In 10 Words or Less
Classic stand-up that bats an incredible .750
Loves: Stand-up comedy, Stephen Lynch, Patton Oswalt
Likes: Dave Attell, Mike Birbiglia, Zach Galifianakis, Nick Swardson
Dislikes: Frank Caliendo's tired act
The Story So Far...
"Comedy Central Presents" is a sweet little treat for Comedy Central fans who remember when the channel was loaded with stand-up offerings, delivering a half-hour set from an up-and-coming comic. The series started in 1998, and completed its 12th season in April of 2008. After a long wait, Comedy Central finally began releasing these specials on their own DVDs, starting with "The Best of Comedy Central Presents I," which hit stores in February of this year. DVDTalk has reviews from Aaron Beierle and Francis Rizzo III.
Oh joyous day. Seriously, when I heard about a DVD collection of the best episodes of the "Comedy Central Presents" stand-up series, this second volume's line-up is almost exactly what I wanted to see. The first release was a good one, with a few quibbles from this party, but these are the names I wanted: Lynch, Attell, Oswalt and Galifianakis. Now, between the first two releases, I have almost every CCP performance I could need. Almost.
First up is every late-night drunk's best pal, Dave Attell. Before he became a name in after-hours entertainment, he did this set for CCP, which is the distilled essence of his act, with all the self-deprecation and lumbering aggression you expect from him. From his story about unsuccessfully fighting a Navy SEAL to his advice for when you're caught masturbating, Attell tells tales of inebriation that are laced with surreal touches that are sold by his near-manic delivery. Even if he wasn't telling jokes, the way he talks just makes you want to listen.
You couldn't ask for a more opposite performer from Attell than Mike Birbiglia, who only recently took off as a comic. This special, from 2004, shows the comic in his earlier, happy to be here mode, with a very peppy delivery and material that's not up to his current standards, though his display of some of his childhood greeting cards is adorable. The exasperated way he tells some punchlines is in place from the beginning, along with a small bit of his trademarks, like his rapist bed and his technophobic parents, but he's more over the top than he is now. Considering how polished his act is today, it's odd to see him flub a few jokes, such as his hip-hop bits, but for the most part, it's like watching a home movie of your now-very funny cousin.
Frank Caliendo follows Birbiglia, and it's probably the best spot for him, as following a stronger set would have been suicide. I caught his act at Opie and Anthony's Travel Virus comedy tour, and it was one of the most uncomfortable experiences I've ever known, as the crowd brutally turned on him, mainly because it was just what everyone expected from him, namely a John Madden impression, a George W. Bush impersonation and several other examples of his well-honed mimicry (several of which are certainly hacky at this point.) The problem becomes obvious watching this 2004 episode, as he's doing the same act, even joking at one point that his act doesn't change. There's no denying he's talented, but there's nothing all that funny about what he does with his voices. He simply just does a great job of imitating famous people.
If Caliendo is the stereotypical impersonator, Galifianakis has no real label, dong an act that combines piano playing, props and a stream-of-consciousness act that is all over the place. If there's any comparison, you could say he's a higher-energy Dmitri Martin, but even that's not quite right, outside of their shared use of big pads of paper and music. Perhaps that's because Martin hasn't been backed by an all-girl a cappella group as he dances in a leotard. Galifianakis is a bit more mainstream, doing some jokes about TV and being drunk and delivering some purposely short, uninvolved impersonations, though he gets into some fun musing while he tickles the ivories. It's the little bits of wordplay and odd tangents that really make him fun to watch.
As good as Galifianakis is, when it comes to musical comedy, no one can touch Stephen Lynch and his guitar. Even if the songs he sings weren't hysterically dirty or improper, he'd still be worth listening to, as his Tony-nominated turn on Broadway showed. Here, in his most recent "CCP" appearance, he sings songs from his latest album, "The Craig Machine," including Craig Christ, Beelz, Vanilla Ice Cream and Grandfather. Keeping the chatter to a minimum, he squeezes in as many songs as possible, including a performance of crowd favorite "D&D" with his pals Mark Teich and Rod Cone. There's something about his clean-cut looks and great voice that makes songs like the ballad "Tiny Little Mustache" all the more shocking and therefore effective. It's hard to say which is the better episode, this or his first appearance, but it's like choosing which of your kids you love more. Obviously, it's the one with the better salary.
