If left to my own devices, I would probably have dismissed Jeff Dunham as nothing more than a novelty act. He’s a ventriloquist and most of their profession relies on the fact that they can throw their voice and perform various parlor tricks with their dummies. However, my wife and others have turned me on to the fact that Jeff is more than a novelty act. He’s a comedian and a darn good one at that. He just happens to employ characters (certainly not dummies) to help him.
Jeff Dunham was born in Dallas, Texas in the early 60’s. Early on, actually as early as eight years old he was already looking into ventriloquism. Influences included legendary performer, Edgar Bergen. At a young age, he was already attending conventions and competitions. He did so well that eventually organizers of the Vent Haven ConVENTion actually declared him a retired champion since other performers were afraid to compete against him.
Dunham was already performing by the time he was a teenager and used events such as school picture day as a convenient method for professional pictures with his characters.
Fast forward to 1990 and he drew some national fame from his appearance on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. He even got invited to “The Couch” after his set. But the fame did not hold and Jeff would spend the next decade mostly doing stand up with his characters. He however did appear in a few bit parts on commercials and shows.
Comedy Central gave him a spot in 2003 on Comedy Central Presents, a show where they put the spotlight on an up and coming or popular comic. The appearance did very well. But it was not until 2006 when his first special, Arguing with Myself appeared on the same network. This was followed up by Spark of Insanity in 2007 and Jeff Dunham’s Very Special Christmas Special in 2008, each with more viewers than the one before.
Jeff toiled around with his own show on Comedy Central in late 2009 which unfortunately didn’t do very well. However, since then he has done a bunch of guest spots in tv shows as well as movies. There were shows such as Hart to Hart and movies such as Dinner for Schmucks where he even showed off a new puppet. But coming soon to Comedy Central on the 25th (and 27th to disc) will be his new show out of Richmond, Virginia called Controlled Chaos.
When we are introduced this concert, we get the option of bleeped or unbleeped. Needless to say because I am an adult and do possess a cultured palette, I went with unbleeped. Anyway, the set starts with a skit about Jeff passing by Bubba J who is on security patrol. Jeff tells Bubba J to watch out for Achmed who is running late. We are then treated to Achmed in his Achmedmobile which can be described as a tribute to ZZ Top except the Dead Terrorist has an infatuation with goats.
All of the characters are in place and Jeff starts his show with a monologue. The monologue talks about his childhood and how he used school picture day for professional purposes. He completes this with showing us the pictures which can be described as fashion nightmares and a little creepy. But Jeff can poke fun at himself pretty easily and even touches on the fact that he is now a divorced single parent. This is kinda bittersweet because I do remember a few jokes that involved his wife from time to time.
Anyhow, the monologue eventually ends and we are on to the characters that are so near and dear to the audience’s heart. First out of the gate as always is good ole Walter, a grumpy retiree who has been married to the same woman for almost fifty years. Walter goes right for the jugular and asks Jeff what it is like to be divorced and proclaiming him to be his hero. But the audience is just get pumped up for the next couple of acts.
Achmed is on next. For those who aren’t aware he is the character that really launched Jeff’s stand-up act in the past decade. He is the dead terrorist, a stereotypical character based on what it would be like if a Middle Eastern suicide bomber was already dead. They joke about Achmed’s road to stardom and one of the funnier bits is when Jeff has to remove Achmed’s breast plate due to an equipment malfunction. They also introduce a new character who is related to Achmed in some fashion.
The final act is also a traditional one as Jeff brings in Peanut which can only be described as a truly crazy character (that was either devised out of some amazing creativity or perhaps amazing drugs) with one sneaker and a little bit of green hair. Peanut pokes fun at the Chinese and then Jeff brings out Peanut’s usual sidekick, Jose Jalapeno…on a stick. But that’s not quite all as the finale introduces us to Peanut’s own character that bears a striking resemblance to somebody else in the act.
The show is quite funny. In fact, it is arguably one of Jeff’s better sets. But I think part of that fact centered on Jeff’s strong monologue. One would think that a ventriloquist, especially one with the amazing characters that he has would not be able to do it alone for 10 minutes or so. But he does and he succeeds at it. This is not some one-trick pony like a certain prop comic who smashes watermelons with a sledgehammer.
