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Case Number 00984

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Sam Kinison: Breaking the Rules

Pioneer // 1987 // 50 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Norman Short (Retired) // March 16th, 2001

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All Rise...

Did you know that Sam Kinison once walked a tightrope across the Hoover Dam? Of course you didn't, because he never did. Read Judge Norman Short's review of the comedy special that made this guy famous.

The Charge

I want my records back!

Opening Statement

Sam Kinison, the man who made screaming an art form, was one of the most popular comics in history, only to be taken from us in a tragic car accident. His fame was such that he had signed a four-movie deal from New Line, had a contract for four albums, and four HBO specials. By most accounts his first HBO special done in 1987 was his best—perhaps his best work overall. I've had the special on VHS tape for many years, but was thrilled to find it is now available on DVD, with a much sharper picture, better sound, and even a great collection of extras including a commentary track. If you like Sam Kinison, this is a must-buy.

Facts of the Case

For biographical information about Sam Kinison you should read my review of Sam Kinison: Why Did We Laugh?, the documentary about his life. I've also provided links to the official Sam Kinison website with both reviews.

The Evidence

This was the showing that first introduced me to Sam Kinison, and it left me literally in stitches. Once it was released for home video I bought a copy and must have shown it to over a dozen friends over the years. Sam was in top form, with his free wheeling style that seemed different from the typical comedic routine format. This was because, as I learned in the commentary track, he really didn't use routines. He had stories based on his own experiences and often ad-libbed his way through them on stage. Still his sense of comedic timing was spot on, and he knew how to join his stories together with a punch line relating to a prior joke. Here we are treated to his diatribes against the women who had hurt him, gays, and AIDS, along with stories adapted from his preaching days, where he put his own special spin on the life of Christ. Especially funny are the stories where he depicts the wife of Christ and why Sam can know for sure he never married, and the "love song" at the end. My biggest regret about the routine is I wish it were longer; only lasting 50 minutes to fit the HBO special format. I could have listened to him for another hour without regret.

Among the extra content is some bonus footage, though sadly not from that performance. Later in his career his fame had helped add to an already unhealthy drug habit, and you can really see it in these scenes. The Vegas shows that are excerpted here are not nearly as funny as the main feature. I am happy to report that he had seemingly gotten a handle on his excesses later and quite probably would have had a long career without the tragic end that faced other comedians like John Belushi and Chris Farley. Unfortunately we will never know, because it was on his way home from his honeymoon that his vehicle was hit head on by a drunk driver.

Besides the four extra scenes of his comedy, the main attraction in the extra content is a commentary track narrated by Sam's brother and business manager Bill Kinison, and Bill's wife, who had known Sam since he was a child. Both relate stories about him, give tidbits of information such as the real life events that prompted the story being told on stage, and of course lament his passing. I found the commentary track very interesting and worth replacing my old VHS copy on that basis alone. A short photo gallery completes the extra content.

I've reviewed DVD products for long enough that it becomes hard to watch VHS anymore. I still watched my old Sam Kinison tapes since I had no other way to see his act, but I didn't know what I was missing until now. The picture quality is so much better than my old tape that it boggled me for a moment. Of course, you should expect that from DVD, and I'm pleased to say this one delivers. The full frame picture quality is quite sharp, and I was able to notice little details I had missed even in many, many viewings on tape. The sound quality is likewise better and clearer than the VHS Dolby Surround. The sound was advertised as Dolby Surround on the disc, but in fact is a remix to Dolby Digital 5.1. While I believe it is much clearer and better balanced, it is almost a waste to consider it a 5.1 track, however, because the rear channels have little to do. Even crowd noises sounds are mostly balanced into the left and right front channels. This is a small complaint, as I'm perfectly happy with the sound mix we get.

The Rebuttal Witnesses

I'd have to step out of myself to find anything to complain about. But I will for a second. If you have children you won't want them to see this. If you find profanity offensive, you won't like Sam Kinison. He is loud, profane, and takes on subjects other comics wouldn't touch.

If I had any complaints about the disc, it would be a few extras I wish had been included that were not. Sam did several music videos, often surrounding himself with big name rockers. One of his performances I have on videotape has such videos; perhaps we'll have to wait for that one to arrive on DVD to get them.

Closing Statement

For those who don't mind this type of humor (those that like Richard Pryor for example, one of Sam's role models) you absolutely must give this a try. If you haven't heard Sam Kinison before then give it a rental, but for those who know his work you can't do better than to have this disc in your collection. It's still the funniest overall work I've seen or heard from him, and perhaps the funniest I've ever heard period.

I've also just learned that a Sam Kinison movie is in the works, to be directed by Tom Shadyac (Liar, Liar, The Nutty Professor). Those are all the details available at this time.

The Verdict

Everyone involved, from Sam and those who knew and loved him, and Pioneer who has released this much-loved performance on DVD, are absolutely acquitted.

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Scales of Justice

Video: 94
Audio: 90
Extras: 90
Acting: 99
Judgment: 98

Perp Profile

Studio: Pioneer
Video Formats:
• Full Frame
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
• None
Running Time: 50 Minutes
Release Year: 1987
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
• Comedy
• Performance

Distinguishing Marks

• Additional Footage
• Commentary Track
• Photo Gallery

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