"This has got to be the unfunniest segment I've ever been involved with." - Guy on Street
National Lampoon, a brand whose association with quality comedy grows dimmer with each passing year, and Barry Katz, executive producer of Last Comic Standing (as well as manager for many of the featured contestants), "team up" in a series of DVDs featuring five stand-up routines loosely organized by theme. The International Show seeks to present performers from around the globe.
"From the four corners of the Earth, National Lampoon is proud to present a bunch of illegal aliens: a Canuck, an Arab, an Aussie, a Mexican and a Black guy pretending to be an islander." That is the official introduction to this DVD (apparently from Alonzo Bodden, but uncredited), and it's about as in-depth of a summary as this event deserves. Notice how they are not proud to present five funny comedians? It's pretty accurate in that regard. Not so accurate, however, is the "international" theme. The "Mexican" is essentially from Texas, the "Arab" grew up in California, and the "Black guy" is pretending, but I'm just picking nits. The flaws in this DVD run much deeper than the superficial holes in the basic premise, so let's get to it.
Clocking in at just over 63 minutes, this night of comedy is hosted by Dat Phan, winner of the first season of Last Comic Standing and has-been in training. His return to television on the second season of the show that made him moderately "famous" was very underwhelming, and his brief appearances introducing the comics continue along that pattern. Relying on similar ethnic humor like that which defeated Ralphie May, he awkwardly begins the show and introduces the first comic, Gerry Dee.
Dee gives a standard performance in the style of John Heffron (winner of Last Comic Standing's 2nd season), drawing material from his 8 years as a physical education teacher. He has a good deal of energy and seems to be a relatively likeable guy, but his routine is a bit jumbled and does little to stand apart from countless other nameless comics. After his act (as well as every other act) is a remarkably bad backstage "interview" with Magdalena who embarrassingly giggles through a few moments of witless banter before proceeding to the next act.
Following Gerry is Ahmed Ahmed -- born in Egypt but raised in California -- whose routine almost exclusively focuses on the fact that he has a name that sounds like it belongs to a terrorist. His 10 minutes on stage set the tone for the rest of the performances, all of which will rely heavily on racial comedy. Personally, I find racial comedy hilarious when it's insightful, but his material is standard "I have trouble at airports because I'm foreign" jokes without anything particularly creative or unique.
After watching the third comic, Susanna Brisk, I asked myself, "Who did she sleep with to get this gig?" Then I remembered she's the wife of the Executive Producer. Whenever you hear someone say that a performer -- Ellen DeGeneres, for example -- isn't a "female comic" (but a bona fide comedian), they're talking about people like Susanna Brisk. All too often stand-up comics pigeonhole themselves by race or gender, and Brisk is a textbook example of this. Mixing in a Russian accent, her jokes about an overbearing mother and the simplicity of the male mind have been the crutch of female comics as long as women have taken the stage. She is easily the worst performer of the night, and the crowd barely acknowledges her routine.
Oddly placed in the penultimate position, Luke Torres (the "Mexican") is the one solid performance on this DVD. While also relying on ethnic humor, his material is creative, and he has great energy on stage as well as a good sense of timing with the audience. Clearly gaining experience from his one-man play, the crowd really responds to him, and he peppers his routine with many accents and characters, subtly working in some nice ethnic colloquialisms. While the material is a bit heavy on self-deprecating Mexican humor, he offsets it nicely, poking fun at all cultures, particularly a nice jab at Angry White Kid music.
The final performance comes from Macio, and although better than some of the earlier comics, it's not up to par with Torres and is a poor way to finish the event. His jokes are straight from the "White People are Afraid of Black People" school of comedy with a minor in "Black People Can't Get Cabs" and we've heard it all before. He has a good stage presence and a couple of decent bits involving cab drivers, but it's just not enough. His set ends with a dud, as does the DVD.
Presented in anamorphic widescreen, the DVD looks fantastic. The footage is bright and clear and almost distracts from the poor level of comedy. Almost. The soundtrack, however, is an odd choice, proving that good technical specs are no substitute for competent mixing. The audio is 5.1 and attempts to recreate the feel of being in the audience. Unfortunately, the mix is awkward, often with the crowd noises overpowering the comics and annoying snippets of conversations from the crowd coming through on the rear speakers. In this case, a simple stereo track would have been preferable.
The main menu is very simple and consists of a "Play Show" button that (obviously) plays the entire presentation in addition to clickable images of the performers that jump to each comic's particular chapter.
The only "extra" on this disc is an 8 and a half minute spaz-fest from Jay Davis, that kid in high school who is convinced that if he acts loudly and silly enough, perhaps he'll stumble onto something resembling comedy. Technically credited as "Behind the Scenes Host" he has brief conversations with some of the performers and audience members throughout the evening, and with quick-cut editing and an annoying soundtrack, he tries to create the illusion of comedy. It's a miserable failure, and the producers would have been better off just omitting this from the DVD.
Many people have criticized Last Comic Standing and Barry Katz for deceiving the public with a "competition" that was little more than an attempt to promote Barry's particular clients for an NBC sitcom and massage the results to make that happen. Whatever your opinion on that matter, this DVD series is clearly an effort to capitalize on that initial surge and gain even more exposure for these comedians. Unfortunately, they just aren't that funny, and whether you liked the television series or not, it's unlikely you'll find much of anything interesting in this DVD. Still, Torres is enthusiastic and entertaining, so for that reason alone, you may want to Rent It.