Who is Jeff Dunham? The entertainment and comedy world knows Jeff Dunham as an American ventriloquist and stand-up comedian who has also appeared on numerous television shows, including Late Show with David Letterman, Comedy Central Presents, The Tonight Show and Sonny With a Chance. He has four specials that run on Comedy Central: Jeff Dunham: Arguing with Myself, Jeff Dunham: Spark of Insanity, Jeff Dunham’s Very Special Christmas Special, and Jeff Dunham: Controlled Chaos. Dunham also starred in The Jeff Dunham Show, a series on the network in 2009. His style has been described as “a dressed-down, more digestible version of Don Rickles with multiple personality disorder“. Describing his characters, Time observes, “All of them are politically incorrect, gratuitously insulting and ill tempered.” Dunham has been credited with reviving ventriloquism, and doing more to promote the art form than anyone since Edgar Bergen.
Dunham has been called “America’s favorite comedian” by Slate.com, and according to the concert industry publication Pollstar, he is the top-grossing standup act in North America,
and is among the most successful acts in Europe as well. As of November
2009, he has sold over four million DVDs, an additional $7 million in
merchandise sales, and received more than 350 million hits on YouTube as of October 2009 (his introduction of Achmed the Dead Terrorist in Spark of Insanity was ranked as the ninth most watched YouTube video at the time). A Very Special Christmas Special
was the most-watched telecast in Comedy Central history, with its DVD
going quadruple platinum (selling over 400,000) in its first two weeks. Forbes.com ranked Dunham as the third highest-paid comedian in the United States behind Jerry Seinfeld and Chris Rock,
and reported that he was one of the highest-earning comics from June
2008 to June 2009, earning approximately $30 million during that period.
Dunham was born in Dallas, Texas on April 18, 1962.
When he was three months old he was adopted by real estate appraiser
Howard Dunham, and his homemaker wife Joyce, who raised him in a
devoutly Presbyterian household in an affluent Dallas neighborhood as an only child. He began ventriloquism in 1970 at age eight, when his parents gave him a Mortimer Snerd dummy for Christmas, and an accompanying how-to album. The next day he checked out a how-to book on ventriloquism from the library,
and explained in 2011 that he still had it, remarking that he was “a
thief in the third grade”. By the fourth grade, Dunham decided he not
only wanted to be a professional ventriloquist, but the best one ever. Dunham began practicing for hours in front of a mirror, studying the routines of Edgar Bergen, and the how-to record Jimmy Nelson’s Instant Ventriloquism, finding ventriloquism to be a learned skill, similar to juggling, that anyone with a normal speaking voice can acquire.
Dunham explains that as an only child, he enjoyed being alone, likening
his solitude to a “warm blanket” with which he could explore his own
thoughts and ideas, which prepared him for the solitude of living alone
when he later moved to Los Angeles as a struggling comedian.
When Dunham was in the sixth grade, he began attending the Vent Haven ConVENTion in Fort Mitchell, Kentucky, an annual international meeting of ventriloquists that includes competitions, where he met Jimmy Nelson
in person. Dunham has missed only one ConVENTion since then, in 1977.
The organizers of the ConVENTion eventually declared Dunham a “retired
champion”, ineligible from entering any more competitions, as other
attendees were too intimidated to compete against him. The Vent Haven
Museum devotes a section to Dunham, alongside Señor Wences and his idol, Edgar Bergen.
Career beginnings and move to Los Angeles
Dunham began performing for audiences as a teenager, in various venues such as school, church, and during his job at Six Flags. By his middle school years, he began to perform for banquets attended by local celebrities such as Dallas Cowboys quarterback Roger Staubach,
having developed his style of lampooning those he performed for, using
the puppets to say things too risque for him to say without them. Dunham’s television debut came in 1976 when the still prepubescent performer caught the attention of Dallas reporters like Bill O’Reilly, who interviewed Dunham for a local news story. Dunham later did commercials for Datsun dealerships in Dallas and Tyler while in high school. While emceeing a high school talent show, he dealt with a heckler, and won over the rest of the audience.
During this period he became so associated with his craft that he and
one of his dummies “cowrote” a column in the school paper, and he would
pose with his dummies for yearbooks as an inexpensive way to acquire professional photos of his act for promotional purposes.
He was voted Most Likely to Succeed, and in 1980, after he graduated
from high school, Dunham gave himself a career goal of obtaining, within
ten years, an appearance on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, which was seen as the “holy grail” for comedians.
That year Dunham began attending Baylor University, hoping to graduate with a degree in communications, while performing around campus. He would also fly around the country on weekends, doing up to 100 private shows a year, entertaining corporate customers such as General Electric, whose CEO, Jack Welch, he mocked during his routine.
By his junior year in college (1983–1984), Dunham was making $70,000 a
year, and as word spread of his act, he landed featured spots opening
for Bob Hope and George Burns, though he still perceived his act as raw, as he did not have any knowledge of standup comedy beyond his Bill Cosby albums. He caught a break in 1985 when he was asked to join the Broadway show Sugar Babies with Mickey Rooney and Ann Miller,
replacing the outgoing variety act. For the naive and devoutly-raised
Dunham, Broadway was a new world filled with beautiful showgirls and
crusty stagehands, and his first taste of entertainment industry egos
came when Rooney called Dunham into his dressing room, and told him he
was there for one reason alone: so that Rooney could change his
costumes. Dunham also performed at the Westbury Music Fair on Long Island.
These early experiences, in which he used characters like José Jalapeño
on a Stick, taught him the value of modifying his act regionally, as
the jalapeño jokes that worked well in Texas were not as well received
by audiences in Long Island.
