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Jeff Dunham's Very Special Christmas Special DVD Review (2014 Edition)

Jeff Dunham's Very Special Christmas Special (2008) DVD rerelease cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Jeff Dunham's Very Special Christmas Special
Special & DVD Details

Original Airdate: November 16, 2008 / Running Time: 85 Minutes / Rating: Not Rated

Writer/Performer: Jeff Dunham / Director: Michael Simon/ Executive Producers: Jeff Dunham, Judi Brown-Marmel, Robert Hartmann, Stephen Kroopnick, Stu Schreiberg

1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen / Dolby Digital 5.1 (English), Dolby Stereo 2.0 (English)
Subtitles: None; Closed Captioned; Extras Not Captioned or Subtitled
DVD Rerelease Date: December 9, 2014 / Suggested Retail Price: $14.98
Single-sided, single-layered disc (DVD-5) / Black Eco-Friendly Keepcase
Also available on Amazon Instant Video
Previously released by Image Entertainment on DVD and Blu-ray (November 18, 2008)

Buy Jeff Dunham's Very Special Christmas Special from Amazon.com: DVD • Instant Video

Jeff Dunham's Very Special Christmas Special remains a high point in the ventriloquist's career. The program drew 6.6 million viewers in its initial November 2008 airing,
making it the most-watched broadcast in the history of Comedy Central. I can't find evidence that anything has bested it in the past six years, not even Dunham's three subsequent specials.

Dunham's still doing just fine: Forbes pegged him as the fourth highest-earning comedian of 2013, attributing most of his $19 million annual revenue to merchandise. Still, considering how resistant to reinvention he's been, it's tough to imagine him ever again being as popular as he was in 2008. His latest special premiered last month to 2.51 M viewers, making it ninth in that week's primetime cable ratings.

Dunham was a homegrown success, who self-financed his first DVD and had to lobby hard to get Comedy Central to eventually air it. By 2007, Comedy Central was happy to put Dunham's popularity over their current brand. His special Spark of Insanity not only attracted a big audience but made Dunham and one of his off-color puppets among the earliest of YouTube sensations.

Critics haven't been overly appreciative of his act, many of them describing it as racist, sexist, and homophobic. But critics don't pay the bills. Fans do. And Dunham has got plenty of those: over 9 million on Facebook, including probably a number of your friends.

Achmed the Dead Terrorist and Jeff Dunham have "guitar guy" Brian Haner fighting laughter during "Jeff Dunham's Very Special Christmas Special."

Dunham's Christmas Special was taped at Milwaukee's Pabst Theater presumably well before the holiday season. Dressed in all black, Dunham appears before an all-white, all-Christian Midwestern crowd, whose through-the-roof reception of his politically incorrect material gives the program the feel of a Klan rally. What it would be like to be a gay, black, or Middle Eastern person in this audience while, under the guise of his puppets, Dunham cracks jokes at these demographics' expense?

Sure, you can say he's not having a laugh at Muslims, but at zealous terrorists, a group deserving no sympathy. And you can point out that Dunham is holding something like a fun house mirror up to his audience with Bubba J, his beer and NASCAR-loving redneck puppet. What you cannot do, if your sense of humor is anything like mine, is laugh at this hateful act that mines obvious stereotypes and stokes feelings of xenophobia and bigotry. Comedians today aren't expected to be safe, appropriate, inoffensive, or politically correct. But they are expected to be funny and I can't recall ever laughing or even smiling at one of Dunham and company's jokes.

The show opens with Dunham doing some solo stand-up, probably the first material to go in making room for commercial broadcast. He spends over ten minutes on a single story, that of his 16-year daughter's first gas-pumping experience. This drawn-out tale, with its jabs at gadget-obsessed youths, purses, and women's credit card swiping skills, surely didn't win the comedian any Father of the Year awards. It may have even contributed to the end of his marriage; he filed for divorce the same month this special aired.

Though he looks kind of lost without his puppets, Jeff Dunham gives us a ten-minute family gas station story as solo stand-up comedy near the start of the special. Walter isn't having any of this "Happy holidays" nonsense.

No one goes to see Jeff Dunham do solo stand-up and soon he is getting joined by his characters who are already familiar enough by now to elicit applause halfway into their introductions. First up comes cantankerous old Walter,
who objects to "Happy Holidays" ("Screw you, it's 'Merry Christmas'!"), becomes the first of many to call Dunham gay, and then pulls out some black talk he learned from when his TV got stuck on BET. His idea for a white-only holiday called Caucasia yields a couple of loud whoops.

Next up is Achmed the Dead Terrorist, the breakout star of Spark of Insanity a year earlier. Wearing a Santa hat, the failed suicide bomber proclaims, "Killing people is easy. Being politically correct is a pain in the ass." After scoliosis jokes and some seemingly expected (if not completely planned) skeletal difficulties, Achmed sings "Jingle Bombs", accompanied by guitarist Brian Haner, a.k.a. "Guitar Guy", who features throughout the night, enduring implied drug use jokes without a microphone.

Bubba J, the aforementioned redneck, takes the stage next and reads his letter to Santa Claus, which recalls how the jolly gift-giver was burned in his fireplace and had one of his reindeer eaten. Following that "hilarity", Guitar Guy returns for Bubba's performance of "A Roadkill Christmas."

Energetic purple woozle Peanut, dolls of whom have already been spotted on the laps of some audience members, is next. He primarily talks about wanting to be adopted by Angelina Jolie for the nursing, a subject that lends to a discussion of different ta-ta nicknames. The accurately-named Mexican stereotype Josι Jalapeρo on a Stick joins Peanut and Dunham for a discussion of their ski trip.