The choice would be much harder if one of those kids was Patton Oswalt, as he knows just how to make me laugh (hint: I'm ticklish on the back of my neck.) Telling stories about smoking pot in Amsterdam, reviewing the history of Easter egg decorating and remembering his time hiding in the Anne Frank Museum make him into a geek hero, but one with an easy charm and confident delivery that can swing into silliness when needed. The relaxed way he tells stories may sacrifice some of the easy punchlines he could hit, but when he gets a bit excited, normally in a cartoonish "angry guy" style, its damn funny as well, as he doesn't have much patience for stupid people or concepts, which crop up during his well-crafted stories.
While I know exactly why I like Oswalt, I can't quite figure out why Nick Swardson, often seen on "Reno: 911!" as Terry the rollerskating gay prostitute, makes me laugh so consistently. Perhaps it's just because he's very silly, and I enjoy silly, like when he smiles absurdly at the news of a friend's father being hospitalized or hopes his kids are born British. His relaxed surfer style makes even the most out-there ideas seem completely natural, such as his thoughts about setting off fireworks in airplanes (complete with sound effects.) It's that unusual point of view that sets up the highlight of his set, as he points out how babies are like small drunk people. As a father not far removed from having a baby, it was hilarious to see the situation through Swardson's eyes.
I'd love to stop here, but there's one left, and I don't know what it is about Daniel Tosh, but I just didn't get it. Perhaps it's because he goes non-stop, perhaps its his intimidating height, perhaps it's the odd way he holds the mic like he's praying. Whatever the case, he just couldn't make me laugh, which is odd, since I know that several of the jokes, ones about collecting change and giving it to the homeless or equating sex with breakfast, should be funny, but they aren't. Incredulously, he actually manages to stop jokes short with asides that leave the audience silent. This was a serious disappointment in comparison with the other episodes, and features one of the worst audience reactions ever on "CCP."
After watching all these episodes, especially Lynch's, it becomes obvious that a 21-minute show split up by several fades to black is not the optimal way to watch a comedy act, as any momentum can be lost in an instant. As a result, when the end rolls around, it feels more like a tease than a complete performance. On a side note, like last time, several of these specials are available elsewhere (Oswalt's is on his DVD, while Tosh, Swardson and Birbiglia's CDs have their specials) but not as many this time, while unlike last time, these actually are uncensored editions, a fact made clear during Lynch's filthier songs.
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. There are no audio options and no subtitles, but there is closed captioning.
The full-frame transfers are from mostly from recent episodes, with nice color and clarity in the image for a basic-cable series, though even the older shows, like Attell and Oswalt from 1999, look good. None of the episodes have any issues with dirt or damage, and there were no obvious problems with digital artifacts.
Just like last time, the sound is presented as Dolby Digital 2.0 tracks, which sound the same way they did when the show aired on TV, with center-focused dialogue and good separation from the reaction of the audience.
The only extras included are a trio of Quickies clips, including "The Daily Show," "The Colbert Report," and "Reno: 911!," and a set of trailers. Once again, that is all.
The Bottom Line
If you went to a comedy show and six of these guys performed, you'd be experiencing one of the best nights of stand-up ever. That you'd have to sit through Caliendo and Tosh...well, dem's the breaks. At least you're getting six other outstanding comics. The DVD quality is solid all around, reflecting the show's basic-cable roots, but there are no extras included. Unfortunately, this could the the show's pinnacle, as there's not a lot of top-notch episodes left, though I'm hoping for Todd Barry, Elvira Kurt, Louis C.K., Al Madrigal and the original Stephen Lynch next time out.
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.