See the USA's top-grossing comedian... but be prepared for controversy
US ventriloquist Jeff Dunham made his name on Comedy Central and The Late Show with David Letterman, and now brings his black comedy to the UAE. The top-grossing standup act in the USA according to Pollstar, Dunham will perform at Yas Island’s du Forum in May.
Dunham’s most popular character is Achmed the Dead Terrorist, debuted in 2007 as part of his Comedy Central special, Sparks of Insanity. The controversial character was created by Dunham’s as a way to understand “the terrorist’s extremist views and beliefs”. As Dunham talks to Achmed on stage, the audience learns they are listening to the skeleton of a suicide bomber.
Despite over 40 million YouTube views and a hugely popular ringtone, Achmed the Dead Terrorist has attracted widespread accusations of racism. In 2008, a South African television commercial promoting the Achmed the Dead Terrorist ringtone was banned, with the country’s Advertising Standards Authority reportedly calling it offensive to Muslims.
Mishal Kanoo, a comedy fan, Dubai resident and deputy chairman of the business company The Kanoo Group, says Dunham’s act is not suitable in the Middle East.
“It’s insulting and defamatory,” he said. “Now some people may say this is humour and it’s all fine and we should accept it. What I am saying is this humour has malice in the way that he is pointing to religion. He is associating terrorism with Islam and terrorism with Arabs. Now you can do that act or whatever you want in your part of the world but to bring it here is irresponsible.”
Kanoo believes the Arab world must protect against the negative image of Islam embodied by Achmed the Dead Terrorist.
“I don’t hold Dunham accountable, but ourselves instead,” he says. “How can we let such things come to this part of the world without anyone saying that this is derogatory and insulting?”
Dunham has repeatedly defended the character, claiming it has never been his intention to offend.
“We make it very plain that Achmed is just this goofy character who doesn’t have his heart in blowing things up,” said Dunham. “I can understand somebody watching this 10-second clip out of context and becoming offended by it. But those people should watch the whole show before you make a complete judgment.”