Thursday, September 17, 2009

In Defense of Dunham

There is much debate in the stand-up comedy community about who is and is not a shitty comedian. Larry the Cable Guy, Dane Cook, and Carlos Mencia are all obvious and popular choices for the "worst comedian" title. Another performer who often gets thrown into this debate is Jeff Dunham. I am not a fan, but I'm about to defend the man, anyway.

I don't find Jeff Dunham funny, but, at the same time, I hardly consider him a comedian. He's a ventriloquist. All modern ventriloquists tell jokes. What else are they going to talk about with a piece of cloth and wood? Telling corny jokes through puppets is a tradition that goes back to Vaudeville, and these performers were and are still called ventriloquists. Even if stand-up comedy fans hate to admit it, Jeff Dunham is a skilled ventriloquist. I may not be into ventriloquism, but many people are, and to label a ventriloquist a comedian leaves out the actual attraction (ventriloquism).

Does Dunham present himself as a comedian? Sure. Comedy is in right now, so he shifts the focus a little. Big deal. It's show business. (Clich
é alert!) When Comedy Central calls, is Dunham going to go into my long rant about the difference between ventriloquists and stand-up comedians? Of course not. I do not intend to dismiss the comedy element, but anyone watching can see his passion for ventriloquism. I don't share this passion, but I respect him for putting it out there, especially when so many people turn up their noses at the craft.

I've never heard accusations of Jeff Dunham stealing jokes. I've never heard him labeled a phony or an asshole or a douchebag. I find his act to be generally harmless and based entirely around performing ventriloquism (which he's quite good at) and the jokes that go along with it. Therefore, because he is a ventriloquist first and a comedian second, because he writes his own material no matter how unfunny, I argue the sins he has made against comedy are far more forgivable than Carlos Mencia or Larry the Cable Guy.

I am officially leaving him out of all of my future conversations about shitty comedians. Jeff Dunham, you are okay in my book. But still unfunny.

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