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How to Woo the TV Critics? With Insults.

By Lisa de Moraes
Thursday, July 30, 2009

PASADENA, Calif., July 29 Jeff Dunham Show: Funny as a Block of [Expletive] Wood

Not my headline -- it's Dunham's, along with a slew of others he fed to TV critics who'd been giving him withering looks at Summer TV Press Tour 2009.

Comic/ventriloquist Dunham is a monster ratings magnet for Comedy Central. His Christmas special, with 6.6 million viewers viewing, was the network's most watched program -- ever.

Not surprisingly, Comedy Central wanted to do a series with him, which will debut on the network in October.

Not surprisingly, Comedy Central also wanted to bring Dunham to the press tour to promote the show. Press tour is that semiannual confab when TV critics and The Reporters Who Cover Television all shack up in a hotel in Los Angeles and TV networks take turns trotting out their new programs and -- the very brave networks -- their executives for Q&As.

Dunham thought he could have the TV critics eating out of his hand if, before taking questions, he treated them to some of his "old tired [ventriloquism]" to which he's given "fresh paint."

TV critics don't much go in for ventriloquism.

"It's a tough crowd. There's more tension here than in Chris Brown's car," Dunham said via his Grumpy Old Man puppet named Walter.

It's not the first time someone has died onstage at the press tour.

It is, however, the first time TV critics have stomped and danced on the carcass.

Maybe it's because Dunham was the third or fourth person in less than two days at the tour who has openly mocked them. It's an interesting strategy for trying to influence critics to say nice things about your TV show.

In Dunham's case, Walter delivered the nastiest bits because, Dunham later explained, Walter can get away with saying stuff he, Dunham, can't.

Wrong again, Jeff:

"So, their job is to get up in the morning, turn on the TV, stuff their pie-hole and then trash the new shows! This is genius!" Walter/Dunham said to Smug Dunham about the critics in the room, as they watched and listened and glowered.

"For these guys, would becoming a YouTube critic be a move up or down?" Walter/Dunham asked Smug Dunham. Again -- critics in the room.

"Sit down, son of a [female dog] -- we're not finished!" Walter/Dunham shouted at a photographer who got up to leave so photos of this train wreck could be made available to Web sites and publications around the world.

"You, too -- should have [gone to the bathroom] before you got here!" Walter/Dunham snarled at one of the tag-teaming court reporters who was employed to transcribe this midday nightmare as she got up to head to the transcribing room in the middle of his standup routine.

"Oh yeah, print. Remember that -- the newspapers? Are you guys going to get laid off or take the early severance package?" Walter/Dunham said, this time addressing the critics directly.

"Too soon!" one critic shouted back. Sure, Dunham was getting his own time in front of a hundred TV critics to pitch his new Comedy Central TV series, but you could see he was beginning to ask himself whether getting his moment in front of a hundred TV critics to pitch his own Comedy Central TV series was everything.

Walter/Dunham noted there were critics in the room from all across the country -- even one from France.

"How ironic -- the French tell us our show sucks!" Dunham sneered without moving his lips.

"You suck!" the French critic, Henry Arnaud of Le Matin newspaper, shot back, instantly becoming the hero of the TV Critics Association.

"I'm glad the media is here -- thank you for all the Michael Jackson Dead coverage," Dunham continued, losing all self-control. Of course, TV critics had nothing to do with the Michael Jackson death coverage; the critics have, in fact, been mostly savaging the excess of Michael Jackson death coverage on TV.

At some point Dunham turned his rage on Comedy Central programming chief Lauren Correo -- the very woman who has given him his own TV series. She was up onstage with him, standing behind a podium, looking as if she wished a large hook would appear and pull them both off stage.

"Lauren, you should sit on Jeff's other knee and he will stick his hand up your . . . back."

"This is the saddest event I've ever been to," Walter/Dunham told the TV critics on the second day of the tour.

The feeling was mutual.

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