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.