Comedy Central // 2011 // 97 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Gordon Sullivan // October 13th, 2011
"I keel you!"
Somebody in the mail room has a serious sense of humor. The last time I looked at a Jeff Dunham release (Spark of Insanity), I had the unmitigated audacity to suggest that I didn't find Jeff funny (and that he was unthinkingly racist and sexist). Boy, did that tick some people off. It has been, by far, my most contentious review for DVD Verdict. I even received hate mail from a guy who claimed to have been in the audience when the show was recorded telling me how funny he and his fellow audience members found it (Of course! 'Cause if I spent the dollars to see Jeff Dunham in person, you can be sure I'd enjoy myself, too). So here I am to review Dunham's fourth Comedy Central special, Controlled Chaos. The good news is that a lot of things have improved between the last Blu-ray and Jeff Dunham: Controlled Chaos (Blu-ray). The bad news is that Jeff's comedy is not one of them.
Jeff Dunham has his schtick down to a science: open with some stand up, bring out the puppets. We get extended segments with standbys Walter, Achmed, and Peanut, and this time Dunham throws an Achmed Jr. and a miniature Jeff Dunham puppet into the mix to keep things interesting. Also, Dunham opens the show with a produced segment featuring Achmed running late to the show because he's out cruising for goats; it also features the dimwitted redneck stereotype Bubba J.
Honestly, I can forgive Jeff Dunham the racist, sexist, and homophobic overtones of the vast majority of his material. Really, I can. What I can't forgive is that his racist, sexist, and homophobic jokes are lame. He opens his show with a kind autobiographical bit about his love of ventriloquism, complete with embarrassing photos from his childhood. There's potential there, but instead of taking a kind of gentle Bill Cosby "Aren't well all funny as kids" route or a filthy Sam Kinison "I was only interested in girls and money," Dunham basically shows us his photos and lets them speak for themselves. Sure, they're kinda funny, but his comments about them are mostly factual ("This is me in seventh grade"). So, the first 10 minutes or so of the show are looking at somebody else's family album. If I wanted to look at awkward photos of geeky youngsters, the Internet has far more and far funnier examples than those that Dunham provides. At least this material avoids most of the more crass elements of his act, but then the puppets come out and it's like Dunham's id is released on screen and he gets to say whatever he wants about other races, and so on.
Obviously, it's not for me. But chances are if you're reading this you're a Dunham fan, and if that's the case I've got some good news for you. Unlike Spark of Insanity, it actually looks like someone put time and money into putting Controlled Chaos out there. Gone is the dim and noisy video of that previous effort. This time the 1.78:1 AVC encoded transfer looks like an appropriately modern production. It's only 1080i, but no significant interlacing artifacts crop up. Instead, we get well saturated colors, solid blacks, and very little noise or compression artifacts. In short, this is the best Jeff Dunham has looked on home video. The Dolby TrueHD soundtrack is a bit of overkill for a standup show, but Dunham and his puppets come through loud and clear. The extras are split pretty evenly between extra bits of comedy material, and some behind-the-scenes material. We get a short featurette on Dunham's recent globetrotting (to which he alludes in his opening bit), one on a photo shoot with Dunham, a tour of Dunham's winery (with Bubba J), and 14 minutes on the making of the Achmedmobile seen in the show's opening sequence. This last featurette shows that if he ever wanted to give up comedy, Dunham has a career waiting for him as the host of a make-it-yourself show on one of the DIY cable channels. The rest of the extras are glorified outtakes or short skits, totaling around 15 minutes of extra material. I don't know if it's a bonus or not, but you can choose whether to watch this special "unbleeped" or not.
I'll be the first to admit that Dunham's got talent -- just not for writing jokes. His vocal skills are amazing, he's obviously smart and hardworking, and he genuinely comes off as a nice guy during this set. Although I find it really easy to hate on his comedy, I'm impressed that a guy of his stature didn't coast with this set, but improved on the pretty lackluster Blu-ray of Spark of Insanity.
Jeff Dunham obviously has a lot of fans, even if I'm not one of them. They're almost certainly going to enjoy this special, which features all the old favorite puppets and some new ones. The presentation is a definite step up from his last special, and the extras feel more substantial. For fans this is an easy recommendation.
It could do with a little less control and a little more chaos, but Jeff Dunham: Controlled Chaos is not guilty.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Comedy Central
* 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080i)
* TrueHD 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 97 Minutes
Release Year: 2011
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Deleted Scenes