Dunham isn't your average helicopter builder. Then he's not your average
ventriloquist, either. Put the two together and it means an
unforgettable night of aviation humor. Dunham and his troupe of
"dummies" affectionately known as the "Suitcase
Posse" will perform at 9 p.m. July 30 at Theater in the Woods
presented by RotorWay International. It will be the ventriloquist's
third trip to AirVenture, but his first time on the EAA stage.
Dunham, EAA 379404, has appeared on
"Late Night with David Letterman" as well as "The Tonight
Show, Starring Jay Leno," and possesses four of 20 top-rated clips
of all time on YouTube.com. In addition, DVDs of Dunham performances
have sold more than 2 million copies.
In a WebEx online conference with
reporters on July 22, Dunham said he's always had a fascination with
aviation, but was particularly drawn to helicopters as a 6-year-old.
"I went to the state fair in Texas and they were giving helicopter
rides," he said. "For some reason I fell in love with
After building model helicopters, Dunham
moved on to the real stuff. He said it took him seven months to complete
his first helicopter, a RotorWay Exec. "I was a college senior when
I purchased my kit, and my grades plummeted and I barely
graduated," he recalled. "I spent 12-14 hours a day working on
the helicopter. I had never built anything before. If the manual told me
the carburetor faced so and so direction, I didn't even know what the
carburetor looked like."
But that's now far in the past since
Dunham has gone on to complete two more helicopters - a RotorWay Exec 90
and an Exec 162, and he said he is ready to start on RotorWay's latest
offering, the A600 Talon, like the one being given away in the EAA
Share the Spirit Sweepstakes this year.
Dunham said the time he spent building
helicopters helped him build his 3-foot tall dummies that are part of
his act. "I'm sure there are bolts and other pieces of metal that I
didn't use (on one of my helicopters) that ended up on my dummies,"
Dunham's on-stage buddies consist of
Walter, an everyday curmudgeon; José Jalapeño, a jalapeno pepper on a
stick; Melvin, a mild-mannered, no-real-power superhero; Achmed, the
dead terrorist; and others.
Unlike the shows seen on Comedy Central
and in the YouTube, his AirVenture performance will be aviation-based.
"I'm actually working on some materials that have a lot to do with
flying and building your own machines, and I look forward to stepping on
some toes," he warned. "There are so many things you can joke
about in a nice way when you have guys building and flying experimental
aircraft…especially when the neighbors think they're nuts."
Dunham said every comedian or actor must
draw on his or her experiences to come up with material. "You draw
on what you know. I'm a cranky, old curmudgeonly guy like Walter.
Everyone has some Walter in them."
But with a wife and three children,
Dunham said some ideas come from everyday family life. For instance, a
Christmas special on Comedy Central will make fun of the first time his
16-year-old tried to pump gas into the car. "You'd think in all the
years she spent in the back seat while we filled up with gas that she
would have looked out the window once or twice to see what I or her
mother were doing," he said. "We were laughing out loud it was
so funny. And we wouldn't help her at all."
Dunham admits he doesn't know where other
characters came from, like José Jalapeño. "He first came into
action in 1983, and I have no idea where he came from. Maybe it was a
slow day in college. I don't think alcohol was involved."
When he's done entertaining, Dunham said
he plans to enjoy AirVenture like the rest of the crowd. What will he
look at? "The military stuff really impresses me," he said.
"I love to see the highly trained guys and watch them. And the
funnel cakes. That's all I pay attention to," he said, laughing.