Thou Shalt Laugh is the kind
of DVD that's all too likely to get interest from only a fraction of
its potential audience (except, of course, that one of the useful
functions of a DVD reviewer is to point out these
easy-to-overlook-but-worthwhile titles). The specific selling point
for this stand-up comedy show is that all the performers are
Christian, but that really ought to be a side note; the real point is
that it's a funny show.
That said, I have to admit, with a
small minority of Christians hogging the newspaper headlines with bad
press, it's nice to see an example of what doesn't make the news:
regular, likable, decent people living their lives and doing their
jobs (in this case, by doing comedy) and, by the way, being
Christians. There's no preaching here, just funny, sometimes
self-deprecating looks at the absurdity of daily life and the way
people behave, whether it's in church, at home with the kids, at
work, at the mall, or what-have-you. The "clean" nature of
the show (no swearing or other vulgarity) actually serves to
highlight the genuine humor in the comedians' acts. By now, swearing
has become such a staple of comedy that it's lost its shock value;
despite how tired vulgarity feels at this point, it seems to me that
it's still used (with increasing shrillness) to attempt to inject
life into jokes that otherwise wouldn't be funny. The acts here are
all thus "forced" to go back to what comedy's all about:
the funny or incongruous elements of life that the comic points out
to us. While the no-swearing aspect of the show might make viewers
think of it as automatically a "family" program, in fact
most of the humor would probably go over the heads of kids, while
adults will find the comedians' takes on marriage, kids, family, and
the like as being spot-on funny.
We get seven performers here, each
given a segment of the hour-and-a-half show. Patricia Heaton (from
Everybody Loves Raymond) hosts the show, stepping in with a
biting sense of humor to introduce each of the comics in turn. With
any collection, there's bound to be a range in quality, but overall I
was pleased with how the various performers (none of whom I was
familiar with beforehand) were consistently quite funny. (The blurb
on Amazon for the DVD gives away several of the funniest jokes, which
are of course much better when you actually hear them delivered in
the context of the act, so I won't give any of them away here.)
The show opens with Thor Ramsey, who
has a great on-stage presence and whose riffs on family life are
quite funny and serve as a great warm-up for the rest of the show.
Michael Jr. is up next; his more deadpan style with its focus on
verbal wit takes a little longer to "click" but the end
result is a funny segment. The next comedians in line are two of the
best from the show: Jeff Allen has some great material on family and
kids, while Teresa Roberts Logan has a great segment on body-image
issues that I wish had been longer. I didn't care for the next two.
Joby Saad was billed as the "Village Idiot," and I admit
that his style led me to hit the "next" button to get to
Gilbert Esquivel's piece. I found Esquivel to be too over-the-top,
but with a few decent (and politically incorrect) bits on his
childhood. The program closes with Taylor Mason, who is by far the
best comedian of the whole show (making Thou Shalt Laugh worth
watching just for his segment). Mason is an amazing ventriloquist,
going through a hilarious routine that involves a variety of puppets.
It's pretty much impossible to describe, but it's extremely funny.
Thou Shalt Laugh is presented
in its original widescreen aspect ratio. Though it says on the case
that it's "matted widescreen," which implies (to me) that
it's non-anamorphic, it turned out to be anamorphic. Nice plus. The
image is excellent, especially considering that it's a live show. The
colors are bright and natural, and the image is clean and clear.
The Dolby 2.0 soundtrack is always
clean and clear, so the comedians are easy to hear.
A couple of special features are
included. The best is a six-minute piece called "The Private
Lives of Taylor's Puppets," giving us a look behind the scenes
at Taylor Mason's puppets with some funny ad-lib performing from
Mason and his puppets. A minute of outtakes is so-so, while the
two-minute "Behind the Scenes" segment is funny.
I quite liked Thou Shalt Laugh,
and I'd recommend it to anybody (Christian or not) who's looking for
genuine, relaxed humor based on observations of our ordinary lives.
The overall quality of the acts is high, and I enjoyed getting a
"sampler" of the seven different comics, several of whom
I'd be keen to see a longer program of after seeing them here.