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Jeff Dunham: Controlled Chaos Blu-ray Disc Review

Jeff Dunham: Controlled Chaos (2011) Blu-ray cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Jeff Dunham: Controlled Chaos
Special & DVD Details

Original Airdate: September 25, 2011 / Running Time: 97 Minutes (Extended Cut) / Rating: Not Rated (Broadcast Cut rated TV-14 LD)

Writer/Star: Jeff Dunham / Featured Characters: Achmed the Dead Terrorist, Peanut, Walter, José Jalapeño on a Stick, Achmed Junior, Little Jeff, Bubba J

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

1.78:1 Widescreen, Dolby TrueHD 5.1 (English), Dolby Stereo 2.0 (English)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired; Extras Subtitled; Not Closed Captioned
Blu-ray Release Date: September 27, 2011 / Suggested Retail Price: $19.99
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (BD-50) / Blue Keepcase
Also available on DVD ($16.99 SRP)

Buy Jeff Dunham: Controlled Chaos from Amazon.com: Blu-rayDVD

The success of Jeff Dunham is practically unprecedented. In 2009, it was reported that Dunham earned over $38 million from the previous year's stand-up tour and another $7 million in its merchandise sales. Forbes ranked him as America's third highest paid comedian, trailing only Jerry Seinfeld and Chris Rock. That would be an accomplishment for anyone, but the fact that Dunham is a ventriloquist renders his achievements extraordinary.
Not since Edgar Bergen in the 1940s has a ventriloquist earned renown and prominence like Dunham. Dunham currently has 115,000 Twitter followers, 380,000 friends on something called Myspace, and 6.4 million likes on Facebook. The lattermost is approaching the population of New York City. Consider that his most devoted and electronically savvy fans number almost as many as the residents in the handily most populous city in America.

Dunham has been sticking his hand up dummies for over forty years now, but it wasn't until the middle of last decade that his star was cemented. That happened with the 2006 television special Jeff Dunham: Arguing with Myself, which drew over two million viewers on the previously resistant Comedy Central. The following year's special, Spark of Insanity, was even bigger. Then, 2008's Very Special Christmas Special became the highest-rated telecast in the basic cable channel's 20-year history, attracting 6.6 million viewers in its pre-Thanksgiving premiere.

In 2009, Comedy Central tried to make Dunham's huge fan base part of its regular viewership with the debut of "The Jeff Dunham Show." Despite a highly-rated first episode, the poorly-reviewed half-hour sketch show fizzled and got cancelled after one short season. Nevertheless, the show was merely the opening act in the network's multi-platform deal with the entertainer. It was only a matter of time before the two would schedule a fourth stand-up special, a TV event with the potential to rival the Christmas special's numbers.

With embarrassing old photos, Jeff Dunham questions his fashions and friends in the autobiographical opening sequence of "Controlled Chaos." Cantankerous dummy Walter broaches the subject of divorce to the discomfort of Jeff Dunham.

And so here is Jeff Dunham: Controlled Chaos, airing tonight in a 90-minute timeslot and hitting DVD and Blu-ray this Tuesday in an extended 97-minute cut. The special captures Dunham's early June appearances at the Landmark Theater in Richmond, Virginia. Dunham performs before a sold-out audience of over 3,000,
which the obligatory crowd shots reveal to be varied in age (with a median well above the typical stand-up comedy gathering) and almost entirely white. Dressed in a dark blazer and T-shirt, the 49-year-old comic stands on a stage that is a shrine to his characters, different parts of whom are pictured on screens throughout the night.

Richmond, Virginia seems like an unusual locale for a TV special, not too close to either of the country's two coastal cultural hubs. But it is befitting of Dunham, who has built his following organically, making stops all over the nation (and, for that matter, the world) and winning some of his biggest supporters in "flyover country."

The special begins with a filmed two-minute opening that shows how success has and has not changed one of the most popular players in Dunham's small repertory, Achmed the Dead Terrorist. Dunham appears on stage to massive applause and he remains alone for the next thirteen minutes, which wind up being the most enjoyable ones of the night. Dunham opens with self-deprecating autobiography, the highlight of which are his childhood and adolescent pictures, whose two constants are the company of a ventriloquist dummy (including his every school yearbook photo) and a fashion sense now easy to question. As a solo stand-up, Dunham is not laugh-out-loud funny, but he is appealing enough and though it may not be its top priority, this first act establishes his calling as a lifelong love affair and his success as hard-earned. These facts go far to cushion the blow of what is to come.

Fifteen minutes in, Dunham welcomes his oldest and most recognizable character. Cantankerous, squint-eyed, old coot Walter gets a warmer welcome from the crowd than Dunham himself did. Thus begins the main event and the primary source of Dunham's appeal: his banter with puppets ugly inside and out. Dunham's detractors have accused him of racism, sexism, and homophobia, which are unquestionably part of the act, starting with Walter. For apparently the first time, Dunham opens up about his 2008 divorce, which sounds heavenly to the long-married misogynistic geezer. Dunham and Walter talk a bit about world travels, about white people in South Africa and black people in England. At length, their chat addresses homes made from cow dung in impoverished parts of Africa. None of it struck me as funny, but the audience laps it all up, as if they can't foresee the prostitute and marijuana jokes sure to follow the mention of Amsterdam.

