DVD Review: Lewis Black – Stark Raving Black

Hi all…

Among the many great comedians gracing stages around the United States, I seem to gravitate to the comedy of those people willing to not only point out the bizarre things in our everyday lives, but tell it like it is. Critical social commentary through comedy. People like Robin Williams, George Carlin, Jon Stewart, and Lewis Black are at the top of the heap. Not only can these individuals make us laugh, but they can through their talent and intelligence make us think at the same time.

Lewis Black’s latest Comedy Central special – Stark Raving Black – features 80 minutes of intelligent insanity. Black’s anger and volatile rants are legendary, but it’s his fickle finger of death and sputtering delivery that defuse that anger while making numerous points about politics, popular entertainers, the economy, and even the iPhone. Every time he gets incensed about a topic, I learn something new or get to consider it from a different angle.

Though he comes across as a cantankerous 60+ year old man going from observation to observation with the wisdom that’s come from not only watching the world but participating in it, there’s an underlying current just below all the vitriol. That current, funny enough, is hope. After all he’s seen, he still holds out hope that things will change for the better. He just figures that all his hopes and dreams will come true the day after he dies. That’s dramatic irony at its finest.

As Black describes being part of a fundraiser where he has to perform after Vince Gill, the quintessential beloved country artist who you can’t help but like, and his wife Amy Grant, a pure Christian woman with a beautiful voice so perfect she is “made entirely of cream”… How can he possibly follow this couple who don’t say a single swear word on stage? Without swear words Black thinks he has maybe 5 minutes of material! Evidently he turned to his friend and fellow comic Kathleen Madigan (a very funny lady in her own right), who had found him the gig and told her to look at her watch – that this is the precise moment we are no longer friends.

If you’ve seen Black before, you know he uses every swear word and crude reference in the book… Can you imagine him on stage with the Vice Gill/Amy Grant power couple? It would be like matter and antimatter meeting – the whole place would explode!

Black’s intelligence comes through in spades as he describes the economic woes currently happening in our country. “Many people blame what happened economically on the people who couldn’t afford rent and bought homes… Those broke *@@#(! are the ones. Really?” If someone came to you on the street and says “I know you can’t afford rent, but… wanna house?” Doesn’t that sum up the mortgage crisis beautifully?

He points out that the sole reason for the crisis was greed. From the Bernie Madoff ripoff to the $1.2 million office redecoration done by CEO John Thain at Merrill Lynch right before the company went down the drain. These people just want more toys and no accountability. When Black talks about what he would do with $1.2 million for redecorating an office, it involves a Great White in a personal aquarium and an Intern… That would probably have more effect than a $67,000 credenza that Thain had purchased for his office.

Black also riffs on the iPhone. He says it’s an amazing instrument, but it’s attached to AT&T, which makes it a “rock”. If we have wireless phones that can work anywhere on the planet, why can’t we have alternative energy solutions? We can take photos of our friends and text message people, but we can’t figure out alternatives to fossil fuels?

But in the end, he talks about hope. It’s the best drug on the planet and one preferred by the young – such as those who worked tirelessly to get Obama elected during the presidential election. Evidently, Obama “lactates hope” and we all were hoping for change. It’s those hopes and dreams for himself, our country, and the world, that he keeps alive day after day. He expects the flying cars will show up at his funeral.

In addition, there’s a 69 minute documentary titled “Basic Black: The Lewis Black Story” that focuses on Black’s life on the road. He evidently reads the newspaper and watches CNN regularly to digest material and then he regurgitates what sets him off on stage. They drive across the country in their bus from gig to gig – Black, Jeff Costa (sound man and merchandise guy), Ben Brewer (tour manager), John Bowman (comic who typically does the opening act for Black) and Frank Moreno (bus driver) – as Brewer puts it “as one big, grumpy family.” It seems they get a lot more work done by driving and avoiding the tension and downtime typically associated with flying everywhere.

The documentary provides a great look behind the scenes on a comedy tour – definitely something I’ve never seen before. Seeing a baby picture of Black with his fingers pointing in the air explains a bunch. Evidently he didn’t even know he was doing it until a fan did it back to him in a public place at one point and he asked one of his friends about it.

And then to see clips of Black’s routines in the 1980s was absolutely hilarious. I didn’t know who he was until about 10 years ago and to see routines from 30 years ago was amazing. Who knew he was a drama student?

If you like Lewis Black and have seen him on The Daily Show With Jon Stewart in his brief “Back in Black” segments or caught earlier shows, I’d definitely recommend you pick up Stark Raving Black. The documentary alone is worth a look to learn more about Black’s background.

Article first published as DVD Review: Lewis Black – Stark Raving Black on Blogcritics.

