The Greatest... and the Latest
3.5 out of 5 stars
Reviewed for Coffeerooms by Mike Jefferson
For the past two decades, comics from all over the world have been uniting for “Comic Relief,” a laugh-a-palooza to help raise funds for the poor and needy. Shout Factory has assembled a 2-DVD set of “greatest hits” featuring clips from Gary Shandling, George Carlin, Jim Carey, Bill Maher, co-hosts Whoopi Goldberg, Robin Williams and Billy Crystal and other jokesters. The second DVD includes performances from Louis Black, Sarah Silverman, George Lopez and Ray Romano that were part of Comic Relief 2006, which provided support for the victims of Hurricane Katrina. With the exception of Black and Lopez, the second DVD is no whirlwind, but the rapid-fire clips and quips on the first DVD will leave you laughing so hard you’ll need some relief of your own.
You get the expected A.D.D. lunacy from Robin Williams, who’s at his best when ad-libbing as Billy Crystal’s talking penis or firing out rapid-fire repartee about John Bobbitt losing his. An unexpected laugh-till-your-stomach-hurts moment comes from the late Jim Varney, portraying his best known character, Ernest (“Hey Verne!”). Ernest surprises the kinky couple next door and their reaction to his intrusion provides the funniest sight gag on the DVD. Another spontaneous spurt of visual hilarity occurs between SCTV alums Catherine O’Hara and Robin Duke, who lampoon the movie “Thelma and Louise.” Duke is supposed to alternate between feeding O’Hara a sandwich, helping her puff on a cigarette, and giving her generous portions of water as she drives. Duke ends up passing everything faster than O’Hara can swallow or puff, and the sketch nearly skids completely out of control when Duke pulls the cigarette out of O’Hara’s mouth and it falls in her lap. O’Hara is supposed to say she’s swallowed it, but she obviously hasn’t because it’s burning a hole in her clothes. The two comics break up as Duke retrieves the butt and they try to pick up the routine again before the game O’Hara regurgitates or spontaneously combusts.
Louis Black, one of most intelligent topical comedians on the scene, is in full froth as he riffs on Pat Buchanan, immigration and frozen embryos. Chris Rock chews up the stage in his appearances, at one point turning non-PC subject matter into a hysterical bit through his patented emphatic inflection: “There’s a reason to hit everybody….JUST DON’T DO IT! There’s a reason to kick an old man down a flight of stairs…JUST DON’T DO IT!”
George Carlin displays his ability to take a mundane subject (in this case “stuff”) and extend it into heights of absurd brilliance: “Your house is a place to keep your stuff while you go out and get more stuff.” Gary Shandling offers some of his best self-effacing jokes: “I’m not running for President because no woman would come forward to say she slept with me.” In his appearance, hyper and hoarse George Lopez takes racial stereotypes to the woodshed: “Understand this about Latinos in the country…Everything you touch, we touch first. That spinach that was tainted? Our bad. For three dollars an hour we’re not gonna wash it too!” You’ll also get to see Dennis Miller back when he was actually funny: “Ronald Reagan, our President, is 77, at the end of his term, and he has access to the button. My grandfather is 77 and we won’t let him have access to the remote control.” Richard Lewis is amusingly neurotic, Bobcat Goldthwait is frantic and Steven Wright is droll, taking simple observations and spinning them into pleasing punch lines: “My Uncle was a clown for Ringling Brothers circus. When he died all his friends went to the funeral in one car.” And wait until you see what “America’s Funniest Home Videos” host and wholesome “Full House” actor Bob Saget pulls out of his zipper.
