Fox Lorber // 1998 // 90 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Norman Short (Retired) // April 25th, 2000
The late, great Sam Kinison.
Sam Kinison was a comic who rose to rock-star status and popularity during the 1980s and early '90s. He rocked, shocked, and entertained the country with his hilarious brand of angry diatribe. He was lewd, crude, and loud in a way that would alienate a generation while leaving the younger one in stitches. He was the anti-establishment comic who poked fun at many politically incorrect areas such as women, religion, and homosexuality. Ever on to bigger and better shock value, by the end of his life he had moved on to AIDS and necrophilia. Who knows what would have become of him if he hadn't lost his life to a teenage drunk driver in a head-on collision in April '92. Sam died at the height of his popularity and at a point where he might have avoided the early death by excess of so many other comics.
Why Did We Laugh? is a 90-minute documentary on the life and career of Sam, with clips of many of his live performances and commentary and anecdotes from many well known entertainers who knew him. Fox Lorber has brought this documentary to DVD. I highly recommend this to anyone who has ever heard Sam's outrageous brand of comedy.
Sam Kinison's life story is almost as wild a ride as one of his comedy routines. He was born into a family of Pentecostal evangelists and grew up very religious, and became a preacher himself. Many believe that the speaking style and much of his material came from that background, and I agree. One thing I learned from the documentary was that at a young age Sam was hit by an 18-wheeler truck and had a severe head injury. His brother and manager Bill Kinison relates this story and claims that Sam's personality changed, which he thinks is what made him the irreverent and angry comic he became. Certainly he was unusual. Sam ran away from home at age 14 and lived on his own til 16, to come back and become an evangelist. After his first divorce (first of two) Sam had become disillusioned with the ministry and the greed and corruption that had taken over in what had become an industry. It was at this time Sam found his other vocation and his freedom: in comedy clubs where he could entertain and talk in ways and about things he never could in church.
It was at the beginning of his comedy career that Sam's first big break came; Rodney Dangerfield saw him at one of his shows and liked what he saw. Later as Sam's following grew but the rank and file of club owners were still wary Rodney convinced him to appear on an HBO Young Comedian's special. Based on that six minutes on television Sam's career took off. He went straight from local clubs to large venues, packing rock concert sized arenas. More HBO specials followed, and two appearances on Saturday Night Live. The first appearance actually got him banned from NBC, but the outcry and desire of the fans to see him again resulted in him hosting the show two weeks later. Eventually rock and heavy metal music worked its way into his act and his persona and he did several music videos with the help of such bands as Motley Crue, Guns n' Roses, and Ozzy Osbourne. Drugs and partying became both a problem in his life and a big part of his act, but at the end he had forsworn drugs. Even though a series of bad relationships had provided grist for his comedic mill he took the plunge and married Malika Souiri, one of a bevy of beauties who populated his act. Coming home from his honeymoon he was on his way to another sold-out show when the truck driven by a drunk teenager struck their car and he died.
Sam drew from his experiences with women and his anger at sacred cows such as religion for his act. His rants on Jesus alternately brought down the house and left people shocked with disbelief; with such lines as Jesus saying he'd come back to bring peace to the world "as soon as he could play the piano again." His trademark overcoat and scream; and rants on sex, drugs, women, and anything else that struck his fancy made him stand out from any other comic around. I was an avid fan of his work and was crushed when he died. It's just sad when so many of my favorite comics are gone.
Why Did We Laugh? goes into a lot of detail about his life and career, with rare clips of Sam's early days and even some of a couple of his sermons in his preaching days. Clips of his comedy work at least let him finish the joke or scenario, sometimes running several minutes. Between such clips are introspectives and anecdotes from the many people who knew him. Bill Kinison, Sam's brother and manager, and Carl LaBove, Sam's lifelong friend and comedic partner get the most time as both were there for the whole ride, including being there at his death. But many interesting things are said by other well known comics such as Jay Leno, Richard Pryor, Rodney Dangerfield, Judy Tenuta, and Dennis Miller; and more mainstream people such as Beverly D'Angelo, Larry King, and Tim Matheson. One thing I particularly remember is Dennis Miller stating that Sam had made him laugh the hardest he had ever laughed in his life. I can relate to this because if you liked Sam, he had the ability to bring you to the point of pain with laughter.
Besides being a great documentary, the piece is very funny as well since it is well represented with his comedy. This DVD release is also a fine offering, as the picture quality and sound is everything I could ask for. The picture is full frame, but very detailed with natural color and a dearth of artifacts. Some of the old clips are grainy black and white, and the chapter beginnings are intentionally Super 8 grainy video, but overall the look is excellent.
The soundtrack is only stereo, but there was no need for any type of surround sound for this. Dialogue, which comprises the biggest part of the disc is always clearly defined and always audible. The music that does appear, including the tribute song "Overcoat" at the end sounds professionally mixed and has plenty of punch.
I have zero complaints about the documentary, which is excellent. I do have a couple complaints with the disc, none of which are reasons not to buy or rent. My complaints are the complete lack of bonus content and the chapter stops. I would have loved something for special features such as bonus music videos he did. My other complaint is that there are only nine chapter stops in this 90-minute show. Yes, the documentary itself divides itself this way with nine chapters but I would have liked additional chapter stops where his comedy routines began. This would have made it easier to skip the comments after you've already heard them and just go back to the act. This is a small complaint since the documentary is what they're selling and you can get all the acts either on video or CD.
This is the first DVD offering about Sam Kinison (although his cameo performance in Back to School is out on DVD now) and I hope is only the first of many discs to come. Most of his work is only available on VHS right now and hopefully that will change. I loved this disc though and it inspired me to go out and buy even the tapes of his act that weren't in my collection yet. If you like Sam Kinison, you owe it to yourself to buy or rent this fine disc. If you don't remember Sam, then at least give it a rental. You might be shocked but you should also find yourself laughing in spite of yourself.
A quote from one of Sam's friends:
"When most people memorialize Sam, they remember his scream; his partying; his never-ending diatribe on women, homosexuals and the religious right. I, however, choose to remember something else about him. His soft, vulnerable side. The twinkle in his eyes. The times I spent with him and Malika, giving ourselves home facials and conditioning our hair, while watching his well worn copy of North By Northwest. That is the Sam that I miss most." -- Hope Frederick, close friend of Sam's
Hey, at least he knew a good movie when he saw one too.
Sam Kinison is another comic who left us too soon and I hope he is in the Afterlife so I can meet him. Fox Lorber is commended for a fine disc as well.
Review content copyright © 2000 Norman Short; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Fox Lorber
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 90 Minutes
Release Year: 1998
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Official Sam Kinison Site
* Sam Kinison Tribute Site