This past weekend, during an exhausting journey to get to Philadelphia to watch my Utah Jazz defeat the Philadelphia 76ers (join my Patreon to hear the saga in a bonus podcast episode) I saw several billboards and ads for comedians coming to the Wells Fargo Arena, where the 76ers play. One stuck out to me and that was the ad for Jeff Dunham’s show. Obviously, it first offends me that a ventriloquist can headline an arena, for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is from 1000 feet away does it even matter if he’s moving his lips or not? But Dunham’s comedy is really elite hackery. Obviously plenty of people like it because there are lots of simpletons in our country. But there has always been a strain to his humor that felt like a wink and a nod to the “conservative” (I put it in quotes because what we really mean by “conservative” now is religious hypocrites, racists and greedy, myopic assholes) crowd. It was simple and harmless, but had just enough bland bigotry in some of the characters to appeal to their soon-to-be-MAGA hearts. But with Dunham’s new show, he has given away the game.
Jeff Dunham’s new show is called “Still Not Canceled” because PG rated ventriloquists are on the front lines of speech and comedy, right? The only thing that could and should cancel Jeff Dunham Puppetry of the Peanut is good taste. But that is not what he is suggesting or better yet, what he is lack-of-virtue signaling. He is sending a thinly veiled message to his fans and their ilk that his comedy is an enemy of the dreaded “woke mob.” And that is the new algorithm cheat code for right wing comedians (and ventriloquists) and grifters.
Similar to Bill Maher and Ricky Gervais, the conservative comedy crowd (of which there are funny people – I am not going to take the low hanging , and incorrect fruit of some of my left leaning fans who will reflexively say “conservatives aren’t funny” when my personal experience is a lot more pushback from liberals whenever my jokes touch on anything deemed sacred to them (e.g. a tweet making fun of Hunter Biden for being loved less than Beau Biden earned quick condemnation from my “fans” while there was no end to the joy my Jeff Epstein and Donald Trump having sex with underage girl references)) never seems to get bored of hearing the same attacks on “wokeism” or “cancel culture.” It’s like every topic can be hack or overdone to them, but as long as you complain about wokeness, or deride a liberal talking point with a stereotypical gay accent, it is a never ending stream of originality and humor. Just like the Left has proven themselves humorless sometimes when a topic is not to their liking, the Right seems to ignore the staleness of the bitching and moaning because it validates their beliefs. But it is bad comedy.
And now, to use one of the few Latin phrases I remember and like from law school, we have reached the reductio ad absurdum point of the “cancel culture” warrior phase of comedy. Jeff Dunham, promoting an entire tour as “I have not been canceled yet.” Perhaps his poster should be the famous photo of Malcolm X holding an assault rifle looking out of his window, but with one of his puppets’ heads superimposed on Malcolm’s. The chances of Jeff Dunham being canceled are about as high as my new special going platinum (Half-Blackface totally should, but should and will are a universe apart). But this is the point now – Dunham is sending the very clear message that funny is less important that culture war signaling. Even if that is completely absurd. Only complete idiots would be motivated to see a ventriloquist with 1980s stereotypical puppets simply because he had made the ridiculous claim that he had evaded cancellation… so far! But apparently, judging by the size of the Wells Fargo arena, Jeff Dunham’s dummies will have a lot of company this week.