In 10 Words or Less
All the Rodney anyone needs...and then a bit more
HBO's biggest strength in its early days was its lineup of stand-up specials, led by George Carlin's envelope-pushing performances. If they were funny, they were doing hour-long sets on this cable pioneer. That includes Rodney Dangerfield, who used his specials to give exposure to young comics. Of course, this was after years of using his ABC specials to build his own career. These were relatively popular shows, but today, with Dangerfield gone, many people have never seen these shows.
"Rodney Dangerfield: No Respect - The Ultimate Collection" is a collection of rarities featuring the bug-eyed comic at the peak of his powers, when he ruled the comedy world in the mid to late '80s. There are four HBO specials and three ABC shows, plus a selection of bonus features. The first disc focuses on Dangerfield's network work, where he hosted his own "Saturday Night Live"-like specials, often featuring a sidekick comic and a hot woman to play off of. 1981's "It Not Easy Being Me" sees Bill Murray and then-starlet Valerie Perrine join Rodney for a series of sketches and musical numbers. Murray is somewhat restrained, but still funny, especially during a kabuki performance, while Perrine is simply "there." Aretha Franklin stops by for a couple of songs, including one where Dangerfield pretends to be a back-up singer. Outside of a bizarre superhero face-off, most of the sketches are just ways to allow Rodney to do his thing in the context of a scene.
"I Can't Take it No More," from 1983, features a larger guest cast, with Andy Kaufman, Robert Urich, Harold Ramis, Donna Dixon and Angie Dickenson helping out Rodney. There are some weak moments here, including the incredibly ill-advised "Rappin' Rodney" segment, where Kaufman seems embarrassed to be there, but a Dr. Vinnie Goombatz sketch, which is essentially Kaufman doing a Dangerfield imitation, saves face, along with the adorable Camp Ha-Ha bit, about a comedy camp for kids. This is probably the best of the network specials.
Harvey Korman and Morgan Fairchild, along with a couple of pro football players, including Dick Butkus and Bubba Smith, guest on the final ABC show, "Exposed," which has a theme where all the sketches are from a tabloid magazine. If the last show was the best of the three, this is the least impressive. The musical numbers, one done to the rhythm of Michael Jackson's "Beat It," feature a crowd of singing and dancing '80s stereotypes, and are pretty embarrassing, while the sketches, including a too-long mer-man bit and a story about an inflatable women, fall flat.
Disc Two is where this set really shines, with Dangerfield's HBO specials. Rodney performs a brief set, but then hands over the reigns to less-established acts, many of which became major comedy stars. Sure, it's more comics than Rodney, but it's his spirit that drives the shows. The first, repeating the title "It's Not Easy Bein' Me," was shot in 1986, at Dangerfield's New York City comedy club. A mix of short sketches and stand-up performances, it has early sets by Jerry Seinfeld, Robert Townsend, Sam Kinison and Roseanne Barr, along with less-known comics Bob Nelson and Jeff Altman. These aren't the most polished performances of their careers, but they are funny, and Dangerfield has some good stuff in here as well.
1987's "Nothin' Goes Right" is another go-round at the club, with another rookie all-star line-up, this time with Lenny Clarke, Bill Hicks, Dom Irrera, Carol Leifer, Andrew Dice Clay and Robert Schimmel. Also-ran Barry Sobel (of Revenge of the Nerds II: Nerds in Paradise fame) provides the night's lowest moment as he raps an embarrassingly unfunny set, while The Diceman reminds us that we had no taste in the '80s. The Hicks set is particularly interesting, as he hasn't embraced his acerbic social commentary fully yet at this point. By the end, you can see where he was headed. This is a quality collection of comedic talent.
The concept changed for 1991's "The Really Big Show," and this time, Rodney's trying to get a group of comics to appear on his special. Unfortunately, Dangerfield's eye for talent seemed to need glasses by 1991. The line-up is the least impressive, featuring Sid Youngers, Bob Zany, David Tyree, Hugh Fink and Rodney's long-time collaborator Harry Basil. If you don't recognize any of these names, it's for a reason. Zany and Fink had decent acts, but none of the five comics stood out much, with the exception of Fink's violin-playing jokes. An appearance by the always funny Fred Willard is easily the best part.
