04th Oct2019

‘Jeff Dunham: Beside Himself’ Review (Netflix Original)

by Rhys Payne

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I have been waiting for a new Jeff Dunham comedy special for the longest time and finally Beside Himself was put on Netflix, a special for which I could not be more excited. The title is obviously a pun and shows the intelligence and comedy of the show itself. Beside himself as a phrase describes someone who is “almost out of one’s senses from a strong emotion” this could be through laughter and so shows the sense of the comedy of this show. Also on a literal level, Jeff is stood next to himself while being the voice of the puppets and the voice of his own stand-up routines so Jeff is stood literally beside himself while the puppets are on stage. The dual meaning clearly demonstrates Jeff Dunham’s intelligence and awareness of comedy.

This show is split between Jeff doing stand up on his own and his jokes through the puppets. The show starts with his solo routine which contains jokes about becoming a father and having children. This was clearly done to make Jeff appear relatable. As the puppets are based on over the top characters they aren’t particularly relatable but this opening section was. This section also introduced jokes that would reappear throughout the series which was very clear from a directional perspective. However, someone of these jokes did become too repetitive as they were referenced in every new section which was frustrating after a while. For example, the jokes about pink eye were hilarious to start but became grating towards the end of the show.

To be brutally honest the main reason people tune in for Jeff Dunham’s shows is to see the puppets. They each have over-the-top personalities and saw the most outrageous things but as they say, you can say whatever through the guise of a puppet. Regarding the comedy with the puppets, the routine was cleverly written to be topical and relevant in today’s society. The jokes were a combination of insult based comedy and very intelligent jokes that made the audience have to think about the jokes. This made this show even more enjoyable to watch as it wasn’t all simple jokes. I personally like sometimes having to mentally work in order to understand and get a joke and so for me this was fantastic.

Jeff Dunham is clearly a very talented comedian and ventriloquist and he displayed his talented throughout. Even within scenes, he was able to flawlessly switch voices from himself to the puppet on stage to puppets that weren’t even on stage which was incredible to watch. Jeff also deals with things going wrong on stage and deciding to keep those bits in the Netflix special was a nice touch. There were points in the show when he dropped the puppet, the mechanics of the puppets failed and Jeff muddled up his words but despite all this, they decided to keep it all in the show which made an almost live viewing experience for the viewers which was great. The problem however with the duality of stand up and ventriloquism is that the transitions are very difficult and even a professional like Jeff’s transitions from stand up to puppet and from puppet to puppet where very clunky and didn’t really fit with the rest of the intellectual material. These transitions needed a reason why one puppet needed to leave and another needed to enter which can be improved in future shows.

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Regarding the puppet characters themselves, Jeff has done an incredible job of making iconic characters that people are excited to see like Peanut and Achmed and thy did not disappoint. They were hilarious and so over the top that’s it’s really difficult to not enjoy the acts. However, there was the introduction of a new puppet called Larry who was supposed to be Donald Trumps advisor and while I can see this is an attempt to make the show even more relevant and contemporary, I do not think this puppet lived up to the high calibre set by the other puppets.

It is important to note that Jeff’s infamous style of dark comedy is in full effect in this Netflix special and is definitely for a more mature audience. He uses characters that are based on stereotypes and jokes that can be considered homophobic and sexist. Because of this, beside himself is not a show for the easily offended but if you have listened to and enjoyed some of Jeffs previous routines then you will really enjoy this special.

Overall, Jeff Dunham was just as funny if not funnier than I remember and I would love to see him live if he ever tours to Cardiff (although I feel as if you have to sit in the front of his shows so you can see the puppets otherwise you are missing half the concept of the show.) I would personally have liked the special to be longer, as one hour did not satisfy the time I have waited for a new special. I would recommend Beside Himself to anyone who has seen some of Jeff Dunham’s routines before and want to see more. I would also recommend it to anyone who is interested in how puppets can be used in a modern and, at times, a dark way to create unique and hilarious comedy.

*** 3/5

Jeff Dunham: Beside Himself is on Netflix now.

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