R2 Entertainment // 2004 // 420 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Bill Gibron // February 14th, 2005
I'm all right now, but last week I was in rough shape.
In retrospect, it's amazing how popular Rodney Dangerfield eventually became. For a span of about 15 years, he was the reigning king of comedy. He starred in hit motion pictures (Caddyshack, Easy Money, Back to School), he had hit records and albums (his "Rappin' Rodney" single was the novelty smash of 1983), and was a fixture on both broadcast TV and the cable channel HBO. Throughout this highly productive time, Dangerfield focused attention on his outside business efforts, including nightclubs in New York and Las Vegas, as well as helping out then unknown comedians. Responsible from bringing such talents as Sam Kinison, Andrew "Dice" Clay, Jerry Seinfeld, and Roseanne Barr to the forefront of international celebrity, he was both a fixture on the scene and a mentor to others.
But by 1994, when he appeared as Juliette Lewis's perverted father in Oliver Stone's Natural Born Killers, Dangerfield was deep in decline. More or less viewed as an out of touch, old school nightclub comic who, while very funny, had probably passed his potential and prime, his films were no longer hits (several went straight to home video, bypassing the theaters) and TV had stopped stomping to his doorstep. He was still an amazing concert and club draw, but his light from a decade before was substantially diminished. By the time of his passing last year (2004), he was an incidental icon -- a man blessed with a legacy as magnificent as any you could claim, but without much meaningful relevance in the current postmillennial popular culture.
But make no mistake about it -- in the pantheon of funnymen, Rodney was, and still is, without equal. In an era of observational and ironic humor, he used a single set persona (black suit; red tie; "no respect") and a plethora of well-honed jokes to rule the rib-tickling roost. He was the last of the traditional gag tellers, standing bug-eyed before an audience, mixing pathos with pain to create a truly captivating and hilarious caricature. When he was on, he was magnificent. When he was off, he was still sensational.
If you'd like to understand just how important and influential Rodney really was, check out the new box set from R2 Entertainment. Entitled Rodney Dangerfield: No Respect -- The Ultimate Collection, it features almost all of Dangerfield's television work from the '80s and '90s. And while it is rather uneven in the entertainment department, it is telling in its historical -- and humor -- value.
Offering three discs overflowing with crazy content (each one clocks in at nearly three hours), R2 Entertainment unseals a vast selection of Dangerfield's work. Going back to his first post-Caddyshack special, and ending with a less than interesting early '90s comedy showcase, we see startlingly young future comic superstars just getting into the business, uncomfortable celebrity guest stars dealing with confusing, goofy material, and a reliance on big, incredibly bad production numbers to certify once and for all why the variety show is dead. Individually, we are treated to the following strange, surreal jokefests:
Disc One: Network TV Specials
* It's Not Easy Being Me (1981 ABC Variety Special)
In his first network special, Rodney is joined by Aretha Franklin, Bill Murray, and Valerie Perrine for a combination of sketches and stand-up. Highlights include a performance by Nick the Lounge Singer and Rodney as the Mikado's Lord High Executioner.
* I Can't Take It No More (1983 ABC Variety Special)
Rodney's second special features Robert Urich, Angie Dickinson, Donna Dixon, Andy Kaufman, and Harold Ramis. Highlights include a visit to a session of Losers Anonymous and Rodney's infomercial for a child comedy camp.
* Exposed! (1984 ABC Variety Special)
In what would be his last network showcase, Rodney welcomes Harvey Korman, Morgan Fairchild, Dick Butkus, Bubba Smith, and Marv Throneberry. The best bits include a school for mechanics and a look at how winning the lottery changed one man's life.
Disc Two: Cable TV Specials
* It's Not Easy Being Me (1986 HBO Comedy Showcase)
Rodney introduces short stand-up sets by Jeff Altman, Roseanne Barr, Sam Kinison, Bob Nelson, Jerry Seinfeld and Robert Townsend. There are also a few minor comedy sketch moments.
* Nothin' Goes Right (1987 HBO Comedy Showcase)
Rodney introduces short stand-up sets by Lenny Clarke, Andrew "Dice" Clay, Bill Hicks, Dom Irrera, Carol Leifer, Robert Schimmel, and Barry Sobel. There are also a few minor comedy sketch moments.
* The Really Big Show (1991 HBO Comedy Showcase)
Rodney tries to convince Sid Youngers, Bob Zany, David Tyree, Hugh Fink, and Harry Basil to appear on his HBO special. We see their stand-up acts in the process.
