Any true fan of standup comedy will recognize the name of Jeff Dunham, the American comedian who is a master of ventriloquism. His is perhaps the most notable name after Edgar Bergen (1903 – 1978) in the industry. Jeff has been providing comic relief for more than fifteen years and still going strong.
Although he’s primarily known for his standup shows, he also has a strong TV presence starring in numerous programs, films, and other ventures. I saw Jeff perform his craft on The Late Show with David Letterman in September 2006. You have to give it to him; he’s a force to reckon with in the world of comedy.
However, before we delve deeper into the topic, it is only fair that we slow down the train for the newbies in the house. If you have never heard of Jeff Dunham before, we have you covered. You are in for a treat.
So, Who is Jeff Dunham?
He was born Jeffrey Douglas Dunham on April 18, 1962, and he is a standup comedian from Dallas, Texas. Jeff Dunham is ranked among the best ventriloquists globally. He holds the 2,619th star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame plus a Guinness Book of World Record for ‘Most Tickets Sold For a Standup Comedy Tour.’
Jeff’s performances are made possible by a cast of characters that serve as his puppets – Walter, Peanut, Melvin the Superhero Guy, Achmed the Dead Terrorist, Bubba J, Diane, Little Jeff, José Jalapeño on a Stick, and Sweet Daddy Dee, amongst others. His puppets have been a significant source of humor for over two decades.
He ranks among the highest-paid comedians in the world. His popularity among fans has helped him bag several awards that he still holds to date.
The Early Life of Jeff Dunham
When he was just three months old in Dallas, Texas, Jeff was adopted by Joyce and Howard Dunham, a real estate mogul. Brought up as an only child, Jeff was lucky to have been raised in an affluent Presbyterian Dallas household – which gave him a good start in life.
Christmas of 1970 was the beginning of a lifetime filled with fantastic art. Jeff Dunham’s interest in ventriloquism was aroused when his parents gave him a Mortimer Snerd dummy, one of Edgar Bergen’s famed friends. Accompanying the gift was a how-to album that laid the foundation for mastering the skill of ventriloquy.
Soon after, he took out a book from a local library, Fun With Ventriloquism, which he never returned and is long overdue. He already knew he wanted to be a professional ventriloquist when he was in grade 4. Jeff has said on numerous occasions that he practiced every day in front of the mirror, trying to emulate the great Edgar Bergen. He wanted to be the best there ever was.
He was voted most likely to succeed in high school. I mean, he was already getting features in TV ads for Datsun dealers while studying (not many of us could boast of the same level of success at that age). As it turns out, Jeff ended up with his dream career.
What is Jeff Dunham’s Net Worth?
With a professional career that has spanned over 30 years, Jeff has come to be one of the highest-paid comedians in the world. With over 3 million subscribers on YouTube and 11 million more on Facebook, the talented performer has sold over 4 million DVDs and generated close to $100 million in ticket sales.
Jeff Dunham’s net worth stands at 150 million dollars as of November 2021. He takes home an annual salary of $15 – $30 million. This puts him in the top bracket of the best-earning American comedians. Most of his income comes from comedy and acting. Merchandise sales and endorsements also rake in a substantial amount.
On top of his already impressive resume, Jeff can boast about various awards. He is the only person to hold the ‘Ventriloquist of The Year‘ title twice. His standup specials on Comedy Central, Netflix have attained record-breaking viewership – growing his popularity further.
The Guinness Book of World records recognized his standup tour “Spark of Insanity” in 2007 – 2010 for the most tickets sold for a standup comedy tour.
The source of Jeff Dunham’s fortune can be attributed to:
- Comedy performances
- Acting in films
- Merchandise sales
- Endorsement deals
- Producing TV
Five years after Jeff graduated from high school, he played a role in a Broadway variety show, Sugar Babies, which spearheaded his professional career. Before this, he performed at the amusement park Six Flags (where he worked), at church, and even school.
He had already made his television debut in 1976 in a commercial for a car dealership based in Dallas. While studying Communications at Baylor University, Jeff was rumored to be making $70,000 annually.
In 1988, he appeared on The Tonight Show hosted by Johnny Carson. He had just moved from Dallas to LA. Throughout the 90s, he toured moderately amidst performances. He also did voiceovers, a bit of acting, and several advertisements for brands like Hertz.
In 2003, Jeff performed his first televised solo act on Comedy Central with José Jalapeño on a Stick, Walter, an early version of Melvin the Superhero Guy and Peanut. It gave him a break he was waiting for. He gained a massive fanbase prompting the cable channel to run six of his specials from 2006 to 2014 before moving to NBC for his seventh special in 2015.
Dunham has written two books:
- Dear Walter – Co-written with Walter Cummings, it was published in 2003.
- All By My Selves: Walter, Peanut, Achmed and Me – Dunham’s, which came out in 2010.
Jeff earns most of his income from his tours. He holds 10 to 15 concerts every year, and ticket sales always hit the roof. Jeff’s extensive merchandise range offers products like t-shirts, hoodies, hats, and coffee mugs. All proceeds go directly into Jeff’s net worth.
Fun Facts About Jeff Dunham
- He makes his own dummies. He began molding them from Plaster of Paris, silicone, or clay. Currently, he uses 3D printing technology to create his amazing puppets.
- He gives back to the community via the Jeff Dunham Fund. He donates a dollar from every concert ticket sold to local charities.
- In his spare time, Jeff builds one and two-seater custom helicopters which he flies (and crashes).
- Jeff Dunham’s ventriloquism special, Minding The Monsters, played to 5.02 million viewers when it premiered on Comedy Central – setting a record on the cable TV channel for the most-watched premiere show.
- His most controversial character, Achmed the Dead Terrorist from Insanity, went viral with 140 million hits on YouTube in October 2009.
Over the years, a few people have expressed disapproval for Achmed, the Terrorist. They claim that the character gives a wrong depiction of Muslims as terrorists. He got banned by South African authorities in 2008 over such claims.
Jeff has even had to rename his puppet to perform, as seen in Malaysia in 2014. Achmed, the Terrorist, became Jacques Merde, the Dead French Terrorist (Jacques Merde meaning “Jack Shit”).
Jeff is truly an inspiration for many people to always go after their dreams. He was a pioneer in the field of modern-day ventriloquism when such entertainers were typically despised – a true master of his art.
Jeff Dunham’s net worth is not only impressive, but it continues to increase over time. It’s probably safe to say that Jeff will keep on producing quality performances to grace our screens and stages. His annual earnings are in the millions, and his live shows always sell out, growing Jeff’s net worth by hundreds of thousands of dollars.