Just thought Jeff Dunham's publicists would want you to know...
The ventriloquist now has sold more than seven million DVDs worldwide of his four current titles -- "Arguing with Myself," "Spark of Insanity," "A Very Special Christmas Special" and his Comedy Central series, "The Jeff Dunham Show" -- with a fifth one (his fourth special, "Controlled Chaos") to be released in September 2011.
Dunham also has been the top-grossing live comedy act on the road for three years in a row in North America (and the past two years globally).
So stick your hand in a puppet and make it say offensive things you'd never ever dream of saying or believing yourself if you want to be tops in comedy in 2011, people.
You may know that Jeff Dunham is making more money than any other stand-up comedian working the road today. Except Dunham is a ventriloquist.
You knew that, though, right? ABC News profiled Dunham last night for Nightline, and you may learn a few other things about him. I knew that he already was making millions a decade ago, and that YouTube multiplied that ten and twenty times over. I didn't know that he had a workshed in his tour bus. Dunham also explains, once again, that his critics are not only missing the point, but criticizing the thing that his audiences love the most about his act. What that says about him, and us, however, is worth considering for more than a moment.
In the meantime, roll the clip!
When I heard the ventriloquist Jeff Dunham was penning his autobiography and doing it with the voices of his dummies, I wondered how in the heck that would translate to print. Well, not to worry, necessarily. Because Dunham also is releasing an audiobook narrated by him of the memoir, "All By My Selves: Walter, Peanut, Achmed and Me." Both the book and audiobook come out Nov. 2.
Here's an audio player in which you can hear a few snippets from the tome, in which Dunham reveals why he wasn't so embarrassed to have all of his high-school yearbook photos include him with a dummy, the moment he moved out of Waco, Texas, and the origin of Achmed's eyeballs. Take a listen.
Dunham is in the midst of a North American arena tour that runs through January 2011. His publicist notes that he has sold more than 6 million DVDs. That's a lot, people. You already can pre-order the book via Amazon.com.
What happens when you take a French film, get Andy Borowitz to adapt a contemporary American screenplay for it, have Jay Roach direct it, and cast Paul Rudd and Steve Carell as the leads, with Rudd playing that "Paul Rudd" character and Carell playing that shades of "Michael Scott" character? It's called Dinner for Schmucks, and it hits a cinema near you this July.
The plot is pretty straightforward, if you read the title and know what a schmuck is. Do you know what a schmuck is? Do Zach Galifianakis and Jeff Dunham both count equally as schmucks? This trailer also features Kristen Schaal, Andrea Savage, Larry Wilmore and Ron Livingston. That should be more than a satisfactory amount of information before you watch the darned clip. So watch the darned clip!
Does everybody remember way back to last year, when ventriloquist Jeff Dunham went from being a multi-millionaire that the mainstream media didn't seem to know much about, to a multi-millionaire that the media and the people with Internet access couldn't stop reminding us about? Oh, you remember. Turns out someone decided this would be an appropriate time to make a documentary about the world of ventriloquism, and on April 6, 2010, you can watch that documentary from the comfort of wherever you stick your DVDs. Just don't move your lips.
I'm No Dummy features Jeff Johnson, famous for starring as a ventriloquist in the 1970s TV show Soap, as well as Lynn Trefzger. And, oh, yeah, Jeff Dunham. Roll the clip! (Not the lip)
I'm beginning to understand how someone like Nikki Finke can become an Internet crank who stays inside like a hermit and yells TOLDJA! everytime her scoops get re-reported by the "mainstream" media.
