Finally, people are getting to know ventriloquist Jeff Dunham for more than the characters he carries around in a trunk.

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It’s not that Jeff Dunham is crazy. It’s just that he sounds crazy when he’s talking about the characters that have made him arguably the most popular ventriloquist working today. Like, when he’s talking about that time on stage in Cincinnati when he was doing his routine with a green-haired puppet — or dummy, or whatever — named Peanut.

Dunham explains the moment: “I asked a question that Peanut was supposed to answer. But I answered it in my own voice. So Peanut sat there and looked at me. And the audience started laughing. And Peanut said, ‘What is wrong with you?’ He said, ‘I can do these lines. I can do this entire act without you. I can do both parts.”’

We interrupt this Cincinnati story to reiterate that Peanut is a dummy — or puppet, depending — just one of Dunham’s half-dozen or so characters, including a curmudgeon named Walter and a jalapeño on a stick. Peanut may be the weirdest of the bunch. He’s got a purple face and green hair, one shoe, and, well, no brain function. Anyway, on with the story.

“I looked at Peanut, and I said, ‘Go ahead,’” Dunham says. “I had no earthly idea what was going to happen next. So Peanut starts acting out both parts. And he’s a horrible actor. Even his own lines he’d do completely over the top. The audience totally got it, though.”

Let’s hope so. It stands to reason, though, that Dunham would speak so realistically about his characters. He’s been working professionally as a ventriloquist for nearly two decades, ever since he was a kid growing up in Dallas. You’ve likely seen him at some point with Peanut, Walter, José Jalapeno, or “someone” else on the The Tonight Show, at comedy clubs around the country, or maybe just via your DVD player. A Comedy Central special 18 months ago spawned a companion DVD called Arguing with Myself, which has sold a staggering half a million copies and has changed everything for Dunham. “Until the Comedy Central special, people knew the jalapeño on a stick, but nobody knew who I was,” says Dunham, whose follow-up DVD and Comedy Central special, Spark of Insanity, are due out this month. “Now people sometimes recognize me.”

Still, fame does have its downside — for example, if people expect him to be funny sans Peanut. He puts it thusly: “I think that I’m probably a big disappointment without the dolls.”

Dolls. That’s it.