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Comedy/Ventriloquism Review: Jeff Dunham’s “Identity Crisis” Tour

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Of all the people to be suspected of phoning it in when he’s not on television, Jeff Dunham may be considered a prime suspect. However, seeing him on his “Identity Crisis” tour on October 10 at the Silver Spurs Arena in Kissimmee, FL, proved that his live shows are more fertile ground for personal expression than any of his Comedy Central specials (and subsequent DVDs) have shown.

For those who may now know yet—and there are still quite a few, since the revelation caught the Kissimmee audience off-guard—Jeff Dunham is a recent divorcee. He and his wife, Paige, separated in November 2008, with their divorce being finalized this past May. Rumors abound as to what happened and why, but the reasons why are immaterial when watching Dunham exorcise the ordeal in front of a sold-out crowd of several thousand.

Sure, Dunham could have chosen to coast on his laurels and give the crowd what they came to see, hiding his own sadness and anger about what’s transpired in his personal life. To an extent, he did that with Achmed the Dead Terrorist, Peanut, and Jose (Jalapeno on a Stick). With those personalities, Dunham pleased the crowd with their favorites, throwing in a few new gags to keep the crowd on their toes but still rolling. In that respect, Dunham is a master of knowing and reading his crowd, knowing full well when and how to utilize the standards that many paid to see.

However, it was clear right off the bat that this would be a different experience from what his fans were used to. Without going into great detail (which wasn’t necessary, really), Dunham revealed to the crowd that he was a recent divorcee. The mood immediately altered; while still as lighthearted as Dunham could manage, it was clear that he was also a man who had some feelings to let out of his system. He was not being savage about it, but it was clear that Dunham still harbored some ill will.

Maybe it was toward his now-ex wife, maybe it was toward the situation as a whole. Dunham was unwilling to go into great detail in any form, but his emotions were clear. The brightest example of this was with the character of Walter, the old curmudgeon who hates his own marriage. The two discussed Dunham’s divorce, with Dunham hesitant to talk about it after he divulged what was going on to the crowd and left it at that. Walter, however, pushed the subject only to ask Dunham what freedom was like and even to declare to Dunham that, “I never thought I’d say this, but you’re my hero!” The routine felt familiar, but a new edge had been skated along.

Dunham also told the story of how and why he appeared in the movie Dinner For Schmucks, and how he was asked to create a new female doll just for the role. Instead of being a one-off creation for a movie role, however, Dunham warned the crowd that he was trying out some new material…with a new character, Diane. He didn’t have the luxury of doing such in a small club, he said—he had to do it in front of a crowd of several thousand. So, as his “encore” (there was no real break from the end of the show other than him saying goodnight), he brought out Diane. The material skirted between stereotypical bitter old socialite jokes and discussions between Dunham and Diane about Dunham’s own failed marriage.

In name, the “Identity Crisis” tour is an obvious play on Dunham’s predilection for making a living as a ventriloquist, giving voice to several “personalities.” What was completely unexpected, however, was that Dunham is facing an “Identity Crisis” of his own in the wake of living through the ending of a 14-year marriage. With all his success and near-rabid fandom, Dunham opted not to take the easy way out in his live shows. Instead, Dunham gave artistic expression to his own personal ordeal, using his various creations as hilarious facets of his own voice. In the most unlikely of scenarios with the most unlikely of means, Jeff Dunham created art—the expression of emotion through the means of human creation—by making a crowd laugh with a bunch of dolls.

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About Michael Melchor

  • Alice Chumard

    Jeff Dunham is my favorite comedian of all time. Especially working on Wall Street when there is so much pressure, I love to watch the antics of Jeff, Peanut Walter and the gang. The last time I saw Jeff was at the Allentown Fairgrounds over Labor Day Weekend when he introduced his new female puppet. Laughter is the best medicine especially in this economy. WHEN IS HE COMING TO MADISON SQUARE GARDEN??????

    Regards,
    Alice Chumard
    [Personal contact info deleted]

  • Cindy Elia

    I was just wondering if Jeff will be doing some Canadian tours on the east end of Canada. I live between Toronto and Montreal. I love his style and would love to see him in person.

  • nickthompson

    JEFF DUNHAM IS MY FAV NEW COMIC AND OUT OIF ALL CHARCTORS ACHEMED,WALTER HAVE TO BE MY FAVS.

  • Bruce Dynes

    Saw Jeff last nite in Minneapolis. His discussing the divorce seemed to focus on how he was handling it. in his dialog at the beggining, along with photos of early childhood that are a hoot, he told some stories about his daughters. Thought he handled the divorce thing well. Think about this. If you make your living talking to yourself in a different voice and personality, well, I wonder vat Sigmon would say.

  • Stephanie Woytkiw

    I just saw Jeff’s Edmonton performance of this, and I must say I was so impressed, even from the nosebleed section. This is a wonderful way for him to cope, given what he has at his disposal. Life happens, and I admire Jeff all the more as an artist, and cannot wait for the DVD release of “Identity Crisis” so that everyone else can see what I saw tonight (or in part at least). Good job, Jeff!

  • Betty

    Just saw Jeff in Orlando–this is one talented young man.
    Enjoyed the entire show.
    Thanks, Jeff for a great evening. Keep entertaning us !!