Judge Clark Douglas is deeply moved by the way so many lives have been improved by a few dirty jokes.
Founded by Bob Zmuda (aka, Andy Kaufman's best friend) in 1986, the American organization "Comic Relief" (based on the British group of the same name) is best known for its star-powered comedy shows. The first show was held in 1986 and was hosted by the then-super-hot trio of Robin Williams, Whoopi Goldberg, and Billy Crystal. Several other "Comic Relief" comedy shows have been staged over the years, with each event supporting a different important charity. Many thought that the 1995 show "Comic Relief VII" would be the very last show, but after Hurricane Katrina hit, everyone came together to put on another Comic Relief show in 2006. This two-disc DVD set offers two hours of stand-up comedy from that most recent effort, along with another disc featuring two hours of highlight clips from the older show.
First up is the highlight clips disc, and that description essentially could serve as the review. Yes, there are highlights, but they are only clips. Thus, the whole thing feels very bitty and frustratingly impatient. Just when a comic seems to be getting into a great routine, we cut away to someone else. I would have been very happy to have fewer performers and longer routines fill out the two hours, because a whole string of one-minute snippets doesn't make a particularly satisfying viewing experience. It's very much a quantity-over-quality approach, and I don't really care for it.
Despite my complaints about the format, we get a pretty good chunk of funny moments. Among the highlights: Dana Carvey offers up a spot-on satire of pompous rock singers, suggesting that they make up their lyrics as they go along. Chris Rock and Dave Chappelle provide some typically top-drawer comic examinations of various racial issues. George Carlin presents his priceless "A Place for My Stuff" monologue. Eugene Levy and John Candy perform a very amusing sketch about a couple of sidetracked polka players. Old pros like Sid Caesar, Carl Reiner, Don Knotts, and Milton Berle get to do their thing, which is also really cool. There are certainly enough laughs to make the first disc watching once. However, for every strong moment, there's another that makes you shrug (including all the bits with Williams and Crystal…sheesh, it's like watching deleted scenes from Fathers Day 2).
Much more engaging and entertaining is the complete two-hour special from 2006. Here, we get to see every performer's routine from start to finish, and the array of talent is quite strong. Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert appear via satellite and do an extended version of the sort of bizarre routine they do with each other when bridging The Daily Show and The Colbert Report. While we're speaking of Comedy Central folks, the ones that are here are in top form. Lewis Black tends to get on the nerves of those who don't like to be shouted at, but his material here (a bit on illegal immigration) is side-splitting. Sarah Silverman continues to demonstrate her unique gift to make even the hippest comedy crowd squirm in their seats, and her appearance is a highlight. Elsewhere, the appearance of Katt Williams is a riot, and I was particularly tickled by the routine featuring Fred Willard, Catherine O'Hara, and Jennifer Coolidge (aka "The Christopher Guest Crowd").
Sure, there are some duds here. There's got to be, when you've got this many people. Some ideas just have to fall flat. For instance, having the entire cast of Entourage performing a sketch in character? Really weak idea, and the execution is terrible. Of course, this may have a little something to do with my own dislike for Entourage, but never mind all that. Rosie O'Donnell simply isn't very good at stand-up, and her routine falls flat. Dane Cook's appearance doesn't add much of anything, and Rosanne Barr's shrill closing performance brings the show to a very weak conclusion. As for the hosts, Crystal and Whoopi are fine, but Robin Williams is at his spastic worst here. The entire show, he does nothing more than make noises like a broken kitchen sink and grab his crotch. I have some relatives who could have performed the same task with just as much skill.
Video quality on both discs is also something to complain about, particularly the first disc. Seriously, was this transferred from a dusty VHS tape in someone's garage? It looks pretty messy, and some unforgivable damage appears from time to time. Sound is weak as well, though this isn't too much of an issue. Things are slightly improved on the second disc, but it's still below par for a 2006 HBO special. Extras are very slim, limited to some deleted scenes featuring the "serious" parts of the show, which offer various celebrities telling stories of Katrina. Interestingly, they left most of the tales of human suffering and heartbreak out, but included Bob Zmuda's rather long speech about how Katrina "will be remembered as the greatest pet disaster in American history." Then he proceeds to inform everyone that part of their money will be given to animals who lost their homes in hurricane Katrina. Without wanting to offend animal lovers out there (and I would consider myself one), shouldn't we focus on rebuilding Mr. and Mrs. Jones' home, instead of rebuilding Rover's dog house? Eh, I suppose it doesn't matter all that much. It's all for a good cause, despite some questionable priorities.
There are numerous obstacles to consider before picking up this set. The
quality is not great, the rewatchability factor is not very high, and some of
the stuff isn't very funny. However, for standup comedy fans, you're going to
have a hard time finding this many A-list comics in one package anywhere else.
There's a good chunk of genuinely funny stuff here, and you have to admire all
of these folks coming together for a good cause. It's a tough call, but out of
charity I'm going to give these funny and unfunny folks a break and just say
"not guilty." Court is adjourned.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Shout! Factory
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