For the dozen or so of you who read The Comic's Comic on a daily basis, my apologies in advance for publicizing my annoyance. But really. If your name isn't Jeff Dunham, or someone who worked on his Comedy Central "sitcom" this fall, then you read about Dunham's puppet prank series getting cancelled -- or failing to get renewed -- on my site a week ago. Perhaps because it was Dec. 23, the mainstream media couldn't follow through with their own reports until after Christmas and the weekend. And so it was today, the following Tuesday morning, that The Hollywood Reporter reached out and got Comedy Central to confirm my report. No link. Then the New York Times cited THR's report. Again, no link. I know they know about my site, because they've followed my scoops on TV comedy before. And Dave went to the same college I did, so he must be a good kid and it couldn't be his fault. He did give me a ReTweet today, for what that's worth. The New York Times and the trades just don't want to acknowledge that a lone Internet journalist could be scooping them on a regular basis. Yes. That must be it. Oh, no. I have become that crank already, haven't I? Lord, help me be less cranky in 2010. Oh, I'll still be giving you comedy scoops. Just with less crank. That's my hopeful promise to you. Now, where was I?
I first reported on Monday that I was hearing whispers that Comedy Central might not be renewing The Jeff Dunham Show, the ventriloquist's clunky sitcom that had Dunham and his puppets heckling "real people" in the "real world." And now I'm hearing that, despite what Comedy Central told me, Dunham's writing staff found out a week ago that the show wasn't getting picked up after its season finale aired Dec. 10. Clear out your desks (wait, they already had cleared out their desks, having completed the first-season work months ago). Nothing to see here. Please move along. The show got boffo ratings for Comedy Central when it debuted -- earning as many or more viewers in its Thursday-night slot as Emmy darling 30 Rock, which Dunham also appeared in an episode of this fall. But ratings slipped off, and there was quite a backlash, that even included bad press within a New York Times profile of the ventriloquist!
Not that Dunham will be crying too much about this setback. After all, he grossed $38 million just in ticket sales last year, plus millions more in merchandise sales. And he'll be performing in ARENAS through the South -- Birmingham, Nashville, Atlanta, Knoxville, Greenville and Charlotte -- to close out his 2009 tour, starting Dec. 26. UPDATED: It could very well turn out that Dunham himself would rather go about his rather lucrative business with the fans in person than spend time on a second TV season dealing with critics who don't seem to like him very much at all.
On Monday, Dunham shared on Twitter his annual holiday message with Peanut (same as last year, it's a tradition?) Dunham also released this holiday greeting he filmed with "Peanut." Roll it!
Maybe Comedy Central hasn't announced the renewal publicly because of the holidays, or because Dunham is featured on the Jokes.com home page today and his 2008 Christmas special, which earned 6.6 million viewers for the network when it debuted, is re-airing this weekend.
In this new spoof on Funny or Die, comedian Rob Lathan plays a ventriloquist named Derf Junham who experiences a moral crisis during a routine with his terrorist puppet Talibob.
The timing on this is spooky, because I heard multiple reports late Friday that Comedy Central wasn't going forward with a second season of The Jeff Dunham Show -- Comedy Central's people denied that any decision had been made when I put the question directly to them -- but perhaps the backlash is being heard. Well, we know the backlash is being heard because The New York Times has written multiple pieces trying to explain Dunham's popularity to the "rest" of America. Somebody tell Gabe at Videogum that DING DONG! his nemesis may soon be defeated (well, not defeated so much as deflated). In the meantime, roll the clip of "The Derf Junham Show."
In case you missed it Sunday, the New York Times got Nov. 1 confused for April 1, because the Arts section and the Sunday magazine both devoted plenty of ink to the comedy business. Let's see how they did!
In Arts, reporter Eric Konigsberg used a profile of comedian Kumail Nanjiani to give us a look not only into Nanjiani's path toward stand-up stardom (Pakistan-Iowa-Chicago-NYC-and beyond?), but also into New York City's thriving comedy scene as a place where talents such as Nanjiani, Jenny Slate, Kristen Schaal, Donald Glover and Zach Galifianakis can shine. The profile is the mainbar, with two sidebars dedicated to the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre and to Lisa Leingang, Comedy Central's new executive in charge of scouting and programming NYC-based talent.
