As further proof of Saturday Night Live's current cultural irrelevance, here's cast member Finesse Mitchell trying to prove his witty worth on the stand-up stage. Judge Bill Gibron rests his case.
Another sloppy stand-up concert without much merit.
Though he's supposedly a star of the new Saturday Night Live (this critic pleads complete ignorance on the truth of said status), Finesse Mitchell actually began his creative career as a stand-up comedian. How he managed to work his weak material into a gig on NBC's mythical sketch comedy series is one of those mysteries mankind may never decipher. For the 52 minutes that he's onstage for this recent DVD release, Snap Famous, Mitchell is a well-meaning but basically unfunny flop. When it comes to comedians, especially laugh trackers of color, there are certain styles that seem to function as benchmarks. There's the clever and clean ideal, a way of working standard urban realities into snatches of hilarity without tossing in the multi-syllabled epithets. Then there is the crude, cursing type, using life in the streets (and the language shared there) as a way of creating cutting or surefire social commentary. Mitchell is actually striving for another kind of cleverness here—an unusual combination of the two conflicting ideals. Unfortunately, he mines the more meaningless elements of both, taking the occasional swear word from the shockers while working the mundane from the mockers. The result is an entire comedy concert as anti-climax, a situation that barely registers a snicker on the guffaw gauge.
While he's personable, Mitchell doesn't have a true creative voice of his own. He seems afraid to get fierce, aiming instead to be likeable if lame. For example, he has an interesting riff on being a member of the SNL cast and meeting several famous faces—most notably, Brad Pitt. During this bit, Mitchell muses that, upon seeing the striking superstar, he might have turned "a little gay." It's humorous the first time, but then he never pushes the idea. He discusses Prince in the same way, but never puts his faith in the audience's ability to tell fact from funny business. It's almost as if Mitchell fears going too far, really pressing the homosexuality situation to its natural end (i.e., naming a celebrity he'd go same-sex gaga over). It even happens in the heterosexual arena. When he blurts out a desire to "f**k" Halle Berry—directly to the actress's face, so the backstage story goes—he instantly apologizes like a little boy with his hand caught in the coarse comedy cookie jar. Be it race or his relatives back home, Mitchell is mild-mannered and milquetoast. When comparing how white and black people dance, he channels two decades of Evening at the Improv on A&E, working the two-different-culture sight gagging to obvious ends.
But there's more to Mitchell than this, and it's obvious what's been holding him back. Thanks to his years on SNL (again, count this critic shocked that he's working on year THREE!?!?), his stand-up has gotten sloppy. Want proof? As a finale—and to give the sequence a "fresh to DVD" send-off—Mitchell pulls out his audition piece for Lorne Michaels. It's a classic bit about going to the movies, ghetto style, and it's very funny. By pointing out the foibles inherent in all people ("no one goes to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon to READ!") while staying socially specific (the family having an actual birthday party—complete with cake—in the theater), Mitchell finds the truth that is so important to real observational humor. Sure, some of the jokes are obvious (audience members reading out loud—and badly mangling many of the words) and his perceptions rather basic, but it is in this moment where Mitchell proves his entertainment mettle. There's a talent present that's missing throughout most of Snap Famous. While he may be a wizard at his "Live from New York" day job, this is one comedian who needs to remember the dues he once paid before striking out onto the circuit once again. With the chops he shows during this presentation, he'll be eaten alive by even your average comedy club audience.
Image Entertainment treats this release with a nice amount of digital respect. The 1.33:1 full-screen video image is clean, crisp, and loaded with color. There are no analog issues—flaring, bleeding, whiting out—and the overall presentation is professional and proud. Similarly, the sonic situation here is equally solid. The Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround does supply enough spatial ambience to make us think we're in the middle of a mid-sized theater watching a stand-up comic onstage, while the occasional musical interludes give all the speakers a happy hum. There is also a Stereo 2.0 mix, but stay with the channel-challenging track. As for added content, Mitchell's mimicry skills are put to the test in a series of short skits (he does a decent Southern preacher), and we get a few man-in-the-street moments as he roams through New York. There's even a set of bloopers available. Oddly enough, much of this material is much funnier than the comedy concert it supplements.
For those wanting to see where Finesse Mitchell came from, Snap Famous shows the comedian clunking back through some highly familiar and frequently unfunny territory. If you're a fan, don't fret. You'll enjoy this hour-long example of your main man's merriment. But anyone looking for the next Richard Pryor, Bernie Mac, Chris Rock, Cedric the Entertainer, Steve Harvey, or Bruce Bruce, needs to keep on searching. This is one side splitter who's decidedly unskilled at his job.
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