Comedian Jeff Dunham’s booking for an upcoming show at the St. Catharines-owned Meridian Center has the city’s anti-racism advisory committee saying: Seriously?
The committee is asking city councilors to ask the Meridian Center to cancel the Nov. 20 American Ventriloquist show — something councilors will discuss on Monday.
At issue are the characters used in Dunham’s act who should be part of the North American show “Jeff Dunham: Seriously?” tour which includes a bearded skeleton puppet called Achmed the Dead Terrorist and a Latino puppet named “Jose Jalepeno”.
A black puppet, Sweet Daddy Dee, who is a pimp, appears in Dunham’s old online videos, but was reportedly removed from the act.
A committee resolution, backed by the city’s social sustainability committee, says the characters are based on racist stereotypes and have no place in a city-owned facility.
“If the city says we’re a compassionate city, we’re taking a stand against racism, there’s no room for racism, homophobia or misogyny here, so how can we have a performance that violates those city property policies? Saleh Waziruddin, chairman of the city’s anti-racism advisory committee, asked in an interview.
Waziruddin said holding the show would violate the city’s own Rzone policy – a zero-tolerance approach to inappropriate behavior and violence, including racism and hate speech, aimed at ensuring spaces cities are inclusive for all.
“You can’t have it both ways,” he said. “You can’t say you’re a city sympathetic to racism and then you don’t do anything when such a performance comes to town.”
The Sustainability Committee, to which the Anti-Racism Committee reports, is asking City Council to ask Meridian Center management, ASM Global, to consider canceling Dunham’s representation.
It also asks the city to create guiding principles for future performance at all city facilities with input from equity research groups or advisory committees or both.
Merritton County Greg Miller, a council representative on the social sustainability committee bringing the motion forward, said he doesn’t want the council to get involved in the deed reservation, but said he could be a blind spot in the city’s current policies.
“As the anti-racism committee motion points out, it’s a bit hypocritical to have a zero-tolerance policy for fans at kids’ hockey games and then pay performers with what I would call money for acts of intolerance to come and perform in the city.”
Dunham is one of the world’s most famous comedians and his November 20 show sells out nearly sold out at the 5,200-seat Meridian Centre. He performed for a sold-out show at the center previously in 2018.
Kay Meilleur, the center’s marketing manager, said in an email that the Meridian Center presents a wide variety of music, comedy and other entertainment for a demographic that makes up a diverse community. She said the opinions expressed by all acts are not necessarily shared by the venue or the staff.
“ASM Global and the Meridian Center remain true to their commitment to providing a safe environment for all fans and employees who choose to attend an event, while supporting bands who choose not to attend due to content which might be considered by some to be offensive.”
Representatives for Jeff Dunham did not respond to requests for comment in a timely manner.
In an interview with The Guardian in 2018, Dunham said some of the tracks he had performed in the past made him “cringe a bit”, but added “You don’t want to lose your edge either, it’s is another fine line.”
He told the British newspaper that whatever he did to offend three or four per cent of people was what the remaining 96 per cent “laughed the hardest at”.