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Case Number 08445

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Classic TV Comedians

Passport Video // 2005 // 103 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Jonathan Weiss (Retired) // January 25th, 2006

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All Rise...

Judge Jonathan Weiss puts on a dress and throws a pie at this DVD. Cue laugh track.

The Charge

Laugh and the world laughs with you. Weep, and you weep alone.

Opening Statement

Where would the funny folk of today be without the pioneers who led the way? Just think for a second: there probably wouldn't be a Jim Carrey, the manic clown, without the spastic antics of Jerry Lewis. Denis Leary, the angry tell-it-like-it-is average Joe may have never existed without the loudmouthed everyman perfected by Jackie Gleason. Bill Murray, with his dry quick as lightening delivery would probably never have left Illinois if there weren't a Groucho Marx to pave the way.

Pick any modern day funny person who leaves you in hysterics (be it in stand-up, sketches, sit-coms, or movies) and it's a pretty good bet that you can trace their inspiration straight back to one of these Classic TV Comedians.

Facts of the Case

This DVD professes to showcase snippets of black & white comedy bits from the golden age of television.

The Evidence

If you're a student of comedy, Classic TV Comedians is probably a title that would pique your interest. After all, where else would you see a line-up of these incredibly influential performers collected together for your edification and enjoyment? Just look at these names: Abbot and Costello, Jack Benny, Red Skelton, Bob Hope, Burns and Allen, Martin and Lewis, Jackie Gleason, Groucho Marx, and Milton Berle (Mr. Television himself). In that regard, at least, Classic TV Comedians delivers with flying colours.

In all others, well, it blows worse than Heidi Fleiss after dental surgery (at least that's the rumour).

Sure, you get to see a televised performance from each of these comedians—but which performances are you seeing? From the looks of them, the fine folks at Passport Video didn't exactly scour the vaults to find the best examples of each performer's work. They don't even let you know on which program the clip aired. Instead it looks like they just plugged in whatever they could get their hands on. Of the 9 performances, maybe 4 (Jack Benny, Burns and Allen, Martin and Lewis, Groucho Marx) might get a chuckle (okay, maybe not a chuckle; a snicker. okay fine, snicker is too strong a word—a slight curvature of the lips then, okay?).

Okay, let's get the important stuff you need to know out of the way. The video is horrible; the sound, horrendous; the selections arbitrary, and the extras, invisible. Oh yeah, and in case you've forgotten what DVD you're watching, there's a subliminal super that says Classic TV Comedians plastered three quarters of the way up the right hand of your screen.

But here's the thing: there are still some things to be learned here. No really, I'm not kidding.

For instance, comedians didn't seem to mind breaking the fourth wall by talking straight to the audience. They also didn't mind breaking away from the script and ad-libbing if the opportunity presented itself. In many cases these two points go hand in hand as when Jerry Lewis breaks character when one of the sight gags goes wrong. Jack Benny was the king of glancing out at the audience (in the studio and at home) to get the effect he wanted and he doesn't disappoint here. In the remaining skits, Bob Hope, Lou Costello, and Red Skelton all acknowledge the camera in some way or make unscripted remarks for the benefit of the crowd.

Another interesting thing of note is how sketches were set up. Today the audience is plugged directly into a scene and expected to fill in the blanks for themselves (which admittedly is not too hard to do). On this disc, however, many of the set pieces began with either a voiceover or a side-man detailing everything you need to know in order to help you out with what you're about to see.

For example, before we even get to see Uncle Miltie in his bit, an announcer first gives us a little background into America's scientific progress before segueing into how said progress is vital to America's defense—specifically in the development of an explosive of unlimited power contained within a pellet the size of an aspirin tablet. It's only at this point that we're introduced to the two scientists who have just succeeded in creating this explosive tablet. As one scientist leaves the room to call the Pentagon and the other goes off to tell the nightshift janitor to go home, who should enter but Uncle Miltie as Chester, the self-same mint-eating nightshift janitor one of the scientists is looking for.

A bomb the size of an aspirin? A mint-eating janitor? Do I need to draw you a picture? Two words: hilarity ensues. Anyway—this isn't the only case where we get this kind of a set up, but it is the most detailed.

Hankering for a little more learning? Well then how about this—the Old West was a proverbial goldmine for comedy. It must have been because out of every single clip ever recorded and kept for posterity, Passport Video included two based in the Old West: Red Skelton plays a desperado with an itchy trigger finger in his clip, while Jackie Gleason plays a cowardly Sheriff in his. Neither is memorable.

The only other point of interest has to do with surprise guest stars. Humphrey Bogart shows up in the Jack Benny sketch, and Burt Lancaster makes the scene with Martin and Lewis—and both play up their movie personalities to the hilt for (ahem) comedic effect.

Closing Statement

Here's a title that had so much potential.

Imagine each clip being introduced by a Whoopie Goldberg, a Robin Williams, heck even an Andy Dick (for crying out loud). Imagine if they would have given a little bit of background on why the comedian you're about to watch was such a huge influence on their careers. Imagine watching clips that were actually representative of that comedian's talent. Imagine actually laughing at something other than your own gullibility—because let's face, it if you buy this DVD, the only joke here's on you.

The Verdict

Sadly, the only "not" awarded here is "not funny." So how guilty was this puppy? It was soooo guilty that it robbed me blind of a full 90 minutes of my life. It was soooo guilty that it nearly killed me to watch it from start to finish. It was sooo guilty that, well, you get the picture.

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Scales of Justice

Video: 40
Audio: 40
Extras: 0
Acting: 40
Judgment: 30

Perp Profile

Studio: Passport Video
Video Formats:
• Full Frame
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
• None
Running Time: 103 Minutes
Release Year: 2005
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
• Bad
• Comedy
• Television

Distinguishing Marks

• None

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