Vantage point

Monday, September 22, 2008

Jeff Dunham is REALLY Popular!!

Last night, Jeff Dunham performed his Spark of Insanity show at Penn State. We went there expecting a medium sized crowd. After all, how popular could he be? I thought his appeal would be of a strictly cult/niche nature. Imagine my surprise when he performed in front of an almost packed house... easily 10-12,000 people. Quite an achievement in a town with a population of just 40,000. To put it in perspective, the two previous shows I attended at the same venue, concerts by Bob Dylan and Korn, did not have more than 5,000 people in attendance. The audience for the Dunham show however was not just massive, it was also diverse and varied, with college students, middle aged folks and seniors represented in equal numbers.

For those of you who have no idea who he is, Jeff Dunham is a comedian-ventriloquist. He has a handful of dolls which he uses. The oldest, both literally and in terms of how long he has been doing it, is Walter, a bitter geriatric. But what arguably catapulted Dunham to such broad mainstream success is Achmed, the dead terrorist, whose youtube videos have about 75 million views so far (and growing). Dunham is stingingly funny, very un-PC, and quick on his feet with lots of ad-libs.

The opening act was Brian Haner, the "Guitar Guy", who has the potential to have shows of his own. He started off with a hilarious ditty "Oh Sarah", about, who else, Sarah Palin. Some helpful soul has already uploaded it on youtube. Then a long bit, interspersed with excerpts from classic songs, about his whole life so far. Most of what he performed can be seen here -

Then Dunham came on stage. He first brought out Walter. Walter was at his acerbic best, insulting Jeff, and the audience, with his signature line "shut the hell up" peppered in. After about half an hour of Walter, it was the turn of the "star" of the show, Achmed. when he introduced Achmed, the audience cheered like crazy. And Dunham noted how weird it must feel to those members of the audience who had never seen him before - that a terrorist is being cheered!

The Achmed bit was not as funny as the ones I have seen on youtube. But at least it was new material. Oh, I should mention, almost everything Dunham performed was new material, which was a bit of a relief. I had expected that we'd go to the show and basically sit through everything we have already seen on youtube many times. But that wasn't the case. So anyway, Achmed sang "Jingle Bombs" with help from the Guitar Guy, made several jokes about blowing people up, and that was that.

Found the Jingle Bombs song on youtube too -

Next it was the turn of Peanut, the most neurotic character, and Jose Jalapeno (search 'em on youtube yourself). After that came the freakiest part, and even Dunham was flummoxed by it. He ended the show with Bubba J, a drunken redneck character, that he said he was performing after a long time. So he kept a cheat-sheet ready in case he forgot some of the jokes. Turns out Bubba J is so popular at Penn State, that half the audience knew the act word-for-word. The act started with a few people saying out the punchlines, and by the end, at least 5,000 people were yelling out the lines in sync with Jeff Dunham. In the end, it was like the whole audience performing the act. Dunham might as well have stopped voicing Bubba J and just let the audience do it for him.

Whatever Dunham performed last night is going to be on his next Comedy Central christmas special, which airs in November. Do check it out.