Things we learn in the Nanjiani profile -- he has a deal with NBC to develop a pilot based on his personal life, and Comedy Central has ordered six additional episodes of Michael and Michael Have Issues, the meta-com starring Michael Ian Black and Michael Showalter (and featuring Nanjiani, who also writes for their show). Nanjiani clarified to me that Comedy Central hasn't yet renewed MMHI; just the script order. Although seeing the network relaunch MMHI's debut season alongside new episodes of South Park appears to be a sign that they want the show to catch on.
Several weekly independent showcases also got shout-outs in various forms in the profile. You can see them on my own Google calendar, too; Sundays, Eugene Mirman's Tearing the Veil of Maya at Union Hall in Park Slope; Mondays, Leo Allen's Whiplash at the UCB in Chelsea; Tuesdays, Seth Herzog's Sweet at The Slipper Room in the Lower East Side; Wednesdays, Max Silvestri, Gabe Liedman and Jenny Slate's Big Terrific at Cameo in Williamsburg. Bobby Tisdale's "Wards of Merkin" at Word bookstore in Greenpoint also gets a mention.
There's a sidebar on enrolling for improv and sketch classes at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre, which has spawned lots of talent over the past decade -- and there's a slideshow online of eight current students at the UCB who happened to be around during the profiling. Nice, albeit random touch. But where's the love for The People's Improv Theater (aka The PIT)? Owner Ali Farahnakian (former writer, SNL) and Kevin Allison (The State) are teachers there, and that's where Kristen Schaal and Kurt Braunohler, as well as Ellie Kemper (now seen on The Office!) have performed on house teams.
And in the other sidebar, a brief Q&A with Comedy Central's Lisa Leingang reveals that she'd love to figure out how to get more people to watch and love Eugene Mirman, Greg Giraldo and Daniel Kitson.
Which is a good a segue if any to talk about the NYT's Sunday Magazine profile of Jeff Dunham, who has gotten more people to tune into Comedy Central than any other comedian. If you're not yet jaded about show business (and it appears that the writer of this profile, Jon Mooallem, has his own reservations about his subject matter!), then reading this will make you turn green -- whether that's out of jealousy, or out of nausea is for your own nervous system to decide. Too many nuanced phrases and quotes that I could pull out and share with you, but really, it's best for you to read the whole thing. I will, however, make note of a few figures that jumped out at me:
Before we get into the review, I think it's very important to point out that Jeff Dunham knows what he's doing, and has been doing it for a long time. How long? Long enough to perform and do panel with Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show back in 1990. Let's take a look at that, shall we?
So that was Dunham 19 years ago, showing off his ventriloquism skills with his star attraction sidekick, cranky old Walter. And this month, in addition to his new Comedy Central show debuting tonight, The Jeff Dunham Show, he'll also be appearing on an episode of NBC's 30 Rock.
Reading the reviews for his show, however, has been highly amusing (though perhaps not to Dunham himself), as reporter after reporter has acknowledged they are dumbstruck by it all, either because they had not been aware of Dunham's popularity before, because they're not fans of ventriloquism, or both. They're quick to mention how Dunham's 2008 Christmas special was Comedy Central's most-watched show ever, with 6.6 million viewers -- some also mention the hundreds of millions of YouTube views, the four million DVDs sold, and the success of his live touring. But when you read the reviews, it's as if the critics are saying either a) 6.6 million fans couldn't be wrong, could they?, or b) conversely, 6.6 million fans must be dummies themselves because they're dead wrong.
It's not as if ventriloquism or puppetry can't be a hit. Edgar Bergen did it generations ago with Charlie McCarthy (no relation!). On the trippy soap-opera parody of the 1970s, Soap, the characters had fun not knowing what to make of ventriloquist Jay Johnson and his sidekick, Bob (check out this scene, for example). There have been plenty of other success stories: From Senor Wences to Sherri Lewis and Lamb Chop, Willie Tyler and Lester, and 2007 winner of America's Got Talent, Terry Fator.
So why do critics seem to have a problem with Jeff Dunham? Let's roll a preview clip of his Comedy Central series, in which Dunham explains in his debut's monologue to the audience, "We took the little guys out in the real world -- real life, real situations, with real people -- and we saw what would happen." You mean things like this?
