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Jeff Dunham: Spark of Insanity(TV) (2007)
Washington, D.C.'s historic Warner Theater is the stage for this sold-out performance by ventriloquist virtuoso Jeff Dunham and his host of hilarious characters, known collectively as the "suitcase posse." Joining regular posse members such as Peanut, Walter, Sweet Daddy Dee, Jose Jalapeño and Bubba J are Dunham's newest character creations, Achmed the Dead Terrorist and Melvin the Superhero.
For more about Jeff Dunham: Spark of Insanity and the Jeff Dunham: Spark of Insanity Blu-ray release, see Jeff Dunham: Spark of Insanity Blu-ray Review published by Michael Reuben on January 31, 2013 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.5 out of 5.
Starring: Jeff Dunham (II)
» See full cast & crew
Jeff Dunham: Spark of Insanity Blu-ray Review
Insanity Is a Majority of One, Plus Puppets
Reviewed by Michael Reuben, January 31, 2013
As promised when I recently reviewed Jeff Dunham's Very Special Christmas Special, I am looping back to pick up the previously issued Blu-rays of Jeff Dunham's Comedy Central specials. Jeff Dunham: Spark of Insanity was the second of five (to date). It was broadcast on September 17, 2007, and was released on Blu-ray in November of the following year at the same time as the Christmas Special, both by Image Entertainment. The most recent special, Minding the Monsters, was released by Paramount. For a quick overview of Dunham's career, see the introduction to my review of the Christmas Special. A detailed account can be found at Wikipedia.
Spark of Insanity was taped live at the Warner Theater in Washington, D.C. The show follows Dunham's preferred format, in which he opens with a solo standup routine, then brings out sidekicks from his "suitcase posse" of distinctive puppet personalities, although, in classic ventriloquist tradition, it's Dunham who ends up serving as sidekick to the various puppets. First, however, we're treated to a cold open guest-starring Dunham's long-suffering wife, Paige, who must be a very good sport. Paige figures prominently, along with Dunham's three daughters, in the opening monologue, in which Dunham riffs on such classic family fare as cars, dogs and family outings. It's a well-paced and crowd-pleasing affair, and I was especially struck in this set of routines by how well the vocal dexterity displayed in Dunham's ventriloquism adapts to his regular standup. Shifting effortlessly between a comic's patter and an array of distinctive sounds—the various noises made by his family's Prius and Hummer are especially entertaining—Dunham is able to dress up an apparently simple tale with the rhetorical equivalent of bright clown makeup. When he gets to the story in which he's conspiring with his youngest daughter to harass the family dachshund with a retractable leash, complete with sound effects, I challenge anyone to maintain a straight face. Then he moves on to the denizens of the suitcase. As usual, the first up is Walter, the audience's favorite old coot, whose appeal is universal, because, as Dunham says, everyone knows a Walter. Between his usual insults directed at the audience, Walter picks on the federal government, since the performance is being taped in the nation's capital. (Catching sight of a camerman: "Look! It's the CIA! I see you!") Age jokes are another reliable area for Walter's jibes. He complains about a recent gig in Ft. Lauderdale, because "everyone looked liked me". Reminded by Dunham that Ft. Lauderdale is where they tape "Girls Gone Wild" videos, Walter retorts:
That's only during spring break. The rest of the year, it's "Girls Gone Saggy." Then it's "Girls Gone Senile." Then it's just "Girls Gone."Spark of Insanity marks the first appearance of Achmed the Dead Terrorist, with his signature line, "I keel you!" Also new in this performance is Melvin the Superhero Guy, whose creation is documented in the extras. The closing "act" are Dunham's old standards, Peanut, the purple-skinned, white-furred, green-tufted "woozle", and José Jalapeño on a Stick, whose three-way conversations with their creator represent the ultimate demonstration of Dunham's virtuoso ventriloquism. In this particular performance, Peanut spends most of his stage time insulting Dunham, who does an impressively convincing slow burn. It's as much Dunham's reactions to his own creations as their life-like behavior that makes them seem so alive. He belongs to the great tradition of comic ventriloquists like Señor Wences and Paul Winchell, who were actors first. They made people laugh by taking their fanciful creations with utmost seriousness, and so does Dunham.
Jeff Dunham: Spark of Insanity Blu-ray, Video Quality
Continuing its usual practice with video-originated hi-def material, Image Entertainment has released Jeff Dunham: Spark of Insanity in a 1080i presentation encoded with the AVC codec. However, the 1080i treatment has not created any noticeable issues. There were no visible combing artifacts while the image was in motion (although screencaps may reveal them), and the image did not lack for sharpness or detail. Colors are varied and properly saturated, while blacks are solid and deep, which is important for Dunham's preferred stage garb (a contrast with the more colorful look of his "cast"). The quality of the hi-def capture is evident in shots from the stage, in which the audience can be seen very clearly. As usual, Image has opted for a BD-25, but the program is sufficiently short, and the extras sufficiently brief, that compression artifacts are not a problem.
Jeff Dunham: Spark of Insanity Blu-ray, Audio Quality
As with Christmas Special, the DTS-HD MA 5.1 for Spark of Insanity is somewhat disappointing in its failure to use the surrounds more aggressively to capture audience reaction. Still, the reproduction on the track remains clear, and Dunham and his artificial co-stars are always intelligible. This particular Dunham show did not require major bleeping to be TV-friendly, although some of the extras did. Since the extras weren't aired, one wonders why they had to be altered at all. As a general matter, there seems to be no good reason why an unbleeped track couldn't have been included as an option, especially since two separate tracks are included for the main feature.
Jeff Dunham: Spark of Insanity Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Jeff Dunham: Spark of Insanity Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Dunham's comedy specials have continued to sell on Blu-ray and DVD for the same reasons his performances draw huge audiences across a broad demographic. His comedy is never mean-spirited, his insults are equal-opportunity, and no one is more often the butt of his jokes than himself. Underlying all the silliness is Dunham's obvious love of the sheer craftsmanship of comedy and entertaining people, especially when it results in surreal moments like Peanut turning to Dunham and gravely explaining that the two of them cannot talk at the same time. Highly recommended.
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