Disc Three: Bonus Extras
* Opening Night at Rodney's Place (1989)
Rodney introduces Tim Allen, John Fox, Jeff Foxworthy, Larry Reeb, Greg Travis, Sam Kinison, and Thea Vidale. There are also a few comedy skits featuring Chuck McCann and Rich Little, among others.
* This is Your Life (1986)
David Frost interrupts Rodney on stage to walk him down the proverbial memory lane as friends and family appear to congratulate the comic on his amazing career in show business.
* The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson
Rodney makes an appearance on the late night classic, doing a stand-up set before paneling with the pro.
* Rodney's Act (1988)
Captured live at his club in Las Vegas, Rodney does 45 minutes of blistering, ballsy stand-up comedy. This is what made the comedian great.
The fact that Rodney Dangerfield had any career outside a nightclub setting is kind of a miracle. After all, he was not a classically trained actor, or some manner of misguided performer relying on stand-up to start him off in the business of show. Indeed, Dangerfield had already made one failed attempt at celebrity in the '50s and '60s before giving up and heading into the paint / aluminum siding trade. So the mid-'70s renaissance -- built on the backs of appearances on Ed Sullivan, The Tonight Show, and multiple Lite Beer commercials -- dragged Dangerfield into the limelight he had worked toward so desperately. Needless to say, when Al Czervik brought his lowbrow leanings to the snotty links of Bushwood, the American public was prepared, but not really all that ready, for how effective Dangerfield the actor could be. Everything changed the moment Czervik let a fart and exclaimed, "Ooo, did someone step on a duck?"
Suddenly, Rodney was a superstar, a guaranteed-to-bring-'em-in entity who could virtually do no wrong. The offerings on Rodney Dangerfield: No Respect -- The Ultimate Collection prove this point perfectly. No, they are not all great representations of entertainment or Dangerfield's talent (Easy Money and Back to School still represent both sides, the coarse and the civilized sum of the comic's cinematic impact), nor does any of the 10 television treats provided truly give us a glimpse of Dangerfield in his prime. Instead, these are all artifacts, time capsules to a career and a sphere of influence that was probably more immense and important than anyone recognized at the time. Looking at each one individually, we begin to get an idea of what made this man so great, and how a great bit of his tried and true talent was squandered on stupidity, or personally used to promote others. We begin with:
* It's Not Easy Being Me (1981 ABC Variety Special) Score: 80
The title for this twisted take on the variety format couldn't be more telling. At the time, Dangerfield had just stolen Caddyshack away from the young happening hipsters Chevy Chase and Bill Murray. He was a hot commodity, and his next foray into the public domain was highly anticipated. But try as they might, network television didn't know what to do with him, therefore confirming the show's title sentiment. Most of this mess of a special consists of Rodney being rebuffed by Valerie Perrine, recycling material from his stand-up routines, and Bill Murray doing his best to be as unfunny and forced as possible. The highlights listed in the Facts of the Case are indeed the only best sketch sequences here worth noting. The rest are just routine -- or worse, ridiculous in their clueless, cynical conceits. A good example of how It's Not Easy Being Me fails to understand Rodney's effectiveness is when he's paired with Aretha Franklin. Decked out in a stupid spandex outfit and basically told to flail while Franklin belts out "Respect," this freakish physical shtick is not silly, just sad. Thankfully, there are more one-liners than stupid skits here, providing the stand-up salve we need to heal our hackneyed wounds.
* I Can't Take It No More (1983 ABC Variety Special) Score: 78
Giving us less of the stand-up that saves these strange shows, but offering better sketches overall, I Can't Take It No More has the distinction of being one of the few times where Dangerfield worked with the weird, wounded genius of Andy Kaufman. Fans of the pseudo-psycho comic will love his deranged deadpan and mannered mania here. It is a perfect match for Dangerfield's tic-filled talents. Had the entire show centered around just them, this would have been a great, if goofy, experience. But we are forced to sit through more miserable musical numbers, uninspired guest star performances (Angie Dickinson and Donna Dixon both give brilliant interpretations of a zombie), and far too many sad-sack situations. Still, the Flashdance parody is pretty funny, and anytime Ramis shows up, there are some sparks with the star (he directed Dangerfield in Caddyshack, after all). The overall tone is less awkward than It's Not Easy Being Me, but the polish doesn't mean the comedy is that much better, just offered up in a far more professional manner.
