The Jeff Dunham Show airs tonight at 9 p.m. ET/8 p.m. CT, Comedy Central.
For every Important Things With Demetri Martin, there is The Jeff Dunham Show. The yin to the yang. The concepts of both shows are surprisingly the same: As a network, invest in half an hour of one comic's sense of humor, and let that comic figure things out on his own. So once again Comedy Central is giving the people ostensibly what they want—more Jeff Dunham, a man known as a pioneer of "catchphrase puppet comedy", if indeed the field is in need of pioneering. And much like how Important Things was rife with high-brow sketches and flip chart jokes without punchlines—a la Demetri Martin—The Jeff Dunham Show is basically Dunham introducing each puppet to wild applause, followed by sketches in which the puppets interact with regular people in repetitive ways. It's exactly like Dunham's comedy.
And yeah, it's not very funny. I don't find Dunham himself very funny—all the jokes are cheap, lowest-common-demonimator, and borderline racist (one of the guys is a terrorist who takes pot shots at Muslim people). Watching the pilot, though, I was having trouble outright hating this thing that so clearly wasn't made for people like me. I'm going to watch 30 Rock, The Office, and of course, my TV Club favorite Parks & Recreation. I'm not going to watch. But Dunham is wildly popular; he sells out huge venues across the country. I've seen him do it, actually, in a St. Louis comedy club years ago when my friends and I just showed up to buy tickets to whatever was playing that night. Clearly people like his comedy, and the show sure does feel a lot like Dunham's comedy; and in that way, it's a wild success.
So I couldn't hate on this show, but instead I just felt sorry for a lot of the people involved—specifically the real people who got the unfortunately acting challenge of interacting with a puppet. Here's how the sketches break down: First Dunham and his old man partner Walter go to a therapist to figure out why they're always fighting (ho ho ho), and it turns out a) the therapist is gay, and b) Walter is a huge homophobe who doesn't want to go gay for Dunham. Dunham doesn't want to go gay for Walter, and voila, they now agree on something. Life's funny like that. Next, Dunham's "pal" the dead terrorist makes a video for his fake stand-up special, and gets heckled by people in the crowd. Dunham rounds out the second half of the show by taking his manic purple guy Peanut on a date with Brooke Hogan, then going to a gun range with the country bumpkin puppet. Order of sympathy: Hogan; gun range guy; heckler; poor, poor therapist.
I also feel a little bad for Dunham. I'm sure he's a nice guy, and I'm sure at one point he was really excited to get into "the comedy business" and make people laugh, etc. But then he realized people love the puppets, and suddenly he had a schtick he couldn't stray away from. Now he has a show, a chance to do whatever the hell he wants, and he's stuck rehashing the same old bits, showing "behind the scenes" clips of he and his puppets in the bathroom, which is a thing no one asked for. And maybe all he wants to do is settle in on Thursday nights and catch up on Community, but he's praying most of America disagrees. So he's here, trying to get people to repeat the dead terrorist's catchphrase, "I kill you!", for a few precious minutes of primetime TV.
There will always be a need for broad comedy, that values familiarity over boundary pushing, edge, and shock. Dunham will always be Dunham; According To Jim will always be really popular for some reason. It's hard to hate The Jeff Dunham Show for being what it is, though I take comfort in the fact that it's not for me. And I'm guessing it's not for you, either. But at least it's better than Secret Girlfriend.
- Well, one: There's nowhere for this show to go. He's going to run out of puppets eventually, and when that day comes, it'll be, like, in a few hours.