Lewis Black: Stark Raving Black
Comedy Central // Unrated // $16.99 // June 15, 2010
Review by Francis Rizzo III | posted June 19, 2010
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Graphical Version
In 10 Words or Less
The angry man gets a bit darker, a bit softer

Reviewer's Bias*
Loves: Stand-up comedy, Lewis Black
Likes: Being surprised
Dislikes: When comics get serious
Hates: The idea of dying

The Show
Lewis Black has built an indelible stage persona, screaming his feelings of frustration with the stupidity in the world around us. His observations, which frequently are accompanied by either loud obscenities and spastic hand movements, focus a magnifying glass of logic on current events or zeitgeisty topics, making his role on The Daily Show a perfect venue for his material. In stand-up specials, which tend to take a bit of time to bake before serving (this one was shot in late 2009), the impact of his subjects is a bit blunted, but he's so energetic and entertaining, that only those with no long-term memory couldn't enjoy them.

Kicking things off, Black makes note of people who thought the end of the Bush presidency would put him at a disadvantage professionally, but points out that stupidity is not exclusive to the Bush White House, illustrating his point with examples from the Obama administration and the economic disaster that was brought about by the banks and lenders. This is all potentially funny stuff, but there's a lot of "dead air," as the rhythm of the jokes results in the audience sitting quietly for too long. That's not to say that Black's points aren't well-made or even funny, but it just felt off in the pacing, perhaps because there's a lot of darker material, about things like dying and failures in technology due to greed and misplaced priorities.

The dark stuff, which doesn't work in places, is balanced by some very bright, hopeful material, where Black talks about alternative fuels, the idea of hope and what Boomers owe the next generation. Oddly, this is just as scattershot in its humor, as it feels more smart and poignant than hilarious. It's very similar to what the late George Carlin offered up in Life is Worth Losing, his second-to-last stand-up special. The two comics share a good deal in common, both in their style and content, and hopefully Black has another laugh-heavy special in him, like Carlin, but hopefully, he doesn't only have one more, unlike Carlin.

When he does hit, which is actually pretty often even if it doesn't sound that way, he's his usual brilliant self, including a gag about niblets, which may be the finest use of the word in recorded history, and some of the funniest cell phone jokes I've ever heard. The best material seems to be the most universal stuff, including a segment on aging and birthdays, which segues nicely into talk about his elderly parents (including his possible perverted old father and the sex-focused Poconos resorts), and a story about doing charity shows, which includes Vince Gill and Amy Grant, and the least appropriate descriptions of them ever committed to recorded media.

The DVD is a one-disc release, packed in a standard keepcase, with a slipcover that simply repeats the cover art, and a double-sided poster of Black, that's about two DVD cases wide, by two high. The disc has a static anamorphic widescreen main menu, with options to play the film, select scenes, adjust languages and check out the special features. Audio options include English Dolby Digital 2.0 and 5.1 and English DTS 5.1, while you also get an English subtitle track.

The Quality
The anamorphic widescreen transfer looks great, doing a good job with the very dark stage set, s Black is wearing a dark shirt and suit jacket, and stands against a backdrop that's mainly black with touches of blue lights. When the film goes to a long shot, you see Black mainly by looking for his white face and hands, and his audience may as well be ninjas. Despite that, the color that does exist is appropriately represented and the level of fine detail is pretty high. There are no problems with digital artifacts, dirt or damage.

It's always appreciated when a DTS 5.1 track is included, but when it's on a stand-up special, it feels a bit like overkill. Despite that, it's handled quite well, putting Black up front and center, while the audience sits to the sides and rear, putting you directly in the middle of the room, as it should be. The DTS offers a bit more oomph in Black's voice than the Dolby Digital 5.1 track, but it can only do so much with comedy.

The Extras
The only extra included is a good one, a 70-minute documentary on Lewis Black, following him on a bus tour through the Northeast and Canada, on a trip to Europe, and his return to the theater. The piece starts with Black's childhood and development as a comedian, including his college days and time as a playwright, and features interviews with his friends and crew (including fellow comic Kathleen Madigan, Vince Gill (watch the special and it makes sense) and an unexplained appearance by Johnny Galecki) and plenty of people who "knew him when." I never really thought I needed to know this much about Black, but it's interesting to find out about life on the road, see clips of a young Black at work and the comedy course he taught in Amsterdam (despite not speaking the language.)

The Bottom Line
Watching Black ruminate on the world and the limitations of humanity, I couldn't help but be reminded of George Carlin's last few specials, which made me laugh less but think more. Black's not quite there, but he seems to be headed in that direction, if this special is any indication, as he's swapped some angry outbursts for low-key observations and feels almost like a gentler, more thoughtful Black. The DVD is solid all around and offers nice aural variety, along with one heck of an extra, making it a must-watch for the mad man's fans.

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