Puppet comedian Jeff Dunham exists somewhere in that gray area between an impressionist and a prop comic. He's essentially just doing a bunch of funny voices (though his lips don't move), but his act requires more than just himself and a microphone -- he's using, for lack of a better term, "props."
I freely recognize that there's room for all kinds of comedy in the spectrum of stand-up, and when someone finds a creative way to do something different, I get excited. I don't necessarily feel that way about Dunham, who, in my opinion, is pretty much just a ventriloquist scoring cheap laughs with puppets that either are or spout ethnic stereotypes. He's a panderer -- though a wildly popular one.
That's most of what he offers on his latest stand-up special, Jeff Dunham's Very Special Christmas Special, which premiered on Comedy Central (it's also available on DVD).
The "Suitcase Posse"
Don't believe me? Take a look at what we get to see during the Very Special Christmas Special:
- First up is "Walter," a curmudgeonly old puppet that apparently is racist. He makes fun of saying "holidays" instead of "Christmas" (which gets a disturbing cheer from the audience), then says racist things about African-Americans and Kwanzaa (speaking in slang, saying he should be drinking malt liquor, etc.). I guess we're supposed to thing that this material is ok, because it's a "character" saying it and not Dunham himself, but I'm not sure I buy that. When someone like Sarah Silverman tells a joke about race, the joke is about her own clueless attitudes and preconceptions -- it's about racism itself. "Walter's" jokes are just racist. But, then, he gets a huge response from the crowd in attendance, so I must be missing something.
The Very Special Christmas Special was taped in front of a packed house at the Pabst Theater in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and every audience member responds to every joke with great laughter and enthusiasm. In January of 2008, Dunham won "favorite comedian" on Comedy Central's Comedian Showdown. He clearly has a very large, very loyal, very vocal following. So maybe I don't get it.
There's nothing on the Christmas Special to change my opinion of Dunham's comedy; my objections remain the same. But, then, comedy will always be subjective, and we will always disagree on what is funny and what is not. If you're someone that finds Dunham and his puppets funny, that's fine. You can have him.
Original Air Date: November 16, 2008