Anthony Jeselnik: Caligula
Comedy Central // Unrated // $14.98 // January 15, 2013
Review by Francis Rizzo III | posted January 2, 2013
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In 10 Words or Less
Anthony Jelenik is a bad, bad man

Reviewer's Bias*
Loves: Stand-up comedy
Likes: Black comedy
Dislikes: Wendy Liebman
Hates: Cringe comedy

The Show
Anthony Jeselnik's a rising star in the world of stand-up comedy, having made his mark as a writer on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, where he made frequent appearances as a heckler in the audience. Following it up with spots on several talk shows and a stand-up album, he's quickly become well-known for his very dark, hugely politically incorrect material, which contrasts with his clean-cut appearance and soft-spoken delivery. In fact, if you weren't paying close attention, he wasn't well-dressed and he wasn't talking about killing his girlfriend, you might think you were watching Mike Birbiglia.

But unlike Birbiglia, Jeselnik's bits are more quick hits, presenting a stream of thoughts, ideas and quick stories, covering a wide range of topics including drugs, death, sex and women. His style is to lull you into going along with what you're expecting next, only to have him pivot and go in a darker, unexpected direction. After a few such misdirects, it finally hit me why this act was so familiar. Jeselnik is like a masculine, less agreeable version of Wendy Liebman, a big-time '90s comedienne I cannot stand. For the longest time, I wondered if I didn't like her because of some chauvinist leaning inside of me that hates shoulder pads, but after watching Jeselnik's full set, I can thankfully say it's just because neither one is all that funny.

Right off the bat, Jeselnik is challenging the audience, telling them they can expect three rape jokes along the way, before reeling off gags about dead kids, alcoholic dads and suicide. Some of the jokes play off societal expectations, like his stories about performing at colleges and festivals, and sometimes they work well, like his joke about his gay friend, but too often it's just about being dark and disturbing, and this isn't exactly the time for jokes about dead children (if there is a time for them.) Jeselnik even includes a wrap-up segment featuring his most offensive material, ending the show with a cringey bang, including the harshest Casey Anthony joke ever.

It would be one thing if Jeselnik was slaying the audience while being excessively dark, but the laughter is more often of the nervous variety than belly laughs. While the crowd isnt booing him off the stage, the reaction isn't overwhelming, and I can't remember a joke that even made me chuckle. It may be a personal thing, but I enjoy Jim Norton's stand-up, so I'm not exactly a genteel prude unwilling to laugh at the darkness, and I liked Jeselnik's late-night five-minutes. I just think he's better in smaller sample sizes.

Inside a standard keepcase, you get a one-disc release, with a static menu offering options to play the special, select chapters, check out the extras and adjust the subtitles. There are no audio options, while subtitles are available in English SDH.

The Quality
Part of it is the attractive stage set-up, but this special looks really sweet, with appropriate color all around, be it the deep red curtains and boxes on the sides of the theater, or the cold blue up-lighting behind Jeselnik. Black levels are nice and deep, and the level of fine detail is quite high, with the darker audience shots looking very impressive. There are no problems with compression artifacts or any other oddness.

We're still doing Dolby Digital 2.0 tracks on stand-up DVDs? Really? While it sounds fine, and there are no issues with distortion, the result is an audio presentation that exists purely up front, blending the audience and Jeselnik.

The Extras
Three of Jeselnik's roast performances are presented uncut, from the Comedy Central roasts of Donald Trump (9:00), Charlie Sheen (9:31) and Roseanne Barr (6:38). Jeselnik's black-hearted sense of humor is made for a roast, and he hits for average in attacking the celebs and comics in attendance, including Snoop Dogg, Larry King, Seth MacFarlane, Kate Walsh, William Shatner, Steve-O, Jon Lovitz, Mike Tyson, Gilbert Gottfried, Ellen Barkin, Wayne Brady and Carrie Fisher, though oddly, he holds back on Jane Lynch and Lisa Lampanelli.

The Bottom Line
Anthony Jeselnik is a comic I've liked in the past from his late-night appearances, but this extended set shows that maybe his dark brand of comedy is better served in small doses. The DVD looks and sounds fine (even though you're only getting a 2.0 track) and there are some minor extras, so if you enjoy him, it might be worth a look, but the laughs were few and far between.

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