Jeff Dunham’s latest comedy special “Jeff Dunham: Beside Himself” was released on Netflix on Sept. 24, keeping the old puppets that fans love while introducing Dunham’s new puppet, a satirical vessel used to comment on President Trump.
The special, filmed at the American Airlines Center in Dunham’s hometown of Dallas, Texas, continues to bring electric energy to his comedy special series. Dunham, a stand-up comic-ventriloquist hybrid, uses his puppet’s different and unique personalities — all equipped with a diverse set of material and perspectives unique to their themes — to create funny and sometimes risqué, self-deprecating and observational comedy.
The act begins with around 10 minutes of Dunham’s stand-up before getting into the puppets. Dunham uses this time to make a few jokes about himself and his life, but more importantly to establish the basis for his self-deprecating humor. The first 10 minutes feed material to the puppets, who will reference these 10 minutes with a unique joke throughout the show.
Dunham’s comedy makes the puppets the center of the show. Often, Dunham brings in the same group of puppets throughout all of his shows, rotating a few out to keep the comedy fresh and often adding a new puppet to his roster during every special.
Like most recent comedy specials, Dunham doesn’t shy away from topics in the political sphere; his diversity in puppets allows him to comment on almost every issue in a unique and funny way. His clever solution to commenting on Trump is his newest puppet, Larry.
“I don’t want to create division, I don’t want to pick sides, but you can’t ignore the elephant in the room,” Dunham said before introducing Larry. “What could be the worst possible job to have in the White House right now under Donald Trump?”
Larry is the personal advisor to President Donald Trump, a nervous, jittery, chain-smoker who gets fired and rehired every week. Dunham uses Larry to comment on Trump’s presidency in a moderate way — hoping to avoid stepping on either side of the aisle — and successfully criticize the truth of Trump’s unpredictable actions. With Larry, Dunham effectively wisecracks the absurdity of Trump’s tweeting habits, Trump’s marriage and the changes in his administration, claiming that Trump has “Firing Fridays” akin to “Taco Tuesdays.”
Dunham’s act includes staple puppets such as Walter; Bubba J; Achmed the Dead Terrorist; Peanut; and José, the Jalapeño on a Stick. Walter is an old white man behind on the times. Bubba J is a trailer trash, redneck puppet; Dunham uses his stupidity very cleverly to land a number of hilarious incest jokes. Achmed the Dead Terrorist is a corpse of a Jihaddist who is used to make insensitive jokes about dead people and terrorist threats.
Peanut’s character is an uncontrollable eccentric muppet, and he is the highlight of the show aside from Larry. The energy that Dunham brings to the stage with Peanut’s physicality and expeditious quips is unparalleled to any comedy act. Although Achmed was the most controversial of Dunham’s puppets, recent politics shift that title to José, the Jalapeño on a Stick — a Mexican stereotype who comes in during Peanut’s set. Peanut insensitively makes fun of José, while José shoots back with hilarious comments against Peanut. With three different personalities and voices, this iconic combination makes for some of the best jokes of the special.
One largely consistent political joke that Dunham uses throughout the special is generalization of white men as bigots. With Dunham being in this category, these jokes seem to be the only concrete political stance that he takes, constantly making fun of the absurdity of the act of generalizing white people’s opinions as racist and solely conservative.
I had the honor of seeing this particular set live at the Pennysaver Amphitheater at Bald Hill in Sept. 2018. Dunham’s goofy cast of unique and diverse characters is what draws his comedy together. If you’re creeped out by puppets, then I would avoid this special; however, for anybody looking for a unique take on stand-up comedy or any fans of Dunham’s past specials, I would recommend “Jeff Dunham: Beside Himself” out now on Netflix.