5 Minutes with Jeff Dunham
Jeff Dunham has spent a lot of time on the road, but thanks to his impressive collection of cars, he’s always riding in style. The record-breaking stand-up comedian, actor and ventriloquist isn’t your run-of-the-mill car collector; you won’t find any trailer queens or numbers-matching show cars with dust on their covers in his stash. Instead, Dunham said he’s drawn to the wacky, the fun, and the just plain weird cars.
“I like cars that people can talk about and have some sort of interest in,” he said. “I like cars that get attention and I’m just drawn to vehicles that you don’t see every day. You can bring a beautiful, pristine Ford Mustang to a car show and you’re going to find 50 of those there. But you roll up in my Pinto Cruising Wagon and I guarantee I’m going to have a bigger crowd around me, with people appreciating it or scoffing at it.”
Dunham – whose new Netflix Originals stand-up special, “Jeff Dunham: Beside Himself” is now streaming globally – has built his collection to include a whopping 92 vehicles, ranging from a Ferret Scout British tank to five cars done by legendary car kustomizer George Barris.
Despite the rarity (and, in some cases, downright strangeness) of some of his cars, Dunham claims that they all get taken for a spin. “I don’t own a vehicle that I don’t drive,” he said. “There’s no showroom queens; everything has to run and I drive them every chance I get!”
Dunham just launched a new international tour called “Jeff Dunham: Seriously?!” – you can see when he’ll be near you at www.jeffdunham.com. We snagged five minutes with the funnyman while he was on the road to get his take on why so many comedians love cars, what draws him to “ugly” vehicles, and what he’d like to steal from Jay Leno.
Goodguys Gazette: How did you get the car bug?
Jeff Dunham: Like most people, my interest in cars started at an early age. For me, it was Hot Wheels. They came out in 1968 and I remember going to Kmart with my mom as a kid and begging for a Hot Wheels car. She got it for me and that began my love of cars. I still have that car, actually. It’s behind my desk. Then around 1992, Dodge came out with the Viper. I saw it in the storefront window and thought it was the coolest thing I’d ever seen. To me, it looked like someone my age who had Hot Wheels growing up was now designing cars and brought a Hot Wheels car to life.
GG: You currently have 92 cars. What do you drive on a daily basis?
Dunham: I have no hanger queens; I drive them all. But day-to-day, I have a Tesla Model X. I have twin boys who are four years old, so that’s more practical to drive. I also drive a F-350 pickup.
GG: Your collection of cars is both impressive and…odd. How do you decide what cars to buy, and why do you tend to gravitate toward unusual cars?
Dunham: There’s no list in my head or anything of cars I want to buy. Something just comes along – maybe something I liked in my childhood – and I’ll get it. It’s amazing when a snobby car guy will look at my car and ask, ‘Why in the world would you own this?’ But then everyone is crowding around my car instead of their perfect cars. The bottom line is that I like cars that start conversations. If you pull into a gas station and there’s a guy there with a Lambo, you’re not going to talk to that guy probably. But if I pull in with my Levi’s Gremlin, or a ’70 Cuda or something, you’re going to want to talk to me.
I do appreciate the artistry of magnificent failures; the cars that a guy thought he was going to take on the Big Three with and he put his heart and soul into and ended up going out of business. I’m drawn to those cars.
GG: Tell us about some of the most-unique vehicles in your collection.
Dunham: Some of my favorite ones are the horrible cars from the ’70s. I have a really beautiful Pacer – and I guess you’ll have to put quotes around ‘beautiful’ – and I have a Levi’s Gremlin. Levi’s the jean company and AMC came up with this idea to put what looks like denim as the seat covers. It’s imitation denim but it has the buttons on it and everything. It’s painted blue and has a V8 so it’s a real attention-getter. My taste runs the gamut; it’s a mixed bag of stuff I think is cool or great or weird. I have everything from a screen-used Batmobile featured in the movie ‘Batman Returns,’ to Gremlins, to a Ford GT. I have Barris cars, a H1 Hummer, the Meyers Manxes.
GG: Which vehicles do you consider to be your most irreplaceable?
Dunham: I would say that my five Barris cars are the most valuable. I have the replica of the ’66 Batmobile, the Barris Voxmobile, the Calico Surf, the Hard Hat Hauler, and a Barris T-buggy kit car.
GG: A lot of comedians tend to gravitate to hot rods and car collecting: Jay Leno, Tim Allen, Kevin Hart are all into cars. What do you think is the connection between comedy and cars?
Dunham: I don’t know exactly; maybe it’s a lack of other hobbies? I don’t know of any stand-up comedians who like to play golf. Maybe it has something to do with the left brain/right brain thing. Executives are out there playing golf while creative people are into creative things like cars.
GG: If you could steal a car from another comedian, which car would you take and why?
Dunham: There’s no question about this one! It’s a car Jay Leno has and it’s my favorite car in his whole collection. I’ve told him this actually. It’s a Chrysler Turbine. They were only made from 1963-64 and it’s a turbine car. They literally put a turbine engine in it but it came at the wrong place and the wrong time. For whatever the reason, it was a magnificent failure. Only one or two are still in existence because all 55 that were made were ordered to be destroyed. But Jay has one of them.
GG: You’re on the road a lot. Is there a favorite road trip you’ve taken?
Dunham: One of my favorite drives of all time was when I was in my H1 Hummer in Arizona in the middle of summer. I had splashed it into a lake and didn’t know that I wasn’t supposed to go in the water when the fan was turning, so I damaged it. I had to pull a trailer with it and drive from Phoenix to LA. I could only go 35 or 40mph tops on the freeway, and I had to drive with the A/C off and the heater on and the windows rolled down! There were 80-year-olds driving Winnebagos passing me and giving me the finger! It was beastly hot, but I remember looking around and thinking how lovely it was in the middle of the desert, driving 40mph. It was one of the best drives I can remember.
GG: What’s your go-to road tripping song?
Dunham: That’s easy… it’s got to be ‘Radar Love!’