In case you weren’t aware, one of the richest comedians recently made a stop in Des Moines. In a time when most big name comedians are playing either the Funny Bone or possibly the Civic Center, Jeff Dunham played to thousands at Wells Fargo Arena. This shouldn’t come as a surprise as Dunham is the third highest paid comedian behind only Jerry Seinfeld and Chris Rock. Dunham is currently the top grossing stand-up comedy act in America as it was made aware by his multiple “brag slides” that played prior to the start of the show.
Dunham has been credited with single-handedly reviving the art of ventriloquism in the United States. He’s made his array of characters like Walter the grumpy old man, Peanut the alien-like creature, and the skeletal “Achmed the Dead Terrorist” household names and staples on YouTube to the tune of over 700 million views and millions of DVDs sold.
When Dunham visited Wells Fargo Arena on Wednesday night, he brought not only some of his most famous creations, but also showed that he can be a very funny guy when he doesn’t have his hand up the back of a wooden puppet. Dunham joked about the local crew for his show purchasing humidifiers as part of his tour rider. The only ones available, in Dunham’s words, were Hello Kitty and Spongebob Squarepants-shaped models.
Dunham also remarked about the ever-changing weather in Iowa and how it has the local weathermen and women stumped. “The weather guys have just given up,” he joked. “Here, just look at my map. Just drive to the weather you like.”
Once Dunham’s solo “opening act” was complete, he brought out the first of his creations, Achmed the Dead Terrorist. Achmed is a crowd favorite and provided many of the shows biggest laughs. One of the night’s biggest laughs was when Dunham, while providing the voice of Achmed, botched a line and made his character say an incorrect phrase. This threw Dunham off the rails and even provided him an opportunity to poke fun at himself, be it through the voice of Achmed.
The other highlight of the night was the appearance of Dunham’s arguably most popular character, Walter. Walter is a cranky old man that clearly despises his wife, yet stays with her. She provides much of the fodder for his humor. Some of the show’s other biggest laughs came when Walter answered questions submitted by members of the audience. It really showcased Dunham’s quick wit and ability to improvise.
Not all of the show’s characters were hits. The show slowed to a crawl while Dunham brought out “Lil Jeff,” who is both character and merchandise pitch. Dunham encouraged the audience to purchase their own version of Lil Jeff at the merchandise stand (for a mere $125) while he demonstrated all of the fun you could have with him on stage. It was like a magician demonstrating tricks flawlessly to get you to buy the same trick’s materials, only you know good and well that when you get home, you won’t look nearly as good as the professional did.
In another blatant show of self-promotion, Dunham stopped the show at one point to show a commercial on the large screen above him for his upcoming animated movie starring Achmed. It was almost awkward in the arena as he introduced the commercial. The Des Moines crowd, as nice as they are, politely applauded the commercial as Dunham returned to the regularly scheduled performance.
The show was also slowed as Dunham showed off a new character, The Coffee Guy, an over-caffeinated, suit-wearing man that shakes uncontrollably and screams far too often. Luckily, the bit was half as long as the crowd favorites, so the boredom was kept at a minimum. Two of Dunham’s earliest characters, Peanut and Jose Jalepeno On a Stick also made an appearance, albeit a forgettable one.
There’s no arguing Dunham’s talents. His comedy is fresh, biting, and very funny. Even without his ventriloquism characters, he could be a very successful stand-up comedian. But it’s the characters that everyone loves and Dunham gives the people what they want. He just hopes you’ll also visit the merchandise booth.