Ventriloquist Jeff Dunham and his popular dummy, Walter,the Grumpy Retiree
Comedian and ventriloquist Jeff Dunham called earlier this week to chat about voicing The Mole in the new animated film, “The Nut Job” (opening Friday) — plus his virtually non-stop touring around the world, accompanied by his mainstay dummies, Walter The Grumpy Retiree, Achmed the Dead Terrorist, Bubba J., the redneck and the always manic Peanut. Dunham will be at the Chicago Theatre for two performance April 11 and 12.
Q: How was it trying your hand at voicing an animated film? Fun not having to worry about moving your lips?
A: That’s for sure! You know, if someone put my dummies on a shelf and said, ‘Okay. All you can do for a living now is voiceover work.’ — I’d say great! You don’t have to have anything prepared. Other people write your lines. Talk about a walk in the park!
Seriously though, there’s something about the stage and working in front of a live audience—and I’d miss all that. But for a little side work, it was great.
The Mole, voiced by Jeff Dunham in “The Nut Job”
Q: In the film your Mole character is the sidekick to Liam Neeson’s Raccoon. Did you get to meet him? Or, like with most animated films, did you voice your lines solo in a sound booth?
A: I never saw anybody! And because I was working when they had the premiere, I didn’t even get to meet them there! It would have been fun. I could have pointed to Liam and said, ‘Oh, YOU’RE the guy I had a relationship with in this movie!’
Q: There’s a lot of major voice talent in the film — Will Arnett, Maya Rudolph, Katherine Heigl, Brendan Fraser — did you know any of them beforehand at least?
A: I never have met any of them! But here I am starring in a movie with them now. What’s funny, I’m sure the average person thinks we’re all buddies now!
Q: You’re new tour, “Disorderly Conduct,” will play the Chicago Theatre in April. How do you come up with the titles for your tours and your DVDs?
A: It’s interesting. My managers and I try to come up with titles that signal that there’s something not quite right — because my humor is like that, which people seem to have embraced. My favorite one was ‘Spark of Insanity.’ My manager saw somebody write that about Mel Gibson when he got into that unfortunate situation where he had been drinking and said all those horrible things.
Anyway, somebody wrote that there’s ‘a spark of insanity’ inside Mel. When I heard it, I said, ‘That’s it! That’s the title for the next DVD!’
Q: You travel all over the world. Do audiences react differently to your humor in different countries?
A: We’ve done nine international tours in the past five or six years. I’ve got to say the sense of humor does translate. I think it’s for several reasons. Human beings all worry about the same things: Family concerns, marriage, kids, their jobs, putting food on the table — even terrorism. Everyone has a grumpy person in their life like Walter — so all that helps.
Besides for such a long time America has been exporting our entertainment to every corner of the globe. Thanks to mass media and the internet today it’s become an even smaller world. You name the country and you can do a joke about ‘The Big Bang Theory’ and everybody gets it.
Q: You travel so much, you must have a ton of frequent flyer miles. Does that constant traveling wear thin?
A: I have to tell you, they keep hooking you. Along with the airlines, the credit cards keep adding on the miles too. It’s kind of sad. You get to that point on miles where they tell you, ‘You’re among the premium flyers of the premium flyers! You’re in the top three percent of the top two percent!’
And your first reaction is, ‘Yea! That’s great!’ Then you go, ‘Oh no! That’s depressing.’
It means I’m traveling too much!