Seeing Chris Rock's most recent HBO special -- filmed in England and South Africa in addition to here at home in New York City -- gave us a sense of how American stand-up comedians are going global. Is it the Internet? It's the Internet, right? Fans cited YouTube and Facebook in how they got to know and love ventriloquist Jeff Dunham, in this new video documenting Dunham's weeklong tour across Europe:
Dunham next tours through Canada, where Dane Cook also has been playing to arena-sized audiences. Here's a Bubble Tweet he sent out before performing last night for 18,000 fans in Edmonton.
You can quibble all you want about Jeff Dunham and the relative credibility as ventriloquists within the comedy community. But when I read the latest issue of Time magazine, which devotes a one-page profile to Dunham, I couldn't help but notice when he said that as a club comic, working four nights a week, 40 weeks a year:
"I was making between $600,000 and a million a year. I knew if we could let the masses see it and not just the comedy-club fans, then it would explode."
That's right. Jeff Dunham was making millions before "the masses" (read: the mainstream media) cared about him. How many other professions in the performing arts get such short shrift? Oh, also, file this throwaway comment under things Shecky Magazine might say for $100: Why did the reporter tell us that at 200 million views, Dunham's bit with "Achmed the terrorist" has been viewed "more even than footage of style-deprived singer Susan Boyle"??? Considering Dunham's video has been online for more than a year, and Boyle's barely a month, we should certainly hope the former has more views than the latter, or else why are you profiling him in your newsweekly magazine?!
Today we have multiple tidings of joy to relay your way...
HBO has heard us and listened, granting us with a second season of Eastbound & Down. What will Kenny Powers do next? We'll find out in 2010.
Comedy Central has announced that it's next roast "victim" will be Joan Rivers, taping in Los Angeles on July 26, and airing on Aug. 9, 2009.
Comedy Central also has announced a deal with Levity Entertainment to release 12 stand-up specials over the next two years. The deal includes orders for Christopher Titus, Gabriel Iglesias, Pablo Francisco, Jim Breuer, Mitch Fatel, Pete Correale airing this year, and six more to shoot this year and air in 2010, including ventriloquist Jeff Dunham. It's all business. Longtime Levity client Dunham recorded the highest ratings ever for Comedy Central with last year's "Jeff Dunham's Very Special Christmas Special." A couple of weeks ago, the network inked Dunham individually to a deal that included not just another special and DVD, but also consumer products (his fans love to buy his puppets) and a new series(?). All of this also means the network is moving ahead with Levity on a fourth season of Live at Gotham, the showcase for up-and-coming stand-ups (also read as comedians who have yet to appear on Comedy Central in a half-hour or hour). Casting is happening now for the new Gotham lineups.
And Netflix announced it has lined up the first nine seasons of South Park for immediate streaming by its subscribers. Which sounded great until I remembered that you can watch any past episode of South Park already via the show's South Park Studios site.
Is it too early to celebrate Christmas? Yes. It's not even Thanksgiving week yet, and already Comedy Central is rolling out Jeff Dunham's Very Special Christmas Special, which debuts at 9 p.m. tonight. This is a big week for Dunham. Not only does he have the TV special, but he also has the DVD version out on Tuesday, and this weekend, he'll go to Las Vegas for The Comedy Festival: Dunham plays the Colosseum at Caesars Palace on Saturday, Nov. 22. Watch the trailer for a peek at how Dunham and his dummies celebrate the holidays.
More clips and info on how to buy the DVD, after the jump.
The third season of Comedy Central's Live at Gotham -- the show that replaced Premium Blend as the showcase for up-and-coming stand-up comedians and put them in a more intimate comedy club setting at NYC's Gotham Comedy Club -- debuts tonight at 10 p.m. after a not-so coincidental rebroadcast of Jeff Dunham's special, "Arguing With Myself." That's because Dunham hosts the premiere, with routines from JR Brow, Erik Griffin, Jared Logan, Anjelah Johnson, Michael Palascak and Lenny Marcus. I showed you a clip from Johnson earlier. Here is a teaser clip:
More teaser clips from each of the other performers, as well as your host, after the jump!
