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Thou Shalt Laugh
Thou Shalt Laugh is the kind of DVD that's all too likely to get interest from only a fraction of its potential audience (except, of course, that one of the useful functions of a DVD reviewer is to point out these easy-to-overlook-but-worthwhile titles). The specific selling point for this stand-up comedy show is that all the performers are Christian, but that really ought to be a side note; the real point is that it's a funny show.
That said, I have to admit, with a small minority of Christians hogging the newspaper headlines with bad press, it's nice to see an example of what doesn't make the news: regular, likable, decent people living their lives and doing their jobs (in this case, by doing comedy) and, by the way, being Christians. There's no preaching here, just funny, sometimes self-deprecating looks at the absurdity of daily life and the way people behave, whether it's in church, at home with the kids, at work, at the mall, or what-have-you. The "clean" nature of the show (no swearing or other vulgarity) actually serves to highlight the genuine humor in the comedians' acts. By now, swearing has become such a staple of comedy that it's lost its shock value; despite how tired vulgarity feels at this point, it seems to me that it's still used (with increasing shrillness) to attempt to inject life into jokes that otherwise wouldn't be funny. The acts here are all thus "forced" to go back to what comedy's all about: the funny or incongruous elements of life that the comic points out to us. While the no-swearing aspect of the show might make viewers think of it as automatically a "family" program, in fact most of the humor would probably go over the heads of kids, while adults will find the comedians' takes on marriage, kids, family, and the like as being spot-on funny.
We get seven performers here, each given a segment of the hour-and-a-half show. Patricia Heaton (from Everybody Loves Raymond) hosts the show, stepping in with a biting sense of humor to introduce each of the comics in turn. With any collection, there's bound to be a range in quality, but overall I was pleased with how the various performers (none of whom I was familiar with beforehand) were consistently quite funny. (The blurb on Amazon for the DVD gives away several of the funniest jokes, which are of course much better when you actually hear them delivered in the context of the act, so I won't give any of them away here.)
The show opens with Thor Ramsey, who has a great on-stage presence and whose riffs on family life are quite funny and serve as a great warm-up for the rest of the show. Michael Jr. is up next; his more deadpan style with its focus on verbal wit takes a little longer to "click" but the end result is a funny segment. The next comedians in line are two of the best from the show: Jeff Allen has some great material on family and kids, while Teresa Roberts Logan has a great segment on body-image issues that I wish had been longer. I didn't care for the next two. Joby Saad was billed as the "Village Idiot," and I admit that his style led me to hit the "next" button to get to Gilbert Esquivel's piece. I found Esquivel to be too over-the-top, but with a few decent (and politically incorrect) bits on his childhood. The program closes with Taylor Mason, who is by far the best comedian of the whole show (making Thou Shalt Laugh worth watching just for his segment). Mason is an amazing ventriloquist, going through a hilarious routine that involves a variety of puppets. It's pretty much impossible to describe, but it's extremely funny.
Thou Shalt Laugh is presented in its original widescreen aspect ratio. Though it says on the case that it's "matted widescreen," which implies (to me) that it's non-anamorphic, it turned out to be anamorphic. Nice plus. The image is excellent, especially considering that it's a live show. The colors are bright and natural, and the image is clean and clear.
The Dolby 2.0 soundtrack is always clean and clear, so the comedians are easy to hear.
A couple of special features are included. The best is a six-minute piece called "The Private Lives of Taylor's Puppets," giving us a look behind the scenes at Taylor Mason's puppets with some funny ad-lib performing from Mason and his puppets. A minute of outtakes is so-so, while the two-minute "Behind the Scenes" segment is funny.
I quite liked Thou Shalt Laugh, and I'd recommend it to anybody (Christian or not) who's looking for genuine, relaxed humor based on observations of our ordinary lives. The overall quality of the acts is high, and I enjoyed getting a "sampler" of the seven different comics, several of whom I'd be keen to see a longer program of after seeing them here. Recommended.