After graduating from Baylor University in 1986,
he continued honing his act in comedy clubs in the Southwest with new
characters such as Peanut and Jose Jalapeño, but struggled against the
perception he relates from fellow comedians that he was not a true a
comedian because he relied on props. His experience at Catch a Rising Star
in New York City served as a bitter confirmation of where
ventriloquists stood in the comedic food chain, as the emcee at that
club gave Dunham little respect. According to Dunham, after he arrived
at the club in the evening and informed the emcee that he was a
ventriloquist, the emcee reacted with derision, telling Dunham that he
would be given a late time slot, and after that time slot came and
passed, kept postponing Dunham’s stage time until Dunham left the club. By the end of 1988, Dunham felt his career went as far as it could go in Texas, and he moved to Los Angeles, California, never having, as he has commented, “a real job”,
much to the concern of his parents, who assumed he would relegate his
act to local venues such as church groups. When he first arrived in Los
Angeles, the comedy in his act bombed. Dunham attributes to his
underdeveloped comedy, explaining that while the characters’
personalities were developed at that point, his jokes were not. In
addition to this, the comedy world was not welcoming to ventriloquists,
and his manager, Judi Brown-Marmel, did not use the word “ventriloquist”
when finding bookings for him, choosing to present him as a comedy duo.
After Dunham became friends with Mike Lacey, the owner of The Comedy & Magic Club in Hermosa Beach, Lacey gave Dunham a steady slot at the club, where Dunham sharpened his act by observing the techniques of comedians like Jerry Seinfeld, and taking the advice of colleague Bill Engvall, moving away from his G-Rated material toward edgier, more adult themes.
The Tonight Show and beyond
At the end of 1988, Dunham was told by James McCawley, a talent booker for The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson,
that Dunham would be given a spot on the coveted program. Though the
26-year-old Dunham was elated that his 10-year goal was arriving two
years early, McCawley later cancelled Dunham’s appearance after
attending, with Roseanne Barr, a public performance of Dunham’s the day before Dunham’s scheduled Tonight Show
taping. McCawley informed Dunham on the day of the scheduled taping
that he had been wrong in his initial assessment of Dunham, whom he now
said was not ready for The Tonight Show. His dreams dashed, the
humiliated Dunham continued to tighten his act in Los Angeles clubs,
performing same six minute segment with Peanut a total of nine times for
McCawley over the next few months. Finally at the Ice-House in Pasadena in April 1990, after Dunham did the same segment, McCawley informed Dunham that he would finally get his Tonight Show appearance. Dunham and Peanut appeared on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson on April 6, 1990, alongside guests Bob Hope and B.B. King. Following his bit, he was invited to sit on Johnny Carson’s couch, a mark of approval that only three comedians had ever garnered during their first Carson appearance. Upon sitting down next to Carson’s desk, Dunham pulled out Walter, who told Carson sidekick Ed McMahon, “Stop sending me all your damn mail.” At the time, Dunham saw his Tonight Show
appearance as his big break, but was frustrated at his parents’ initial
disapproval over Walter’s use of the words “hell” and “damn”, and he would toil in obscurity for another twelve years, continuing his stand up at venues such as The Improv chain, and appearing in small roles on TV. One of these was such as a 1996 episode of Ellen, in which he appeared with Walter. Dunham also appeared with Walter in a TV commercial for Hertz. Dunham would appear on The Tonight Show a total of four times, as well as similar TV venues such as Hot Country Nights, appearing in one segment on that show with singer Reba McEntire.
This exposure helped make Dunham a large theater headliner, a rare
accomplishment for a ventriloquist, but by the mid 1990s, his television
appearances had dwindled, and with them, so did his stage audiences.
Dunham moved back to clubs, more than 200 appearances a year. To
maintain a connection with his fan base, he would use question cards
that he had audiences fill out for his performances to build a database,
which was tailor-made for the burgeoning World Wide Web. Though he was voted Funniest Male Standup at the American Comedy Awards
in 1998, his club work kept him away from his wife and daughters
between two and three weeks each month, which put a strain on his
marriage, and made paying bills for his expanded family difficult. By
2002, Dunham was hoping to obtain more TV work to raise his profile and
ease his standup schedule. Such exposure was elusive until a successful
appearance on The Best Damn Sports Show Period, where Dunham and Walter made jokes at the expense of co-hosts Tom Arnold, Michael Irvin, John Salley and John Kruk, generating laughter from them, and giving Dunham much-needed exposure. In 2003, Dunham was the frontrunner to replace Jimmy Kimmel on Fox NFL Sunday, but hosts Howie Long and Terry Bradshaw
were not amenable to the idea of being upstaged by a puppet, and, as
Dunham tells it, did not provide a welcoming atmosphere to Dunham, nor
allow him to get a word in edgewise during his appearance.
Finding stardom: Dunham’s first Comedy Central specials
On July 18, 2003, Dunham appeared on Comedy Central Presents, his first solo appearance on Comedy Central.
During his half hour piece, he showcased José Jalapeño on a Stick,
Walter, an early version of Melvin the Superhero Guy and Peanut, whom
Dunham had begun to merchandise into a line of dolls. The appearance was
successful, but Comedy Central resisted giving Dunham more airtime,
feeling that he was not a good fit for them. By 2005 Dunham decided to gamble on financing his own comedy DVD, Jeff Dunham: Arguing with Myself, which was taped in Santa Ana, California.
Dunham’s manager, Judi Brown-Marmel, lobbied the network to air it,
pointing to Dunham’s drawing power and merchandising profits, and
arguing that the network needed more diverse content. Surprised by the
high ratings of the first Blue Collar Comics concert movie that same year, the network began to reconsider its brand. In late 2006, Comedy Central aired Arguing with Myself, drawing two million viewers when it aired, and selling two million DVDs.
In 2007, Dunham appeared as The Amazing Ken with José Jalapeño on a Stick in the Larry the Cable Guy feature film Delta Farce.
His second special, Jeff Dunham: Spark of Insanity, was taped at the Warner Theater in Washington, D.C.
that same year. It served not only to cement Dunham’s stardom, but to
introduce his most controversial character, Achmed the Dead Terrorist,
which became a viral Internet sensation. A clip of Achmed from Insanity attracted over 140 million hits on YouTube, making it the ninth most watched clip on that website as of October 2009.
By 2008, Dunham’s characters had crossed language barriers, with his
specials dubbed for audiences in various countries such as France, and
Dunham attracting requests for performances in South Africa, Australia,
Norway, Denmark, China and the Middle East. Jeff Dunham’s Very Special Christmas Special was taped at the Pabst Theater in Milwaukee, Wisconsin that same year, and premiered on Comedy Central on November 16, 2008, watched by 6.6 million people. It became available on DVD and Blu-ray on November 18, 2008. The special’s premiere was the highest rated telecast in Comedy Central’s history.
