Case Number 15143: Small Claims Court

JEFF DUNHAM: SPARK OF INSANITY (BLU-RAY)

Image Entertainment // 2007 // 80 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Gordon Sullivan // December 3rd, 2008

The Charge

An all-new show that is Bigger...Better...and Funnier than ever!

The Case

Is this what comedy has come to? I read on the internet that Jeff Dunham's Christmas special was the highest-rated telecast ever on Comedy Central. This is the station that regularly brings us the brilliant South Park, and it's also the network that nurtured the almost-perfect Chapelle's Show. And yet, this yahoo with a puppet gets the most viewers? That's both funnier and sadder than anything that Jeff Dunham could come up with.

I admit utter ignorance of Mr. Dunham until this Blu-ray landed at my door, but I soon discovered that his shtick is to do a few minutes of standup followed by a ventriloquist act with his so-called "suitcase posse" of characters. They include Walter, an old man; Achmed the dead terrorist; Melvin, a superhero; Peanut, a hyper creature; and José Jalapeño on a Stick.

This show, at Washington D.C.'s historic Warner Theatre, includes all of those characters. It starts out with 20 minutes of tired standup. So tired, in fact, that I seriously expected Dunham to say "I just flew in and boy are my arms tired." It's that pathetic. He makes some vaguely topical jokes about trading in his SUV for a Prius and how that's kind of gay. He also talks about his wife's chihuahua and how that makes him look gay. Then he tells some pathetic jokes about dogs, and poop, and arguments with his wife. Then, the puppets come out and the show begins. All of the puppets are based on broad stereotypes, like Walter the old guy who has bad gas, or Achmed the dead terrorist who keeps saying "Silence! I kill you." Jeff interacts with each of them for about 10 minutes apiece, and then the show is (thankfully) over.

My complaints with this show are myriad, but I'll stick with just a couple for so you can get back to doing something useful with your life, like organizing a sock drawer. The biggest problem with Jeff Dunham's show is that his jokes are so obvious it's pathetic. His old-guy puppet has bad gas? Oh, the height of comedy. Driving a powder-blue Prius with a chihuahua looks gay? Oh, ha ha ha. Terrorists are stupid and blow themselves up? I think I might die laughing. Oh wait, not at that joke. I've read funnier road signs.

My other big problem with Jeff Dunham stems from the broad, obvious comedy he attempts. Because he plays (poorly) on stereotypes, he's unthinkingly racist, sexist, and homophobic. With a more controversial comic (like Sam Kinison, for instance, who was all of those things in his comedy as well), it would be easy to attack him or her because with the quality of the jokes shows the comedian should know better. Not so with Jeff Dunham. Because of his laidback attitude and general avoidance of anything "edgy," getting pissed at him for being racist/sexist/homophobic is like getting annoyed at your dog for peeing on the carpet. You know he didn't do it on purpose: he's just not that bright.

Even though I hated this show with a fiery passion, it's not all bad. Dunham is a very talented ventriloquist and a surprisingly effective voice actor. I'd love to see him involved in animated films (so long as he had nothing to do with the script). I also happened to watch some of this show with an 8-year-old, and she found Walter infinitely amusing. I don't think she heard 90 percent of what he said, but the puppet and his motions tickled her pink. So, I say turn the sound off (becomes some of his jokes are a bit risqué) and put children in front of the puppets for an hour's entertainment.

This Blu-ray release of the show does a credible job with the material. The video has a bit of noise here and there, and a softness in spots, but for a comedy show it does just fine. The audio is likewise serviceable, with a nice balance between Jeff and his audience. There are a couple of throwaway extras (including one where audience members are asked what they would put on a stick), but "The Making of Melvin" is an interesting look at how Dunham handcrafts his puppets.

Jeff Dunham: Spark of Insanity is guilty of wasting Dunham's ventriloquist talents on tired material. The court sentences him to some kind of writing program.

Review content copyright © 2008 Gordon Sullivan; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC

Scales of Justice
Judgment: 70

Perp Profile
Studio: Image Entertainment
Video Formats:
* 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p Widescreen)

Audio Formats:
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)

Subtitles:
* None

Running Time: 80 Minutes
Release Year: 2007
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks
* "What Would You Put on a Stick?"
* "The Making of Melvin"
* "Walter's Political Announcement"

Accomplices
* IMDb
http://us.imdb.com/title/tt1143143/combined