Judge Jeff Andreasen was once told that fat, drunk, and stupid is no way to go through life, son.
Being seen and not heard on video.
"The picture and sound quality of the following presentation, one of the last performances of the late Sam Kinison, is a reflection of the original source recording."
In the immortal words of Sam: "No shit!" Or, to put it in more succinct Kinisonian terms: "AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAARRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRGH!"
I have seen bad video and I have heard lousy audio, in fact quite recently, but none of the bad video and lousy audio I have seen and heard compares to the lazy, VHS-age home video, cheap-ass, money-grubbing knock-off that is Sam Kinison: Outlaws of Comedy.
Sam Kinison burst onto the comedy scene after two big events in 1986 and 1987, his role in Rodney Dangerfield's Back To School and his HBO special Breaking The Rules. Both are side-splitting in their hilarity and reflect the high point in Kinison's comedic career. His all-to-brief role as the deranged Professor Terguson was hilarious, and Breaking The Rules had me rolling with tears in my eyes.
Here was a genuine comedic genius, one whose material is as funny today as it was back then, although maybe a trifle stale as he only had so long to amass a portfolio before his death in 1992. His riffs on the starving in Africa, relationships, Jesus Christ and the woeful state of televangelism in America, and, ironically, drunk driving are still beloved of comedy fans everywhere. In Breaking The Rules, Kinison was a new talent, freshly arrived on the big stage and full of the piss and vinegar he had needed to get there. He was also, at the time, full of drugs and liquor, but, like Richard Pryor, Robin Williams, and a host of other legendary comics before him, it only gave his performance the manic edge to put it over the top. The timing was perfect, the audience responses expertly anticipated, and that trademark roar of his made Breaking The Rules a comedy classic.
Outlaws of Comedy, on the other hand, is a travesty. It features Kinison in a performance only months before the car crash that would claim his life. His routines were a mix of old pieces he'd done, like the leper piece and parts of the pet shop riff, and some new material he'd been doing on tour. Unfortunately, gauging Kinison's delivery here, one gets the impression that it's all old. Sam seems so disinterested in almost all of the material that it's difficult to see what made him special in the first place. Gone is the outrage over his failed relationships and his bleak outlook on marriage and women. Gone is the ironic glee as he skewers popular conceptions of religion with the knowledge of a man who knew where hucksters like Oral Roberts, Jimmy Swaggart, and Jim Bakker came from. Gone is the delight in lambasting sacrosanct institutions like the Papacy or SADD and MADD. Gone is the dark edge to his harangue against sending food to Africa or driving while intoxicated.
In Outlaws of Comedy, Kinison looks like he's acting from a script or, at the worst, reading from a dummy card. His smile and affection for the audience appear almost completely forced, as though he's only up there because he's got bills to pay. Sort of like just about any movie Sean Connery's been in since 1990. Oh, the scream is there, but it's just a scream. There's no animation to it and no urgency…no depth. It's just a prop. His routines are more or less what you're used to, but they seem generically homophobic or misogynistic, like an Andrew Dice Clay performance, than indicative of any personal relevance to Kinison himself. He gets the audience going with a "spontaneous" crank telephone call to the former girlfriend of one of the guys in the crowd, but it's not only a shtick clumsily executed by Kinison, the prank itself goes awry when leather-clad bimbos Malika and Sabrina, obviously not veterans of Ma Bell, can't make the connection and only succeed after several attempts and several nervous minutes. Hell, Sam can't even muster the chutzpah to blast back at a heckler with the bile we know he can spit, instead muttering some lame babble and making a couple puerile faces.
This is not Sam Kinison's finest hour, and this pathetic DVD presentation is certainly not the finest remembrance of the man a fan should hope for.
The cover blurb reads: "Funnier Than Hell!" Well, Hell is a decidely unfunny place, and Sam's execution in this performance is only just more humorous than the infernal realm and its wacky denizens. But Hell certainly has it all over this coaster in terms of appearance! My Uncle Larry has better skill with the zoom than whoever shot this debacle. There is no color to it, and it seems to have been mastered from an old VHS home video tape pirated from the front row. At times the screen blanks to solid gray before popping back to the show. That these breaks weren't edited out seems to speak volumes about Geneon's commitment to excellence.
The cover goes on to exclaim that this has been "Never before seen on video!" That might be true, but it still hasn't been heard on video. The back cover purports a Dolby Digital 2.0 audio…well, if you say so. This is the worst presentation of a live performance I've ever come across. The sound has been recorded directly from the microphone, so if Sam isn't screaming right into it, you can barely hear him. The tumult of the crowd is a barely audible murmur in the background, and even when they guffaw at Sam's most hilarious riffs, they're barely heard, and that audience reaction is a huge part to the success of a live recording. Put together, the audio and video presentation here is awful, plumbing the nadir of even the lowest standards of quality a studio should aim for.
Nor are the "Special Features" particularly special, but are in concord with Geneon's efforts on the rest of this shaving mirror. There is a text biography of Kinison, though it's nothing any fan of the man won't already know in more intimate detail than is presented here. Also present is a photo album of Kinison from various stages of his evolution, from child to teen to Pentecostal minister to drug-zonked party animal to comic legend. But, like the biography, these aren't anything special and are available on any number of Kinison fan web sites.
Sam Kinison died in 1992, a short six months after wedding stripper Malika Souiri, and while it's a tragedy that he died in the full bloom of a brilliant career, it's gratifying that he's not around to witness the tragedy of this DVD. As it is, if you listen close enough, you can probably hear his outraged roar condemning this blasphemy from the other side.
Guilty…of producing a DVD that ruins Sam Kinison's memory.
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