In September 2008, Dunham’s career reached new heights as he began
performing in arenas filled with tens of thousands of people. Dunham was
somewhat wary of such large venues, but adapted by adjusting the timing
of his often rapid exchanges with the puppets so that audience members
farthest from the stage could have time to react.
In addition to his comedy specials, Dunham also released his first music album, Don’t Come Home for Christmas, on November 4, 2008. It contains original Christmas songs as well as a parody of “Jingle Bells” by Achmed entitled “Jingle Bombs”. All the songs, with the exception of “Jingle Bombs”, were written and accompanied by Brian Haner, who joined Dunham’s act as “Guitar Guy”. His first onscreen appearance was in Jeff Dunham’s Very Special Christmas Special.
2009 – present
In March 2009, Dunham signed a multi-platform deal with Comedy
Central. It included a fourth stand-up special to air in 2010, DVDs, a
consumer products partnership, a 60-city tour beginning in September
2010, and an order for a television series called The Jeff Dunham Show that premiered on October 22, 2009.
Despite having the most-watched premiere in Comedy Central history, and
higher average ratings than other shows on that network initially, the
show was canceled after only one season, amid poor reviews, dwindling
ratings and higher production costs than other Comedy Central shows. 
Dunham appeared in a guest role with Bubba J on NBC’s sictom 30 Rock, playing a ventriloquist named Rick Wayne and his dummy Pumpkin from Stone Mountain, Georgia. In November 2009 Dunham also appeared with Walter in “Hart to Hart”, an episode of the Disney Channel series Sonny With a Chance, as two security guards.
Dunham appeared in the 2010 Steve Carell/Paul Rudd comedy, Dinner for Schmucks, as Lewis, with a new puppet named Diane.
His fourth special, Jeff Dunham: Controlled Chaos, premiered on September 25, 2011 on Comedy Central.
Critical praise and controversy
In January 2008, Dunham was voted by fans the Top Comic in Comedy Central‘s
“Stand-Up Showdown.” He is the only person ever to win the
“Ventriloquist of the Year” Award twice, was nominated “Comedian of the
Year” by the TNN Music City News Country Awards, and has drawn praise from the Dallas Morning News for his technique and timing.
|Dunham and Achmed|
Some have accused Dunham’s characters of being racist caricatures, sexist, and homophobic. In 2008, a TV commercial for a ringtone featuring Dunham’s character Achmed the Dead Terrorist (see Characters below) was banned by the South African Advertising Standards Authority after a complaint was filed by a citizen stating that the ad was offensive to Muslims,
and portrayed all Muslims as terrorists. Dunham responded that “Achmed
makes it clear in my act that he is not Muslim.” However, the
Advertising Standards Authority noted that the name Achmed was of Arab
origin and was one of the names of Muhammad.
Dunham responded, “I’ve skewered whites, blacks, Hispanics, Christians,
Jews, Muslims, gays, straights, rednecks, addicts, the elderly, and my
wife. As a standup comic, it is my job to make the majority of people
laugh, and I believe that comedy is the last true form of free speech.”
He further commented, “I’m considering renaming Achmed, ‘Bill.'”
Dunham has conceded that he does exhibit particular sensitivity to the
“conservative country crowd,” or those characterized by “basic Christian
values,” as they are one of his largest constituencies, and part of his
Dunham was heckled and criticized for mocking TV critics during a
July 2009 press tour to promote his then-upcoming Comedy Central TV
series, The Jeff Dunham Show, as well as Comedy Central programming chief Lauren Correo. In October 2009 The Jeff Dunham Show enjoyed good initial ratings, but was not well liked by critics,
who did not find it funny, and either questioned the wisdom of
translating his act into a series, or conceded a prejudice against
Dunham, his previous specials, or ventriloquism itself.
J.P. Williams, the producer of the Blue Collar Comedy Tour,
has opined that Dunham’s act is not funny on its own merits, and that
his material gets a greater reaction because of the puppet characters
that it would otherwise not garner by itself.
Blue Collar veteran Bill Engvall, a friend of Dunham’s insists
otherwise, saying that Dunham is inherently funny with or without the
In 2003, BRASMA Publications released Dear Walter, a
collection of questions asked of Dunham’s fictional curmudgeon at live
performances, authored by Dunham, and Walter Cummings.
Dunham’s autobiography, All By My Selves: Walter, Peanut, Achmed and Me, was published by Dutton in November 2010.
Walter is a retired, grumpy old man with arms always crossed in
discontent. Dunham was inspired to create Walter when he watched Bette Davis‘ final appearance on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, giving her honest, unfiltered candor to Walter, and patterning Walter’s frown on Dunham’s own. He has a brash, negative and often sarcastic view on today’s world. He is a Vietnam War
veteran and a former welder, and “doesn’t give a damn” about anyone,
especially his own wife and certain audience members. Walter has
appeared in all four Comedy Central
specials. He’s been married for several decades, and when Dunham asks
him if he remembers the happiest moment of his life after Walter tells
him he has been married for forty-six years, Walter responds, “Forty-seven
years ago!” Dunham created the Walter puppet himself, including both
the initial sculpture and the silicon mold, though he eventually began
using professional effects companies for the latter stages with his
Peanut is a hyperactive, purple-skinned “woozle”
with white fur covering most of his body, a tuft of green hair on the
top of his head, and one sneaker on his left foot. Dunham explains in Arguing with Myself that Peanut is from a small Micronesian
island, and that they met in Florida. Peanut’s humor is not based on a
particular motif or stereotype, as those of the other characters, and
has been described as “the bad kid”.
He often makes fun of Dunham, and torments and mocks José Jalapeño on a
Stick. Touching upon his unusual appearance and personality, he asks
Dunham in Arguing with Myself, after Dunham denies ever having done drugs, “Then how the hell did you come up with me?”
José Jalapeño on a Stick
José is a talking jalapeño pepper on a stick who wears a small sombrero. José, who speaks with a thick Spanish accent, is typically paired with Peanut, who often makes fun of José, uses appeals to Latino stereotypes when doing so, and makes fun of his being on a stick. Although José was not Dunham’s first puppet, it was the first that Dunham made himself.
