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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Comedian
Comedian
Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment // R // May 13, 2003
List Price: $29.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Aaron Beierle | posted May 1, 2003 | E-mail the Author
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The Movie:

When reminded of the last episode of "Seinfeld", I still don't understand it. One of the most consistently hilarious shows in TV history, the show ended on a sour note, with a bitter last episode that, while certainly not something bad enough to ruin the fine memories of the show, it still seemed like an odd way to end the series. Since then, co-creator Larry David has had more success with his "Curb Your Enthusiasm" than any of the show's stars, who have gone through "Watching Ellie", "The Bob Patterson Show" and "The Michael Richards Show", all of three of which most seem to have agreed are/were not particularly good showcases for the talents of Michael Richards, Julia Louis-Dreyfuss or Jason Alexander.

But, what's the deal with Jerry? Aside from a few advertisements and the occasional magazine blurb about his marriage, Seinfeld has largely remained out of the picture. "Comedian", a documentary by advertisement directors Christian Charles and Gary Streiner, profiles Seinfeld as he returns to the stand-up stage, promptly asking the audience in an early scene, "What am I doing here?"

And really, that is the question of the film. Why does anyone in their right mind go in front of large audiences and try out material that could go South with remarkable speed? In terms of Seinfeld, he seems to want to return to the stage because he feels at home in front of an audience - he looks like he's having fun. But, as the film shows, it's not that simple - we see the backstage discussions, the worrying, the testing of new material, the worrying, the discussions and, you guessed it - more worrying.

Seinfeld's new material generally seems quite good, and his timing is as sharp as ever. Even though the fact that he's in Cleveland or New Jersey or whereever after he's "made it" in the business is a joke repeated a few times in the film, it's the energy and delivery that still make these lines get at least a good chuckle. In the film, he's joined occasionally by other comedians, such as Colin Quinn, Ray Romano and Chris Rock, who also share their opinions. In terms of Seinfeld and the other well-knowns, they are all united by the fact that they are professionals who, despite success, are still going back to improve upon what they've found that they do best.

Unfortunately, the other half of the film focuses on young standup Orny Adams. Adams may not have the worst material that I've ever heard, but his ego overshadows everything else. I suppose you have to have an ego to succeed, but the film makes him look very obnoxious (he gets terribly angry when someone lightly offers some criticism that seemed meant well. Adams seems miserable throughout, consistently ready to meltdown if the stress continues - in comparison, every one else featured seems like they're having fun on-stage. Seinfeld seems amused by him (he seems like he's about to ask the camera, "What the hell is the deal with this guy?") when Adams asks him questions like what he should tell his parents about what he does.

The film is also noticably low-budget, given that the directors reportedly used fairly simple, store-bought cameras. It's not "The Blair Witch Project", but the movie is grainy, dim and fairly washed-out looking. Given that Seinfeld is a producer on the picture, one would think that he would have thrown in a few dollars to make for a better-looking feature.

Better direction may have helped, as well. The movie is interesting enough, and occasionally allows a fairly insightful peek into the difficulty of being a stand-up comedian. There's concerns, though: we never learn much more about Seinfeld, or what he's been doing (in one bit, he says that what he's been doing since the show is "nothing.") The editing could have also used a bit more work. Although the Orny Adams footage could have been deleted completely, if it had to be in here, it could have been inserted a little less randomly. I found the footage of Seinfeld and friends (Gary Shandling and Colin Quinn are pretty funny, as are the rest) more interesting and entertaining - the movie should have focused on them, and that may have allowed for a bit more footage of actual stand-up - which there is not that much of - to be used. Given the fact that the directors trailed Seinfeld for a year (which seems rather surprising), I'd think there's other material that could have been used.

Overall, I liked "Comedian". It didn't always provide much insight, but it was an entertaining look at the kind of preparation that goes into a stand-up act and the kind of professionalism that has allowed some of the best to succeed as well as they have. It works more often than not, and that's really the one statement that summarizes my feelings about the movie - I found it to be perfectly enjoyable as is, but I couldn't help but feel that more work on structure, focus and presentation could have made this go from merely good to great.


The DVD

VIDEO: "Comedian" is presented in 1.33:1 full-frame. The picture quality is, I'm guessing, about as good a presentation of this film as you're going to get. While fairly well-composed, the shots aren't helped by the quality of the cameras used for filming - sharpness and detail are pretty inconsistent, while some scenes offer fairly heavy grain and others seem free of it. Edge enhancement wasn't visible, but a few instances of slight compression artifacts did pop up. Colors are not too terribly vibrant, aside from a few moments here and there. Flesh-tones are off, too. Overall, it looks fairly mediocre (I'm surprised someone didn't try and clean this film up a little bit), but it's certainly still watchable and seems to be exactly how this film has always looked.

SOUND: "Comedian" is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1. The film's jazzy score is, at first, quite pleasant and enjoyable. After a while though, there are scenes where it could certainly have been left out. It sounds quite nice, however, and gets a bit of reinforcement from the surrounds. Audio quality otherwise is average, at best - dialogue sounds as if it was recorded in a fairly low-budget manner (although always easily heard) and ambience is not given much focus.

EXTRAS:

Commentaries: This is a commentary from Jerry Seinfeld and Colin Quinn, who have been recorded together. The two are fairly low-key and often pretty funny, occasionally making each other laugh with the occasional in-joke between some very amusing comments about what's currently going on in the feature. There's further insight about working on bits throughout this track, so it's a fun, informative companion to the movie that I liked quite a bit. The other commentary is from producer Gary Streiner and director Christian Charles. It's not nearly the kind of fun that can be had on the other commentary, but the two do provide a good overview of what they were trying to accomplish and also chat about working with the comedians and production issues (the two also served as cinematographers).

Deleted Scenes: 5 scenes are offered, all of which add up to about 12 minutes or so. While the director/producers offer audio commentary about why this material was cut, I thought most of it was funny enough that it should have been considered for inclusion.

Advertising: The film's "parody" trailer (which is like a bad "Saturday Night Live" bit), TV promos, poster galleries and a look at "action figures" of the people featured in the movie.

Jiminy Glick Interviews: Both Adams and Seinfeld are featured in interviews with the Martin Short character that were done for the DVD, apparently.

Letterman Appearances: We get to see the full Letterman performances by both Adams and Seinfeld.

What Is Orny Doing?: This featurette, which lasts a few minutes, shows what Adams is up to now. He's still not terribly funny - his delivery just seems forced to me.

Anatomy of a Joke: Here, you can see note sheets from Seinfeld, Adams and Colin Quinn. By see, I mean you can actually see the actual pages. The writing, however, is another story. I could barely make out any of the actual writing.

Final Thoughts: As stated in the review, I liked "Comedian", but felt that it really could have been something special with some additional reworking. The DVD, however, is quite good. The audio/video quality is about as good as one might expect, given the low-budget nature of the production, but there's plenty of supplements. Recommended as a rental for those who haven't seen it, or as a purchase for fans of the film.

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