Jeff Dunham is back with another hilarious special in Me the People. The latest stand-up special from the acclaimed comedian sees him tackling everything from the current President of the United States, Joe Biden, to today’s youth and cancel culture.
Dunham has assembled some of his most iconic characters for Me the People, including Walter, who’s chosen to disguise himself as Biden, Bubba J, Peanut, and José Jalapeño on a Stick. The special also introduces a new subject to the mix with Url, a technology-obsessed young man with a unique physical design.
In anticipation of its premiere, Screen Rant spoke exclusively with Jeff Dunham to discuss Me the People, reuniting with Comedy Central, navigating edgier comedy in a modern world, crafting a new character for the special, and more.
Jeff Dunham on Me the People
Screen Rant: You’ve worked with Comedy Central for quite a while now. How did this special come about?
Jeff Dunham: This is my 11th special, and actually, I had an interim there with Comedy Central, where we did one on NBC and two on Netflix. But now, we made a deal with them for three more, and the first one was during the pandemic, and it was a nice attempt at a special and for day and date, when nobody could go anywhere. Everybody was in masks sitting at tiny little cocktail tables, there was 100 people, it was great, but now, we’ve moved back into the big arenas, and it’s just a lot more fun. Comedy Central, they want people that will create ratings for them, and I have some great records there, and I think I might not be their first choice in brand of entertainment, but I think they have some executives in there now who recognize that numbers are numbers, and it doesn’t matter where those numbers are coming from.
The Daily Show doesn’t have any politics that line up with whatever I do, but I don’t try and pick a side. [I go] back all the way to comedians like Will Rogers, Bob Hope, and Carson and Leno, where they made fun of whoever was in office and whatever was going on. But they didn’t do it the way that comedians today do it. Usually what a guy or a woman does is pick a side, starts picking on that other side, and it turns nasty, and then sometimes the comedy show turns into more of a pep rally, and the jokes are gone. I don’t like picking on big groups of people, I think it’s okay to make fun of the one guy that’s in office, and when Trump was in office, I had a lot of fun with that.
Now that Biden is in office, I think he’s fair game, and I have the luxury of having had a lot of time on stage, and a lot of fans have grown with me, so I have a really loyal fan base, and they know what they’re getting. They know they’re not going to come in and hear something completely horrible. It’s going to have some edge to it, but it’s not going to be mean and nasty against anybody, so I think that’s why my 15 minutes has lasted all this time. So, I think Comedy Central knew that, and they knew I’d do a big number for them, and that’s what we’re hoping for on the 25th.
I love that the new special tackles a lot of modern culture, in terms of comedy and politics. You mentioned that you have your fan base, but what is that like for you finding that right balance in your comedy between something that is just edgy enough to get people laughing, but also not too far that it alienates anybody?
Jeff Dunham: Sure, I used to say that comedy was the last form of free speech, but obviously in the last few years, that’s been trod upon greatly. The free speech thing is there’s just so many conflicts with how people handle that, and how they interpret it, it seems to be there’s a lot of, “It’s free speech, unless you say something that I don’t like, then you can’t say that,” well that doesn’t make any sense. So I, again, just try and do what I’ve always done, but it is a landmine right now that you have to traverse very carefully, because even if you say you don’t care, you still need to care, because you can’t say inflammatory things that really get people upset.
But I’m not Dave Chappelle and, whether you agree or disagree or whatever, he’s not stupid, he’s doing comedy that gets attention and headlines and creates controversy. I think PT Barnum said, “Any publicity is good publicity.” [Chuckles] But I don’t do that, I’ve always said, and as you probably were hinting at, I’ve always said that if you’re offending a tiny percentage, maybe three 3-5 percent of the audience, that you’re probably on the right track, because whatever it is that those people are upset about is what everybody else is laughing the hardest at. I think by the time you’re, you know, if you’re offending 60 percent of your audience, then clearly you don’t care about your own future, and you don’t care about the audience.
I care very much about those people who spent their good, hard-earned money, and I want them, as a business person, to have fun there so that next time, they’ll bring back family and friends, and it just keeps growing. So, I do approach it as an entertainer, as an artist, but also as a business person who wants that business back, I want those people coming back and having fun. I don’t get nervous anymore, when I go on stage, it’s more trepidation, there’s a real responsibility to give those people a great evening of fun, because they spent a lot of money, and a lot of time, to get there.
Some people, in many cases, [make] a lot of sacrifices to be there, so it’s a lot of responsibility on one guy’s shoulder to provide that entertainment, and keep people laughing. So, that’s the only thing I dread right before I walk on stage is that there’s a big responsibility, and don’t screw this up.
I love the bit in the trailer about Walter looking like Joe Biden already. How do you go about determining which of your characters would be a part of this special alongside him?