Less than one week before a new crop of comedians get to add a Comedy Central TV credit to their bios as Live At Gotham tapes next week at Gotham Comedy Club. I'll have more info on who's performing when later. For now, though, I can tell you who'll be your hosts for the evenings.
Comedy Central's annual "Stand-Up Showdown" airs today, rebroadcasting the top 20 stand-up specials as voted online by fans over the past month. It's airing now!
The full schedule/countdown...which began at 11:30 a.m. today...(with applicable taping season)
20) Loni Love (season 11)
19) Doug Benson (season 8)
18) Chelsea Handler (season 11)
17) Steve Byrne (season 10)
16) Maria Bamford (season 11)*
15) Rich Vos (season 7)*
14) Dane Cook (season 3)
13) Stephen Lynch (season 12)**
12) Mike Birbiglia (season 10)*
11) Demetri Martin (season 8)
10) Mitch Hedberg (season 1)
9) Jim Gaffigan (season 3)
8) Pablo Francisco (season 4)
7) Kyle Cease (season 10)
6) Mitch Fatel (season 11)
5) Lewis Black (season 6)*
4) Frank Caliendo (season 8)
3) Lisa Landry (season 11)
2) Josh Sneed (season 11)
1) Jeff Dunham (his Spark of Insanity hourlong special)
* These comedians have multiple half-hour CCPs. Rich Vos has one upcoming this season.
** Stephen Lynch is the only one from this current crop of CCPs to make the list. Which, of course, is unfair to the many comedians this season who also taped with Lynch but haven't gotten on the air yet. Then again, this whole "showdown" is essentially just a test to see which comedian wants to mobilize his or her fans to vote early and often for them to get an extra TV airing. Really, that's it. No big cash prize. No trophy. But it certainly got us paying attention to Comedy Central on a Sunday in January, right? Of course, if I were one of the comedians who made the top 20, I'd probably still feel pretty good about it (while also looking at the other comedians who got listed ahead of me and behind me and wondering where I stood, which is why you have to realize and remind yourself that this isn't a "showdown" at all).
Something about this review of Jeff Dunham in Monday's Dallas Morning News made me stop and think before continuing to read onward. Actually, several somethings. Starting from the first words, actually. "Jeff Dunham's rare and exquisite comedy..." (italics mine). OK. Exquisite is certainly a word a reviewer can use at his or her discretion and I cannot quibble with that, per se. Rare, though? Not sure how Dunham's ventriloquism is exactly rare, but, eh, let's move on to the next sentence. "He's one of three ventriloquists, all from Dallas, who have only recently invaded the national consciousness." Italics again are mine. Now we've got some quibbling to do. Terry Fator, who won NBC's America's Got Talent and its $1 million prize, wasn't exactly a household name before appearing on the show, but millions of people already were more than familiar with both Dunham and Jay Johson.
By the way, the reviewer in the next paragraph describes Dunham this way: "Mr. Dunham's mark of distinction is that he's easily one of the funniest stand-up comics alive." How he'd do that with only recently invading our consciousness is something, indeed. But Dunham has been packing comedy clubs and theaters for several years. I recall seeing him sell out a full weekend at a club six years ago, and even then, he had rabid fans lining up -- with their own puppets of his -- to meet him afterward. He did Comedy Central Presents back in 2003. Here's his most recent touring schedule. His fans, which undoubtedly include the Dallas reporter, remain so loyal they've made him #1 on this year's Comedy Central voting promo dealy deal (Stand-Up Showdown).
But let's not forget Jay Johnson. He's currently on tour following his Tony Award win for The Two and Only! (including this coming weekend in New Jersey). Johnson, however, has been a known performer for 30 years. Or has everyone forgotten the 1970s sitcom that really revolutionized the concept of sitcoms with drama and parodied soap operas, otherwise known as Soap? We haven't forgotten you, Jay. We haven't forgotten.