To mark the anniversary of Jeff Dunham's untimely passing, we thought we'd run a reprint of Erik Hedegaard's excellent Rolling Stone article. While it's by no means the last time Dunham granted an interviewer access to his private life, we feel it is easily the most candid piece ever done on him. Take a trip with us to a simpler time– before the terrorist attack on the 2010 USO Holiday Tour, before the Medevacing of what was left of Dunham from Bagram Air Field to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, and before the Dunhams finally instructed his body's puppeteers (a full seven months after Dunham's brain death) to pull the plug and box their son:
NEVER GO ASS-TO-HAND
by Erik Hedegaard
(condensed by and with commentary from Beau Watkins)
Jeff Dunham may be the last of the bad-boy comics, but you'd never guess it from the milquetoast content of his sold-out shows, and you'd be hard-pressed to detect a hint of it if you were to encounter him outside the protective bubble of his two-hundred-acre Montana mansion. And he loves his mansion. Ever since his famously acrimonious split from ex-wife Paige ("Terrytoons in the head, Terri Schiavo in the sack"), he's spent most of his time here. If his doorman is to be believed, "most of his time" translates to "a minimum of 164 hours a week."
But now, tonight, right at this very moment, he's nowhere to be seen. If he's even anywhere within forty miles of the mansion, in fact, no one on his staff has given any indication of it. He's five hours late. "Typical," one of two Puerto Ricans feather-dusting the ogee edge of a giant granite table offers over his shoulder. The other Puerto Rican moves on to the molding—also granite, also ogee—of the second story room's west-facing window. The heads of topiary peanuts (an allusion to one of Dunham's more popular characters) can be seen crowning just at the window's base.
The molding looks particularly large beneath the strokes of the diminutive feather dusters, which appear at first to be something a woman would use to rouge her cheeks.
"Hummingbirds," says the Puerto Rican still at the table, but in a voice one could easily mistake for a child's. "Hummingbirds!" repeats the Puerto Rican, never looking up from his work, and sounding this time suspiciously like Dunham's José Jalapeño on a Stick. Jeff Dunham, looking maybe 33 of his 47 years, has arrived.
"Hummingbird feathers make the best dusters in the world," he says, a gravel in his voice paved one stone at a time with interminable nights of drunken, smoke-fogged carousing. "Check that. Puerto Ricans make the best dusters in the world." The Puerto Rican at the table grunts and moves on to the top of the door frame (cyma recta, in conscious mockery of the rest of the room's ogee). "Check what I said earlier. J. Barbour & Sons make the best dusters," he will say five hours later, overflowing with poetic emotion. An hour after that, he will ask his decidedly un-present ex-wife if J. Barbour & Sons make dusters, announce his intentions to order eighty, wet himself, and pass out in his bedroom in an above-ground Intex pool half-filled with cubic zirconia. ("It could be diamonds if I wanted. Remember that.")
But that's six hours away. For now, Dunham's the picture of world-worn (relative) sobriety, and he's trying out every new joke that pops into his head. " When was the last time Sophia Coppola was up on Cripple Creek? When she had Spike Jonze on the box." "You know the problem with Laura Mulvey's theory? She doesn't account for the male gays. GAYS." If he doesn't get the reaction he wants, he explains the joke. "You see, it's a pun on G-A-Y-S and G-A-Z-E. But that's not why it's funny. It's funny because she really doesn't account for them."
He talks about how his comedy is taking a new direction, as though it weren't obvious. "Stand-up. Getting at truth. No more fucking puppets. Never go ass-to-hand. It dilutes the message. Real humor. Smart humor. Humor for people with a refined pilot." (He says this at least twenty times throughout the course of the night. Whether he is mispronouncing "palate" or reaching for some sort of pun remains unclear.) He speaks of his fan base with what's best described as contempt, curses "Miss Paigey" for not appreciating his "dumb jokes," then asks her in absentia how she likes his "smart jokes." He occasionally throws his voice and answers back.
Much of the interview is conducted in Dunham's Ionesco library. It is exactly what it sounds like. 20,000 volumes, and each an Ionesco. First editions, third editions, sixth editions– most in French or English translation, but some in Italian, Russian, and a host of languages and scripts he's unable to identify.
"Hell, the guy who sold it to me told me it was an Ionesco. Hellifino. Hey, speaking of, I hear Ionesco was reworking his most famous play just before he died. Yeah. Yeah. Did you hear about this? He was going to call the revision Rhinoplasty. That's the fancy word for 'nose job.' Maybe you've heard the Seinfeld routine on it. Now there was a smart comedian. Smart comedians are just better, don't you think?" He doesn't wait for an answer before asking, "Hey, did you hear they tried to arrest Ionesco once? They did. I don't know what for. But anyway, the charge stuck. They couldn't throw him in jail, because they couldn't find him. All they found was some guy named Electronesco in his place. Electronesco. The charge stuck."
