Written by: Valerie Wallach
Friday, Dec. 6, stand-up comedian Jeff Dunham hit the stage for a nearly sold-out show at the Consol Energy Center during his “Disorderly Conduct” tour. It was a full house brimming with an overwhelmingly middle-aged fan base; not surprisingly, since Dunham’s career debuted in the 1970’s and took off in the 80’s. He is credited with reviving ventriloquism and doing more to promote this dying art form than anyone within the last several decades, which clearly proves to be Dunham’s strong suit. Utilizing a wild assortment of characters he flaunts an extraordinary voice-throwing talent. Thus, I give Dunham credit where credit is due, but the unique delivery of his material does little to advance its crude, uninspired content.
Prior to the show, a mega screen displayed various word games, trivia about Dunham’s career, and advice from ‘Walter’—Jeff’s most beloved dummy, the ill-tempered senior citizen. Eventually, Dunham was introduced to the stage by a video montage of each of his characters being arrested and interrogated by Dunham himself. The idea had potential but turned out to be quite cheesy, particularly when Achmed the ‘dead terrorist’ ignited a bomb during police line-up in order to—quote, “start the show off with a bang.”
Dunham made his grand entrance and laid out his plans for the evening, stating that his set would “mix together his biggest hits from previous tours and newer stuff that hasn’t been heard before.” Everyone in the audience cheered excitedly, and I will admit that something about Dunham’s down-to-earth style made it seem as though he could be anyone’s next door neighbor. He even incorporated a slideshow of family photos, such as one picture that his daughter took of him in a Batman onesie, which received big laughs from the crowd and certainly proved that he can laugh at himself. After at least twenty minutes of the slideshow, however, I practically forgot whether I was attending some sort of boring family reunion or a comedy show.
The first figure to finally take Dunham’s side was Achmed the Dead Terrorist, an overtly anti-Semitic skeleton of an Arab extremist. His “suicide bomber humor” included every pun about a bomb that you could imagine (example: his favorite TV Show is 60 Minutes “the ticking sound makes me homesick”) culminating in a musical rendering of “The Twelve Days of Infidels.” To me, the skit was too blatantly racist and lost its flair after the first few jokes. It became clear that the puppets are merely Dunham’s carriers for delivering some very stereotypical ethnic slurs, and it is in this way that Dunham gets away with such controversy, since it visually appears to be the character’s opinions and not his own. I mean, considering Dunham grosses nearly as much money in tickets as the great Jerry Seinfeld, I had hoped for something more progressive and subtly clever. But, to each his own, I suppose.
The next figure was a dummy of Dunham himself—matching outfit and all. I actually found this skit to be the funniest, for as Dunham begins to advertise his own merchandise in the middle of the show, the dummy mocks him and physically tackles him to the ground. The audience laughed wildly as Dunham wrestled with the puppet version of himself; this hilarious display of self-deprecation was fresh and inviting.
“And now we get to the free part of the show,” announced Dunham, as he presented his newest figure “the president of the coffee drinker’s association”—a shaky, cracked out caffeine addict. Claiming he had just written the material in transit that day, Dunham used notes throughout. The jokes were fairly funny but predictable (example: “decaffeinated coffee is like cheeseless pizza or sexless marriage.” “I tried AA; I went for five years for the free coffee.”) Still, the crowd responded favorably, and Dunham said he’d be keeping this little coffee lover around.
~~Insert yet another commercial, this one for “Achmed’s Bomb Sweeper,” a free game on the iPhone and Android. ~~
Peanut, the manic purple creature, was the third figure of the night. The jokes returned to making fun of Southerners—particularly people in Alabama which was the previous stop on his tour—along with racist NFL anecdotes, a couple of jabs at Obama, a handful of obvious sexual innuendos, and other such careless, run of the mill jokes that characterize Dunham’s comedy. It seemed a shame that the content could not match his undeniable skills in ventriloquism; the sound effects and foreign accents (all done without ever moving his lips) were certainly impressive. He managed to bring each character to life with great ease.
The show closed with ole’ Walter, whose cynicism towards marriage, distrust of foreigners, and aversion towards homosexuals seemed to appeal to the older audience. But, honestly, these jokes are hardly worth replicating. We all adore the late Archie Bunker who succeeded with this same sense of humor back in the 70’s, but four decades later it is no longer original or appropriate. ‘Tis time to put this bunk out to pasture, if you ask me.
Dunham then held a question and answer session with Walter using questions submitted by the audience (as if his humor hadn’t already run dry). For example: Do you smoke after sex? “I don’t know. I’ve never looked.” The crowd was cracking up laughing, as they had been throughout the entire two-hour show, while I was ready to get up from my seat and leave, as I had been throughout the entire two-hour show. In other words, it’s a matter of individual taste. Dunham is hugely popular; I just do not personally understand the integrity of his humor, other than his tremendous talent as a ventriloquist.
And though seeing this particular talent up close was an interesting experience, I would recommend taking a peak at his routine online before paying $60 for an overpriced, overrated comedic performance.
Live Photos ©2013 Coda Photography