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Jeff Dunham: Minding the Monsters Blu-ray Review

Jeff Dunham: Minding the Monsters (2012) Blu-ray cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Jeff Dunham: Minding the Monsters
Special & Blu-ray Details

Original Airdate: October 7, 2012 / Running Time: 80 Minutes (Extended) / Rating: Not Rated (TV-PG on air)

Writer/Performer: Jeff Dunham / Director: Manny Rodriguez (special); Matt McNeil (segments) / Producer: Steve Marmel / Executive Producers: Jeff Dunham, Judi Brown-Marmel, Robert Hartmann, Stephen Kroopnick, Stu Schreiberg

1.78:1 Widescreen / Dolby TrueHD 5.1, Dolby Stereo 2.0 (Bleeped & Unbleeped English)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired; Not Closed Captioned; Video Extras Subtitled
Blu-ray Release Date: October 9, 2012 / Suggested Retail Price: $22.98
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (BD-50) / Blue Eco-Friendly Keepcase
Also available on DVD ($16.99 SRP), MP3 ($8.99 SRP), and CD ($14.99 SRP)

Buy Jeff Dunham: Minding the Monsters from Amazon.com: Blu-rayDVDMP3CD

Since figuring out that a sketch comedy TV show wasn't a good fit for him and that Hollywood doesn't have a great many film roles for ventriloquists, Jeff Dunham has returned to the regular schedule he established years earlier. That schedule reads something like this: 1) Tour the world for much of the year, performing on average 10-15 shows a month with stops ranging from Shreveport to South Africa.
2) Film one of those shows to air as a Comedy Central special in the fall.

It is a lucrative existence for Dunham, who pockets $20-$30 million a year off a stagecraft that has been out of fashion for at least six decades.

Dunham's 2012 special, Minding the Monsters, comes to Comedy Central on Sunday and to DVD and Blu-ray on Tuesday. The premiere and release coincide with Dunham's off month and, more significantly, with Halloween. The timing, title, and cover design all suggest a connection to the holiday, which the special itself strongly reinforces. The last time Dunham paid notice to the calendar, with 2008's A Very Special Christmas Special, he set an all-time ratings record for the cable channel with 6.6 million viewers tuning in. That feat still stands, ignoring the creative calculations ("with all available playback included") that gave the crown to last year's Charlie Sheen roast.

As if there was any doubt, Dunham trots out his favorite puppets for Minding the Monsters, which taped two mid-week performances last May at the Lucas Theatre in Savannah, Georgia. Five and a half of the more popular characters in Dunham's repertoire feature here. There is a twist, though. Each of the characters gets to play a character themselves with a costume ranging from a simple wig or blindfold to an elaborate make-up makeover.

Walter appears as Crankenstein, a cranky Frankenstein's monster, alongside Jeff Dunham in the Comedy Central special "Minding the Monsters."

But before he can get to his beloved dummies, we get Dunham alone, wearing one of his now expected shiny black suits in which a dark T-shirt and necklace stand in for a dress shirt and tie. In this extended home video edit running 80 minutes (or nearly twice as long as it will in a one-hour Comedy Central timeslot), Dunham gets 16½ minutes of stand-up time, which he uses to share stories about his little dogs. Dunham is comfortable being himself, but he's not making $20-$30 million a year for it.

Walter, a character we're told has been bantering with Dunham for 24 years, is the first to join him onstage. Per the show's theme, he is Frankenstein's monster or, if you prefer, "Crankenstein." His usual bald dome may be fashioned into a gray flattop, but Walter is still his usual ugly self, making banal jokes about age and marriage (wait 'til you hear how he describes how his old, fat wife's ass looks in a thong!). The name "Frankenstein" invites him to crack some Jewish jokes, some of the first of Dunham's tired, unimaginative reliance on ancient stereotypes.

Sixteen minutes later, drunk redneck Bubba J shows up as "The Tooth of the Vampire" with just one pointy fang. To his usual beer banter, Bubba adds some Halloween humor, his costume making a Twilight joke inevitable. With thirteen minutes, he is one of the night's shorter acts.

Next, the purple woozle Peanut is "Batnut", a look that lends to ruminations on superheroes but mostly just talk about his private parts. Jose Jalapeño on a Stick joins the fun as Batnut's sidekick Ruben. Then, one of the characters introduced in last year's special, Little Jeff, appears as a Riddler-type villain called The Loser that allows Big Jeff to poke fun at himself while trying to juggle three voices in addition to his own. With a little over twenty minutes, this stretch is the show's longest.

With just about ten minutes to spare, Achmed the Dead Terrorist shows up dressed like an American woman, which entails putting a blonde wig and fuchsia dress over his bearded skeleton body. That gender bending gives us access to Dunham's odd, gross view of women.

Jeff Dunham's redneck puppet Bubba J becomes The Tooth of the Vampire with one fang. Jeff Dunham plays Dr. Frankenstein in the fake movie trailer that introduces Walter as Crankenstein.

Like those that came before it, Minding the Monsters is kind of fascinating as a showcase of one man's politically incorrect views and insecurities posing as comedy. For example, there seems to be sincere,
unhealthy resentment in the recurring digs at his ex-wife and the alimony payments she's owed. (This could be you someday, fiancée who is repeatedly referenced!)

I always feel removed when watching Dunham perform, as I am unable to find humor in the stupid jokes he gives to the puppets he operates and wackily voices. And I seem to be the only one, based on the raucous approval the most inane of his remarks produces in his somewhat older audience. There's something revealing about a Bubba J mid-sentence mention of watching NASCAR drawing a loud whoop from an audience member.