Bubba J is a beer-drinking redneck that Dunham describes in Arguing with Myself and A Very Special Christmas Special as “white trash trailer park“,
and whom Dunham uses for humor centered on such stereotypes. To this
end, he frequently does jokes involving Bubba J’s love of drinking beer
and NASCAR, and his low intelligence. Touching upon such stereotypes, Bubba mentions in Arguing with Myself that he met his wife at a family reunion, and remembers seeing her with a corn dog in one hand, a beer in another, and leaning against a ferris wheel, “making it tilt”. Although he does not appear onstage, Bubba has a prominent role as the backstage security guard in Controlled Chaos.
Sweet Daddy Dee
Dunham introduces Sweet Daddy Dee in Arguing with Myself as his “new manager”. He calls himself a “pimp”, which he says stands for “Player In the Management Profession.” According to Sweet Daddy, because he is a pimp, that makes Jeff the “ho“.
When Dunham objects, Daddy Dee points out that Dunham makes people
laugh and feel good for a living. When Dunham agrees that this is the
case, Daddy Dee says, “You a ho.” When Dunham asks what he would say if
he told him that he was a comedian only because he enjoyed it, Daddy Dee
responds, “You a dumb ho.”
Melvin the Superhero Guy
Melvin wears a blue superhero costume, and is used to poke fun at superheroes. When asked about his superhuman powers, he indicates that he has X-ray vision,
adding, “I love looking at boobies!” He appears to have no other
powers, however: When Dunham asks how far he can fly, he responds, “How
far can you throw me?”, and when asked if he can stop a bullet like Superman,
he responds, “Yeah. Once.” Dunham portrays Melvin as unimpressed with
other superheroes: When told Superman can leap tall buildings in a
single bound, Melvin dismisses him as a “showoff,” arguing that he can
simply walk around them, observes that Aquaman has the same powers as SpongeBob SquarePants, asserts that the Flash‘s super speed is derived from methamphetamine, that the Hulk‘s vaunted ability to get stronger as he gets angrier merely mirrors “every white trash guy on COPS,” and makes innuendo about the questionable relationship between Batman and the underage Robin. Melvin’s first onscreen appearance was in the July 2003 Comedy Central Presents episode, in which he had small, black, beady eyes. By his next appearance, in Spark of Insanity, he had been modified to have large, blue, crossed eyes.
He also has an enormous nose, which he claims is his symbol, and whose
similarity in shape to that of a penis is alluded to in the act. Dunham
sculpted the current version of Melvin’s head himself, and hired an
effects company called Renegade Effects Groups to create the rubber mold
and complete the puppet, before then installing the mechanics himself.
Achmed the Dead Terrorist
Achmed is the skeletal corpse of an incompetent suicide bomber, whom Dunham uses to satirize the contemporary issue of terrorism. He is known for yelling, “Silence! I kill you!” to Dunham and people laughing in the audience. Achmed first appeared in Spark of Insanity, and later made an appearance in the Very Special Christmas Special,
singing a song called “Jingle Bombs”. He also dubs the so-called Guitar
Guy “You racist bastard”! for warming up with typical Arab chords. Most
of the humor Dunham expresses with Achmed centers on this motif. When
mentioning that Achmed appears to be dead because he’s a skeleton,
Achmed responds, “It’s a flesh wound.”
When Dunham inquires as to how he died, Achmed explains his
incompetence with explosives, while also casting aspersions on Dunham’s
sexual prowess, by saying that they both suffer from “premature
detonation.” Although he frequently mentions working for Osama Bin Laden,
Achmed claims he does not think he’s a Muslim (“look at my ass! It says
‘Made in China'”). As of June 2009, the sketch in which Dunham
introduced Achmed is the fourth most watched online video ever, having
amassed nearly 200 million views.
The large, round, articulated eyes of puppets such as Achmed and Achmed
Junior are constructed by the same effects artist who created the
dinosaur eyes for the Jurassic Park films.
Achmed Junior is the estranged son of Achmed. He first appeared
during the Identity Crisis Tour 2010, and makes his first onscreen
appearance in Dunham’s fourth special, Jeff Dunham: Controlled Chaos.
Like his father, Achmed Junior is the victim of a bomb, which resulted
in the destruction of the half of his face and body. He speaks with a
British accent, and does not wish to be a suicide bomber.
Other characters that Dunham has voiced include a miniature puppet of
Peanut’s, which turns out to be a small version of Dunham himself, and
an unseen worm inside a bottle of tequila, both of which he has used, for example, in his appearance on A&E‘s An Evening at The Improv. The miniature Dunham puppet was also used in Dunham’s 2011 Comedy Central special, Controlled Chaos.
|Dunham and Audrey Murdick|
Dunham met his first wife, Paige Brown, at the Comedy Corner in West Palm Beach, Florida.
They began dating in December 1992. In May 1994, Dunham married Brown
and adopted her one and a half year-old daughter, Bree. Their daughters
Ashlyn and Kenna were born in 1995 and 1997, respectively. Dunham’s time
away while performing proved a strain on the marriage, and in November 2008 he filed for divorce.
By mid-2009, Dunham was in a relationship with fellow Texan Audrey
Murdick, a certified nutritionist, personal trainer and competition
bodybuilder, and on December 25, 2011 they became engaged.
In addition to building the dummies he uses in his act, Dunham also
restores antique ones as a hobby, such as The Umpire, a 6-foot-tall
(1.8 m) mechanized dummy built in 1941 to work the plate at a girl’s softball game, but which went unused and packed away for 50 years, before Dunham acquired it in early 2008.
Dunham has harbored a love of helicopters since childhood and is fond of building and flying his own kit helicopters from Rotorway helicopter kits. At the time he finished writing his autobiography in June 2010, he was beginning to build his fourth kit. He is also an aficionado of muscle cars and Apple, Inc. products.
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Did you know that Le Gros was born August 31, 1931 and his family turned down an offer of a minor-league pro contract for Jean at age fifteen?
Did you know that during his 18 full seasons in Montreal, he played on 10 Stanley Cup winning teams 1956, 1957, 1958, 1959, 1960, 1965, 1966, 1968, 1969,
Did you know that Béliveau retired at the end of the 1970–71 NHL season
as his team’s all-time leader in points, second all-time in goals and
the NHL’s all-time leading playoff scorer?