Jeff Dunham uncovers several causes of concern for Achmed the Dead Terrorist. Peanut and José Jalapeño trade barbs conceived and uttered by Jeff Dunham.

Achmed shows up at the 35-minute mark for the longest and most central stretch of the show. The logic behind Achmed is that the only funny terrorist is a dead one. So, this bearded, bushy-browed skeleton in a turban can score timely laughs about suicide bombing and infidels, because the joke is on the terrorists. Achmed comments on the then-recent death of Osama Bin Laden in unimaginative ways (he wasn't met in the afterlife by 72 virgins, but by one 72-year-old virgin...Bea Arthur). Achmed gets to spend 35 minutes on stage, the last ten of which he shares with his newly-introduced, half-skeletal son Achmed Jr., who, for some reason, is British and gay. Dunham runs into some slight technical difficulties with Achmed and embraces them, earning the biggest laughs of the show as an assistant is repeatedly summoned on stage to help.

The special's final act begins with the appearance of Peanut, the popular, one-shoed, lavender "woozle." Dunham's least revolting persona visually, Peanut is nonetheless determined to offend more than his predecessors. And he does so, with extended impersonations of an Asian person, mixing up l's and r's and taking a Chinese restaurant order with a heavy accent. For around ten of his stint's 25 minutes, Peanut is joined by José Jalapeño "on a steek", a sombrero-wearing Mexican stereotype pepper. They sling insults at one another, with Dunham in the middle. Another new character is unveiled in the end, when Peanut demonstrates his own ventriloquism skills on Little Ugly Ass Jeff, a dummy that doesn't bear as much resemblance to Dunham as it's meant to.

Seeing Dunham juggle multiple characters and his own straight man persona is to watch a master at work. He is every bit as proficient at his craft as someone who has been puppeteering since age eight ought to be. To me, it is the biggest allure of his performances: his ability to almost flawlessly move characters' mouths and disguise his own for snappy back-and-forth where the illusion is quickly forgotten and, despite the prolonged concentration required, looks effortless. It is an interesting art form, for too long relegated to sitcom episodes and amateur talent shows. Dunham has devoted himself to ventriloquism, put in as much work and become as comfortable with the challenges as seemingly anyone, and somehow managed to become wildly rich in the process. He is one of the biggest draws in live entertainment and in a medium whose third most famous living practicer you almost certainly couldn't name (apparently, it's Branson, Missouri's Jim Barber).

Jeff Dunham thanks the adoring crowd, as he bids farewell from the stage of Richmond, Virginia's Landmark Theater that celebrates his characters.

That makes Dunham's comedy all the more disheartening. Most of the jokes about race, religion, age, and the sexes feel like they were written over twenty years ago and given only the occasional update. That'd be okay if Dunham was only doing a circuit of county fairs, unlikely to perform for the same people more than once. But his popularity and profit demand more, even if his fans apparently do not.
They're unanimously shown in stitches as a result of lines like "If you were Jewish, you'd be Hymie Jalapeño" and the notion that a genital-less dead terrorist could have a shot with "lesbian thesbian (sic)" Ellen DeGeneres. That is the sort of political incorrectness that Dunham delivers; it's not cutting edge or satirical and in many parts of the country, the same kind of thing would be uttered without awareness by those clinging to outmoded prejudices.

Good for Dunham, if he can turn his oft-chided passion into enormous wealth with tired bits like these. Good too for his fans, who can watch him and enjoy themselves at hearing inappropriate sentiments come out of puppets' mouths. There are no doubt many more comedians who genuinely offend with the vulgar, unfunny venom they spew. I can tolerate Dunham more than them, but not enough to be truly entertained.

In addition to running over a half-hour longer than it will on Comedy Central tonight, the Blu-ray and DVD's feature presentation also give you the choice to watch the show with a bleeped or unbleeped soundtrack. It was my assumption that Dunham doesn't use much profanity and while he doesn't compared to many in comedy, his characters do drop about a dozen F-bombs here, several of them seemingly improvised by Achmed when his legs require attention. The bleeped soundtrack covers not only those but even mild swears like "ass."

Watch a clip of Jeff and Walter from Jeff Dunham: Controlled Chaos:


The Blu-ray's 1.78:1 presentation is remarkably sharp and vibrant. You get used to that in about a minute and rightfully never again consider it. Still, the transfer doesn't waver, delivering great detail and clarity throughout. Censored or uncensored, the audio can be heard in 5.1 Dolby TrueHD or basic Dolby 2.0 stereo. I chose the uncensored in 5.1 and noticed some issues with volume levels. The mix starts out rather quietly, but by the end, the closing music blares. It's not a huge deal or one that will have you often reaching for your remote, but it's slightly odd. From what I sampled of it, the 2.0 mix is not afflicted with the same design. Dunham and friends' dialogue is crisp and clear and the mix does a nice job of separating characters to one side and distributing crowd sounds to all the channels. In a nice touch not standard for Comedy Central discs, English SDH subtitles are offered on the feature and all extras, seemingly to replace the closed captions that cannot be.

