When he auditioned for Def Comedy Jam, Judge Victor Valdivia did a routine about how lucky Obama is to be a black man. But don't worry—the neck brace comes off next week.
DEFying Conventions. DEFining a new generation.
Def Comedy Jam: Hosted by D.L Hughley marks the latest compilation from the hit HBO stand-up comedy showcase. Though there's some very good material here, the set is rather inconsistent and uneven, making it not as easy to recommend as it could be.
Facts of the Case
Def Comedy Jam: Hosted by D.L. Hughley compiles all 10 episodes of the most recent season of the HBO comedy series. Since 1992, the series has highlighted stand-up comics, particularly black and Latino comics who have gotten their first national exposure on this show. In addition to D.L. Hughley (The Original Kings of Comedy), who serves as the show's host, there are three dozen comics on this set:
The rap on Def Comedy Jam (best exemplified by an infamous sketch Chris Rock performed on Saturday Night Live several years back) is that the comics on the show frequently scream out the raunchiest and most off-color material and rely heavily on profanity and explicitness without actually being funny. And yes, back in the early '90s, when the show started, it was definitely true that the crude and explicit jokes many of the comics on the show told were far beyond what most stand-up comedy shows allowed. It's only fair to point out, though, that back then, most stand-up comedy shows on TV were fairly bland and timid affairs, with most comics telling the worst kind of sub-Seinfeld hack jokes ("Didya ever notice…?"). If Def Comedy Jam sometimes went over the top, it was at least a refreshing alternative. By 2007, though, such material seems old-hat, so while some of the comics are actually far smarter and subtler than they would be given credit for, there are far too many who still rely on such methods and make this a frustratingly uneven set.
There's no shortage of good comedy here. Gina Yashere does a hilarious routine about how hard it is for her to speak American ghetto slang with a British accent. Vincent Oshana discusses how hard it is to be Arabic and go to an airport. TuRae takes on the new hip-hop trend of "no snitching" by asserting that he will tattle even before anything bad happens. Cory Fernandez mentions that the Puerto Rican Day Parade in NYC is now more popular with blacks than with actual Puerto Ricans. These are comics who are trying to put out more revealing or unusual material, and if their delivery is sometimes a little rough, they display the type of talent that makes the best stand-up worth watching. In fact, most comics here get at least one or two good jokes in during their acts. Unfortunately, for every good moment, there is no shortage of hack comics here who still rely on crude sex jokes and bad stereotypes. That's pretty much true of any stand-up showcase, but at two discs and nearly five hours, it's just way too long to be subjected to several sub-par acts to get to the good ones.
Because the set is so long, it helps that some comics will be recognizable from other places. Patrice O'Neal is best known for his appearances in various VH1 series (such as I Love the '70s) and a role in The Office. Earthquake will be familiar to Kevin Smith fans from his cameo in Clerks II. Damon Jr. is actually the son of former In Living Color star Damon Wayans (and bears an uncanny resemblance to his father). Their sets are entertaining and serve to demonstrate why they are more well-known than some of the other comics here. The DVD menus are actually immensely helpful, as they allow viewers to recognize which comics are in which episode, and the discs are programmed so that a bad comic can be skipped for the next one. As host, D.L. Hughley is not bad. Some of his bits are fairly predictable, but he does get off many good jokes here and there. Unfortunately, the ratio of good to bad among these two discs is about 50/50, and for such a lengthy set, that's just not good enough. Def Comedy Jam is simply not consistently funny enough to recommend wholeheartedly.
Technically, the set is faultless. The anamorphic transfer and stereo sound mix are both pristine. The only extras are a few sketches done as promotional commercials. The best ones are the two involving Patrice O'Neal's man-on-the-street interviews, in particular the one with a goofy and endearing white supremacist. The others are thin ideas stretched out way too long.
It's a fundamental flaw of stand-up comedy programs that they are frequently uneven. Stand-up buffs will find some really good stuff here, but sifting through the dross for the gold will be something of a chore. Unless you are really familiar with most of the comics here, watch this one before you decide to buy it.
Guilty of being too erratic.
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