Named 57th on Comedy Central’s list of the 100 greatest comedians of all time, Richard Jeni had a long and exceptionally powerful career. If being number 57 on that list seems paltry let me remind you that there are 40 billion comedians in existence. There are more comedians in Hollywood California alone than the entire population of several small European nations. If the list of 100 greatest comedians was a list of the greatest scientists of all time it would have Einstein and Galileo on its illustrious roster. (Quick fact, Einstein was almost on both lists. That guy was hilarious!).
So the skill with which Jeni dominated the craft of comedy should never really be in question. But if I can put a little personal spin on it, Richard Jeni was one of MY personal favorite comedians. He had all three qualities I look for in a stand-up. He had a unique personal style, a razor sharp wit, and pulled no punches. I should probably clarify that by “pulled no punches” I mean he went as deep as any joke had to go, but NO deeper. He wasn’t a shock comedian, with jokes designed to push the edge, but he did push that edge when he had to, and with amazing results. All of those qualities are shown here on “The Beach Crowd” and beyond being released posthumously, it seems comparable to any of his previous work in terms of quality and skill. Of course this DVD does have its unique (and pretty amazing) qualities, but before I break it down for you folks, lets enjoy this clip:
The major difference between this release and previous DVDs from Jeni is of course that this was arguably never meant for wide release. This is instead a hybrid of several different shows (spanning many years) that have been edited together to bring this material to the world. Honestly after watching this show I felt like this is the format ALL comedians should prefer. The magic captured here is not pre-prepared, album ready, material that was worked and re-worked for years and made “ready for audience consumption”. Instead it’s a collection of all his creative impulses on stage, working with the audience, and creating as he goes. The improvisations here, which were almost never seen in Jeni’s published work, are amazing. Don’t get me wrong, most of this material has a lot of writing behind it, but you can feel the times he goes off book, and it’s, well it’s just GREAT!
On top of all the stage improvs Jeni’s DVD also offers another rare find that all popular comedians include: his work with the audience. Reacting to hecklers and calling out for audience interaction; Jeni shows a side of himself we never saw (on screen). What’s really amazing here (to me anyway) is how polished even his improvisations are. Coming up with things ON STAGE he still has the same amazing pacing and world choices. It’s inspiring and even daunting; it’s really impressive!
Speaking of impressive, here is ANOTHER clip from the DVD. It’s by far my favorite joke on the whole album and I am pretty sure it’s made-up on the spot. At least it’s close to it. Here we go:
To get down to the nitty gritty, the best tracks on the album (or chapters on the DVD) are as such:
Ch. 4 – “Women, Whales, and Nature”: is a roller coaster ride of jokes at just the right pacing to keep you laughing in bursts that make it hard to breath. Its great stuff, and makes me seriously consider not ever leaving my house and braving the nature Jeni describes.
Ch. 12 – “Pancakes and Rats”: contains easily two of the greatest (if disparate) bits I have heard in a long time. I keep waiting for my friends to watch the Rats bit (once they buy the DVD those mooches) so we can joke around about it. I’ve never had rats in my house but if I do later at least I’ll be able to laugh at these jokes while I pay more than I can afford to the exterminator.
Ch. 14 – “A Public Service Announcement”: Face it this needs to be said at least once.
SPECIAL MENTION: Two jokes that are hard to place in the lineup but are exception involve being a “General Surgeon” and dolphin PR firms. I can’t tell you more, but when you watch those jokes come back and comment here about how right I am that they are amazing.
It’s so worth your time. Not just because it’s a great DVD but it’s also a wonderful tribute to a great comedian. Further if you ARE a comedian you should probably pick this up just to see the man create comedy from nothing on stage. It’s changed the way I perform, and with hope it will help you too.
Keep it tuned to CraveOnline.com for an interview with the folks who made this DVD and a second review of the DVD from another of our illustrious writers (I was afraid I was going to be too partial as… I love Jeni).