Jeff Dunham: 5 Things to Know About the Comedian
After conquering the world on four back-to-back whirlwind tours, Jeff Dunham is finally settling down for a full-time residency in Las Vegas.
The comic’s career started heating up in 2007 with his “Spark of Insanity Tour” – for which he holds the Guinness World Record for most tickets sold for a stand-up comedy tour. Since then, Dunham, 52, has consistently been one of the highest-grossing comedians in the biz, delivering his unique ventriloquist comedy routine in more than 852 shows over the past four years.
Now he’s bringing his new act, "Not Playing with a Full Deck", to the Planet Hollywood Resort and Casino beginning Friday.
Here are five things to know about the multitalented funny man.
1. He flies helicopters he built with his bare hands.
“What kind of moron would build their own helicopter and fly it?” Dunham thought back in college when he first heard about a company in Arizona selling build-your-own helicopter kits. But the comedian – who’s loved choppers since childhood – soon found himself in the state, test flying one of the custom-built copters.
“If put together properly, there’s a good chance of flying one without killing yourself,” Dunham tells PEOPLE. “I spent my life savings on my first kit.” Thirty years later, “I’m finishing up my fourth helicopter.”
2. He’s collected enough vintage toys to fill a museum.
Dunham’s office toy collection is reminiscent of Steve Carell‘s character’s house in The 40-Year-Old Virgin. “I started collecting back in the early days of the Internet,” the comic says. At the time, Dunham admits he was going through a bit of a midlife crisis: “I think when you get to be that middle age, you start thinking back to your youth and wanting to relive it.”
At first, he started buying up his favorite childhood toys like Captain Action. “But when eBay first came on the scene, it was all over,” Dunham says. Now, some of the comedian’s most prized pieces are “dummies used by Edgar Bergen,” a legendary ventriloquist (and father of Candice Bergen) who he describes as “the Jerry Seinfeld of the 1930s.” So just how many toys does he really have? “It’s scary,” admits Dunham.
3. He once flew with Bob Hope on his private jet.
“Before shows like American Idol and X-Factor, there was a contest called the All-American Collegiate Talent Search, and in college I won it,” Dunham tells PEOPLE. “All of a sudden I was opening for guys like Milton Berle, George Burns and Bob Hope.”
After one of those performances, Dunham says Hope approached him and asked how he was planning on getting home that night. “Now this was Bob Hope asking me this,” Dunham explains. “I told him I had a room for the night and was flying out in the morning. But Bob had a different idea. ‘Why don’t you hop on my private jet?’ he said.” Flabbergasted, Dunham accepted. “My favorite memory of the flight is Bob’s wife, Dolores, trying to teach me to play canasta,” he says with a laugh.
4. Jeff and his wife are crazy about fitness and healthy eating.
“I’ve always been the kind of guy who works out all the time, but I could never lose that extra 10 or 15 lbs. I wanted to no matter what I did,” Dunham tells PEOPLE. That all changed when he met his wife back in 2009. “Audrey is a certified nutritionist and personal trainer, so she taught me how different kinds of food affect your body.”
Instead of eating red meat and chicken, the comedian’s wife introduced him to “veggies and hummus.” Now, Dunham’s in the best shape of my life. But that doesn’t mean the pair never cheat: “Every once in awhile we’ll have pizza or a nice steak and then make up for it the next week,” he admits.
5. He hand-builds all the dummies he uses in his act.
“I built my first dummy in sixth grade with an instructional book,” Dunham says, adding that “it turned out horribly.”
As he grew up, he continued searching for a design that would set him apart. “I wanted something more than just the old boy on the knee routine,” he says. “I realized hiring someone else to build them was too expensive, took too much time, and never came out the way I wanted.” So he decided to build the dummies himself. “The first ones I made were out of wood,” Dunham says, “and then I started using fiberglass.”
Now the comedian creates his trademark characters with “clay, a digital scanner and a 3D printer.” After the printer creates the plaster head, Dunham hand-paints and installs the mechanical elements that make the dummy come to life.