* Exposed! (1984 ABC Variety Special) Score: 55
Whoa! Anyone who wants to know just what killed the comedy variety show will get their proof with this horribly trite crapfest. It is actually physically painful to watch. Maybe it's the tabloid-inspired production number that seems to go on for 10 minutes (sadly, it's actually more like 15). Maybe it's the waste of talents like Harvey Korman, who is underused and confused most of the time. It could have something to do with the lack of anything new or novel (it's sad when a comedian is already recycling gags and skits after such a minor canon of creation). When you throw in the laugh track, the lousy use of Dangerfield's Lite Beer commercial cronies, or the off-key recreation of the seminal "Rappin' Rodney" song, the overall atmosphere is one of desperation and despair. While it may be possible to enjoy this junk as camp, as kitsch or cautionary example (to nab a line from Hugh Patterson), this is the worst of the network material. Thankfully, we move on to the epithet-filled world of cable television after this.
* It's Not Easy Being Me (1986 HBO Comedy Showcase) Score: 88
Jeff Altman...Roseanne Barr...Sam Kinison...Bob Nelson...Jerry Seinfeld...Robert Townsend...aside from Nelson (and to a lesser extent, Altman), this hour-long look at the foundational moments of these future superstars is an amazing, if not quite hilarious, viewing experience. As with most untested talent, everyone here is very raw. Barr gets the least of the stand-up time, but she's rewarded with playing the wonderfully acerbic imaginary wife of Dangerfield in the blackout skits. Townsend and Nelson have excellent, well-honed routines, and Altman comes across like an antsy old pro. Seinfeld, just coming into his own at the time, offers more hits than misses in his tentative yet terrific routine. But it's Kinison who outshines them all, doing his screaming maniac mantras with outrageously uproarious results. Watching this classic comic work will make you a little sad, wondering what could have been had his life not been so rapidly and ridiculously wiped out. So what's the reason for the low score, you may ask? Well, with eight comedians (including Dangerfield) and several sketch sequences, the stand-up is shortchanged. At about four to five minutes a pop, we barely get going before the next performer is taking the stage.
* Nothin' Goes Right (1987 HBO Comedy Showcase) Score: 89
Right up there with the HBO version of It's Not Easy Being Me, Nothin' Goes Right has more classic comedians and comic moments than nauseating unknown quantities. Of the seven acts featured here, only Sobel is less than successful (once he drops the retarded white rapper routine, he gets into a great bit of politically incorrect stereotyping that sizzles). Both Clarke and Clay are crazy, playing two different versions of the same sexist end, while Leifer more than holds her own with these macho mugs. Everyone else -- Schimmel, Irrera, Hicks -- is amazing, doing great shtick and keeping the audience in stitches throughout. Dangerfield revs up the laughs by being a bit more 'blue" than usual, and the skits are now more like minor vaudeville bits; a couple of quick gags, and it's back to the action. Some of the funniest, freshest material can be found on Disc Two, as well as some of the worst.
* The Really Big Show (1991 HBO Comedy Showcase) Score: 10
Go back to the Facts of the Case. Read the names of the comics involved in this supposed stand-up jubilee. Recognize anyone? Come on, be honest. Anyway, that should give you a clue as to the entertainment value in this vacuous excuse for a jokefest spotlight. Dangerfield does a single, 90-second set before heading out to try and convince this "talent" to appear on his show. Frankly, they should be paying him, as Dangerfield's superstardom guaranteed each one of these awful, unfunny men a bigger shot at their own celebrity than they ever deserved. Especially painful are some combination prop comic / impressionist named Harry Basil (who should change his name to Basically Horrible), Hugh Fink, the violin-playing putz who makes both Henny Youngman and Itzhak Perlman seem like friggin' Moms Mabley, and a droning dipstick with verbal diarrhea named Sid Youngers. Bob Zany is neither, and David Tyree needs a few more years in the gag-telling genealogy before he can play with any of the Original Kings of Comedy. There is nothing here worth watching ever -- not once, not even for curiosity's sake. This is terribly boring and very unfunny.
