The ventriloquist brings his tired act to the Schottenstein Center on Friday
By all accounts, Jeff Dunham remains popular. And not just popular for a ventriloquist. We’re talking multiple Netflix specials popular. Sells-out arenas popular.
But in the era of perpetual Trump rallies, this feels somehow less surprising than it did even five or six years ago, since the humor (and we use that word loosely here) underpinning Dunham’s act has its basis in the same simmering, race-based vitriol that frequently surfaces within gatherings of the MAGA set.
A decade ago, Videogum posted a lengthy screed decrying the ventriloquist and his stable of “backwoods, racist, homophobic, misogynistic, anti-Semitic” puppets, though Dunham has always brushed aside these criticisms, once telling me in a 2013 email, “I heard a great comic say once that if you aren’t offending a couple people here and there, you’re not pushing the envelope.”
But part of the issue is that Dunham’s comedy doesn’t push the envelope, instead falling lazily back on stereotypes that were already tired when Archie Bunker was still kicking his feet up in his recliner. Dunham’s jokes are generally outdated and predictable — when they’re even jokes at all, that is. (In one bit, Sweet Daddy Dee makes a crack about Mexicans learning English and the audience doesn’t even need a punchline to respond with rapturous applause.)
But, hey, if you think there’s something inherently groundbreaking about a puppet modeled on a dead Islamic terrorist cracking jokes about a couple of Jews fighting to the death over a penny, as Dunham did in his 2007 special “Spark of Insanity,” well, that’s on you, I guess.
Approaching this exercise with the understanding that all of Dunham’s creations are at least a little bit racist, we thought we’d rank them from least to most. (Note: This includes some “retired” characters, though we’d like all of these to join that list.)
Melvin the Superhero Guy
The superhero fad has finally has grown to a point where it has infiltrated ventriloquism, which means we now get to hear a caped crusader joke about using his x-ray vision to look at “boobies.” Neat.
Were you aware there’s a stereotype about drunken Irishmen? Dunham won’t let you forget.
Ostensibly designed to roast his overwhelmingly white, conservative audience, Bubba J tends to pull his punches more than Dunham’s other creations, perhaps owing to the ventriloquist’s sense of shared experience. Empathy is neat!
Racism, sexism and homophobia veiled as disgruntled old man-ness. We all have a relative like this. And they’re probably posting Trump memes on Facebook right now.
This furry purple critter from a small Micronesian Island affords Dunham the range to mock both women and foreign accents.
Sweet Daddy D
Try to listen to Dunham voicing his African American puppet without cringing. Sweet Daddy could spend entire segments reciting Bible verses and still get nothing but side eye from me.
Jose Jalapeno on a Stick
I mean, watch for yourself.
Achmed the Dead Terrorist
Created in the wake of 9/11, Achmed exists as Dunham’s reliable outlet for lazily spouting jokes that range from Islamophobic to anti-Semitic.
Achmed’s gay son touches on these same points with an added layer of homophobia, to boot.
Little Jeff Dunham