On October 23, Comedy Central drew the highest viewership of any premiere in the network’s history with its pilot episode of The Jeff Dunham Show. Dunham is a hugely popular comedian-ventriloquist who incorporates several stereotypical puppet characters in
his show, from Achmed, a dead Muslim terrorist (whose puppet costume is a skeleton), to a bigoted senior citizen puppet named Walter.
In one of the opening sketches of the pilot, Dunham and the ever-crotchety Walter see a therapist to resolve their consistent spats. When Walter discovers that the therapist is gay and “married to a man,” Walter leaves the session out of concern that everyone thinks he and Dunham are a gay couple. He retreats to a bathroom stall. “I told you we shouldn’t have come to Hollywood. This is what they do here. Everyone thinks we’re gay!” Walter and Dunham both make references to the actions they associate with being gay. The end result from Dunham: “I don’t want to be gay with you.”
Where the sketch with Walter and Dunham walks an extremely fine line between comedy and insult, Dunham’s previous stand-up acts illustrate a clearer homophobic tone. In one such show, Dunham’s character, a furry puppet named Peanut, makes several derogatory remarks regarding a gay superhero named “Gay Man.” “When he flies, his butt whistles,” Peanut says. Also, “Don’t turn your back on him.”
GLAAD is closely monitoring The Jeff Dunham Show and reaching out to Comedy Central executives to ensure that Comedy Central does not give The Jeff Dunham Show legitimacy to malign or attack the LGBT community in the name of “equal opportunity offender” comedy.