Jeff Dunham: Well, it’s a bit like a rock band. You go to see a rock band, there’s a couple of hits that they better play, or you’re gonna be upset. So, the characters that I use in this special are the ones that have been the mainstays for decades, but then I always try and come up with a new character or two that I think the audience will enjoy. With this one, the two, Walter isn’t Biden, but he pretends he’s Biden. So, it’s not like I have a Biden dummy, it’s Walter saying, “I’m going to look like Biden, because everybody for years has said I looked like Biden.” So, he puts on the sunglasses, and he has the suit on, and the background in the special is the Oval Office. So that’s the new character, but he breaks character, and he and I have conversations, and I did that, so he could still be Walter, but then he pretends to be Biden, which is stupid fun.
Then the actual new new character, I try and create things that people can relate to and respond to, and we all are stuck on our smart devices a little too much of the time. So, I decided to embrace that, and during the pandemic, I created a new character, I also did Facebook Lives and YouTube lives, showing how I build the dummies myself, and came up with this new guy who’s stuck on his smart device a little too much of the time, a younger guy. There’s your generation gap as well, because people are dealing with that with their own kids, or the kids with the parents on their devices too much.
The technical thing that I pat myself on the back for is this new guy, he actually has a phone, and during the show, while I’m talking to him, he’s typing on the phone. Then, we had a naming contest from the fans, and some guy brilliantly named him Url, but it’s spelled URL, so that’s the new guy in the show.
You mention the live videos showing how you put it together, but what was going through your mind in designing the look of Url?
Jeff Dunham: Years ago, this was back in 2015, I came up with the idea of having an internet troll. So, when I was a kid, there was a certain design of troll that was really appealing to me, and that was the stereotypical troll. So, I thought internet troll, and let’s make him look like that, so I sculpted that head, and then I didn’t continue with that idea for whatever reason. That was for the NBC special, and I never did it, and then when this special was coming along, I thought, “I gotta go back to that internet troll idea,” then I thought, “Wait a second,” because everybody was dealing with the phone thing, I thought, “Okay, he’s gonna be troll looking like.” So, I used that same design, altered it a little bit, so he’s not sole troll like, and he became this younger guy that looks a little bit like a troll. But he has on typical clothing, and stuff, and not a big tuft of hair like a troll would. So that’s how I came up with that.
Would you say that there’s any one character whose voice you find is the hardest to continue to recreate after all this time?
Jeff Dunham: You know, physically, when I come up with a new character and a new voice, there is a certain range that I have to stay in, so I don’t kill myself, because I can do a whole bunch of different voices that are crazy voices. But then to do that, each character gets about 20 minutes on stage a night, to do that over and over — I do about 10 shows a month, it’s five in a row, skip a week, and then five more the next week.
I have to come up with a voice that I can repeat over and over again, so you can tell my voices they come from the same bucket, just like Frank Oz, because he does Miss Piggy, he does Fozzie, he does Yoda, you can all kind of tell they’re Frank Oz. So, it’s the same way with me, all my characters are a little bit similar, but I try and make them a little bit different. I think the most difficult one physically right now is Achmed, because he screams a lot. But you can ask a lot of rock’n’roll guys, the guys that go [rock scream]. There’s a certain way of learning to scream where you don’t kill your voice, so I’ve done that, but yeah, he’s the one that’s most taxing.
Can we expect to see him back for this one, or is he sitting out this special?
Jeff Dunham: He was definitely at the show that night, and he got a great response there in the show. Comedy Central, or Paramount, the big company, has their say-so in things. We recorded him, and that night, they said, “Everything was just great.”
Achmed was, of course, one of the ones that got me hooked on you in the first place.
Jeff Dunham: This will be a subject that we may discuss later on.
There we go! I love that this special is going to come out around Thanksgiving, where a lot of families are getting together and trying to find something on TV they can watch together right before they go into a food coma. Was that a discussion you had with Comedy Central, or was that something that they came up with on their own?
Jeff Dunham: We almost always, with Comedy Central, has been something that [the plan is we] come out in the fall, because they embrace that. They sometimes do marathons on the day of my special, where it’s just all me all day long, and a bunch of my specials, which is great. I love it. So, this particular one, I said, “I’d love to do it in the fall,” and they said, “Let’s do it Thanksgiving, like usual,” and I was like, “Why not?” Because that’s the perfect time for it again.
Also, when I wrote this, and then of course when I performed it, and then in the editing, I have 7-year-old twin boys, and I wanted them to be able to sit down and watch it without any worries. So sure, there’s some edge to it, but hopefully, whatever those things are will go over the kids’ heads. But I think this is one of the more safe ones where people can sit down and listen to it with grandma and the kids and not worry about it, but at the same time will still be entertained by some contemporary stuff. So yeah, there were many conscious decisions on what the material was, and when it was going to play on both Comedy Central’s part and mine.
About Jeff Dunham: Me the People
In Jeff Dunham’s 11th brand new and highly anticipated standup special, the ventriloquist/comedian superstar and his eccentric ensemble take on the current state of the nation as they skewer everything from today’s youth, to cancel culture. Buckle up as Walter, Bubba J, Peanut, José Jalapeño on a STEEK, and the new guy, “Url,” offer their very “unique” points of view on where we are and where we may be headed!
Jeff Dunham: Me the People premieres on Comedy Central on November 25 at 8 p.m. CST.