A number of old school comics are represented on the Best of DVD as well. Shaky and near death, the late Milton Berle still manages to deliver a zinger: “I’m not gonna stay on too late tonight, and if you believe that, you’ll believe there’s gonna be a Richard Simmons junior.” Toupee challenged Steve Allen trots out his “Man In the Street” sketch with Tom Poston, Bill Dana and Don Knotts, master of the jittery response. English comedy is represented by Peter Cook and Dudley Moore, reunited to reprise one of their comedy routines that successfully relies on Cook’s upper class diction and Moore’s talent for physical comedy. The late Alan King’s clip is short and shockingly blue, but shows his ability to poke fun at his heritage, and Don Rickles displays his rapid-fire brand of insult comedy, keeping Goldberg, Crystal, and even Williams off-guard and in stitches.
Not all of the “greatest hits” are great and there are a few artists on the second DVD who should be sweeping the stage instead of appearing on it. You’ll “Curb Your Enthusiasm” when cast member Susie Essman does her flat monologue. D.L. Hugley laughs at his jokes, but you won’t, and Kat Williams better hope his career has nine lives because his present incarnation is a case of cruelty to humans. Not everybody will love Raymond (Romano) without Peter Boyle, Doris Roberts, Patricia Heaton and Brad Garrett as his foils, and quirky, squeaky-voiced Sarah Silverman is an acquired taste, but so is hemlock.
There are appearances that’ll make you ask, “What ever happened to?...” Jon Lovitz was last spotted as former supermodel Janice Dickinson’s lover (take a number, Jon), proving that geeks with money can get lucky. He’s in his comedic prime as Tommy Flanagan “the Pathological Liar” character he spawned on Saturday Night Live. I once ran into Lovitz at Belmont Race Track. Turning to him with a winner in my hand I said, “Yeah, that’s the ticket!” He looked at me as if he wanted to sue me for copyright infringement. Just ask Andy Dick if Lovitz is as funny in person. No matter, his brief appearance is a memory funny memory swisher. Elaine Boozler goes for shock value in describing why women don’t hang out at the docks at night. Other M.I.A.’s include Sinbad, “Super Dave” Osborne, “The Pit Bull of Comedy” Bobby Slaton, and Shelly Long, posing in the audience as tourist who gets hot and bothered when she realizes she’s sitting next to Woody Harrelson.
If rude humor is your forte, there’s a gallery of gals and guys who dwell in the comic primordial ooze, such as Joan Rivers, Marsha Warfield, Rosanne Barr, Louie C. K. and Rosie O’Donnell. Although most of the selections will activate your funny bone, there are a couple of routines that should have been left on the cutting room floor. One snooze inducing routine features Eugene Levy and John Candy as the polka playing Schmenge Brothers. Lawrence Welk putting in his dentures would have been funnier. Another dead end joke that goes on for far too long involves the never funny Martin Short as Brylcreem twisted Ed Grimley. Short’s grimacing expression momentarily amuses always game for a laugh Catherine O’Hara, who’d likely crack up during the Bataan Death March, but I couldn’t wait for him to take his high-waters elsewhere.
The second DVD contains Billy Crystal’s “Tribute to New Orleans,” as well as three inspirational vignettes about individuals and families touched by Hurricane Katrina that have refused to give up. The three profiles are introduced by funnyman Jeffrey Tambor, hitting a serious note when introducing the Brandenburg family, who’ve been running a fishing business in New Orleans for 22 years: “We rebuild. We don’t throw a city away. America is not disposable.” “Law and Order” cast member S. Epatha Merkerson shows her dramatic chops in introducing Leia Chase, proprietor of the Dooky Chase family restaurant. Defiant and proud, Chase promises, “I’m gonna build my community. I’m gonna get this place in order." Of the three intros it’s Rebecca Romijn who surprises the most. Whereas Tambor and Merkerson go for the dramatic throat, in introducing her segment on a group of musicians helping to rebuild the community, Romijn eases into dialogue. She’s less theatrical, letting the tragic details tell the story, and as a result, is the most effective presenter.
If you need a respite from life’s befuddling grind, try Comic Relief’s greatest hits. Just don’t try smoking, eating and drinking at the same time while watching it.