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By Randee Dawn
For those who don’t recall, Jeff Dunham is a comic whose Christmas2008 special earned Comedy Central record ratings — a full 6.6million viewers. Those are numbers Jay Leno would drool over thesedays (Editor’s Note: Wellll …), but for most of the country, Dunham is a completeunknown.
So now that Comedy Central has rewarded Dunham with his own varietyshow — an extension of his Las Vegas stand-up act — it’s worthfinding out: What do 6.6 million people love so much? Havingwatched the pilot of “The Jeff Dunham Show,” the answer is, “Heavenknows.”
The half-hour is fairly basic: Dunham takes the stage, a rangymiddle-aged guy, nondescript and not funny. What makes him worthyof a spotlight and a live, fanatical audience is what comesattached to his hand: One of a series of eyebrow-wagging,eye-rolling puppet grotesqueries.
It has been more than 50 years since Edward Bergen and CharlieMcCarthy charmed the nation with ventriloquism, and NBC’s”America’s Got Talent” already awarded its top prize to one suchact, so perhaps dummies and masters should make a comeback. Butthere’s a reason those dolls are now grist for “The Twilight Zone”episodes: They’re creepy and, most relevant here, unamusing.
In Dunham’s hand, they’re also racist caricatures, full of meannessand cliches, ranging from Achmed the Dead Terrorist (a skeletonwith the heavily accented catchphrase of “I kill you”) to Peanut,the disturbing Muppet-like troll creature who has the hots forguest star Brooke Hogan. Whether part of the stage-act banter withDunham (whose clenched lower jaw quivers unsettlingly) or incutaway short-film segments (where Dunham seems prettysuperfluous), their escapades are at best wretchedly crude (did weneed to see a doll on the toilet?) and at worst homophobic.
It’s all a complete train wreck, but it still is can’t-miss comedybecause after watching an episode, the rest of television looksbetter by comparison. Perhaps that’s the secret of those 6.6million: They’re not looking to laugh. They’re looking for thelife-affirming moments that come from the commercials.
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