The Complete Series
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Reviewed by Will Harris
rior to learning of ventriloquist Jeff Dunham’s ill-fated Comedy Central series, “The Jeff Dunham Show,” there were precisely three moments where he had crossed my radar.
The first moment came when he played at my college (Averett University, in Danville, VA) in the early 1990s. Although I didn’t actually attend his performance, I had a major attack of déjà vu some years later when I saw a picture of Dunham with his trusty puppet, Peanut – who, as it happens, ties directly into my second moment – and remembered seeing posters of the duo on campus back in the day.
That second moment came while I was reading The Mystery Science Theater 3000 Amazing Colossal Episode Guide. When I reached the second of its appendices, which explains the 50 most obscure references to appear on “MST3K.,” I found the following at #27 on the list: “He’s a Woozle and his name is Peanut.” Suffice it to say that this isn’t nearly as obscure now as it used to be, but at the time, the writers explained that the reference “refers to ventriloquist Jeff Dunham and his weird vent figure named Peanut. The phrasing of his introduction makes it sound as though we’re supposed to know what a Woozle is.”
I do not know what a Woozle is. Nor do I know exactly when Dunham vaulted from being so obscure that the writers of “MST3K” felt they needed to clarify a reference to one of his most popular bits to reaching a level of stardom where – here comes the third moment – my daughter’s babysitter stopped me one day and asked me if I’d ever interviewed him. He’s definitely a force to be reckoned with, though: he sells out his concerts, he’s shifted more units of his DVDs than I can wrap my head around, and his specials never fail to bring in the big ratings for Comedy Central. So why, then, did his weekly series do a bellyflop after only a handful of episodes?
Oh, actually, that one I do know: because it’s terrible.
Although I’m not a regular follower of Dunham’s work, I’ve seen the occasional clip of his stand-up and I’ve usually laughed, but the premise of “The Jeff Dunham Show” is to take the characters that Dunham has created onstage – Peanut, Walter, Achmed, Bubba J, Sweet Daddy Dee, Jose Jalapeno, et al – and have them interact with people in the real world. Peanut goes on a date with Brooke Hogan! Bubba J goes to a firing range! You get the idea. Unfortunately, the laugh track to the series smacks you over the head at every turn, killing just about anything that might be the slightest bit amusing stone dead. That’s not to say that there probably aren’t some legitimate laughs, but because of that laugh track, either you’ll find yourself wondering if you can trust your own sense of humor or, quite possibly, you’ll even tell yourself “that’s not funny” just to spite the damned thing.
If you’re a Jeff Dunham fan, it’s possible that you will find “The Jeff Dunham Show” funny. Be prepared, however, for the very real possibility that you may simply find yourself wishing you’d stuck with his stand-up.
Special Features: As with most short-lived series, the bonus material is pretty limited. There is, however, a behind-the-scenes featurette, a collection of bloopers, and one unaired sketch.