Judge Norman Short reviews this stand-up disc from the very happy comedienne.
Our review of The Ellen DeGeneres Collection, published December 1st, 2005, is also available.
Ellen DeGeneres put her fate and career up for grabs when she decided to publicly declare her sexual orientation at a time when her television series enjoyed high ratings and it seemed she could do no wrong. After the revelation, the television show folded, her life became tabloid fodder, and it seemed she could do nothing right. Finally in the year 2000, Ellen cames full circle, and returned to the stage to do a new stand up act for HBO. Now the show is on DVD, and I've never seen her funnier.
Facts of the Case
I've been a casual fan of Ellen's since her early days in stand up comedy. She was always a little different, a little zany, and always seemed to be just a little dumber than you knew she really was. She won several awards for her stand up work, and in the '90s it seemed television was signing up every comic for a new series. Many shows failed, but "Ellen" took off and every year saw at least an Emmy nomination, winning one and a couple American Comedy awards along the way. Then she came "out." What wasn't exactly a huge secret in Hollywood became known to the nation at large, and a lot of people couldn't handle it. As for me, I kept watching, but the show had fundamentally changed. It didn't seem to be enough that the show now had a lesbian lead character (the first) but every episode had to be about being gay. I expected some changes, but even I wondered if they would ever get back to the things that had already proven great about the show. Ultimately it didn't get the chance, as falling ratings and controversy rapidly led to the show's cancellation. It took a little while to get back up again from the disappointment and the tabloid obsession, but she has gone on to do some serious work, notably "If These Walls Could Talk" on cable. Finally she's back doing what she's always done best: stand up comedy.
Right up front, Ellen has to deal with what everybody wants to talk about. She handles this in a funny and unique way; saying she wouldn't talk about it, but would instead say it through interpretive dance. The following minutes are extremely funny. She then seems to get on a soapbox and say that she's up here to say what needs to be said, whether America is ready to hear it or not. I almost groaned, thinking this wasn't going to be very funny after all, until she started in about how we don't really need directions on shampoo bottles. The tension was lifted, and we were able to get into the zany brand of observational comedy she has made an art form. In this area I liken her to Jerry Seinfeld; both can keep a deadpan expression and converse about every day life, and keep us in stitches.
This is actually Ellen's fifth comedy special, but I thought this was her best work yet. I chuckled, laughed, and laughed some more. She makes fun of herself and America, and the little things we all know but don't think much about. Only occasionally does her humor touch on her sexual preference; such as the story in the supermarket that ends up as the tabloid headline "Lesbian Wants Cheese; Riot Ensues." Gay marriage is poked fun at as she considers life married to a goat. But these were touches on the routine rather than the driving force; I could only think that her show would never have been canceled if she could have kept this balance.
If you missed the HBO special, you can pick up the act on DVD, with a fine presentation. The picture looks great; perhaps even better than my usual satellite image quality. It's very clear, detailed, colors are spot on, and there is nothing to complain about. The soundtrack is Dolby Surround, but is very active across the front soundstage, with ambient sounds from the audience coming from the rear surrounds. Everything is easily heard and understood.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Extra content consists only of a biography that was disappointing. Surely we could have gotten some outtakes or an interview. Considering the show only lasts an hour there was certainly room for more. HBO still hasn't added subtitles for the hearing impaired, making it one of a select group of distributors who remain indifferent to that community. I don't usually belabor the point, but I have to talk about the packaging again. HBO, like Warner, New Line, and Image, still uses the snapper case. This was bad enough before, but now they come with this huge "security device" covering the sides. These do not peel off without tearing into a dozen sticky pieces, and threaten to tear the picture off the cover. It really is time to join the rest of the known world and use a keep case. Those are my only complaints on an otherwise terrific program.
This was an extremely funny routine, and well worth taking an hour of your time for a laugh. The DVD is does its job well, and is available for less than the $19.99 retail price. If you haven't heard Ellen DeGeneres, give it a rental, and fans can feel comfortable buying it outright. If you can get the sticky tape off the case or your hands.
HBO and the whole family of distributors using snapper cases with the sticky security tape are indicted on charges of needless irritation to their customers. The comedy special itself is released to the public.
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