Jeff, AJ and me
Early in the summer of 2010 I received a call from some gentlemen out in LA who represented world-famous comedian/ventriloquist Jeff Dunham to inquire about my doing some work for him. I was told Jeff was a big fan of MAD Magazine and my work, and wanted to explore the possibility of using some of my artwork for various projects. In the ensuing year and a half, I’ve done quite a bit of work for him, including detailed illustrations of his various characters, some more simplified line-art type work of same, a few things for merchandising/products and some conceptual work on some possible new characters. It has been a lot of fun working with Jeff and his group.
As I posted last week, the Biography channel aired a two-hour bio on Jeff entitled Jeff Dunham: The Birth of a Dummy. I was told part of the show would follow the creation of one of Jeff’s newest characters, Achmed Jr. (aka “A.J.”) from concept to final figure, and that my part in that process would be mentioned. Sure enough, they talked about how Jeff came to me to do the initial conceptual drawings for A.J. based on Jeff’s descriptions of the character. After a few rounds of sketches, I did a turnaround of the concept and Jeff took it from there. Jeff gave me permission to post the images that appeared on the show here:
Some of the early rough sketches
Initially Jeff wanted AJ in a turban, but he abandoned that idea as the character took form in his sculpting phase. Jeff made a number of other changes as well as he progressed. This is really his character design, not mine. I just helped give him a jumping off point. Jeff’s a talented sculptor and took the best aspects of my conceptual drawings, added his own elements and made a character that is both funny to look at and that he can make come to life in his inimitable way. It was fun to be a part of that.
How big is Jeff Dunham in terms of pop-culture and entertainment world popularity? Here’s a little story to illustrate that:
The night after the Bio show aired, I took three of my kids out to dinner and to the movies (we saw The Muppets… can’t get enough puppetry, apparently). I was standing by the restaurant bar, waiting for our table and paying for a round of sodas when a man sitting there asked if he could see the back of my jacket. I was wearing an old MAD jacket circa 1995 from the now-defunct Warner Bros. Store. He told me he was a MAD fan from way back (guy was about 40). Then he asked me if I knew who Jeff Dunham was. I said I did. He preceded to tell me he’d seen this documentary last night and was surprised to find out that the people from MAD Magazine designed one of Jeff’s new puppets. I told him I had heard something about that. By then my kids were seated at our table and when I told them the story they didn’t believe me.
Here’s a segment of Jeff introducing AJ to Achmed. It’s from his recent Controlled Chaos touring show, which we were able to catch last winter up in Duluth (that’s where the top picture was taken, backstage after the show) and which is now available on DVD. Warning: there are some four-letter words in this clip, so keep the kids’ ears plugged:
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