Did you know that Le Gros Bill scored 507 goals and had
712 assists for 1,219 points in 1,125 NHL regular-season games plus 79
goals and 97 assists for 176 points in 162 playoff games?
Did you know that his jersey
number (#4) was retired on October 9, 1971?
Did you know that in 1972, he was inducted
into the Hockey Hall of Fame?
Did you know that he is now the second all-time leading scorer in Canadiens history, behind Guy Lafleur. Only Henri Richard (1256 games) and Larry Robinson (1202 games) played more games for the Habs?
Now if you didn’t know, now you know…
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Who is Brad Douglas Paisley? The entertainment and Country Music World knows him as Brad Paisley as an American singer-songwriter and musician. His style crosses between traditional country music and Southern rock, and his songs are frequently laced with humor and pop culture references.
Paisley was the 2008 CMA and ACM Male Vocalist of the Year winner. Starting with the release of his 1999 album Who Needs Pictures, Paisley has recorded seven studio albums and a Christmas compilation on the Arista Nashville label, with all of his albums certified gold or higher by the RIAA. In addition, he has charted 25 singles on the U.S. Billboard Hot Country Songs chart, 16 of which have reached #1 with a record 10 consecutive singles reaching the top spot on the chart. On November 10, 2010, Paisley won the Entertainer of the Year award at the 44th annual CMA Awards.
Paisley was born on October 28, 1972 in Glen Dale, West Virginia to Douglas Edward “Doug” Paisley, who worked for the West Virginia Department of Transportation, and Sandra Jean “Sandy” (née Jarvis) Paisley, a teacher. He was raised in Glen Dale, West Virginia.
He has stated that his love of country music stems from his maternal
grandfather, Warren Jarvis, who gave Paisley his first guitar, a Sears Danelectro Silvertone
at 8-years-old and taught him how to play. At age 10, he performed for
the first time in public by singing in his church. He later recalled
that, “Pretty soon, I was performing at every Christmas party and
Mother’s Day event. The neat thing about a small town is that when you
want to be an artist, by golly, they’ll make you one”. At age 12, Paisley wrote his first song, entitled, “Born on Christmas Day”. He had been taking lessons with local guitarist Clarence “Hank” Goddard.
By age 13, Goddard and Paisley formed a band called “Brad Paisley and
the C-Notes”, with the addition of two of Paisley’s adult friends.
While in junior high, his principal heard him perform “Born On Christmas Day” and invited him to play at the local Rotary Club meeting. In attendance was Tom Miller, the program director of a radio station in Wheeling, West Virginia. Miller asked him if he would like to be a guest on Jamboree USA.
After his first performance, he was asked to become a member of the
show’s weekly lineup. For the next eight years, he opened for country
singers such as The Judds, Ricky Skaggs and George Jones. He would become the youngest person inducted into the Jamboree USA Hall of Fame. He also performed at the Jamboree in the Hills.
Paisley graduated from John Marshall High School in Glen Dale, West Virginia in 1991, studied for 2 years at West Liberty College (WV) and later was awarded a full-paid ASCAP scholarship to Belmont University, in Nashville, Tennessee (from 1993 to 1995). He interned at ASCAP, Atlantic Records, and the Fitzgerald-Hartley management firm. While in college, he met Frank Rogers,
a fellow student who went on to serve as his producer. Paisley also met
Kelley Lovelace, who became his songwriting partner. He also met Chris
DuBois in college, and he too would write songs for him.
After graduating from Belmont with a Bachelor’s degree in music business, within a week Paisley signed a songwriting contract with EMI Music Publishing; and, he wrote David Kersh‘s “Top 5″ hit, “Another You“, as well as David Ball‘s 1999 single, “Watching My Baby Not Come Back.” The latter song was also co-written by Ball.
1999–2001: Who Needs Pictures
His debut as a singer was with the label Arista Nashville, with the song “Who Needs Pictures” (released February 22, 1999). In May of that same year, he made his first appearance on the Grand Ole Opry. Seven months later he had his first #1 hit with “He Didn’t Have to Be,” which detailed the story of Paisley’s frequent co-writer Kelley Lovelace and Lovelace’s stepson, McCain Merren.
also was a hit for Paisley off the debut album, reaching #1 on the U.S.
Billboard Hot Country Singles & Tracks chart. By February 2001, the
album was certified platinum.
In 2000, Paisley’s mainstream notoriety received a huge boost when he
was exposed to his first national non-country music oriented audience
on the TLC special, “Route 66: Main Street America.” Producer, Todd Baker,
tapped the young musician to appear on this show when he was a relative
unknown outside the world of country music. It featured Paisley and
band doing rare live and acoustic versions of Route 66.
The international and home video versions of this program end with a
full, un-cut acoustic rendition of the piece, which was performed live
on Rainbow Bridge in Riverton, Kansas. The show accurately predicted that Paisley would become a legendary musician, and also featured blues artist, Buddy Guy.
Later in 2000, Paisley won the Country Music Association‘s (CMA) Horizon Award and the Academy of Country Music’s best new male vocalist trophy. He received his first Grammy Award nomination a year later for Best New Artist. On February 17, 2001, Paisley was inducted into the Grand Ole Opry He was 28 when he accepted the invitation, and was the youngest member ever to join. PBS did a 75th anniversary concert special, which saw Paisley pair up with Chely Wright and sing a song called Hard to Be a Husband, Hard to Be a Wife, and would be included on the album Backstage at the Opry, It would get a CMA nomination for Vocal Event of the Year.
2001–2003: Part II
In 2002, he won the CMA Music Video of the Year for “I’m Gonna Miss Her (The Fishin’ Song).”
Several celebrities made notable guest appearances in the video, including Little Jimmy Dickens, Kimberly Williams, Dan Patrick, and Jerry Springer. His three other singles off the Part II album, “I Wish You’d Stay“, “Wrapped Around“, and “Two People Fell in Love“,
all charted in the top 10. The album stayed in the charts for more than
70 weeks and was certified platinum in August 2002. To support his
album, he toured the country as the opening act for Lonestar.