For some reason, the fourth cable special was shunted to the third disc, and is out of order, coming from 1989. "Opening Night at Rodney's Place" returns to the comedy club concept, with Rodney hosting at, appropriately, Rodney's Place in Las Vegas. The talent includes Tim Allen, Jeff Foxworthy and Thea Vidale, as well as undercard comics John Fox, Larry Reeb, Greg Travis. The foundations of Allen and Foxworthy's trademark acts are seen in their sets, while the other comics, except for Reeb, are moderately entertaining. The sketches between comics are OK, though a cameo by Ron Jeremy in a sketch about Rodney trying out for a porno film is really unnecessary. Better than their performances though is a guest spot by Sam Kinison as himself.
The three DVDs are packaged in a gatefold digipak, housed in a well-designed slipcase. A description of each disc is included on the digipak, with credits and a short Dangerfield bio. Each disc has a static full-screen main menu with access to each special, and a neat scene selection menu that shows a preview still of each sketch and comedian. There are no audio options, no subtitles and no captioning. It's a well-packaged set.
All of the full-frame video on these DVDs has the look one would expect from TV shows over 20 years old, with plenty of gtain, soft detail, harsh lighting and color bleeding. Around the edges there are obvious video problems, with visible banding and ghosting. That said, it's better than it could have been. The ABC specials, despite being years older than the first two HBO specials, look much better. The first two HBO specials are grainy, soft, and loaded with dull color. You'd have to think ABC simply had a bigger budget that fledging HBO. The second two HBO specials look much better, with crisper detail and better color. As far as sound goes, the discs are presented in simple 2.0 Dolby, which does the trick. There's not much that could have been done with the source material.
Disc Three contains all the extras for this set, a trio of bonuses that haven't been readily available to Rodney fans. Each is preceded by a short text introduction that sets up the clip. First up is a segment from the 30th Anniversary Special for "This is Your Life," focusing on Dangerfield. For anyone unfamiliar with the concept, host David Frost surprises his subject to talk about their life and introduces mystery guests from the subject's past. Dangerfield lived an interesting life, and this special, from the prime of his career, is an interesting video curiosity. It aired just once on TV in 1986, and is available for the first time here.
A nine-minute appearance by Dangerfield on "The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson" follows, with a performance and sit-down chat with Carson. Carson was a huge fan of Rodney's and had him on the show over 70 times. This was a vintage performance and footage that's unlikely to be seen elsewhere. The same can be said for the 48-minute Las Vegas Dangerfield performance included, which has never been seen before and comes right from the comic's own video collection. The quality is pure home-video, but the comedy is at a higher level. This is Dangerfield at his rawest, from Bally's in 1988, in as dirty a performance as anyone's seen from him. If you never saw Dangerfield's nightclub act, this is your last and only chance. A true rarity. Thanks to the unique nature of these extras, this disc is definitely a nice bonus for a set that's already quite packed with good stuff.
The Bottom Line
For a Dangerfield fan, this set truly lives up to the name "The Ultimate Collection," with seven specials featuring the late, great comic, plus some solid extras. For any fan of stand-ups, you get to see early performances by some of the best in the business, including Jerry Seinfeld, Sam Kinison and Bill Hicks. Sure, most of the comedy hasn't aged well, but as a time capsule, it's a great collection.
Francis Rizzo III is a native Long Islander, where he works in academia. In his spare time, he enjoys watching hockey, writing and spending time with his wife, daughter and puppy.Check out 1106 - A Moment in Fictional Time or follow him on Twitter
*The Reviewer's Bias section is an attempt to help readers use the review to its best effect. By knowing where the reviewer's biases lie on the film's subject matter, one can read the review with the right mindset.