* Opening Night at Rodney's Place (1989) Score: 84
Getting us back into the arena of acceptable fare, this wonderfully cheeky 90 minutes of mirth is perhaps the dirtiest, filthiest stand-up set of the three discs. Dangerfield lets the "F-word" fly frequently, but he is not to be outdone by guests Fox, Vidale, and Reeb. Foxworthy and Allen are so set in their manufactured material ways that you'll wonder if you're really watching a comedy special from 16 years ago, and not 16 days ago. One of the best moments is an extended Tonight Show routine with Rich Little as the late Johnny Carson. Laced with obscenities and lots of lewd, off-color remarks, it takes a nice, naughty jab at the late night institution. Even Kinison shows up to sing Dangerfield a particularly poignant anti-love song. With the extended time come greater comedic sets, which is both a bonus and a curse. Some, like Allen, Vidale, and Foxworthy fill it well. Others, like Reeb, Travis, and Fox seem flummoxed. Dangerfield is on stage quite a while here, and although he revisits a lot of old material, he is in fine form. Overall, the only thing keeping this show from getting a higher rating is the 60/40 ratio of classic comedians to never-made-it wannabes.
* This is Your Life (1986) Score: 80
Though it's lamentably dated and filled with more fluff than a cozy down comforter, this incredibly interesting look at Rodney's life circa 1986 reveals some marvelous unknown aspects of the comedian's life and career. For example, we meet Rodney's children, previously unknown entities in his life (most fans assumed they didn't exist but were merely punchline fodder), and discover that he married and divorced his first wife twice. While his original name (Jacob Cohen, later turned into Jack Roy) is a matter of relative record, other fascinating facets of his life (first jobs, famous friends) are presented for the first time. While there are a couple of clunker moments (Robert Wuhl doing a horribly hurried Dangerfield impression, and Chevy Chase proving why he is considered a talentless clown today), this it actually a very touching and telling 30 minutes of memories.
* The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson Score: 70
Dangerfield earned a great deal of his reputation from his 70+ guest shots on The Tonight Show. When working next to Johnny Carson, the comic excelled, going on riffs and rolls unequalled by other comedians. Sadly, this is not one of his better nights. At only seven minutes -- four of which are taken up with rather routine material -- Dangerfield doesn't really get into the groove until about 90% of the way into the segment. Before you know it, the bit is done, Carson seems pleased, and we are left wondering if appearances like this were really responsible for making the comic a superstar. While the answer is still "yes," there is very little proof of that here.
* Rodney's Act (1988) Score: 88
Working his own room in Vegas, and providing more than enough explicit sex jokes to woo the still adults-only crowds that, at one time, were the sole tourist population of Sin City, Rodney is very good here. Unfortunately, after watching the previous six hours of material, we have heard almost every gag here. Dumb kids? Yep. Cheating wife? Gotcha. Can't get lucky? Okey-dokey. Dr. Vinnie Boom Batz and his bad advice? Absolutely. So while it's great to have this memento of what made Dangerfield great in front of a live audience, it would perhaps be best to reserve this feature and watch it after you've witnessed, absorbed, and forgotten most of what you've seen before. Coming at it fresh will preserve its near-perfect crackerjack comic timing.
When it stays in the stand-up comedy realm, No Respect: The Ultimate Collection is very entertaining. Certainly, there are moments that resonate beyond others, and everyone associated with that Really Big Show debacle should just hide their head in shame. But the most interesting thing is how some, if not all, of the comedians shown here have managed to maintain their fame and celebrity over the years, while others shot to superstardom only to burn out far too quickly. The fact that, decades after he made it big, Sam Kinison is still the funniest thing in the entire set speaks for how timeless and talented he really was. No matter the oft-held opinion that he was a fat, vulgar party animal who lived life to excess and then some, his comedy is still fresh, inventive, and very powerful today, 12 years after his death. Kaufman also proves that he was a jaded genius in his brief work with Dangerfield. You can see the knowing nod to the audience when he is performing, adding the well-honed irony that would come to make up the vast majority of humor after his untimely passing in 1984. For giving us the chance to see these careening, crashing comets before they both burned out and disappeared, Rodney Dangerfield: No Respect -- The Ultimate Collection is a fascinating artifact.
But it's the main man himself that's the focus, and several interesting elements come to the fore after watching nearly seven hours of his work. First, Dangerfield knew his audience, and knew what they expected of him. He never let them down, never tried to change his sad-sack loser persona. Even when he made attempts to alter his image for laughs (there is a sketch during his first ABC special where he plays a suave simp named Mr. Lucky who only thinks he's winning and in control), the results always boomerang and backfire. Second, Dangerfield knew how to surround himself with complimentary performers. Not so much in the variety shows, which reek of star-of-the-moment mandates. But in almost all the stand-up showcases, the comics chosen match his mindset -- bitter, a little crude, and completely in tune with the world around them. Seeing Barr or Seinfeld, Allen or Foxworthy prove their future forte in front of a crowd illustrates that Dangerfield knew how to pick them and in all but one rare occasion, picked them well.
