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Jeff Dunham, Ventriloquism, and Stand-Up for Dummies

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Back in time, post pandemic social scene, Optimist Hall, Waffle House
Aerin Spruill

It’s very rare that I’m at a loss for words, but it’s only fitting that an ad-hoc social request to see ventriloquist and standup comedian Jeff Dunham would take the words right out of my mouth. 

You’re probably wondering what in the hell I was doing at a ventriloquist show. Well, so was I. You know when you’re talking with someone about something they’re excited to do, and you share in their excitement temporarily because you’re happy for them, and then all of a sudden, your empathic nature gets you slowly roped into the said event that you’re not excited about? That’s exactly how it happened.

The boyfriend and I were talking to one of our friend couples separately, and my girlfriend goes, “We’re going to see Jeff Dunham,” to which I replied excitedly and animatedly, “Yay! That’s so exciting,” all the while having absolutely NO CLUE who Jeff Dunham was. Then it comes out that he’s a whole ventriloquist! Like, who even does ventriloquism anymore? And who in the world wants to go watch that? But I tried to maintain my cool, smile intact, and judgment pushed to the back of my facial expressions.

I let out a nervous chuckle, “Oh okay then, well probably miss me with that one,” to solidify my disinterest as, “Y’all should come with us,” fell right out of their mouths. To my absolute surprise (and demise), I found out later that my boyfriend had already been conned into purchasing a pair of tickets for the both of us for $200 a pop!? I know you are lying! 

First of all, I’ve been terrified of dolls since I accidentally watched Child’s Play as a youngster thinking it was a sweet little movie about a boy and his loving doll. Yep, nightmares for decades. Second of all, no ventriloquist in the world is worth $400. No way. All I kept thinking was, “I better not see his lips move one bit! By the time I leave, that doll better damn near be real.” 

Three months later, I was still in shock that I would, in fact, be attending a ventriloquist show. And the kicker? My boyfriend COULDN’T EVEN GO! Oh my, the irony.

So here I am walking into Spectrum Center, stone-cold sober, I might add, and I’m looking around, and I realize there are very few people that look like me. Now, I can’t say that I was surprised, but in a place that big, you get just a teensy-weensy nervous that the moment you always feared, “Your kind don’t belong here,” is finally going to happen. Uh-huh, yep, this time it is that kind of rally, and the joke’s on you. 

I took a deep breath and looked at my girlfriend, who I dragged along on the couple date in my boyfriend’s place, and though she’s not Black, she had the same look of terror (not comforting at all) as we walked through the thousands of stares to our seats. After securing a Truly, I chugged that big boy as fast as I could before the lights dimmed and the “show” began. 

The combination of dramatic lights and overly done visuals followed by a smug, little fake tan orange, beady-eyed, Joel Osteen face that already knows the offering plate total at a megachurch, screamed, “Do you have a moment for our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ?!” I’m not kidding. It was like I was watching a very long episode of Righteous Gemstones.

Dunham was the opening act for himself, which seemed par for the course if you ask me, and I never even heard of this man before. During his standup, I was genuinely tickled by some of his jokes, like when he laughs about throwing his voice during a funeral as if the person lying in the casket is talking! I may be damning myself to hell by laughing but, whew, imagining that had me hysterical! 

Just when I was getting ready to let my guard down, Dunham began to transition, fiddling with the doll boxes and saying some version of, “We’re here to laugh and love each other, political correctness and comedy aren’t good bedfellows…” And there it was. AKA, “I’m going to say whatever the heck I want, and there’s no point in getting butthurt.”

I braced myself. The very first doll/character was Walter, dressed as a Secret Service agent, and the topic of conversation was, of course, politics. *Insert eye roll.* Naturally, that was followed by masks, vaccines, etc. Then, at one point, Dunham acknowledged he and his wife’s concern over a lack of natural immunity for their kids and before he could even put a period on the sentence, the entire place erupted in yips, hollers, and applause. You would have thought we were listening to a presidential speech at the RNC!

Uncomfortable. That’s the only word I can use to adequately describe the show for me, my couple’s date stand-in, and even my girlfriend who made these plans in the first place!

But I guess that’s the thing about comedy: It often is uncomfortable. It’s not one size fits all, and when jokes fall flat, the “SILENCE! Will kill you,” *in Achmed the Dead Terrorist’s voice* (yes, that was a character’s name, Google it). 

I know I’m sensitive to a fault, and that’s why so many comedians don’t do it for me, but the performative nature of ventriloquism requires genuine skill and talent. And for that, Jeff Osteen, I mean Jeff Dunham, I applaud you.  


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