I got to shoot some quick portraits of comedian and ventriloquist Jeff Dunham at Rao's restaurant inside Caesars Palace today. Funny, unassuming, nice guy. Multi-millionaire guy.
Jeff Dunham factoid: His video, with Achmed the Dead Terrorist, has 188 million views, and is the eighth most-viewed video on YouTube ever.
I learned about this performer, both in my research about him (research I hoped would enable me to ask him questions that didn't make me sound like an idiot during our interview), and from the man himself.
Among the things I learned was that Jeff Dunham makes all his own characters. ("Puppets," to you and me.) I also learned how incredibly skillful he is at his craft. There were times when his puppet's eyes looked at me, and Dunham was actually looking in another direction, and there was this very, very weird feeling that the dummy was alive. The puppet exhibited a range of emotions, essentially moving on its eyebrows, eyes and mouth. Astonishing and a wee unnerving.
The character in question is Diane (below). Both Dunham and Diane made an appearance in the recent movie "Dinner for Schmucks." According to Dunham, the director of the movie, Jay Roach, asked him to create a puppet that was "creepy hot." Yep, that pretty much sums her up.
I also learned, from someone I believe is Jeff Dunham's manager, that manipulating a puppet with that level of sophistication takes a huge amount of focus and dexterity. Dunham makes it look easy, but there's a lot going on inside that puppet's body. His manager also told me that same dexterity helped Dunham learn to fly a helicopter, something that often takes weeks or months to master, in a weekend.
This pic includes Jeff Dunham's girlfriend, helping to primp Diane for her close-up.
I didn't have any idea what to expect before I met Jeff Dunham. But the encounter was completely pleasant, as was Jeff Dunham. I look forward to seeing his show sometime.