Judge David Packard says that watching this DVD is just like being at a real Craig Shoemaker performance, except the disc doesn't make fun of you when you get up to use the bathroom.
"Oh yeah, baby!" -The Lovemaster
I'm a sucker for stand-up comedy. I can thank Eddie Murphy for that, as I still remember smuggling his Delirious tape into my house as a young teenager. In the somewhat-private confines of my bedroom, I held my bulky tape player (this was pre-Walkman, mind you) up to my ear, secretly listening to Eddie's jokes and hoping to God that my parents wouldn't barge in and demand the reason for my laughter. Cable—and especially HBO—introduced me to a bevy of comedians over the following years, and with my twisted, all-over-the-map sense of humor, I usually found something to like in everyone.
So it was with understandable eagerness that I decided to check out Craig Shoemaker Live: That's a True Story!. I'd heard Shoemaker a few times on the nationally syndicated Bob and Tom morning radio show, and his jokes were a riot. I remember one bit in particular where Shoemaker discussed his son's obsession with Thomas the Tank Engine—something I could well relate to at the time, as my own son was going through his own crack-like addiction to Thomas—and the fact that his son couldn't pronounce the letter 'R' very well. It made for an interesting situation when his son was asked by a woman to name his favorite Thomas the Tank Engine character. Shoemaker's son replied, "I like Percy!" Yes, go ahead, dear reader—sound it out.
Thankfully, Shoemaker's brand of humor evident in those brief few minutes of radio—including that particular bit itself—has remained intact throughout most of his nearly 90-minute stand-up routine at the San Jose Improv in Craig Shoemaker Live: That's a True Story! Shoemaker, named "Comedian of the Year" by the American Comedy Awards, proves his comedic talents through his keen observational and occasionally self-deprecating humor. The topics—differences between the sexes, the changes associated with married life and fatherhood, and canines that make less than ideal watchdogs, to name but just a few—are all over the map, and Shoemaker barely gives you a chance to recover from your laughter before he's moving on to the next joke. Many times, I realized I was laughing not so much at Shoemaker but at myself as the jokes struck a personal chord: Yeah, I remember the self-inflicted torture of trying not to pass gas on a date. It's not a pleasant memory, but Shoemaker makes it funny as hell.
Shoemaker is a talented impressionist as well. There aren't a lot of impressions in this particular set, but what's included is a riot. Droopy Dog, Jack Nicholson, and a dead-on impersonation of a foul-mouthed Don Knotts had me rolling, but it was his stereotypical gay male and a diatribe on whistling 'S' words that had me in tears and fumbling for the remote so I could pause the show and get myself under control. Watching Shoemaker crack himself up as he recalls his encounter with a living, breathing version of this particular part of his stand-up routine had me in tears all over again.
Nothing kills the fun of stand-up more than a routine that hits a painful lull of lackluster jokes that don't work, but you'll find none of that in this DVD. Shoemaker is consistently funny throughout his entire routine, and when you consider that the routine runs at a quick pace for almost an hour and a half, that's even more impressive. It's evident that he's polished this set to a high gloss, and he demonstrates just how much he knows it inside and out when an unfortunate audience member arrives a few minutes late to the show. To her embarrassment, he decides to get her caught up with a rapid-fire repeating of his act right up to the point of her arrival. I made myself a mental note to never arrive late to a Craig Shoemaker show.
The bit with the unfortunate late-comer isn't the only time Shoemaker plays with the audience. A bride-to-be with her bachelorette party becomes a favorite target of Shoemaker's, and one of his most hilarious moments is when he informs her what her future husband is really doing (think dollar bills). Later in the show, a woman makes the mistake of leaving to use the restroom. When Shoemaker learns that there are speakers in the restroom, he learns her name from those at her table before putting his regular routine on hold for the next several minutes at her expense. Finally, after reminiscing about playing "Army" as a kid (and again, I felt a pang of nostalgia for my own childhood), Shoemaker asks a quartet of men along the front row to give him their best machine gun sound. The results range from pitiful to painful, and Shoemaker runs with it for the rest of the show. It's obvious that this is one entertainer who loves interacting and having fun with the folks who come out to see him, and his routine is all the better for it.
It wouldn't be a review of a Craig Shoemaker DVD if I didn't include a word or two on "The Lovemaster," a character invented by Shoemaker that makes regular appearances in his shows. This was my first introduction to said Lovemaster, and I'll be honest—I found the character getting old very quickly. Through suave, squinty eyes and a soul-infused voice, The Lovemaster makes one sexually charged joke after another, with heaping helpings of "oh yeah, baby" thrown in between the barbs. It's clear that the character is popular among his fans, but I was thankful that The Lovemaster showed up later rather than sooner and didn't overstay his welcome, either. I'll admit I did enjoy seeing The Lovemaster throw down his rendition of "The Star-Spangled Banner" to close out the show.
While Craig Shoemaker Live: That's a True Story! is unrated, be aware that there's plenty of sexual innuendo and adult language peppered throughout his act. Shoemaker isn't the bluest of comics I've seen, but his show is clearly for adults and equivalent to an "R" rating. Watch this one after you've sent the kids to bed—just don't wake them with the laughter sure to follow.
A lone extra is included on the disc. There's no real name for it—it's selected by choosing the mysteriously-plural "DVD Extras" menu option—but it covers Shoemaker in San Jose prior to the filming of his show. Shoemaker turns his young son into a Lovemaster-talking puppet, makes the requisite radio station appearances to promote his show, and discusses the thrill of seeing his name on the Improv's marquee, among other tidbits. It's short, a bit sweet, and a nice little addition to the disc, even if chances are you'll view it once and never return to it again.
Technically, the presentation is fine for this type of programming. The video is presented in full frame, and honestly—does anyone really care that they're missing a little of the left and right portion of the stage due to the lack of a widescreen presentation? The audio is passable as well, presented in a simple Dolby Digital stereo mix. Sure, the disc is hardly reference material, but I doubt you'd be popping in a DVD of any stand-up comedy act to put your home theater to the test.
Consistently funny and often flat-out hilarious, Shoemaker has put together one of the funniest stand-up routines I've experienced. Highly recommended for anyone seeking a boatload of belly laughs, the court finds Craig Shoemaker Live: That's a True Story! not guilty. Case dismissed, baby—oh yeah!
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