Guitar Guy is summoned back to endure gay jokes en route to a finale, which finds Dunham wanting to share his family's tradition of reading The Night Before Christmas on the night before Christmas. Peanut continually interrupts the reading to inject his commentary and call out the inappropriate aspects of the story. And that is how this 85-minute special draws to a close.

I expect that some day soon Dunham and his shtick will be viewed as a bizarre and obscure curiosity, something along the lines of Al Jolson's blackface shtick. People will ask in disbelief, "This guy made $19 million a year doing this?!" and "Nine million people publically declared their appreciation for him on a social network?!" I've already made peace with the facts that I will never see the humor in Dunham and that you, I, and most people we know will almost certainly earn less in our lifetimes than he does in a few good months. Those facts don't make Christmas Special any more or less bearable.

Jeff Dunham juggles three characters, two puppets, and two voices when he shares the stage (and screen) with Peanut and Jose Jalapeno on a Stick.

The greatest interest the show holds for me isn't in the xenophobic, mean-spirited banter or the ventriloquist's techniques, but in the snapshot provided of Dunham's rampant success at its apex. There is clear symbiosis between the performer and his adoring public, which is frequently shown in female-focused reaction shots. His deliveries and rhythms are perfectly honed, the byproduct of a work ethic that sees him constantly touring the nation and, to a smaller degree, the world. This is no amateur hour, with each of Dunham's characters getting their own themed stage set.
And if people genuinely enjoy this kind of comedy, or did six years ago, then good for them and good for Dunham to make a killing off them.

At some point, for some reason, Image Entertainment's best-selling 2008 DVD of Christmas Special went out of print, along with their Blu-ray edition. This week, a new DVD edition (but no Blu-ray) with identical artwork and contents is released by the home entertainment division of Dunham's usual distribution partner Comedy Central.

VIDEO and AUDIO

I'm slightly, pleasantly surprised by the fact that Christmas Special is presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen, as that wasn't yet a given for Comedy Central in 2008 (see A Colbert Christmas). The picture quality is a tad grainy and short on contrast, but generally quite good. The default Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is even better, as the track makes good use of the full soundfield to distribute the raucous crowd sounds. Hard profanity is bleeped as on air, with no uncensored alternative. No subtitles are provided, though closed captions are offered on the special for those who can still access them.

In "Ask Santa", Santa Walter gives inappropriate answers to pre-printed "audience" questions. Walter gets between a make-up artist and Jeff Dunham during the filming of their green screen sleigh ride cold open.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

Though the case still makes no mention of them, the DVD does include a number of bonus features, all of them short and widescreen videos.

"Ask Santa" (4:25) lets "Walter Santa" answer audience members' questions, some of them holiday-related,
in an inappropriate and un-PC manner. Though your first impression may be that's fast-thinking improvisation from Dunham, the questions are all written on cards and surely known in advance.

"Christmas Tips" (3:48) lets Dunham and Walter, Achmed, and Peanut offer conflicting advice for the holiday season. As usual, the crowd laughs and I cringe.

"Sleigh Ride" (1:23) offers a brisk behind-the-scenes look at the filming of the special's green screen cold open. In the same vein is a 30-second montage of Dunham and characters' promotional photo shoot for the special, from which the cover comes.

This family wears its appreciation of Jeff Dunham on its shirts and hands. The holly jolly Jeff Dunham's Very Special Christmas Special DVD main menu.

"At the Show and the T-Shirt Bazookas" (1:33) provides behind-the-scenes looks at the special's filming, with appearances by Dunham's make-up guy (who he ridicules), his soon to be ex-wife who arms him with the shirt-shooting gun, and a number of those in attendance happy to utter his character's catchphrases.

Finally, "More Jeff Dunham Stuff!" is an animated screen advertising Dunham's website and merch.

The menus, which make it easy to watch just your favorite character's segment, plays an instrumental "Jingle Bells" (or is that "Jingle Bombs") over Christmas tree scene.

No slipcover or inserts jazz up the eco-friendly black keepcase, but at least the disc itself adapts the colorful cover art.

Even at Christmas, when Bubba J joins Jeff Dunham on stage, you can bet there will be beer jokes.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Very Special Christmas Special is like any of Jeff Dunham's specials: nasty and not funny. If you thought Christmas would inspire the ventriloquist to do more than rely on lazy stereotypes and his gross characters, then you must not be familiar with Jeff Dunham.

Comedy Central's DVD doesn't seem to be any different from Image Entertainment's 2008 disc, except in print. The lack of a new Blu-ray edition is puzzling, but then one assumes Dunham, like most comedians, still does a lot more business on DVD than Blu-ray. I would have no difficulty recommending over 100 holiday discs before this one, but surely, nine million Facebook fans can't be wrong. Right?

Buy Jeff Dunham's Very Special Christmas Special on DVD from Amazon.com

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Related Reviews:
New: Robot Chicken Christmas Specials • Reno 911! The Complete Series • Drunk History: Seasons 1 & 2
Jeff Dunham: Controlled Chaos • Jeff Dunham: Minding the Monsters • The Jeff Dunham Show
2008: A Colbert Christmas: The Greatest Gift of All! • Four Christmases • Step Brothers • Tropic Thunder
Jeff Dunham: Jeff Dunham's Achmed Saves America • Dinner for Schmucks • From Up on Poppy Hill
Christmas Comedy: Deck the Halls • Fred Claus • The Santa Clause • Elf • Scrooged
Bill Cosby: ...Far from Finished

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Reviewed December 7, 2014.



Text copyright 2014 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 2008 Levity Productions, Red Wire Blue Wire, Comedy Partners, Comedy Central,
2014 Comedy Central Home Entertainment and Paramount Home Entertainment.