I was momentarily struck by a Steve Harvey monologue featured in Def Comedy Jam Classics, Volume 2. Hosting a 1997 episode from Los Angeles, the comedian caught my attention when he explained that the typically New York-based HBO series had hit the road in an attempt to ease the whole divide between the Red and the Blue.
What's this? I thought to myself. I didn't think pundits had reduced the nation to a red/blue political divide until the 2000 presidential election and all the colorful electorate maps that accompanied it. But wait! The red/blue divide Harvey meant was the even dicier rivalry between street gangs, the Crips and the Bloods. Def Comedy Jam's excursion to L.A., Harvey continued, was an attempt to reconcile the gangsta rap wars then brewing between the West and East Coasts.
My, how times change.
The divide between Red and Blue might change, but what is considered funny remains fairly consistent. And that's where this DVD package falters. Def Comedy Jam Classics Vols. 1 and 2 are just as hit-or-miss now as was the HBO series during its initial run from 1992 to 1997 (the program has recently returned to the cable network).
Hip-hop recording mogul Russell Simmons started Def Comedy Jam as a way to spotlight African-American comedians who might have otherwise toiled away in obscurity. To be sure, some impressive young performers made their way to the program, a few of whom -- Dave Chappelle, Chris Tucker, D.L. Hughley -- appear on this two-disc set (three if you count the "bonus" DVD).
Nevertheless, truly funny bits are too few and far between to justify the "classics" label that HBO has slapped on this package. The DVD's producers would have been better served to edit together various standup routines from a multitude of shows. Instead, what we do have is of dubious, dated quality, comedians trying to elicit laughs from tired jokes about drive-by shootings, sex and – wait for it -- the differences between whites and blacks. When a comic reverts to jokes about (I kid you not) the way white people walk, you know you're in trouble.
The first two discs feature two episodes apiece, with a fifth episode on the "bonus" DVD. Martin Lawrence (the best host Def Comedy Jam ever had) hosts the episodes on Disc 1, Steve Harvey does the honors for those on Disc 2 and a pre-Oscar-winning Jamie Foxx hosts the episode on the bonus disc.Disc 1
Episode 1 recorded Aug. 21, 1992
Episode 2 recorded July 9, 1993
Episode 1 recorded Jan. 5, 1996
Episode 2 recorded Jan. 24, 1997
Episode recorded Jan. 26, 1996
Each DVD is in its own plastic keepcase. The set is bound by a sturdy cardboard slipcase.The Video:
The full-frame 1.33:1 aspect ratio is watchable, but the earlier episodes seem a little soft and with just a hint of washed-out colors.The Audio:
The Dolby Digital 2.0 is perfunctory. All the standup is easily audible, if not always amusing.Extras:
Russell Simmons and co-producer Bob Sumner provide commentary for Volumes 1 and 2. In between long patches of dead air, they sporadically remark on whatever happened to so-and-so. Inane stuff.Final Thoughts:
A handful of comics deliver the goods here, out of an estimated 150 minutes of airtime – not a terrific ratio, to say the least. Only hardcore fans of Def Comedy Jam will appreciate this dreary trip down memory lane.