The best comedy DVDs to give as Christmas presents in 2011
Tim Vine, Tommy Tiernan and Richard Herring among highlights
What does it say about America that ventriloquist Jeff Dunham is among that nation’s top earning comedians? In 2009, Forbes.com placed him third behind Jerry Seinfeld and Chris Rock, having banked an estimated $30m. In response, an astonished Dunham mouthed, ‘the one thing I'm proud of most is that my show has no social redeeming value whatsoever … you come and leave your brain at the door.’ I’ll say.
While Controlled Chaos (●●) shows off the incredible skills required to be a stadium-filling vent (at one point five characters are on the go simultaneously), it also offers a hint of the sinister side to US light entertainment. Dunham insists that on stage he is playing a liberal character, constantly flapping his free hand in the air with consternation at the racist nonsense spewed forth by the likes of octo Walter (Africans live in houses ‘made of shit’) and Peanut (Chinese people really talk funny, don’t they?). Take the dummies away and that’s simply Jeff Dunham speaking to the braying approval of a crowd of yelping white folks.
There’s a bit of unneccessary yowling and hollering at the beginning of Rufus Hound’s Being Rude (●●●) but it does settle down nicely into a pleasing exploration of someone acknowledging their creative limitations. Hound has clearly watched quite a lot of Stewart Lee as part of his training.
Ed Byrne once had a brilliant live radio tussle with Piers Morgan who gets it in the neck once more during Crowd Pleaser (●●●). Lord only knows what Byrne would make of Morgan’s subsequent and deeply moving TV tribute to the late male comic Patrice O’Neal: ‘I want to take a quick look at Patrice … to remind everyone just how funny she was.’ Nice research. On stage, the Irishman is fine company as he muses on being a new father and a lifelong nerd. As any self-respecting atheist comic would do these days, Byrne touches upon the daftness of religion along the way, though Richard Herring cranks it up several notches with Christ on a Bike (●●●). Taking his trademark pedantry to new levels with forensic analyses of the Ten Commandments and the somewhat lumbering opening to the New Testament, Herring is obviously spot-on, but it still feels like treading water and preaching to the converted compared to the bristling content of his previous release, Hitler Moustache.
A trio of Aussies have DVDs out, the most lavish of which is Tim Minchin with his Heritage Orchestra. Live at the Royal Albert Hall (●●●) shows off the good and disappointing sides to the Perth fella. His showmanship is never in doubt and he does a neat line in comedy song, but his in-between tunes banter is telegraphed and often lumpen. Jim Jefferies’ I Swear to God/Contraband (●●●) features two shows from 2007/08 with some crossover material, and although the DVD frames him as ‘Britain’s most offensive stand-up comic’, it’s easy to take umbrage at that statement. For one thing, this Aussie is now based in the US and these shows are actually relatively tame showing off glimpses of vulnerability. The highlight is his slow dissection of the footage of him being assaulted at the Manchester Comedy Store.
The words ‘like having a night out with your mates down the pub’ is a phrase which for some people equals a great comedy gig. Those people will adore Adam Hills whose Inflatable (●●) often feels like gatecrashing a party. Given that the show is recorded on his 40th birthday and introduces us to fans who verge from affectionate to stalkery, that description is all too accurate. When he gets to his central point at the finale (that we are all either inflators or deflators), it actually feels rushed as there is little solid material to lay the foundations for this mawkish denouement.
The best of this bunch are two shows that could barely be any different. Tim Vine rolls out gag after silly gag in The Joke-A-Motive (●●●●) but it is simply irresistible. Storyteller Tommy Tiernan’s Crooked Man (●●●●●) shows off the former Perrier winner and Jerusalem Post bête noir to gorgeous and hilarious effect. Shot on lovely, lovely film by Richard Ayoade, it harks back to the earliest days of screened live comedy. If Richard Pryor or Lenny Bruce had been recorded in a claustrophobic Cork comedy club, it would have looked a lot like this. The set itself is a mish-mash of his current Poot show and 2010’s Crooked Man with, if I’m not mistaken, even one small story about emerging sexuality from his very first Edinburgh Fringe show in 1997. There’s unlikely to be a more compelling stand-up out there today, with this show giving us all the sides of Tiernan from the hushed conspirator to the firebrand preacher, riffing on childhood, family and a little bit of politics. Pure genius, so it is.