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For his 11th special, ventriloquist Jeff Dunham has not only returned to Comedy Central, but also to the Warner Theater in Washington, DC, where Dunham filmed his second comedy special 15 years ago (spark of madness), which brought him world fame. When performing in DC, you can either lean into the political atmosphere of the nation’s Beltway crowd or avoid it entirely. Dunham chose to lean in.

The essentials: Dunham is ranked as the most popular comedy act on Comedy Central, with the Paramount-owned cable channel reporting that the ventriloquist holds the eighth most-watched special in its history. Even his NBC primetime special, Jeff Dunham’s Unhinged in Hollywood, ranks as Comedy Central’s most popular special of 2015 thanks to subsequent airings there.

No wonder he willingly left giants Netflix behind after two releases in 2017 and 2019. With his return to Comedy Central in 2020 being impromptu and the pandemic prompting him to perform an impromptu set outdoors and socially distanced, this new hour truly serves as Dunham’s proper homecoming to the network. He also appeared on FOX’s this season The Masked Singer as Pi-Rat to help promote it.

Viewers and fans will see Dunham introduce a new character, reuse two well-known favorites and, as befits all famous comedians today, offer a few words on the subject of canceling culture.

What comedy specials will it remind you of?: It’s Jeff Dunham! He’s a famous ventriloquist. Even if you’re kind of unfamiliar with Dunham, you’ve seen other ventriloquists on TV, even on TV, as they keep popping up and sometimes winning America’s Got Talent.

Memorable Jokes: Dunham’s oldest and longest companion, Walter, appears first, only the old curmudgeon now impersonates President Joe Biden.

Then comes Bubba J in a piano-accompanied segment called “Drinkin’ and Thinkin’,” which most closely resembles a flatter Southern Hick version of “Deep Thoughts.”

Dunham introduces “the new guy” Url (sounds like Earl), a young man who’s cell phone in hand, thumbs twiddling or typing, always wears earplugs, lives with his parents and has no plans to have one any time soon to get real job. When Dunham wonders how Url was able to maintain such a lifestyle, Url hits back and asks exactly what Dunham does for a living. Dunham: “What do you think this is?” Url: “Your intervention.”

Finally, we’re treated to another dose of peanut and José Jalapeño on a Stick. Except now Peanut works as HR manager, here to reprimand Dunham. Why? “Well, we’re forced to tell jokes that could be construed as offensive, racist, homophobic and even anti-Lila.”

Our opinion: So not only has Dunham heard criticism of his act, but here he tries to address it and deflect it on the pass so everyone who loves his act can keep living, laughing and loving it. Right off the bat, Dunham wants his fans to know he’s not worried about cancellation “whatever that means,” adding, “Well, you know what? I don’t care.” All he cares about is whether you show up and laugh or not. He plays with the people who pay him. Or preaches to his choir. When you’re not there? When you’re offended? Dunham is blunt: “Appearance. If you tell 100 a joke and two of those people get insulted, whose problem is that? Not the 98. It’s the two fools with no sense of humor doing their best to ruin it for the rest of us.”

Now I’m not a fool because I understand what he’s doing and I don’t claim to be offended myself or on behalf of anyone else. I want to set his record straight.

There’s a long-running popular meme version of the Vogel app and elsewhere with the tune of “conservative are getting better at comedy and it makes left-handers nervous.” Though Dunham told me last week that he only makes fun of who’s in power, his jokes show that his own sensibilities about those he’s targeting are uncompromisingly conservative or Republican is. He is allowed to present his arguments, whether he wants to stand by his words or not, or wants to pass the buck to his dummies. If you look at his choices, it’s a sliding scale in terms of who some of these jokes are accurate for.

While registered Democrats might not find anything funny about Walter as Biden, they probably still understand what’s funny about the current president’s aging and dwindling skills (see: Reagan jokes in the 1980s). To dwell on Hunter Biden while avoiding the Trump kids, or to joke about Nancy Pelosi’s looks, or to suggest “you don’t live that long as a former boyfriend of the Clintons,” all of those jokes only end up on one page of the partisan Gear. When Jose suggests, “I came here on the bus from Martha’s Vineyard,” the line causes a great laugh in the room. At whose expense? Not the Republican governors of Florida or Texas behind that bait and switch, that’s for sure. If you want to be political, that’s fine, just own it. But when another Conservative Boomer makes a joke about the participation trophy without addressing the elephants in the room who are sort of conservatives waving their own flags as participation trophies, I’m just saying. Sigh.

The transwitzers are a different matter. They come across as less hateful and more disrespectful or confusing. Why does Joes identify as a cucumber? Because it’s a particularly low-hanging fruit?! Why does Url suggest that it’s so easy for Dunham or anyone to change pronouns and go into a woman’s bathroom? It plays with fear where transphobia hangs to dry.

Having Peanut as deputy critic as head of human resources (although Dunham needs to remind Peanut that the dummies aren’t human) is a start, at least for recognizing that he’s pushing boundaries and responsible for it as the voice behind the sometimes obnoxious dummies .

Our appeal: SKIP IT. At this point, however, it doesn’t matter what I say. As Dunham told Decider, part of the reason he left Netflix to return to Comedy Central was “because you’ll never see me on Netflix unless you look for it yourself.” On Comedy Central (and Paramount+ in a few months) Dunham’s audience will always find him.

Sean L. McCarthy edits the comedy beat for his own digital newspaper, The comic of the comic; before that for real newspapers. Based in NYC but travels everywhere for news: ice cream or news. He also tweets @thecomicscomic and podcasts half-hour episodes featuring comedians revealing origin stories: Comic’s comic presents last things first.

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