Judge Gordon Sullivan does some comedy archaeology, exploring the work of Sam Kinison.
"Shock Comedy At Its Best!"
Sam Kinison's critical legacy is hard to judge, especially since he died so young and suddenly. He's certainly better remembered than Andrew Dice Clay, but I don't think his stature has grown in the same way as his contemporary, Bill Hicks. Because he died so young, with only a few years in the spotlight, I feel odd judging his achievements on the few scattered artifacts that he left behind. I first encountered Sam Kinison on the cusp of adolescence. As the (seemingly) only agnostic kid at my Catholic high school, I was drawn to Kinison's often brutal assessments of religious beliefs as he skewered the hypocrisy of televangelism and the random illogic of The Bible. I found his anger at relationships amusing (though a tad troubling) because I had little experience in that realm and it was odd to hear someone malign the kind of relationships celebrated by much of our culture. For whatever reason I had largely stopped listening to Sam by the time I could drive, moving on to the more cerebral pleasures of George Carlin and Bill Hicks. In fact, this DVD is the first time I've listened to more than a few minutes of his work at a time in almost a decade.
I'd be lying if I said I didn't find much of the material on these two HBO specials hilarious. His digs against religion still ring true, and his observations on relationships are still cleverly constructed. However, I'd also be lying if I said I didn't find some of the material on this disc disturbing. In a world where violence against women is all too common, Kinison's tirades feel dangerous and immature. I know it's just comedy, but the obvious well of bitterness that drove his angry rants had an edge to it that was frightening at times. Supposedly he was happily married when his car was struck by a drunk driver, and I therefore find it hard to judge this material without having a better idea of what his comedy might have become. Would personal happiness have turned his apparent hatred into a shtick, or would he have provided less bitter insights into relationships if he hadn't been killed?
I also find his attitude towards homosexuals difficult to watch, especially given the 2008 gay marriage ballot initiatives. In many ways, the condescending "aren't they cute" attitude that many of Sam's bits demonstrated (like his one about sucking dick because his relationships with women failed) seems almost as damaging as outright disdain because he doesn't take the homosexuality seriously.
Ultimately, however, Sam Kinison is exactly what you'd expect him to be. If you're looking for a brilliant, filthy, angry comic genius who could skewer religion, sex, and the audience with equal skill, then Sam Kinison was that guy. If you're looking to be outraged by a comic who doesn't take women, gays, or religion seriously then Sam Kinison was also that guy. So, those willing to let Sam rant without consequence will likely be amused, while those looking to be offended will find plenty of reason. In either case, Sam was a comedy force to be reckoned with, and both of these shows demonstrate that clearly.
Sam Kinison had a number of HBO specials, and their presence on DVD has been spotty. This disc from Mill Creek includes two of those specials, Breaking the Rules and Family Entertainment Hour. Breaking the Rules is the more laid back of the two, and it features the comedian performing in front of a plain backdrop. My favorite part of this show is easily Sam's piano-laden song about his former girlfriend that ends with him screaming "I want my records back!" Family Entertainment Hour is Sam Kinison as rock star. He performs on a huge stage with scantily clad dancers and a rock band during some parts of the show. The scale and the jokes are about the only things that changed. Sam is still angry at religion and women, and still enamored of rock 'n' roll. I generally prefer his earlier stuff, before he went all '80s hair-metal, although he never lost his touch.
Because of the spotty releases of Sam's shows, this disc is a mixed bag. For fans who don't want to shell out megabucks for out-of-print versions of these shows, then this disc is a godsend. However, for fans hoping for definitive versions of these shows, this disc might disappoint. The video and audio of both shows is only so-so, and there are no contextual extras that give insights into that time in Kinison's life. However, there is 75 minutes of bonus concert footage. This looks like it was sourced from VHS, and it presents a less-edited version of Sam's act (although it's not a complete show). I generally prefer this format for comedy shows because the audience interaction is often as funny as the show's material.
Sam Kinison's material certainly roams far enough to offend many members of society, but his originality, energy, and quick wit still shine through almost two decades later. For fans who've not yet bought these shows on DVD, then this is an essential addition to the comedy collection. For those who've heard of Sam but have never listened, this disc is worth a rental, but be warned that it takes thick skin to get through some of his material.
Give us your feedback!
Scales of Justice
Studio: Mill Creek Entertainment
• Bonus Footage
Review content copyright © 2009 Gordon Sullivan; Site design and review layout copyright © 2015 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.