  But she did think that Elvis was a catchy name.