2003–2005: Mud on the Tires
Paisley released his third album, Mud on the Tires (2003), following Who Needs Pictures and Part II. The album features the hit song “Celebrity“, the video of which parodies reality shows such as Fear Factor, American Idol, The Bachelorette and According to Jim, and included such celebrities as Jason Alexander, James Belushi, Little Jimmy Dickens, Trista Rehn and William Shatner. (Paisley later contributed to Shatner’s album Has Been.) The album’s title track, “Mud on the Tires“, reached Billboard #1 in 2004.
In addition, the ninth track from Mud on the Tires, “Whiskey Lullaby“, a duet with Alison Krauss
reached #3 on the Billboard Hot Country Singles & Tracks (now Hot
Country Songs) charts, and #41 on the Billboard Hot 100. The music video
for Whiskey Lullaby also won several awards and was rated #2 on the 100 Greatest Music Videos by CMT in 2008. The album would be certified double platinum.
2005–2007: Time Well Wasted
In 2005, after touring with Reba McEntire and Terri Clark on the “Two Hats and a Redhead Tour,” he released Time Well Wasted, containing 15 tracks. This album includes “Alcohol,” two duets — “When I Get Where I’m Going” with Dolly Parton and “Out in the Parking Lot” with Alan Jackson — and a bonus track, “Cornography.” On November 6, 2006, the album “Time Well Wasted” won the Country Music Association CMA Award for Best Album. “Time Well Wasted” also won album of the year at the 2006 ACM Awards.
Paisley also contributed two original songs to the Disney film Cars. These can be found on the film’s soundtrack. This was in recognition of his contribution to the “Route 66: Main Street America” television special.
At the 2006 Grammy Awards, Paisley received four nominations: Best Country Album (for Time Well Wasted), Best Country Song (for “Alcohol”), Best Country Instrumental (for “Time Warp”) and Best Country Vocal, Male (for “Alcohol”).
2007–2008: 5th Gear
Paisley’s fifth studio album, 5th Gear, was released in the United States on June 19, 2007. The first four singles from the album, “Ticks“, “Online“, “Letter to Me“, and “I’m Still a Guy“, all reached number one on the country music single charts, making seven straight number one hits for Paisley.” “Online“
featured the Brentwood High School marching band playing toward the end
of the song, a cameo by Jason Alexander, and again featured a cameo by
William Shatner. Throttleneck would also reach number one, which would get Paisley his first Grammy.
The fifth single from 5th Gear actually came from a reissued version of the album – a new recording of “Waitin’ on a Woman“, a track cut from Time Well Wasted.
The reissued version received unsolicited airplay in late 2006, and
features less prominent string guitar and violin parts and a more
“muted” musical tone. For the chart week of September 20, 2008, the song
became Paisley’s twelfth number-one single and his eighth straight
number-one hit, making him the artist with the most consecutive Number
One country hits since the inception of Nielsen SoundScan in 1990.
In July 2006, producer Todd Baker tapped Brad for a television appearance as an animated character in The Wonder Pets, Daddy Armadillo. The yet-to-be-broadcast episode features Brad’s wife, Kimberly Williams, as Mama Armadillo.
Paisley toured April 26, 2007 through February 24, 2008 in support of 5th Gear
on the Bonfires & Amplifiers Tour. The tour visited 94 cities over a
10 month period and played for over 1,000,000 fans. The tour was so
successful that it was extended past its original end date to February
2008. Some of the opening acts who appeared during the tour were Taylor Swift, Kellie Pickler, Jack Ingram, Rodney Atkins and Chuck Wicks.
Paisley was nominated for three 2008 Grammy Awards related to 5th Gear: Best Country Album (for 5th Gear), Best Country Collaboration (for “Oh Love” with Carrie Underwood), and Best Country Instrumental (for “Throttleneck”). On February 10, 2008, he won his first Grammy award for Best Country Instrumental for “Throttleneck”.
In March 2008, Brad Paisley announced his next tour, “The Paisley
Party,” a 42-date tour sponsored by Hershey’s. The tour kicked off on
June 11, 2008, in Albuquerque, New Mexico with Chuck Wicks, Julianne Hough and Jewel as the opening acts.
A sixth, largely instrumental album, titled Play, was released on November 4, 2008. Brad Paisley and Keith Urban released to country radio their first duet together on September 8, 2008, “Start a Band.” It was the first and only single from Play,
and it went on to become Paisley’s thirteenth number one hit and his
ninth in a row.
The album also features collaborations with James Burton, Little Jimmy Dickens, Vince Gill, John Jorgenson, B.B. King, Albert Lee, Brent Mason, Buck Owens, Redd Volkaert and Steve Wariner.
Paisley and Urban both received Entertainer of the Year nominations
from the CMA on September 10, 2008. On November 12, 2008 Brad Paisley
won Male Vocalist of the Year and Music Video of the Year for “Waitin’
on a Woman” during the CMA’s.
2009–2010: American Saturday Night
Brad Paisley announced on January 26, 2009 his new tour named “American Saturday Night.” Dierks Bentley and Jimmy Wayne will be opening in the majority of the shows. Brad Paisley’s newest album, American Saturday Night was released on June 30, 2009. The album’s lead off single, “Then” was released in March 2009 and performed for the first time on American Idol on March 18. It went on to become Paisley’s 14th number one single and his tenth in a row.
On May 6, 2009, Paisley gave an exclusive performance to a small group of members from his fan club in Studio A of the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, TN as he and his band taped an episode of CMT Invitation Only.
The show gives fans a chance to see their favorite artists in a more
intimate setting up close and personal. There was a Q & A session
and interaction between Paisley and his fans. The show aired on Monday,
August 3 at 9:00 p.m. on CMT.
On July 21, 2009, Paisley performed at the White House
in celebration of country music. “Country Music at the White House “
was streamed live on the White House web-site as well as a special on
Great American Country.
On November 11, 2009, Paisley co-hosted the CMA Awards for the second straight year. He also performed “Welcome to the Future“, and won both Male Vocalist of the Year and Musical Event of the Year for Start a Band with Keith Urban.
On March 1, 2010, Paisley was the first musical performance with
“American Saturday Night” for the second tenure of the Tonight Show with
On Friday March 5, 2010, Paisley slipped and fell performing his last song of the set, “Alcohol,” at a concert at the North Charleston Coliseum in Charleston, South Carolina, on the final date of the American Saturday Night Tour. Fearing a broken rib, he was held overnight at an area hospital, but was released when a CT scan was negative.
