Jeff Dunham is more than a gimmick.
Yes, the stand-up comedian and ventriloquist is known for his cast of characters, including Achmed, the dead terrorist, and an old curmudgeon named Walter.
He's also known for selling out arenas. He was the top-grossing live comedy act in the world in 2009 and 2010, according to Fresno-based trade magazine Pollstar.
So the guy has fans.
His stand-up special, "Controlled Chaos," drew 5.5 million viewers, making it the third most watched program in Comedy Central's history. The special sold more than 100,000 DVDs in one week.
Dunham brings his new show, "Disorderly Conduct," to Save Mart Center on Sunday. His demanding tour schedule keeps him on voice rest -- no phone interviews -- so we did an interview via email.
You've been at this for more than 20 years. It had to be a tough sell in the beginning.
I realized early on that the ventriloquism needed to be just a vehicle for the comedy. It couldn't be the focus of the act. In other words, I needed to focus on the material and the jokes and keep people laughing.
I fought that battle from day one. There's a disdain for ventriloquists -- you're lumped in with plate spinners, accordion players and mimes. It's considered quite sad and dated. I've been at it forever. You're right, I've been on the road for over 20 years and comedians respect that. The one thing I pride myself on, is I've put a fresh patina on an old, tired and sad art and make it hip and fun again.
Tell us a bit about this tour and what fans can expect.
In my show there is a little something for everybody.You can pretty much leave your brain at the door. It's not brainless comedy, but at the same time, I'm not trying to make you think real hard. It's just, come in, have a great time.
Where do the characters come from? Do the jokes come from the characters or is it the other way around?
Just living life. None of the characters have a similar genesis. Ideas come from different places. The only thing that's similar is that when something strikes me as being a good character, and one that I could really write some good material for, then that's what I go with.
Who is your puppet guy? Is there a company you work to have them made?
I do everything, from materials used to complication of movements, to what type of paint and how it's applied. I construct the characters myself, and much blood, sweat and angst is put into every one of them. Then, and the more difficult part, is writing the funny material.
Jeff Dunhams Disorderly Conduct tour, 3 p.m. Sunday at Save Mart Center. Tickets are $46.50. (800) 745-3000, ticketmaster.com
The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6470, firstname.lastname@example.org
or @JoshuaTehee on Twitter. Read his blog at fresnobeehive.com