Belly-baring, beer-loving Bubba J, who appears only briefly in the special as a security guard, is Jeff's uninformed guide on a tour of Dunham Cellars. Achmed and Jeff Dunham keep the show going and the laughs coming during a make-up break with Victoria.


This is the first Jeff Dunham stand-up special released to video by Comedy Central. They include a number of short bonus features, all of which the Blu-ray presents in high definition.

The extras begin with a "Bubba J Winery Tour" (2:24) in which the redneck character misinforms Jeff around and about Dunham Cellars in Walla Walla, Washington.

A two-minute outtakes reel shows us more goofs, which are bleeped and egged on by the audience. It reveals that Dunham isn't infallible when it comes to simultaneously operating multiple characters. A second blooper reel titled "The Necklace" (1:20) consists only of instances in which Dunham's curious dog tag necklace interferes with his microphones. In the same vein, "Share the Hair" (0:48) shows a gag between Peanut and a passing tech crew member. "Flirting with Victoria" (1:59) has Dunham improvising as Achmed and then Peanut while his hair and make-up are touched up.

One-shoed purple woozle Peanut takes us backstage in this pre-show video from "Jeff Dunham: Spark of Insanity." Fans from some part of the world wear their love of Jeff Dunham on their character T-shirts.

The next three items fall under the header Tour Opens and appear to be pre-show videos. "Backstage with Peanut" (2:58) takes us behind the scenes, checking in on Walter, Jeff, and Bubba J, prior to showtime.
The "Al-Jeffzeera" exclusive "Achmed's Terrorist Video" (2:48) addresses the audience of infidels with onscreen graphics, backwards subtitles, and other character cameos. Both of those emanate from 2007's Spark of Insanity special. The short "Getting Ready for the Tour" (2:58) shows us Jeff and his friends preparing for 2010's Identity Crisis tour.

"Jeff Dunham Goes Global Global" (3:42) provides clips from a 2009 tour's international stops, featuring jokes from the shows, behind-the-scenes footage, and interviews with adoring, accented audience members.

"Photo Shoot" (1:07) finds Dunham goofing around while being photographed alone and with his characters to promote the special. Interestingly, the session does not seem to yield the cover artwork.

Jeff Dunham constructs the head of Achmed for The Achmedmobile of the special's cold opening. Jeff Dunham's characters are funnier on the Blu-ray's menus than they are in the special itself.

Last and longest, "Making of the Achmedmobile" (13:45) details the creation of the car featured in the prologue, with Dunham himself using metal, clay, computers, 3D printers, and paint to create a hood skull resembling the dead terrorist character. It's impressive how much work and passion he pours into what amounts to a 30-second cold opening gag. A couple of car guys also talk about the vehicle used.

The Blu-ray's animated menus are likely identical to the DVD's, using multiple screens instead of the drop-down windows the HD format typically favors. The screens are actually quite inspired, as Dunham's featured creations appear seated, in silhouette and wittily critique your choices. The disc unfortunately does not equip feature playback with pop-up menus, bookmarking, or resuming. Rather than a chapter selection menu, we get a character selection one, appropriately enough. One drawback is that after choosing between bleeped and unbleeped versions, you cannot change your choice without powering down your player (it's unnecessarily more complicated than just toggling soundtracks). There's a third choice on that screen that triggers a brief animation that may qualify as a minor Easter egg.

The standard Blu-ray case's only insert promotes a variety of Jeff Dunham merchandise (with a smart phone code) on one side, and displays The Achmedmobile like a car poster on the other.

The show takes on a meta quality in the end, as Jeff Dunham operates both a miniature and full-sized Peanut, the latter of whom operates Little Ugly Ass Jeff.


If you're a fan of Jeff Dunham, you'll enjoy Controlled Chaos, his fourth and latest Comedy Central special. If not, you won't. Dunham has a distinctive, well-honed talent in ventriloquism, but the crude characters and stale jokes he uses it on are unappealing and rarely funny.

The Blu-ray provides excellent picture, decent sound, and an okay half-hour of bonus features, but none of that will matter if you aren't taken by the special itself. While you've probably already made up your mind one way or the other about Dunham's comedy, it only takes a few minutes to find out for sure, which you can do by checking out Comedy Central tonight or even just watching the short clip above.

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Reviewed September 25, 2011.

Text copyright 2011 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 2011 Red Wire Blue Wire, Levity Entertainment Group, Comedy Central Home Entertainment,
and Paramount Home Entertainment. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.