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Ventriloquism Enthusiasts, You’ve Bested Us Again!

October 25, 2009

Although ventriloquist Jeff Dunham seems to be everywhere recently, you’ve probably seen him more in the past than you ever even realized. After all, the journeyman voice-thrower has appeared on every “talent showcase” in the country over the past twenty years, including Star Search, Hollywood Squares and The Tonight Show (Johnny Carson’s, no less).

His first solo stand-up showcase was on 2003’s Comedy Central Presents, and over the course of the next five years he’d go on to release three more comedy specials, which was apparently enough to make him one of the most famous comedians in America. Forbes Magazine named him the number three top earning comedian in America, behind Chris Rock and Jerry Seinfeld, and his special Spark of Insanity won him the best customer reviews of any Amazon-sold DVD in 2008 — earning him a deal with Comedy Central that included a 60-city tour, more DVDs, another comedy special, consumer products and a series appropriately called The Jeff Dunham Show.

Oh Comedy Central, you may have thought at the time, how cute and foolish to bank your fortunes on a ventriloquist.

Smart move. Because on Thursday night, the debut episode of The Jeff Dunham Show became the most-watched series premiere in Comedy Central history, drawing an audience of 5.3 million, with repeats garnering another 7.9 million viewers.

Never mind that the reviews for Dunham’s show were awful. The Hollywood Reporter called it a racist, homophobic “train wreck.” Yahoo called it “laugh-free comedy for dummies,” and the Chicago Sun-Times chimed in with “at best, you won’t laugh. At worst, you will weep for the  half-hour you have lost and destroy all the puppets in your home.”

The joke’s clearly on the critics, because the silent majority continues to speak volumes for Dunham. The number three top earning comedian in America? Really? That doesn’t just suddenly happen out of nowhere. That’s a clandestine climb that no one (no one I know, at least) seemed to notice. Sure, in retrospect we should have noticed;  Comedy Central did certainly seem to be airing his past specials with an unnatural frequency. Now we know why: millions of people were watching.

Where are these people? Who are these people? When did ventriloquism become this huge? It’s not just Dunham; you may recall (or not) that Vegas ventriloquist Terry Fator won season two of America’s Got Talent — which you voted on, America — and he’s currently sold out night after night at his ongoing stint at the Las Vegas Hilton. Simon Cowell even appeared on Oprah and called Fator “One of the two most talented people on the planet.” Was the other Dunham?

I’m perplexed. Has this vaudeville and Catskills-born comedy device really made a comeback? And where are you, Dunham fans? Who are you? Throw off your robes, break the pacts your secret societies charge you to uphold and explain this to me — because it’s currently the greatest mystery in the entertainment universe to me. Why is it that Arrested Development and 30 Rock fail while the masses flock to a man whose comedy partner is his own hand? I’m willing to listen. I really am. Lay it on me — because I’m clearly missing something. And I like to believe I’m no dummy.

One Comment
  1. October 27, 2009 10:33 am

    I am not really a fan, but I do admit that I tuned in to see what the hell he was going to do with a series. I can never tell if he is really a racist-homophobe-sexist-agist (what other -ist am I missing?) or if he is doing a really convincing job of making fun of them. In any case, I usually can’t watch for long.

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