The final facet here is that, for all the added interest, Rodney Dangerfield: No Respect -- The Ultimate Collection is really about the terrific talent of one man, a skill and a sense of self that transcended the material he was usually saddled with. Vulgar, humane, dyspeptic, and insanely clever, we will probably never see his type ever again. Today, comedians have a fast track, a talk show to special to sitcom to film formula that guarantees them a decade or two in the spotlight before the "F-You" money rolls in. Dangerfield was into comedy for the long haul, looking not only to forward his own career, but those of other talented people as well. Love him or hate him, think he's the greatest or the most aggravating irritation ever, Rodney Dangerfield was an original. Rodney Dangerfield: No Respect -- The Ultimate Collection shows this wonderfully -- flaws and all.
Considering the sources and technology involved, the fact that these 20+ year-old artifacts look as good as they do in 1.33:1 full screen transfers speaks volumes for R2's attention to preservation and detail. All aging videography aside and cheesy post-production aspects ignored, the images here look great. The ABC shows all glow with a near-flaring feel, but we don't get a great deal of the bleeding or ghosting we've come to expect from old tape treats. The HBO material is a little crisper, simply because it was created later in the technological timeline. The worst picture here comes with the final bonus disc presentation. Muddled, out of focus, and looking like a dub of a dub, the non-anamorphic presentation of Rodney's Act, from 1988, is a barely watchable mess. Its archival value is priceless. Its visual aspects suck.
Sonically, you couldn't ask for more clarity. Don't expect any aural acrobatics, though. This is Dolby Digital Mono manipulated into a two-channel cheat that sounds sensational, but offers no real depth, ambience, or immersive aspects. If you want to hear jokes and hear them well, these DVDs will do the job. But nothing about the auditory elements screams "sensational" or "superb."
As for bonus features, there is an entire third disc of them -- or, at least, that is what they are called. Suffice it to say you will not find any commentary, discographies, filmographies, or biographies anywhere on the discs. You get the four splendid supplements on the third DVD and that's it. And since they contain some of the best material in the package, they are well worth the inclusion.
Comedy is patently personal, a "one man's treasure" truism that can never be universally applied. Some will think of a box set focusing on the television work of Rodney Dangerfield and flip into spasms of fan-based ballistics. Others will choke on the notion of having to watch this dopey dim-bulb sweat and stammer his way through another collection of corny old jokes. Like most funny fossils from a long bygone era, Rodney Dangerfield: No Respect -- The Ultimate Collection, will probably only speak to the people who were around to witness the not-so-sudden overnight success of this long-suffering stand-up comedian firsthand.
Though few will find everything about this inconsistent box set as clever and complete as the man himself, there is still a great deal of importance and nostalgia to be had here. Some of it may be unintentional and campy, but the truth is, when he was on and in his element, Dangerfield was funny. There are frequent fragments of such show business symbiosis as part of Rodney Dangerfield: No Respect -- The Ultimate Collection, and they help prove at least one of the artist's adages wrong. His lack of admiration was all an act. Rodney Dangerfield was one of a kind, and you don't get more respected than that.
Rodney Dangerfield: No Respect -- The Ultimate Collection is found guilty of being inconsistent and dated. It is, however, acquitted on all other charges, especially those revolving around the humor and the wit of its title entity. With time served and a lenient heart, the Court hereby suspends any sentence and releases this box set on its own recognizance.
Review content copyright © 2005 Bill Gibron; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: R2 Entertainment
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 420 Minutes
Release Year: 2004
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Opening Night at Rodney's Place Cable Special (1989)
* This is Your Life Segment (1986)
* The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson Segment
* Archival Presentation of Rodney's Comedy Act (circa 1988)
* IMDb: Rodney Dangerfield
* IMDb: It's Not Easy Bein' Me (1981)
* IMDb: Rodney Dangerfield: Exposed
* IMDb: It's Not Easy Bein' Me (1986)
* IMDb: Nothin' Goes Right
* IMDb: Rodney Dangerfield's Really Big Show
* Rodney Dangerfield Official Site