A little over year ago, Ottawa Citizen reviewer Patrick Langston took a swipe at comedian Jeff Dunham calling him “cautious, crowd-pleasing and ultimately boring.”
“Dunham isn’t boundary-pushing, funny or even interesting,” Langston wrote. “(His humour) plays to the touches of racism or rancour we all harbour, but it does so in a safe manner, letting us vicariously express our inner ugliness but without questioning it too deeply.”
His readers, apparently, were anything but bored by the show, however, or by Langston’s opinions. They peppered the review’s comments section with their fervent disagreement.
“I resent reviewers who are looking for a burlesque show instead (of) seeing amazing clean comedy that makes everyone laugh including children,” Eleanor Elliott posted. “This reviewer would have ridiculed Bob Hope or Milton Berle.”
“I did not pay to engage in a lively political debate or an in-depth discussion on the status of women. I was looking forward to an evening of entertainment and got just that,” Michelle Lisa Moore posted.
Dunham’s brand of comedy may not be for everyone precisely because it is aimed at the everyman — he’s not there to make people really squirm, or think; he’s there to make as many people as possible laugh.
And he’s been very successful at it. His scheduled stop in Victoria Wednesday continues a tour schedule recognized by Guinness as setting a record for most tickets sold by a comedy tour. He has sold about seven million DVDs and has been watched nearly one billion times on YouTube.
“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 the New York Times in 2009. “That’s what makes his audience-garnering ability a precious thing.”
His jokes — based around playing the straight man to a cast of politically incorrect but strangely lovable puppets — land in an area that can appeal to all ages and socio-economic standards.
“Some stand-ups from New York or L.A. die a thousand deaths in Vegas,” former Vegas booker Steve Schirripa said in the same NY Times article. “They’re alternative, they’re artists. They’re too hip for the room. “(Dunham, on the other hand), didn’t even look like he was an entertainer. He looked like a regular guy, like he could work the front desk at one of the hotels or manage the coffee shop.”
At a Dunham show the focus is on Walter, Achmed, Bubba J, Peanut and Jose Jalapeño saying things that many in the audience might think but never say, while Dunham politely disapproves alongside them.
“Even at the massive, packed, hockey-arena scale at which it occurs, there is a sense that a Dunham show is just that: a place where people are getting away with something,” Globe and Mail reviewer John Semley wrote in January. “Worse than his material is his idea that this is some exuberant, liberating space, free from the watchful eye of the P.C. Police, where we are all encouraged to laugh at the stuff we all secretly, deep down, find funny, but would never dare utter in the civil course of daily life.”
And maybe that’s not good enough for some “higher thinkers.” For the “regular folk” in the comment section however, it seems to be exactly what they are looking for.
Dunham’s Perfectly Unbalanced tour — billed as featuring a mix of new routines and old favourites — hits the Save on Foods Memorial Centre 7:30 p.m. on Mar. 22. Tickets are $57. More information here.