The Jeff Dunham Lesson

from the NY Times Magazine:

He was finishing the job one night last July, gluing on a new, male-patterned ring of hair and comically bushy eyebrows. Dunham is 47, with feathery brown hair and a habit of curling his mouth into an overbite when he finds something hilarious. He beams with regular-guyness. Recently, Forbes listed him as the third-highest-earning comedian in America, after Jerry Seinfeld and Chris Rock, both of whom make their piles largely on television syndication and film royalties.
Dunham has neither; his first series, “The Jeff Dunham Show,” had its premiere on Comedy Central on Oct. 22. Instead, he has toured relentlessly for 25 years. In the past year, he has played 150 shows and grossed $38 million in ticket sales, far more than any other comic.

“One of the great things about Jeff is that he’s a big tent,” David Bernath, Comedy Central’s senior vice president of programming, told me. “That’s what makes his audience-garnering ability a precious thing.” Bernath acknowledged that Dunham and his new series are conspicuously “broader and ‘cleaner,’ if you will, to use the advertiser-friendly term, than a lot of the stuff we’re known for” — edgier comics like Dave Chappelle; wry hipsters like Sarah Silverman; or satirists like Stephen Colbert. “But as a network,” Bernath told me, “you’ve just got to roll with it.” There’s no ignoring the numbers. Last winter, Dunham’s “Very Special Christmas Special” drew 6.6 million viewers, almost three times as many as Stephen Colbert’s Christmas special. It was the most-watched telecast in Comedy Central’s history.

And what can we learn, boys, girls and network executives? That there’s are audiences out there and money to be made with good, clean (well, not much worse than fart jokes) humor. Maybe if you start looking outside your usual lairs you can find the next Jeff Dunham to cash in om.

I think the guy is really funny. I first saw him doing the Achmed, the dead terrorist routine on youtube. Really funny. But, clean? Maybe, but there are several “F” words dropped in his routine with Walter and Peanut. I’ve never seen him on stage or TV, just online.

Jeff is hysterical, but on his two specials (Spark of Insanity and Arguing with Myself) he throws in a fair share of jokes about homosexuals and sex (mainly having to do with Walter’s marriage.) Personally, I think he could get away with just having Walter and Peanut (Peanut’s my favorite!), maybe Jose Jalapeno (on a Steek!) and Achmed the Dead Terrorist, but as far as I’m concerned, Sweet Daddy D, Bubba J and Melvin aren’t that funny.

The thing about ventriloquists is that they can pretty much insult anyone they like as long as it’s the “puppet” making the joke. No one blames the comedian. Still, Jeff is extremely talented and his own stand up (without his “little friends” as he calls them) is pretty funny as well.

Since when is a guy doing incredibly broad, makes-amos-n’-andy-seem-subtle mexican accent schtick “good clean fun?” And I’m not even touching the dead terrorist bit. If he had a routine featuring a puppet called “Paddy McDrunkface, the Procreating Papist” there would be a plague of aneurysms around here.

It makes me long for Carlin. At least if he was looking to offend someone he was honest about it.

I highly doubt that. He strikes me as a little too right-wing actually. I mean he has more puppets making fun of left-wing minorities (Muslim terrorists-Achmed, Mexicans-Jose Jalapeno, black people-Sweet Daddy D) compared to just one “white-trash” puppet (Bubba J).

And personally, I can’t believe you would prefer the amoral, pro-choice, atheistic jerk that inspired the likes of Penn and Teller over a guy who has hardly said anything blasphemous towards Christians in general.

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