Jeff Dunham: Controlled Chaos Review

Who knew there was an audience for a fourth-wall breaking adult muppet stage act? That’s what happens when one person is the trend-setter apparently, Jeff Dunham now a worldwide act, bouncing from country to country with his purple “whats-it” Peanut. The usual troupe in is in full force, from the irritated Walter, terroristic Achmed, and a Jose Jalepeno… on a stick.

Dunham hasn’t changed much since fame and glory overtook the show, sticking with a familiar routine of wisecracks, seeking a little more raunch as time passes. The racist bits have certainly reached a teetering plateau, but it’s all no less funny coming from the perceived mouth instead of a real one. The act is no less impressive, Controlled Chaos closing on a four-way ventriloquist spectacle -and at high speed- that clearly took time to pull off without mistakes.

Time Dunham had too, the opening monologue detailing a childhood upbringing of awful ’70s fashion and an obsession with his puppeted pals, making him the darling of the 7th grade (or not). His personal life is clearly not off limits, a seemingly ugly divorce perfect fodder for the aging (?) Walter, cranky as ever about life, marriage, and other races.

There’s probably room for a lighter, gentler Dunham show, yet this is certainly not so. Maybe that’s why the home video version offers to bleep out the language deemed excessive, although that’s clearly missing the point. Tastes change, and growing up with the steady diet of Muppets and Sesame Street (kids still watch those, right?), Dunham’s shows feel like an extension. Maybe there’s even a small nostalgic connection there somewhere.

Regardless of why it’s funny, Controlled Chaos proves the best stuff still happens on stage, the pre-show skits adding production values that take away from the raw, sometimes mistake-laden live stuff. Seeing the puppets without a hand shoved… somewhere saps the charm out of it. Except for the younger set  (who clearly shouldn’t be watching this) no one is taking this stuff as reality, although with Dunham at the helm, it certainly appears that way.

Movie ★★★★☆ 

With general TV production values, Controlled Chaos comes in at 1080i for Blu-ray, any related interlacing never visible through general viewing. The AVC encode carries a slightly noisy appearance, never aided by the blown out reds, in clear contrast with the rest of these naturally shaded hues. The red background is a haven for artifacts.

Added resolution brings out the best in the puppets, the wooden visage of Walter full of texture, and Peanut’s glittery cotton superbly defined (when he’s still enough to notice). Medium shots carry a softer, gentler look, lacking the precision expected of the format, but expected for something destined to run on Comedy Central.

Black levels have a nice kick, shots of the crowd affected more by color than crush. It’s no small feat given the limited lighting, fans appearing soft if visible even into the upper decks. Blacks prove consistent and rich, never giving into the lighter side of things.

The stage itself is an fantastic piece of construction, layered with video monitors and squared off designs that add a sense of class along with something to look at during those wide shots. It’s preserved here, even if it’s not quite a sense of “being there.” The usual cheaper traits for a live show like this apply.

Video ★★★★☆ 

Ducking into the audio portion of the menu will cause Walter to taunt, calling out the viewer as a geek for even caring, and stating the show will be even funnier in stereo. Well, he’s sort of right. Late in the show, Dunham’s four-way character chat splits the stereos. Either Dunham can throw his voice better than anyone or it’s a post-processing trick (the latter clearly), but it’s a nice kick to see the sides utilized. Most stand-up is stuffy in the center, Controlled Chaos given room to breathe a bit.

It’s a relaxed TrueHD mix, sure, but no less immersive. The eager crowd claps and cheers in specific channels, the envelopment precise and natural. Dunham’s voice has a mild echo, enough to carry it out into the sound space provided.

There are a few musical cues to book-end the bit, lively even if it’s borderline for an elevator. These shows never carry anything extravagant with them short of the skit intros, and sadly the Achmed mobile’s engine doesn’t hit the sub like it should. Maybe next time.

Audio ★★★★☆ 

Plenty of short stuff here that looks like a lot, but it comes out to a matter of minutes. Bubba J. Winery Tour is a promo for Dunham’s latest business venture with an in-character trip through the wine-making process. Outtakes are not confined to this two-minute blip, but continue through Share the Hair and Flirting with Victoria. It’s all funny stuff, certainly better than the clearly “forced” outtakes during the show itself.

Backstage with Peanut is a short skit as the rambunctious purple thing-a-ma-bob steals a camera to detail the behind-the-scenes pre-show. Achmed Terrorist Video is a parody of Al-Qaeda tapes, followed with Getting Ready for the Tour. The latter is another skit as the puppets get ready to leave.

Dunham Goes Global is mixed with show clips, fan reactions, and a priceless French dub that seems to miss the point entirely. A photo shoot is titled appropriately, while the lengthiest thing here is Making of the Achmed Mobile. It’s a 14-minute look at how Dunham created the car, and even provides insight into the puppet creation. It’s the only thing to break the three and a half minute barrier.

Extras ★★★☆☆