Northeast Underground

Jeff Dunham and company bring big laughs to the Mullins Center in Amherst

Jeff Dunham and Peanut (credit: Levity Entertainment)Though the thousands of his fans in attendance didn’t quite fill the venue to capacity, comedian/ ventriloquist Jeff Dunham ably brought the laughs to every corner of the Mullins Center in Amherst, Mass. Thursday.

In fact, the crowd’s enthusiasm for the renowned stand-up act was easily observed even before Dunham himself took the stage for his over two hour show.

How you ask?

Well prior to his turn in the spotlight, Dunham’s enormous circular-set took on a life of its own, acting as an impromptu video screen used to entertain the audience as people continued to file into the arena. The screen displayed word games, cracked jokes, and of course pitched a variety of Dunham-themed merchandise.

One of the most popular clips shown by the screen was a series of questions answered by one of Dunham’s most irascible puppets Walter. Such topics covered by the “Ask Walter” segment included the curmudgeonly old man’s take on marriage, sex, and even female P.M.S. (“Be afraid. Be very afraid,” Walter replied to the latter prompt).

While each witty reply was greeted by a mixture of appreciative applause and audible gasps from the gathered throng, the biggest cheers were reserved for the moment when the house lights finally went down and red beams began to radiate from the stage to announce the arrival of the man everyone had come to see.

Preceded by a short video showing clips of him and his puppets throughout his career, Dunham took the stage shortly before 8 p.m. and immediately teased the crowd by asking if they were ready for the little guys in the suitcases.

“Well, it’s my turn dammit,” he quipped before proceeding in showing an amusing slideshow that featured photos of himself throughout his life, each one complete with the appearance of ventriloquist dummy along with an at times questionable fashion sense.

“I’m going to let this one sink in a bit,” Dunham said of one such image. “How bad is it that you notice my pants before the Christmas decorations?”

Eventually, sensing that the crowd had endured enough of a trip down memory lane Dunham produced the first of his many co-stars of the evening.

Everyone’s favorite grumpy old man Walter was first up. And he didn’t disappoint. Even with a plethora of material just written on the plane that day, the duo argued good-naturedly with aplomb. No topic was off limits either, as Walter inquired dreamily about Dunham’s recent divorce.

“What’s it like?” he said. “Please let me live vicariously through you.”

Next up was Bubba J, a puppet who has been out of circulation for the last few years but quickly made for lost-time by contributing his own inebriated take on his new life as a security guard at a brewery.

“They actually let you work security at a brewery?” Dunham asked at point.

“Yeah, they’re even dumber than me,” was the reply.

Jeff Dunham and Bubba J (credit: Richard McLaren)After Bubba J’s brief appearance, it was the time for intermission as Dunham gave everyone a quick video preview of who would be appearing next.

Also greeting the crowd upon their reentrance after the break, the ZZ Top-inspired clip starred perhaps Dunham’s most popular puppet Achmed the Dead Terrorist complete with a hot rod and goat love interest.

Though most of Achmed’s appearance was readily identified by fans from its past usage in Dunham’s latest Comedy Central special “Controlled Chaos,” the audience still laughed along to every line, including the most notable moments – Achmed’s body malfunctions, the assistance of stagehand Marnell White, and the introduction of Achmed’s own son Achmed Jr. (aka A.J.).

“He’s kind of cute,” A.J. remarked flirtatiously about White‘s time on stage, frequently inciting his father’s anger as well as the crowd’s applause.

Finally, the night’s finale began with the emergence of another of Dunham’s most popular puppets Peanut. The hyperactive, white-furred and green-haired creation took friendly jabs at a number of topics including Native Americans, Chinese food, and Dunham’s possible transformation into a super hero. However perhaps the greatest crowd reaction came as a result of jokes made about the Pioneer Valley.

While recognizing their stop in Amherst, Peanut and Dunham took special time to mention the Hu Ke Lau restaurant located in Chicopee, Mass. The site is widely-known as a popular venue for comedians such as Tracy Morgan, Norm Macdonald, and “Dr. Dirty” John Valby. But Dunham has performed there as well, and he couldn’t resist taking a shot at the local institution and its owners the Yee family.

Yet, before closing the night Dunham seemed determined to prove he was far from finished. He started upping the ante considerably by bringing out one of his oldest puppets the accurately-named Jose Jalapeno on a Stick. Employing a laid-back Hispanic drawl, Jalapeno engaged in amusing back and forth arguments with Peanut and Dunham himself, sometimes almost simultaneously. But that wasn’t all.

After announcing to the audience that he too had become a ventriloquist, Peanut had Dunham produce another puppet that turned out to be a miniature version of Dunham himself. Dubbed Little Ugly AssJeff, the task was then on for Dunham to not only voice Peanut, but also himself, Peanut’s puppet and Jose Jalapeno, who contributed jokes from his unseen spot in a nearby suitcase.

Watch the trailer for Jeff Dunham’s latest comedy special “Controlled Chaos” here:

Though some have criticized Dunham’s act as sophomoric, racist and even stale, to witness an individual almost seamlessly slip from persona to persona in seconds, all while manipulating multiple puppet figures and getting large laughs from a crowd was a sight to behold.

Say what you will about his act’s content. But until another ventriloquist appears with as much talent as Dunham, the somewhat eccentric comedic form has its king for a long time to come.

Did an occasional lip move? Yes. Did accents sometimes change their sound from character to character? Occasionally. However the real question should be did everyone get what they paid for?

And if what everyone paid for was “a big goofy time” used to escape their problems for awhile, then the answer is unequivocally yes.

For more information on Jeff Dunham or to see future tour dates please visit www.jeffdunham.com.

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