Jeff Dunham is the first to admit that in the high-tech entertainment world of today, his act is a low-tech throwback to a bygone era – and part of a long tradition that’s remained virtually unchanged since the days of vaudeville and Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy in the ’30s.
But while the straight man/ringleader with his posse of politically incorrect alter egos still works with a simple dummy on his lap, he has also harnessed modern technology and amassed numbers that Bergen could only dream of (10 million Facebook fans, more than 530,000 Twitter followers, more than 1 million YouTube subscribers).
If Comedy Central was the launch pad, the internet was the booster rocket. “What I do is such an ancient art form, that it was even looked down on back in vaudeville days, and all the new media and technology is the thing that’s gotten me this international following,” Dunham says. “It’s an amazing tool.”
Dunham has always been technologically savvy. “Back in the club days, I was one of the first to take advantage of all the new media,” he says. “First it was the old-school mailing list, and I had 30,000 people on it, which was pretty great back then, and then I added a line for people’s email addresses, and that ramped it all up to a whole other level. So I started harvesting that and taking advantage of it as a great new marketing tool.
“But then it got bigger and bigger, and more and more complicated, and I thought, ‘I can’t keep up. Forget about it! So you eventually reach an age where you just get tired of trying to keep up with all the latest technology, and you turn into that guy who can’t figure out the DVR or how to stop the clock blinking 12.”
He now has a team of techies “who keep me up to date on what’s going on, and I’m having a blast doing the YouTube videos, and they’re the key.