At the beginning of his show, comedian/ventriloquist Jeff Dunham admits that the cancellation of live events during the pandemic has pretty much been the first time he has not performed live since he started out in third grade. Finally then, after two years at home with his partner, dog and two young boys, the comedian is back out on the road and his “Seriously!?” Tour arrives in Leeds.
Before bringing out all of his favourite puppet pals along with a new character for the tour, Dunham spends the first thirty minutes of the show talking about the last two years of his life. This portion of the show comes more in the style of a chat about life, lockdown and his family rather than the usual stand-up formula and it’s certainly an interesting insight into his life away from the limelight.
As well as the chaos of bringing up two twin boys, Dunham had to contend with a parent in a care home, life with a vegan wife and plenty of moments where the two boys are starting to ask those awkward life questions. What this provides Dunham with is an absolute treasure trove of comical stories to pick from along with some heartwarming stories about his family life.
Of course, a huge cheer goes up as the comic asks if we want him to bring out some of his pals but, before the second section of the show starts, there is a warning from Dunham that some people might find some of the routines not to their taste but to hang in there. Concerned that political correctness is ruining comedy, there can be very few people who disagree with him when he asks that we all get back to having a sense of humour again.
The second portion of the show sees Dunham bring out four fan favourites and a new character URL (pronounced Earl). Now here is where the show starts to stutter a bit partly because, if you’ve seen Dunham before, while there is no doubt that there aren’t many ventriloquists of Dunham’s calibre, the jokes and routines are fairly hit and miss.
Let’s start with the negatives. Firstly, it feels like there are far too many political-based gags about the usual targets – Biden, Trump and Putin – which are all fairly predictable and at times get nothing more than a lukewarm response from the crowd. Yes, turning one of your characters (Walter the old man) into a Joe Biden puppet is a clever move, but there are times during the routine when, rather than more Biden jokes, it would have been nice to have had the old Walter back.
Elsewhere, Bubba J, the hillbilly provides the chance for a few unsurprising gags while the introduction of Jose Jalapeno, a talking pepper on a stick, during the final section of the show leaves you feeling like so much more could have been done with a Mexican character.
On the plus side, before we get onto the highlights, there are plenty of moments throughout the night where Dunham is clearing working on the spot with whatever direction the conversation heads. His ad-libbing in character is absolutely genius and the work of a man who is the master of his art. Even when it leaves Dunham laughing at his own jokes, it shows someone is who extremely comfortable going with the flow.
As for the highlights, the new act, URL, a teenager with a mobile phone obsession, is like the puppet version of Harry Enfield’s Kevin The Teenager. Socially awkward and unbelievably ignorant, the jokes might have been fairly easy to see coming but there were plenty of them. Much the same could be said about the “headline” act, Peanut. A purple, hyperactive puppet whose sole purpose is to annoy Dunham. Again, there is nothing particularly original about the jokes but there is just something about the green-haired puppet who has been with Dunham from day one that makes it impossible to dislike him.
Which just leaves the puppet who gets the biggest cheer of the night, Achmed the Dead Terrorist. A ridiculously unPC creation, Achmed is definitely the highlight of the night for many thousands of fans and with good reason. A foolish character with a dumb catchline and a larger than life personality, his appearance is the moment many fans have been looking forward to. From interacting with audience members to a barrage of close-to-the-knuckle routines, Achmed sees Dunham in full flow and, unsurprisingly, is the pick of the crop tonight.
Overall then, at two hours and 45 mins long, it does feel like some trimming away of those moments that don’t hit the spot is needed. Thankfully though, there are just enough real belly laugh moments to make this worth attending if you’re a fan of Dunham and his gang of foolish wooden pals, just don’t expect to be rolling in the aisles for every moment of those two and a half hours.