Others have taken Dunham to task for the racism, anti-Semitism, misogyny, and general offensiveness he allows himself, in character, to spew. That doesn't bother me because it's comedy and even tamer, relatively upbeat acts like this are expected to have bite these days. I am more troubled by the fact that there is just not a single moment of his act that makes me laugh. It's worse when you realize that there is just no hope of Dunham ever getting better or justifying his huge fanbase. His extraordinary popularity must represent a plateau and he's earned it by hard work (he's been at this since the early '80s). That kind of career breeds routine. It seems most unlikely that the 50-year-old Dunham reinvents himself or tries to expand beyond angry misanthropes regurgitating old stereotypes. No amount of self-deprecation and smiles can deflect attention from the sadness that Dunham's comedy produces for me. This is one of the world's highest-paid entertainers and he's telling "wiener" jokes.

At least you can give Dunham credit for trying something kind of different with the monster motif. The most creative facet of the special are the short filmed introductions he gives each of his characters' characters, resembling horror movie trailers from different eras. If only the puppets had more to offer than anatomical jokes and double entendre...

The Blu-ray and presumably also the DVD give you the choice to watch the program with a bleeped or unbleeped soundtrack. That should be a standard option on all Comedy Central programs. While Dunham and his characters use censorable profanity pretty infrequently, terms like the B-word get bleeped, as they might in Sunday's TV-PG broadcast.

VIDEO and AUDIO

The Blu-ray's clean, sharp, vibrant 1.78:1 picture is without issue. On the other hand, the Dolby TrueHD 5.1 soundtrack felt lacking in a way not easy to pinpoint. The show's audio felt kind of thin and the bassy effects and music at the beginning and end drowned out the other components. Furthermore, audience reactions didn't really seem to engulf. English SDH subtitles are kindly offered on the special (reflecting the bleeps or lack thereof) and video extras.

As part of his "Tour of Terror", Jeff Dunham points out the Batnut logos on the wheels of the Batmobile that takes Peanut to the stage. In "Minding the Miniature", Jeff Dunham proudly displays the miniature plastic gates his 3D printer just took five days to create.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

The disc's longest extra is hidden in the Set Up menu. It's an audio commentary by Jeff Dunham, segment director Matt McNeil (who has much to share about those introductory short fake trailers), supervising producer Neil Sheridan, and friend Kelly Asbury (a ventriloquism historian who has also directed Shrek 2 and Gnomeo & Juliet). I've never before heard a commentary over a stand-up comedy special and I had my doubts that this could be worthwhile, but the group easily sustains interest with a discussion of aspects we take for granted. Among them: having an audience not knowing they would be filmed in advance, stand-up material embellishing real life,
constructing the new version of characters, Frankenstein copyright restrictions, some of the technical and mechanical details sweated over the dummies, Dunham's retired characters (so long, Sweet Daddy Dee!), and the strengths of his various characters. It's a surprisingly enjoyable listen, which also includes Dunham relaying stories about his restored, drivable Batmobile.

On the all-HD video side, things begin with "Creating Crankenstein" (8:40), a look at Walter's transformation for this special. Being reminded that Dunham does this kind of painting, molding, and 3D printing work himself makes up a little for the unfortunate nature of his comedy.

"Monstrous Mistakes" (5:57) captures Dunham's goofs, which he plays off with in-character improvisations, and make-up touch-ups and technical checks, which he enlivens with jokes, stories, homophobia, and play, to audience applause.

"Tour of Terror" (5:31) has Dunham enthusiastically showing us around the elaborate, lavish, inspired stage set of Victorian decor and secret compartments.

"Minding the Minatures" (13:04) joins Dunham back in the workshop to create miniature tombstones and gates for the special's opening sequence with a 3D printer and a hot sonic bath. It's a tremendous amount of time and effort for a shot that lasts just a few seconds.

Jeff Dunham is photographed with Achmed in the American woman costume he wears in the special. The Blu-ray's creative menus take you around a haunted house inspired by the special's stage set.

"Frightening Photos" (2:21) shows us the green screen photo shoot for promoting the special, with a brief break for an ice cream truck.

Finally, "Monster Movie Magic" (26:17) delves deeper into the special's demands, documenting Dunham building refashioning a dollhouse for the special's opening and then shooting those character-introducing trailers. Again, there is great disparity between the work put in and taken out of this, although they were the best parts of this special.

Inspired by the set, the creative DVD-style menus (which lack any pop-up capability) move about a haunted house with momentary transitional pauses, as the characters say things and respond to your actions. "Select a Character" fittingly takes you to the clearly-drawn sections of the special, also letting you watch the introductory trailers on their own. Though this Region A disc doesn't support bookmarks, it does resume playback like a DVD.

The only insert in the eco-friendly keepcase advertises Dunham's ventriloquism-teaching DVD How to Talk to Yourself and "The Little Jeff" dummy.

Jeff Dunham finds himself between woozle superhero Batnut (Peanut) and his sidekick Ruben (Jose Jalapeño on a Stick) in the longest stretch of "Minding the Monsters."

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Many people love the comedy of Jeff Dunham, but after repeated exposure to it, I am certain I won't be joining them anytime soon. Minding the Monsters is distinguished by its theme and casting the puppets in roles shows some creativity. But that is merely new packaging for the same tired old lowest common denominator stereotype shtick, which continues to not be entertaining to me.

The Blu-ray has good bonus features and clever menus, but this special isn't something you need to see, let alone buy.

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Reviewed October 4, 2012.



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