RJE // 2009 // 75 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Patrick Rogers (Retired) // September 17th, 2011
"When I used to smoke dope, it wasn't really good. Now it's like one hit and you're in the hospital."
A staple of The Tonight Show, Richard Jeni is considered by many to be one of the greatest comedians to come out of the '90s. His slightly energized routine and his pointed criticisms of American culture and society were a perfect blend. Jeni was acerbic and observant but not to such a strong degree as George Carlin (Dogma) later in his career where Carlin could easily alienate his audience with his acidity. Jeni was amiable and upbeat at the same time as he was critical and that's what makes him so fun to watch. Sadly in early 2007, after a long struggle with depression, Jeni committed suicide. It's always a tragic thing for anyone to take their own life, especially someone so seemingly upbeat. A history of schizophrenia, compounded with the massive success of irrelevant comedians like Dane Cook (Employee of the Month) and Larry the Cable Guy (Cars), can't be an easy thing to overcome. I hope more than anything though that Richard Jeni: The Beach Crowd is not the last footnote in such a storied career. This DVD is unworthy of being his last tribute.
Richard Jeni: The Beach Crowd compiles footage from two separate weekend performances four years apart that has never been seen before. These performances are collected from Jeni's own personal archive and are said to have been used as reference material by the late comedian in order to hone his act and his delivery. From the dichotomy between men and women stuck in committed relationships, to the merits of porn and recreational drug use, Jeni provides us with a scattershot glimpse into his frenzied mind. Nothing seems to be safe from Jeni's gaze.
It should be said that the issue with this DVD does not stem from the performances. This is some great material and the comedian seems to be genuinely excited to be on stage performing it. He throws so much stuff out there in such a wide and energized manner that it doesn't matter if some doesn't stick. He gets the crowd going early on by calling them out on being stoned, and he doesn't let up from there. From throwing barbs at Joaquin Phoenix and his performance in Gladiator to how a luxury cruise is just one big expensive adult summer camp, this is some inspired and truly hilarious stuff even if it may not reach the excellence of his early Showtime specials like Richard Jeni: Boy From New York or Richard Jeni: Crazy From The Heat. This is never before seen archive footage after all; most of his more well-known material has already seen the light of day.
Where the problem lies is in how these performances are edited together. Not only were they filmed four years apart, each performance constitutes a weekend of shows at the Comedy and Magic Club. It's effectively six separate shows, or at least I think it is because it's so hard to tell how many damn performances this DVD is being assembled from. What you end up with is multiple performances edited, in what appears to be a bargain bin film editing program, to try and produce a seamless show. It's the same thing they did with Chris Rock: Kill The Messenger but even worse. Jeni will be in the middle of a joke and then it cuts to him behind a different curtain, in a different outfit. Sometimes he's not even telling the same joke when it cuts! It makes it incredibly hard to follow at times, especially considering Jeni's already rapid-fire and unfocused style of comedy. And I just don't understand the reasoning for wanting to do it this way. Just show us one night of his act from that first weekend in 2002 and then bookend it with one night from 2006, play it from the start and slap it there on the DVD. Then call it a visual example of Jeni's maturation as a comedian.
Even worse, the camera is some low quality piece of crap that's been shoved to the back of the venue. This is one of the worst looking DVDs I've seen in recent memory and its case doesn't help matters. When I first saw it I thought it was one of those free DVDs that religious summer camps send you in the mail. It's tacky, it's beyond amateur and it smells like lubricant. It's almost insulting to experience how low quality this entire release is. I don't know what I should have expected; the case itself labels this as "raw footage." It's just such a shame that almost no care went into this release.
The 1.33:1 video transfer on the DVD is washed out and saturated to an extreme degree. Some of the dialogue is hard to hear or swallowed up by the audience and there are absolutely no special features besides a trailer telling you where to buy some of Jeni's other performances on DVD. No retrospective on the comedian's life or career, no interviews with people close to him or his contemporaries. There's nothing at all to encapsulate Jeni's career and legacy. It's such a shame and such a missed opportunity.
As it stands, this DVD has a wealth of great material by the late great Richard Jeni but nothing about this disc should be considered a worthy tribute to the man and his amazing stand-up capabilities.
The performance is not guilty. The way it's been cobbled together and shoved
on this disc is a different story though.
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Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 75 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Richard Jeni
* View the Trailer