The Ionesco jokes last as long as Dunham stays in the Ionesco library. The jokes become more scattershot after about fifteen minutes in the playground-sized "Cocaine Box Room." Once again, the room is exactly what it sounds like: a room full of cocaine. Beyond being playground-sized, it's a functional playground with cocaine for sand. A doctor in a full hazard suit offers all entrants—Dunham included—a mask and warns of "vicious coke fumes." Dunham laughs, waves off the mask, climbs onto the drawbridge, pisses his name into the coke-sand below, and launches into an impromptu routine of new material. A sampling:
"How about a little Homer humor? No, not Simpson! (Though I admit I'm as much a Day of the Locusts fan as the next guy.) So Odysseus manages to convince Penelope he is, indeed, her husband. Penelope asks him about his journey, and he relates it to her. She takes a second or two to let it all soak in, then asks, 'Aren't you miffed with the gods for all they put you through?' 'Nah,' he says. 'That's theodicy! That's... THE... ODICY!'"
"Freud and Nietzsche spot a hot number from across the bar. Freud says, 'I find women who look that exquisite not to be very giving.' Nietzsche says, 'I beg to differ! She gave me syphilis!' There's nothing gay about that science! Ho!"
"The first time I came across Gerhart Hauptmann's Die Weber, I thought to myself, This guy must have a profound hatred for a very specific methodological antipositivist! Not that I actually came across it. It was good, but it wasn't that good. Hiyo!"
This went on for hours.
The mood turns sullen after Dunham staggers the two miles from the Cocaine Box Room to his bedroom and crawls into his pool. His language there takes on a confused, pseudo-philosophical air:
"I had faith in my parents. Beyond that I had none. And let me be clear: I only had faith in them when I was in their presence. When I was alone, I knew myself to be safe from no bullet, no throat slitting. That must be part of why a child cries when a rock opens his knee before a parent. He expects—demands!—to be comforted, sure, but there must also be a supposition of betrayal. 'You were here, Father. Why did you not protect me?'"
"I was thinking about how it would be funny to me if David Foster Wallace's A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again were retitled A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll *Really* Never Do Again. From there I thought about how I would one day be dead. I began to worry that people would feel the usual inclination to be kind to my memory. I'd rather that didn't happen. I suppose I won't be here to make sure it doesn't, so I'll have to rely on the people I trust to remind the world of the worst of me along with the best. They may choose to let me be forgotten altogether. That's fine. To be apotheosized, though! That's the worst fate I could imagine for whatever remains of me. That's a punishment! I imagine, however, nothing will remain of me. If something does, I suppose I could live with its punishment being my eventual apotheosis. I recognize 'live' may be a poor choice of words, here, but I could think of no better word to stead it. To Hell with it. 'Live' stays!"
Just before he asks about the dusters and releases his bladder on a mountain of inexpensive crystals, he quotes the first couple lines from Nirvana's "Serve the Servants" and sucks dry the teat of his fifth bottle of Petrus Pomerol 1978. ("Five fucking horse lengths better than the '95. Fuck the haters!")
Five minutes later, a maid is shoving Dunham's flaccid arms into a Mortimer Snerd pajama top and spot-cleaning his lower half while a butler hoses down the zirconia. Neither appears to be Puerto Rican. Both address the scene with a rushed familiarity while Dunham's body eases into that hard, ripping snore only very drunk men can achieve. Another maid dims the lights down to the faintest glow. It would be clear even to the casualest of observers—even now, in the relative dark—that Jeff Dunham has his molding kept exquisitely clean.
 I'm cutting it down, of course. Rolling Stone articles are long as shit. I didn't ask for permission to reprint the article, but I figure cutting it down allows us to claim "fair use"--as long as I stick to my guns and maintain that the very act of cutting it down is a form of criticism. Also, maybe I'll, like, comment on the article from time to time, or something.
 This sounds like Latin for two guys getting a boner at the same time.
 Or maybe manic-depressive illness with periodic psychosis, followed by vascular dementia. Or maybe frontotemporal dementia. Or maybe CADASIL. The jury's never not out on this one.
 And Hedegaard's sampling went on for pages and pages. I cherry-picked what I thought to be the worst (best?) ones and spared you the rest. I'm making this my last footnote, by the way. I'm heading west.