–Fitz

p.s. Pick up Lewis Black DVDs at Barnes & Noble!

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DVD Review: Robin Williams – Weapons of Self Destruction

Hi there…

Robin Williams. For me, the name itself brings a smile to my face. Fond memories of listening to my old, beat-up tape of An Evening At The Met over and over again until I could quote large sections of his comedy by heart. Memories of watching Mork and Mindy on television with my parents and thinking how cool it would be to be from the planet “Ork” and to live in Boulder, Colorado – only about 25 minutes north the house where I grew up. And all the great movies Robin made such as Good Morning Vietnam, Awakenings, and the The Fisher King.

He’s been entertaining me as an individual for nearly 30 years, so each time I hear about a new comedy special he’s doing you know I have to find a way to watch, listen, or pick it up on DVD. Despite nearing the age of 60, a bout with open heart surgery in March 2009, and having to cancel his comedy tour, I’m not sure Robin has slowed down much in the last three decades. Maybe he’s cut back on the drugs and alcohol, but he’s still got an amazing gift for entertaining an audience.

That brings us to Weapons of Self Destruction, his latest comedy tour filmed in late 2009 and released on DVD at the end of March 2010. This is the first comedy concert he’s done on HBO since 2002. Since then, Robin’s routine has aged a bit to match the current state of the world and he may have a few more gray hairs, but his talent for seeing the bizarre in the everyday continues to amaze. It was obvious the audience felt happy to be there to experience Robin live.

Robin covers everything from politics, health care, global warming, as well as his own experience with open heart surgery. He doesn’t pull any punches either. Early on he mentions Sarah Palin’s book and says he “found it somewhere between fiction and non-fiction in the fantasy aisle,” which proved he hasn’t lost his gift for lampooning. As he says later in the show, Sarah is a gift to comedians everywhere.

Being in Washington DC for the show was an inspired choice with everything going on on the Hill. I think Robin’s idea of having politicians in Washington be required to wear jackets like NASCAR cars labeled with the names of everyone who’s sponsored them. The health care debate would be much more lively if he was the one moderating the discussion. If we knew which drug companies were sponsoring each senator or representative, it would make the health care voting much more transparent don’t you think?

And I absolutely loved all the technological references scattered throughout the show. He wanted an iHeart so he had the latest tech in his heart. And now he has a GPS in his car. “I was driving across the Golden Gate Bridge, I was halfway across, and all of a sudden the car went ‘Take a right turn.’ ‘What? No can do HAL! Not that depressed, really.’ And the car went ‘Really Robin? I saw Bicentennial Man.’ ‘SHUT THE #@%* UP!'”

And to top that, the Bob Dylan GPS routine had me rolling and laughing off the couch. He does a damn good Dylan impression. I think I’d pay for it. “Drivin’ down the road look ahead, there’s a light / Very soon, very soon, you’re gonna have to take a right / Drivin’ along, drivin’ along, drivin’ in the land of the free / Remember to pull off if you’ve gotta take a pee / Do it now!”

As per usual, if you are easily offended by language or adult situations, Robin on stage isn’t really for you. He swears regularly, talks about sex and drugs, and generally makes fun of absolutely everybody.

Included with the DVD are two amazing extras.

The “Local Highlights” feature provides a collection of clips from his national tour taken all over the United States and Canada. You can tell he takes the time to research each place a bit and has local humor for each audience, which is fantastic. It really drives the point home that Robin is a professional and wants to entertain.

But the “Past Show Highlights” feature for me beat the “Local Highlights” feature hands down. There are clips from four of his previous shows – Off the Wall in 1978, An Evening with Robin Williams in 1982, An Evening at the Met in 1986, and Live on Broadway in 2002. Each provides a glimpse into how Robin’s shows have matured over the years from comedian to actor/comedian to dramatic actor and beyond.

If you like Robin Williams and want to see his latest stand-up comedy routine, I’d encourage you to watch Weapons of Self Destruction. He is back and better than ever. Hopefully he’ll go on another tour before too long and I can catch him in Denver!

Article first published as DVD Review: Robin Williams – Weapons of Self Destruction on Blogcritics.

–Fitz

p.s. Pick up this and other great Robin Williams media at Barnes & Noble!

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Robin Williams as the US Flag

Hi all…

Occasionally I get an e-mail from a friend or family member that I just have to pass along. This one of those. I love Robin Williams and have for many years. He’s one of the most talented, bizarre, funny men in the world. But I’d never seen this bit with him as the American Flag.

several small American flags

Image via Wikipedia

He does it proud. Watch if you get a chance. It’s worth it as we go into the November elections to remember that it’s more than politics and politicians we’re voting for.

–Fitz

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