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Posts Tagged ‘ventriloquist’

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.