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Posts Tagged ‘dallas’

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.

Texas Coral Snake!

May 19th, 2008

I got an interesting call from a family that had seen my show three years in a row. Having learned from me that most people who are bitten were trying kill the snake at the time, they had a Texas Coral snake (Micrurus tener) waiting for me in a trash can, and could I please remove it?

I knew when they said that, what part of Dallas they were calling from. In all my years herping Dallas County, the only other Micrurus I’ve personally encountered in the wild was only 500 yards away from this family’s home, in a now closed property called Camp El Har. It’s a little North of Duncanville (across I-20) and East of Spur 408. The area is called Cedar Vista. Very green and beautiful, with cedar brakes and higher elevations than most of the county.

As a kid, my church sent us there annually, and as an older kid I was also a counselor there. More recently I’ve performed there, but stopped hearing from them a couple of years ago. It’s really sad now to know why.

Anyway, the Coral snake in question had already been named “Freddie” by Mason, one of the five great kids in the family. Channel 5 ran a story about it, here’s the link, though I don’t know how long it will keep working:

As usual, they interviewed me for 45 minutes and used 8 seconds or so of it, but the story was pretty well done. Of course, they played up the “deadly snakes in Dallas” angle, but failed to use the stinger – that all of the antivenom for this species was made three years ago, because production stopped in 2005. No money in it. Only 1% of venomous snakebites in the US annually are from this species. That’s no wonder – it’s a shy, reclusive animal that is rarely seen, and to get bitten by one, you basically have to pick it up.

Don’t pick it up.

Drop for drop, it’s very similar to a cobra bite, and with all the remaining antivenom on the shelves across the country expiring this October, the alternative may end up being left on a ventilator for days while the central nervous system recovers from the paralyzing effects of an envenomation. Very scary thought.

The story added that the bite, “left little time for survival” which they did not get from me. The onset of any symptoms at all can sometimes take hours or even days, which is one of the problems, as some victims tend to assume the bite failed to deliver any venom. Then later when they discover they’re in trouble, they find themselves unable to speak, and later to even breathe on their own. Not good.

In the D/FW Metroplex, none of the mimics range this far North (for the Mexican Milk snake) or West (for the Louisiana Milk snake) so EVERY red, yellow and black banded snake will be the Texas Coral snake – there’s no need to remember the little rhyme.

Just don’t pick it up.Texas Coral snake, Micurus tener

Birthday Dinner

November 13th, 2007

Julie and I both have birthdays in early November, and we celebrated at the French Room. Chef Jason Weaver really outdid himself this time. I’ve had the pleasure over the years to dine there perhaps a dozen times in as many years (the last five with Julie) and we both agreed that this was the best ever. Just unbelievable. If you ever want to completely treat yourself, you’ve got to try it. We each picked an appetizer and from there I let Chef surprise us, and Sommelier Gregory Cheval paired a wine with each exquisite thing we were served. He’s really amazing, not only knowing what the best wine is but who made it and what wonderful people they are and where they live and – you get the idea. This place is so opulent it could easily be stuffy but the opposite is true. Impeccable, but utterly accessible. Four thumbs up.