The characters are still the part that induces the most laughter (and in some cases, near tears as evidenced by watching my wife). Walter is still my favorite and produces the strongest most consistent material. Achmed was excellent up until they decided to introduce the new character which was mostly just horrifying to look at. Peanut was also very strong with the only real misstep being again the new character. But that’s the thing about Jeff. He is always trying new characters even if they occasionally fall flat.
The video is in 1.78:1 widescreen presentation at 1080i resolution. This is the first time I had seen one of Jeff’s comedy concerts in blu-ray and to date I still have seen very few stand-up shows in blu. The color is appealing and the flesh tones are dead on accurate. I really liked that I could see how much work Jeff puts into his characters. The detail of Achmed or Walter, especially in their face is something that blu-ray really embraces. There are only some minor flaws from the concert atmosphere that exist here.
For the audio portion, we get a 5.1 Dolby Digital TruHD track for English (also included is an English stereo track). The soundtrack is loud. There is almost never a problem with dialog from Jeff or the characters in his act. Furthermore, I was impressed with the audio in many of the backstage or skit type featurettes (also usually in TruHD) and that it frequently used surrounds. I know most people don’t see a need for blu when it comes to stand-up but this presentation proves otherwise. Subtitles are also included for English.
- Bubba J Winery Tour 2:24: Bubba J takes Jeff on a tour of Dunham Cellars (Walla Walla, Washington) and Bubba doesn’t really know anything about the wine making business (but plenty about beer). This feels like a cheap way to sell a bottle of wine on his website.
- Outtakes 2:01: Normally, I love to watch outtakes. But I guess you just never think that a stand-up comedian (or ventriloquist) forgets or flubs his lines. Still it is pretty funny.
- The Necklace 1:20: Apparently, microphones that you mount on yourself tend to get caught to jewelry such as Jeff’s necklace. The funny part is when his characters keep teasing him about it.
- Share the Hair 0:49: A stage hand gets to try out Peanut’s hair.
- Flirting with Victoria 1:59: Victoria is another stage hand specializing in makeup. The characters hit on her resulting in some fun laughter. (We never get to see her face though which is curious)
- Tour Opens: Backstage with Peanut 2:59: In a skit from Spark of Insanity, Peanut goes backstage with a camera and catches some of the other characters and Jeff when their guard is down.
- Tour Opens: Achmed is Terrorist Video 2:49: A funny skit mocking the Bin Laden recordings where Achmed delivers a message to the infidels. Except that other characters keep interfering.
- Tour Opens: Getting Ready for the Tour 2:58: A little bit behind the scenes and a little skit, this featurette shows Jeff getting ready for his tour.
- Dunham Goes Global 3:42: As mentioned in the concert, Dunham went overseas recently to places like England, South Africa and Australia. We get some fan input and short clips from the performances.
- Photo Shoot 1:08: Dunham poses himself and his characters for a photo shoot. Not much to this one.
- Making of the Achmedmobile 13:45: The real meat of the extras. Jeff goes into the delicate process of how he created the Achmedmobile or rather modified a Defibrillator (Hot Rod similar to the one ZZ Top used in their videos). The technology Jeff uses to make it along with his crew is very fascinating. Really cool and intricate stuff.
The Jeff Dunham train does not look like it has any signs of slowing down. As being one of the very few comics to embrace blu-ray, this is another great addition to anybody’s blu-ray library. The set provides consistent laughs with the only missteps being the new characters that are added to the traditional lineup. Walter, Achmed, and Peanut (along with Jose) are staples of Jeff’s laughter and will continue to make us laugh for the next decade and beyond.
The blu-ray set has excellent video and audio. There are also a whirlwind of funny extras (even if they are rather short in length). This is a very easy recommendation for me. This performance probably shouldn’t be people’s first introduction to the comedy styling of Jeff Dunham but it is indeed one of his funniest. Don’t make the mistake I did by ignoring his act for 15 years, he is certainly worth your time.