Despite past controversy and the ire of many other comedians, Jeff Dunham continues to draw huge crowds across the U.S. and the world. The comedian, best known for using ventriloquist puppets as part of his act, has now run up against government censorship due to his caricature of Islam.
Dunham, who most recently drew crowds to his “All Over the Map” world tour, was forced by the Malaysia Ministry of Culture and Arts to alter his show for an appearance in that country.
According to a statement released by Dunham, the ministry’s demands involved the Achmed the Dead Terrorist puppet, which Dunham uses to send up an extremely exaggerated stereotype of Middle Eastern terrorists. The puppet is one of Dunham’s most popular and is also one of the puppets Dunham uses to serve as a foil for racially or religiously sensitive comedy. The comedian describes Achmed as an “inept suicide bomber whose love of life harshly conflicts with his own profession.”
For the show to go on, Malaysian authorities requested that Achmed’s entire likeness and name be changed. In addition, Dunham would have to censor his act of any references to virgins or any other overtly religious topics.
Though he later stated that he is a proponent of free speech, Dunham did accede to the Ministry of Culture. The comedian changed the Achmed puppet and re-wrote portions of his act in the hours before his performance, re-casting the puppet as Achmed’s brother. Dunham said he now considers the performance one of the highlights of his tour. He also emphasized that Achmed went over very well in both the United Arab Emirates and Israel.
“While I respect the wishes of our host country, I’m also an American and a firm believer in the freedom of speech,” said Dunham. “On the other hand, I wanted to avoid Achmed and I getting thrown in jail and being caned.
“So let’s just say that the character that took center stage in Malaysia was strikingly familiar to all in attendance, but it was a last minute twist that became the highlight of the entire tour.”
Image via Youtube