Richard Jeni was one of the most popular and influential comedians of the late 80's and early 90's. His stand up was featured on The Tonight Show and in multiple award winning comedy specials.
I had never heard of him before reviewing this DVD. This is a crime. One I'm glad I corrected by watching "The Beach Crowd"
Through clips of shows from 2002 to 2006 we see how a great comedian operates, how his timing must be adjusted night after night, and how he makes little changes to adapt to hecklers and moments of inspiration. Richard Jeni shines in his ability to deliver material that feels familiar in new and funny ways every time.
Jeni's delivery style is very unique. He's usually seen with a hand or two covering his ears, scratching his neck, sometimes eyes closed as he's finishing his thoughts. It combines the familiarity of talking one on one with impression that he's willing the material out line by line. It feels spontaneous. It allows him to make even the simplest punchlines funny by implying "Hey, I'm shrugging my shoulders too, this is what happened!"
His comedy is primarily observational. Jeni doesn't break a lot of new ground regarding men and women, or cruise ships, or parents, or marriage, but he lulls you into a false confidence before springing a curve ball:
"Nana, that f*****g hypocrite used to yell at me for sucking my thumb!" -When he found out about sex, and the possible revelation that his grandmother probably fellated some men.
"Have you ever feltched a penguin?" -Impersonating an insurance rep on the phone.
"My balls slid down into my foot." -His father, who constantly shocks with his medical ailments.
Needless to say, the material Richard Jeni brings can be very, very blue (crass, inappropirate, NSFW) but always very, very funny. It's his ability to take a standard set up about a subject with a punchline you feel coming and then he gives you something completely different that shows what a master he is.
His sense of timing and rhythm is never shaken for a moment, even when he occasionally is interrupted by the audience.
When an audience member shouts out some suggestions of material Jeni responds right on top of him "That's when you know you've had too much to drink…'no microphone at my table! Must be a mistake'. " Jeni squelches the heckler without being insulting. And in response to other suggestions from the audience he quips "Man, you already paid to get in here, let the funny man work!"
Another skill Richard Jeni brings is his multiple voices. He truly inhabits the characters that he is talking about, whether its his father, an exterminator, or the reoccurring character in these sets: Joaquin Phoenix from "Gladiator".
"She moaned like a whore…" Delivered while wrapping himself in the stage curtain like a toga, basting on a heavy British accent. Jeni uses this as a frequent callback, and near the end of the set, the whole audience recites the line along with him!
The entire special runs a little over an hour, but it's well worth the purchase, especially if you're looking to study some great stand up. This may have been Richard Jeni's last special, but it's a fitting tribute for a hard working comedian. Even the most cynical audience member will find something to like in Richard Jeni's set, and giving too many gags away would spoil it.
"The Beach Crowd" is a rare opportunity to see the consistent and original Richard Jeni, never wavering in pleasing the audience, seemingly able to do so all the way until sunset.
"I have one thing to say to all the women in the audience before I go…blow that man tonight. Make that idiot happy." -Richard Jeni