The Awkward Comedy Show is ostensibly a chronicle of the voices of "alternative black comedy"--idiosyncratic stand-ups who perform nerdy material outside of the mainstream. Don't run away, they're not that weird--just enough to be interesting. (Then again, maybe I'm more familiar with "alternative" stand-up than I am with whatever's popular with the kids these days...)
The movie showcases four different comedians and features host Marina Franklin, who tells a few jokes in between each set. You can't say there's no variety in the acts. At one point, the movie transitions from the hyper, constantly moving Eric Andre to the wonderfully muted Hannibal Buress. Add in the absurdity of Baron Vaughn's song about penises and lollypops and Victor Varnado's lament on forever being known as "the black albino," and you've got yourself a fun 90 minutes. None of these guys are quite at the level of the greats who can keep people roaring for for a full hour, but in this sampler format, they don't need to be. Each earns some laughs, then moves aside for someone new.
One standout is the wonderfully deadpan Buress, of whom Varnado says, "I had never seen someone so sedate with skin that dark." Buress has a talent for delivering rye observations within silly jokes, and picking out the absurd details of his subjects, like Grand Theft Auto's refusal to let him kill his bitchy girlfriend or Nelly's preposterous lyrics about "manicured toes." Vaughn also comments on hip-hop lyrics, comparing modern rappers bragging about their money to people filling out their tax forms.
Varnado directed the film in addition to performing in it. He maintains an intimate feel, keeping the camera close on the comedians and staying focused on the performances, with no cutaways to random audience members.
The film does, however, venture beyond the stand-up. Before each comic's set, an introductory sequence establishes the performer's personalities by showing the other comics talking about their colleague. There are also basic but fun animated sequences in which each comic (besides emcee Franklin) shares a true story about his life.
Overall, the 16x9 picture on the DVD is respectable. The performers sometimes look a little pinkish in the highlights due to the lighting, and there are a few minor imperfections in the image, although I suspect the oddities were picked up in camera during shooting, as they don't look like usual compression artifacts. There are only a couple of these, and most people won't notice--they certainly don't affect the success of the jokes.
The backstage footage was shot on a crummy digital camera (to keep things intimate, Varnado says in the commentary), and then converted to black-and-white and processed to give it a kind of lo-fi old-school look. Unfortunately, the effect is unconvincing, and the image is blocky and ugly. These scenes, however, make up a small portion of the film, and most of the movie was shot in HD.
The Awkward Comedy Show contains a well-mixed and -recorded stereo track, although the limitations of the live setup and hand-held microphones are at times apparent. Tone occasionally shifts depending on the position of the microphones, but it's always easy to understand. Which is good, since the disc contains no subtitles or alternate audio options outside of the commentary track.
(Note: The audio on some of the extras is much more raw, contains more pops and noise, and would not be acceptable in the feature.)
The bonus features include deleted scenes presented under three different headers: Backstage with the Comedians, Bonus Interviews and Bonus Jokes. The DVD producers chose to include exactly one cut joke and one cut interview clip from each comedian. The jokes are all amusing, although no one's best one wound up in the trash. As mentioned, the sound on the extra jokes is at times distractingly bad. It'll make you grateful that they cleaned it up for the feature. The backstage footage contains general goof-offery and pranks.
The conversational audio commentaryfeatures Varnado, Buress, and producer Jay Stern. There are fun tangents and some interesting discussion of the stand-up business, but nothing essential. Varnado also tells the story of his first audio commentary, from a film he acted in, and how the producers of that DVD rejected it.
There's also, say it with me now, a trailer.
The Awkward Comedy Show is a satisfying sampler of clever "black alternative" comics. I'd be willing to watch any of these comedians again, especially Buress and Vaughn. The DVD is a fine presentation with a nice collection of extra features.
Jeremy Mathews has been subjecting films to his criticism since 2000. He has contributed to several publications, including Film Threat, Salt Lake City Weekly, the Salt Lake Tribune, In Utah This Week and The Wasatch Journal. He also runs the blog The Same Dame and fronts the band NSPS.