On July 31, 2010 Brad performed alongside Carrie Underwood at the inaugural Greenbrier Classic
PGA Tour Event in Lewisburg, W.Va. An estimated 60,000 people attended
the outdoor event to watch Carrie and Brad perform in the pouring rain.
On August 4, 2010, it was announced on his official website that
Paisley would release his first official greatest hits package, entitled
Hits Alive. Released on November 2, 2010, Hits Alive
is a double-disc collection, with one disc containing studio versions
of Paisley’s hit singles, while the companion disc features previously
unreleased live versions of his songs.
Brad Paisley cohosted the 44th Annual CMA Awards on November 10,
2010, where he was also awarded the CMA’s top award, Entertainer of the
Year. During his acceptance speech, Paisley emotionally honored his grandfather, who inspired him to play the guitar.
In 2012, MSN.com listed American Saturday Night as one of the 21 Essential 21st-Century Albums.
2011-present: This Is Country Music
In December 2010, Paisley released “This Is Country Music” as the title track to his eighth studio album, released May 23, 2011. The album’s second single, “Old Alabama” (with Alabama), released to country radio on March 14, 2011 and became Paisley’s nineteenth number one hit. “Remind Me,” with Carrie Underwood, was released May 23, 2011 to radio.
On March 22, 2011, Paisley’s website announced a new beta game titled “Brad Paisley World.” The game is modeled after other Facebook games such as Farmville or Mafia Wars
and features original animation. The game provides a new way for fans
to interact with each other and view exclusive material that would
otherwise be unavailable.
On May 12, 2011, Paisley’s website announced that he would release two songs on the soundtrack for the film Cars 2. One of them would be a collaboration with British pop singer Robbie Williams.
On October 19, 2011, Paisley made a voice cameo as various background characters in the South Park episode “Bass to Mouth“. 
On January 14, 2012, Paisley was a guest on Garrison Keillor‘s Prairie Home Companion, during which he did a rendition of “Life’s Railway to Heaven” by Charles Davis Tillman.
Brad also tweeted that he has started recording his upcoming album.
On April 25, 2012, Paisley was featured on the South Park episode “Cartman Finds Love“, in which he voiced himself, sang “The National Anthem“, and helped Cartman sing the 90’s hit song “I Swear“, which was popularized in 1994 by the country musician John Michael Montgomery and the pop group All-4-One. 
Paisley extended his “Virtual Realty” tour throughout the summer of
2012. He will be touring the country and making pit stops at local
country music festivals. The goal of these outdoor concerts is to give
the audience the full experience of Brad Paisley’s music, as many of his
songs contain outdoor elements. 
- Brooks & Dunn’s Neon Circus & Wild West Show 2003
- Mud & Suds Tour 2004 (w/ Sara Evans, Andy Griggs)
- Two Hats & A Redhead Tour 2005 (w/ Reba McEntire, Terri Clark)
- Time Well Wasted Tour 2006 (w/ Sara Evans, Sugarland, Carrie Underwood, Jake Owen, Josh Turner, Billy Currington)
- Bonfires & Amplifiers Tour 2007–2008 (w/ Taylor Swift, Jack Ingram, Kellie Pickler, Rodney Atkins, Chuck Wicks)
- The Paisley Party Tour 2008 (w/ Chuck Wicks, Julianne Hough, Jewel)
- The Paisley Party Tour 2009 (w/ Dierks Bentley, Darius Rucker, Crystal Shawanda)
- American Saturday Night Tour 2009 (w/ Dierks Bentley, Jimmy Wayne)
- American Saturday Night Tour 2010 (w/ Miranda Lambert, Justin Moore)
- The H2O Tour 2010 (w/ Darius Rucker, Justin Moore)
- The H2O Frozen Over Tour 2011 (w/ Darius Rucker, Jerrod Niemann)
- H2O II: Wetter and Wilder World Tour (w/ Darius Rucker, Blake Shelton, Jerrod Niemann)
|The Drama Kings taking a picture with a fan|
Paisley records his studio albums, in most part, with the backing of
his live band, The Drama Kings. Their first gig together was May 7,
1999. The only changes have been Randel Currie’s addition on the steel
guitar in 2000 and Jimmy Heffernan’s departure in 2001. Also, Jody
Harris worked as Paisley’s guitar tech until officially becoming a
bandmember for the American Saturday Night Tour. As of 2010, the lineup
- Brad Paisley – lead vocals, lead guitar
- Gary Hooker – rhythm guitar
- Randle Currie – steel guitar
- Kendal Marcy – keyboards, banjo, mandolin
- Justin Williamson – fiddle, mandolin
- Kenny Lewis – bass guitar
- Ben Sesar – drums
|Paisley and Chely Wright|
In the last months of 2000, Paisley had a relationship with fellow country music singer Chely Wright,
even though Wright and her female lover had moved together into a new
home earlier in the year. Wright was touring together with Paisley, with
whom she had co-written one song the previous year, and he had been
enamored of her ever since. Although she felt no sexual attraction to
Paisley, as to all men,
she recounts why Paisley was the man she decided to have a relationship
with, “he’s wickedly smart, which is one of the reasons why I made the
decision to spend time with him. I loved Brad. I never had the capacity
to fall in love with him, but I figured if I’m gonna live a less than
satisfied life, this is the guy I could live my life with. If I’m gonna
be with a boy, this is the boy.”
Her actions were further fueled by the fact that she held him in high
esteem and great affection in every way other than sexual attraction. In her autobiography she expresses remorse for how she treated him.
|Paisley and Kimberly Williams|
Paisley and Kimberly Williams began dating in 2001. Paisley had first seen Kimberly Williams in Father of the Bride with a former girlfriend. Brad and his former girlfriend broke up prior to the release of Father of the Bride Part II, which Brad went to see alone. Brad has stated that he watched Kimberly Williams‘ performance and thought “She seems like a great girl — smart and funny and all those things that are so hard to find.” In 2002, Williams appeared in a video for the song “I’m Gonna Miss Her (The Fishin’ Song),” the last release from his Part II album. The two married on March 15, 2003, at Stauffer Chapel on the campus of Pepperdine University after a nine month engagement. They live in Franklin, Tennessee, and have another home in Malibu.
