Jeff Dunham

Last year Debbi came across comedian/ventriloquist Jeff Dunham on Comedy Central, and he became a favorite of hers. She bought his DVD, Arguing With Myself. I can’t remember seeing Debbi laugh so hard as when she saw his special, and then his DVD! So, of course, we’ve gone twice to see him at the Improv in San Jose.

At first glance, Dunham is this unassuming-looking guy who looks like he could be your next-door neighbor. In fact, his humor is extremely irreverent. He opens his act as a straightforward stand-up act, usually talking about his family (wife, three kids, and many dogs), and then brings out his puppets, who include crotchety-old-guy Walter, and manic-verbal-abuser Peanut. It’s sort of a good-cop-bad-cop routine, with Dunham trying to keep the characters in line, while they’re abusing him, the audience, their hypothetical relatives, and anyone else who comes to mind.

And really, he’s hilarious! Many of his gags deliberately break the illusion of his puppets’ reality, as they comment on his reactions to him, and suggest some novel uses for his ventriloquism.

I think my favorite joke of the evening involved his chihuahuas, which (he says) were entirely his wife’s idea. Little yappy dogs, he’s greatly amused at some of the tortures they undergo due to their small stature and smaller brains. This gag involved his youngest daughter taking one of them for a walk using a retractable leash, and the devious trick the played on the poor beast.

Have I mentioned that my sense of humor is a little irreverent, too?

The one thing that makes me a little uncomfortable are his gay jokes. They aren’t really gay-bashing jokes, but rather using “gay” to mean “effiminate”, as in “driving a powder-blue Prius while holding your wife’s chihuahua is gay.” The web comic strip PvP often makes exactly the same sort of jokes, for instance in the sequence starting here (though Dunham is funnier than PvP). Is this funny, or is it a little too tactless? I’m not sure.

(Note that I have no problem at all with him making fun of people who drive Priuses. Or, for that matter, abusing chihuahuas. We each have our own boundaries, I guess.)

He’s even edgy enough that one of his new puppets is Ahmed the Dead Terrorist. Which is, uh, really weird. (This wasn’t his A-list material, but I think it was also some new material he’s still shaking out.) Then again, is anyone else taking on the terrorists in quite this way?

Overall, we had a terrific time at the show, and assuming you’ve got an equally irreverent sense of humor, or are willing to shove aside your sensitivities for 90 minutes, I’d wholeheartedly recommend going to see Jeff Dunham.