In 10 Words or Less
The first hour of a potentially great career
Loves: Stand-Up, Community, Donald Glover, Childish Gambino
rise of the guardian
Hates: Racial humor
If the "Loves" section of this title's "Reviewer's Bias" didn't make you aware, your humble reviewer is a huge fan of Donald Glover, whether it's from his writing on 30 Rock, his acting on the brilliant sitcom Community or his hyper-literate hip-hop lyrics as his musical alter-ego Childish Gambino. The man is undeniably talented, insanely clever and frequently hilarious. If his status as a triple-threat wasn't unfair enough, you can add accomplished stand-up comic to his resume, if only from his solid half-hour debut on Comedy Central Presents. However he's followed that up with an fantastic first hour, talking about kids, growing up, music and race, with a level of energy and fun not seen in stand-up recently.
As great as Glover is as man-child Troy Barnes on Community, he makes it clear from the start that his stand-up is not a continuation of that character. It would, in fact, be quite difficult for the two to be much more different. Behind the mic, Glover maintains the same energy and silliness as seen in his network role, thanks to complete control of his instrument, but the subject matter ventures into far darker areas, clearly evidenced by his comparison between having kids and having AIDS (guess which wins in Glover's book?) But even when he tackles serious subjects, like his frequent talk of race, it gets silly, like his scolding of his iPhone for its questionable autocorrect suggestions or his examination of the merchandising possibilities inherent in Shaft.
Glover mines his own interesting past for a lot of his set, including his and his family's role as a foster family. His insight into these blended families, and his own experience with kids, makes for some very funny bits, as his interactions with his temporary siblings is a fresh topic in stand-up and sets up a ridiculous and universal story about a trip to Home Depot that could have gone the wrong way, but his delivery sells it as a winner. Kids are a big part of the show, whether it's their awful behavior (which sets up some awesome bits about his disbelief in their inhumanity) or a ridiculous bit of drama with a younger cousin that's wonderfully petty.
For those who saw the special, there's plenty new to enjoy, with a full 20 minutes that didn't air. Included in this are segments about music, which are as funny as anything in the TV version, relationships and a few more jokes about race which are honestly hysterical (as Glover notes in the special racism is hilarious when it's small.) The bits about music really should have been left in, as his description of a Lady Gaga/Kanye West show is fantastic, as are his section on relationships and his general theory that one's tolerance for weirdness declines with age. Fortunately I seem to be OK for now, as Glover's weirdness still appeals to me.
The 65-minute special (the packaging says it's 105 minutes, but it's actually 1:05 (one hour and five minutes)) arrives on one disc, in a standard-width keepcase. The disc has a mildly animated, anamorphic widescreen menu with options to play the film, select scenes, adjust the set-up and check out the extras. Audio options include English Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0 tracks , while English SDH subtitles are available, but there's no closed captioning.
The anamorphic widescreen transfer looks terrific, even if it is mostly limited to Glover walking around a bare stage with a bold blue curtain. What's there looks great, with a high level of detail (check out the texture on the floor of the stage and the LED bulbs above the stage for an example of how good it is) and clarity on Glover on all camera angles. Color is solid across the board, with the deep blue of the curtains setting off Glover's skintone, while the black levels are nice and deep.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 presentation offers the kind of audio all stand-up DVDs should deliver, recreating the theater experience with Glover sitting front and center, while his echo and the audience's reactions fill in in the surrounds. Everything is nice and clear and strong, which is all you can ask for for stand-up comedy.
When the DVD arrived, a look at the back led to disappointment, as there's one extra listed. However, like the length of the special, the box art got this one wrong also. Up first, you get a 35-minute interview with Glover that's one of the more in-depth comedian interviews that's been included on a DVD. It's just Glover sitting down, answering questions about his life. What's great about it is Glover is not performing, but just talking. As a result, it's not the most "entertaining" piece, but for fans it's loaded with info about him and his comedy (and the special) and Glover can't help but be funny no matter what he's doing..
Taking footage from the same interview (some new, some the same) and mixing it with footage of Glover revisiting his NYU haunts, "Weirdo in NYC" is a five-minute focus on Glover's love of New York City. It's fun to hear him talk about his college experiences, but it's also a lot of repetition (outside of the video of him in NYC.)
The Bottom Line
Admittedly, a big fan of Donald Glover's is going to approach his DVD with positive bias, but the man is simply funny, and his on-stage persona is so energetic, giddy and fun that the special is inherently a good time. Thankfully, for those who caught the show on Comedy Central, there's another 20 minutes of his act that's just as or more enjoyable than what aired, along with a high level of quality and some solid bonus material. If you can deal with a bit of nastiness, there's no reason to not check this special out, as it's some of the funniest, most enjoyable stand-up to arrive in quite a while.
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.