Paisley and Williams first son, William Huckleberry, or “Huck”, was born on February 22, 2007, in Nashville, Tennessee. Their second son, Jasper Warren (named after his grandfather who bought Brad his first guitar), was born on April 17, 2009.
Paisley is a member of the Southern Jurisdiction of the Scottish Rite of Freemasonry, and a Noble of the AAONMS, also known as Shriners. He was accompanied by his father, Doug Paisley (32º), for the ceremony on October 28, 2006.
He is also a lifelong fan of the Cleveland Browns. Paisley sang the national anthem before a game during the 1999 season, and stated in an interview, with ESPN his dream job would be to play football for them. He also invited former Browns Quarterback Brady Quinn to a concert at the Blossom Music Center, in 2008.
Paisley is also a fan of West Virginia University athletics and the Boston Red Sox.
In late 2009, it was announced in Variety that Paisley would enter the world of scripted television as an executive producer of a new hour-long drama series for The CW network called, appropriately, Nashville. The plot was written and created by Neal Dodson and actor Matt Bomer. The creator of the series One Tree Hill, Mark Schwahn will direct the pilot and oversee the series. Actor Zachary Quinto is also an executive producer on the series, along with Dodson, Bomer, and Corey Moosa. The pilot was not picked up for a series when The CW’s fall schedule was announced in May 2010.
Paisley’s first guitar, a gift from his grandfather, was a Silvertone Danelectro 1451, which came with a “amp-in-case”. His next guitar, which he got at the age of 10 or 11, also from his grandfather, was a Sekova copy of a Gibson ES-335, with a Fender Deluxe Reverb. The instrument most often associated with him is a 1968 Pink Paisley Fender Telecaster.
Like many Nashville-based musicians, he lost a number of instruments and other gear in the 2010 flood in Nashville, including a 1970s Gibson Les Paul
and the prototype for a Z Wreck, one of the signature Paisley Dr. Z
amplifiers. The insurance money, however, allowed him to buy (from George Gruhn‘s store) an exclusive 1937 herringbone Martin D-28.
In 2010, Brad Paisley and Wampler Pedals released the Brad Paisley
signature Paisley Drive, a guitar overdrive pedal designed to the
specifications of Brad Paisley. Paisley has also used Audiotech Guitar Products ABY Selector’s for controlling his wireless receiver units. 
- Studio Albums
- 1999: Who Needs Pictures
- 2001: Part II
- 2003: Mud on the Tires
- 2005: Time Well Wasted
- 2006: Brad Paisley Christmas
- 2007: 5th Gear
- 2008: Play
- 2009: American Saturday Night
- 2011: This Is Country Music
- 2010: Hits Alive
- Academy of Country Music
- 1999 – Top New Male Vocalist of the Year
- 2004 – Vocal Event of the Year (“Whiskey Lullaby”)
- 2004 – Video of the Year (“Whiskey Lullaby”)
- 2005 – Album of the Year (“Time Well Wasted”)
- 2005 – Vocal Event of the Year (“When I Get Where I’m Going”)
- 2005 – Video of the Year (“When I Get Where I’m Going”)
- 2007 – Top Male Vocalist of the Year
- 2008 – Top Male Vocalist of the Year
- 2008 – Video of the Year (“Online”)
- 2009 – Video of the Year (“Waitin’ on a Woman”)
- 2009 – Vocal Event of the Year (“Start a Band”)
- 2009 – Top Male Vocalist of the Year
- 2010 – Top Male Vocalist of the Year
- 2011 – Top Male Vocalist of the Year
- Country Music Association Awards
- 2000 – Horizon Award
- 2001 – Vocal Event of the Year (“Too Country”)
- 2002 – Music Video of the Year (“I’m Gonna Miss Her”)
- 2004 – Musical Event of the Year (“Whiskey Lullaby”)
- 2004 – Music Video of the Year (“Whiskey Lullaby”)
- 2006 – Album of the Year (Time Well Wasted)
- 2006 – Musical Event of the Year (“When I Get Where I’m Going”)
- 2007 – Music Video of the Year (“Online” – director Jason Alexander)
- 2007 – Male Vocalist of the Year
- 2008 – Music Video of the Year (“Waitin’ on a Woman”)
- 2008 – Male Vocalist of the Year
- 2009 – Male Vocalist of the Year
- 2009 – Musical Event of the Year (“Start A Band” with Keith Urban)
- 2010 – Entertainer of the Year
- Grammy Awards
- 2008 – Best Country Instrumental Performance (“Throttleneck”)
- 2009 – Best Country Instrumental Performance (“Cluster Pluck”)
- 2009 – Best Male Country Vocal Performance (“Letter to Me”)
- Country Weekly Presents the TNN Music Awards
- 2000 – The Discovery Award
- 2000 – Song of the Year (“He Didn’t Have to Be”)
- 2000 – CMT Music Video of the Year (“He Didn’t Have to Be”)
- Flameworthy Awards/CMT Music Awards
- 2002 – Concept Video of the Year (“I’m Gonna Miss Her”)
- 2005 – Collaborative Video of the Year (“Whiskey Lullaby”)
- 2006 – Most Inspiring Video of the Year (“When I Get Where I’m Going”)
- 2008 – Comedy Video of the Year (“Online”)
- 2009 – CMT Performance of the Year (“Country Boy”)
- 2009 – Collaborative Video of the Year (“Start a Band”)
- 2009 – Male Video of the Year (“Waitin’ On a Woman”)
- 2012 – Collaborative Video of the Year (“Remind Me”)
- American Music Awards
- 2008 – Favorite Country Male Artist
- 2010 – Favorite Country Male Artist
- American Country Awards
- 2010 – Artist of the Year – Male
- 2011 – Artist of the Year – Male
- Orville H. Gibson Guitar Award
- 2002 – Best Country Guitarist (Male)
- Nashville Songwriters Association International Award
- 2002 – Songwriter/Artist of the Year
- 2005 – Songwriter/Artist of the Year
- ASCAP Country Music Award
- 2004 – Songwriter/Artist of the Year
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