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By the fourth grade, Dunham decided he not only wanted to be a professional ventriloquist, but the best one ever.

Dunham has explained 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.

in various venues such as school, church, and during his job at Six Flags.

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Mc Cawley 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.

Dunham continued to tighten his act in Los Angeles clubs, performing the same six-minute segment with Peanut a total of nine times for Mc Cawley over the next few months.

Finally at the Ice-House in Pasadena in April 1990, after Dunham did the same segment, Mc Cawley informed Dunham that he would finally get his Tonight Show appearance. Upon sitting down next to Carson's desk, Dunham pulled out Walter, who told Carson sidekick Ed Mc Mahon, "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", 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 with Reba Mc Entire.

Dunham and Peanut appeared on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson on April 6, 1990, alongside guests Bob Hope and B. 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.

He 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 José Jalapeño, but struggled against the perception he relates from fellow comedians that he was not a true 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.

When Dunham was in the sixth grade, he began attending the Vent Haven Con VENTion in Fort Mitchell, Kentucky, an annual international meeting of ventriloquists that includes competitions, where he met Jimmy Nelson in person.

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