(Some updates have been made regarding the availability of this material, thanks to our loyal reader Joltman.)
In 10 Words or Less
Comedy Central's finest half-hour, finally on DVD (again)
Loves: Stand-up comedy
Likes: Dane Cook, Brian Regan, Mitch Hedberg, Lewis Black, Jim Gaffigan, Demetri Martin
Dislikes: Carlos Mencia
Hates: The ongoing decline of stand-up on Comedy Central
When my family was first able to get Comedy Central, it was like a dream come true to this stand-Up comedy fan. To someone who grew up on HBO comedy specials, having shows like "Stand-Up, Stand-Up" and "Short Attention Span Theater," which exposed me to countless comedy acts, from legends to up-and-comers, was a true gift from above. Sure, MTV had its "Half-Hour Comedy Hour" and VH-1 presented "Stand-Up Spotlight," but Comedy Central showed me more comics than all the rest of the cable line-up combined.
Though it came on much later in the channel's history, when stand-up took a back seat to cartoons and old movies, "Comedy Central Presents" deserves a high spot in the network's pantheon of shows. A worthy basic-cable successor to HBO's recently-revived "One Night Stand" stand-up specials, "CCP" delivered (and still delivers) half-hour sets from a wide-range of rising headliners. It was the first time I could check out a Dave Attell, a Stephen Lynch or a Todd Barry, the way I could if they were playing the local Chuckle Hut. Sure there were some misses in there as well, especially in later seasons which featured 24 episodes, filled out by acts like Vanessa Hollingshead and Steve McGrew, but on average, you were going to see something good.
Of course, it's been a while since some of these specials have been seen on TV, and outside of some DVDs I've burned and the random appearance of an episode as a bonus feature on a DVD, I have been dying to get them on disc. Hopefully this eight-episode compilation is the first of many, as there are some fantastic performances among the nearly 200 shows to date, starting with several in this set.
First up is the third appearance by Lewis Black from 2002 (available previously on "Lewis Black: Unleashed"), whose angry stage persona is in a controlled boil here (free of his usual tics), as he rants about his religion (football) and his major holiday (the Super Bowl) and compares Christmas to Channukah, thus explaining his religion, before explaining where the end of the universe is, and why there's expensive coffee there. His act stands in sharp contrast with Jeff Dunham's 2003 turn on the show. Dunham's been on the comedy scene for a long time, but his ventriloquism has been on an upswing recently, with a Comedy Central special in 2007. Performing with his famous puppets Peanut, Walter, Jose Jalapeno and Melvin, he does a relatively safe, family-friendly set, but it's certainly not my kind of comedy, perhaps because I've seen this act for close to 17 years, and it hasn't changed all that much.
The same goes for Mitch Hedberg, but that's mainly because he's not alive anymore. Here we have his 1999 appearance on "CCP" to remember him by, which previously was available on DVD with his album "Mitch All Together." With an act that's like a slightly peppier Steven Wright, featuring numerous observational one-liners and a unique delivery that'slackadaisical and involved, all at the same time, he came off like the friendly, neighborhood stoner, even taking a seat at times. Whether it was his gentle southern-like drawl, his self-deprecation or his inability to maintain contact with the audience, there was something kind of sweet and innocent about his comedy, something that's sorely missed.
Demetri Martin delivers a similar style of comedy as Hedberg and Wright in his 2004 episode, which also is available separately, on his "Person." DVD or with his CD. Martin's observations and one-liners are presented with more energy than Hedberg, and also incorporate music and props to better get his jokes across. The material he offers is very conceptual in its construction, and really makes the audience work at time, while also being slightly self-indulgent, as seen in the performance finale that recalls the work of Zach Galifianakis.
With non sequitors well represented, nice-guy humor needed some props, which comes in the form of episodes with Jim Gaffigan and Brian Regan. Gaffigan's 22 minutes from 2000 (also found on his CD "Doing My Time") are a perfect sampling of what makes him such a funny stand-up comic, with the audience-thoughts asides and escapee-from-the-midwest perspective. His signature bits about Catholicism, the young Pope and manatees are all fantastic, as are his voices, which are silly and really pump up his jokes (especially the hysterical bit about going to church.) Regan displays some of the same traits and is unsurprisingly just as funny, focusing here on snack foods, including his legendary bit about pop tarts. His thoughts on exercise and dirt are hugely universal, but it's the way he delivers his jokes, with a mixture of worry and panic, that makes him so enjoyable. This special is found on his recent DVD, "Standing Up."
The last two acts are probably the biggest successes of the bunch, Dane Cook and Carlos Mencia, both of which are available as bonus material on their respective CD and DVD. It's odd to see Cook not be idolized here in his 2000 performance, considering how big he is now, as he's highly energetic and physical, and will do anything for a laugh, bounding around the stage and screaming like a maniac. There are some key segments heard in this special, including his confusion at church, the invention of the middle finger and his time in the Burger King drivethrough. Mencia's 2002 episode is also loud, using his aggressive style to pound home his racially-focused comedy. Admittedly, he's got some good points and slams full-bore into politically incorrect areas like accepting blame and immigration, but when he tries to tie in September 11th in an all-to-serious wrap-up, it goes well-beyond what anyone needed out of him.
By the way, the title of this disc is "The Best of Comedy Central Presents Uncensored," however the only versions included are the censored (and therefore shorter) editions, seen most obviously during Cook's show, which sees his handed blurred during his middle finger bit. Why bother with the title Uncensored, if you can't make it happen?
A one-disc release, the DVD is packaged in a standard keepcase and features a static full-frame menu offering a choice of episodes, a play-all option, some previews and some Comedy Central Quickies.
The full-frame transfers on this DVD improve as they become more recent, though the older episodes don't look bad; just softer and a bit duller than the newer ones. The quality of the color and clarity of the image is directly related to the age of the show, with Martin's episode looking vividly colorful, with a good amount of detail. None of the episodes have any issues with dirt or damage, and there were no obvious problems with digital artifacts.
The Dolby Digital 2.0 tracks on these episodes are just what you would expect from basic-cable stand-up comedy, which is center-focused dialogue and good separation from the music and audience response.
The only extras included are four Quickies clips, including "South Park," "Lil' Bush," "The Colbert Report," and "The Sarah Silverman Program," and a set of trailers. That is all.
The Bottom Line
Though the choice of acts is solid overall, the problem here is the ready availability of all but one of these shows, in better, uncensored versions, for fans of those comics. Other than that, it's a welcome release, especially if it's followed by more volumes in short order. The DVD looks and sounds nice, though there are no real extras included. At the somewhat bargain price, it's certainly a good deal for stand-up fans who don't already own the 88 percent that's previously been released.
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 his convention blog called Conning Fellow
*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.