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“Howdy Doody, my ass!” Walter is shouting over the phone. Walter (pictured) is grumpy, and who can blame him? After all, he’s got Jeff Dunham’s hand up his derriere. But that’s OK, because Walter is a puppet and Dunham is his, well, puppet master. And Dunham is a nice guy, not like the evil puppet masters in movies like the soon-to-be-released Curse of the Puppet Master. I’m the dummy paying long-distance rates to talk to a puppet. Or a guy who’s pretending to be a puppet over the phone. Which may not be OK if I stop to think about it. However, Walter’s point is still well-taken—over the years, ventriloquists have dropped to the same lowly status as the dreaded mime. Dunham admits that he’s had to fight off the stigma of the crummy ventriloquist “with a mean little wooden boy dummy on his knee.” That and “bad Hollywood psycho-puppet-comes-alive movies.” Like Curse of the Puppet Master. Which Dunham is not starring in. So while Walter may be grumpy and the fuzzy Peanut is frankly silly, no one in Dunham’s act is mean. But don’t expect anything to be explained at Dunham’s show. “There is no social redeeming value to my act whatever,” he says proudly. “I’m no Mark Twain, dammit.” But Mark Twain was kinda grumpy. Like Walter. I’m so confused. At 8:30 & 10:30 p.m. Friday & Saturday and 8:30 p.m. Sunday at the Improv, 1140 Connecticut Ave. NW. $15-17. (202) 296-7008. (Dave Nuttycombe)