Princes Of Comedii Review
During the writing of this review, I've long debated how best to approach it and how to find the right tone. My colleague Anthony Nield probably struck the best note early on in his Charles Shaar Murray-inspired, "He has friends?" - Murray famously reviewed Yes' first album, also titled Yes, with, "Yes? Maybe" - but that might have disappointed those looking for a more verbose discussion of the talents, or lack of them, or Richard Blackwood. At first, the question was whether or not to actually take the thing for review - contrary to what many of you might think, these copies are not distributed at random and nor are reviewers chosen on who may be the most sympathetic - but a bigger problem presented itself when I actually chose to watch the thing. Alone, I might add, and without the support of an extra pair of ears to aid me.
And here's the problem...I can't really understand much that's being said here. Racist, you say? Not at all for although all four performers are black, the problem has nothing to do with their accents but rather the manner in which this was filmed for a DVD release. But then filmed isn't the right word. Indeed, it's very much the wrong word as it implies a degree of professionalism that's sorely lacking here. Instead, Princes Of Comedii employs all of three cameras - given the state of the picture, I'd bet they're no more than camcorders - that I can only assume were thought sufficient for the task but which don't add up to very much.
The first camera is fixed at a single point on the stage...fine you might think but within the first minute Slim wanders off to the right and to the left out of shot, leaving the operator - and there's a word that's used rather loosely here - to desperately zoom out in the hope of getting him back in shot. The second camera offers an occasional glimpse of the audience, perhaps in the hope of convincing viewers at home that there are some laughs to be had here whilst the third is an equally wobbly view of the stage, handled by someone who was quite clearly never destined for a career as a surgeon. Were you to recover footage taken from a Penis-Cam at Mr Skin's Annual Assfest and Titty Revue, you'd have a steadier picture than this operator manages. Indeed, if your hand shook like this, you'd probably consider a trip to the doctor, fearing alcoholism regardless of your consumption.
But there's worse. Much, much worse. Rather than recording the audio off the mixing desk - I'm assuming that such a thing was possible here as it certainly is for bands - Brightspark Productions have chosen to use the tinny little microphones on their camcorders to record the soundtrack, even when their men are sat deep in the audience. Turn up the volume to actually hear what's being said - and then ignoring the speaker-rupturing cheering of the audience - and the hiss from the microphones actually makes it even less audible. Add to that an occasional whistling from the equipment - Slim suffers particularly badly in that respect - and the auto-leveling volume control leaves it sounding as though there's a drop-out after every particularly loud bout of laughter.
And all of that leaves me understanding very little that is being said. Of course, what there is is of the, "Anyone here from Nigeria?", "Now the white man, he don't take no shit..." and "All y'all Jamaicans jus' be talkin' shit!" There is, as you might imagine, much talking of shit, no taking of shit and much wondering aloud of just what is that shit. Said shit does seem to be greatly concerned with the white man and just how different he is to the black man who, depending on where his family originated from, conforms to strict racial lines that wouldn't have been out of place in the mouth of Bernard Manning. Nigerians are a wholly threatening group of people, Jamaicans are so laid back to be almost horizontal and the Haitians have some scary voodoo shit. The white man is just the white man and is deemed, it would appear, to be a lot less exciting but still worthy of much discussion. Personally, I would pass on this were it presented on the old Granada Plus channel by a lot of fat, sweaty men wearing body odour, purple suits with lapels you could land a plane on and sideboards that the average six-year-old could hide inside and it doesn't get any better here.
However, the audience do seem to be enjoying it a great deal but for all I know, they could be sitting in an auditorium into which has been pumped copious amounts of hallucinogenics. Or have been promised a free Bill Hicks live DVD if they behave.
After all that it's clearly pointless having a separate section on the A/V state of the disc as it is the worst transfer that I've seen. In fact, actually releasing on disc does seem like something of an insult to the medium and you can't help but feel that if the DVD Forum had been shown this when they first began meeting to decide the format, they might well have given up on it as a pointless waste of their time. Frankly, it could only look worse if it was presented on a zoetrope and it certainly couldn't sound any worse. At least not unless someone was applying the business end of a Black & Decker to your eardrums.
But there are extras, with Interviews with Richard Blackwood, Kojo and Slim, all of which have been carried out backstage and concern such things as how they got their start in comedy, a favourite joke and how they became involved in Princes Of Comedii. A desperate attempt to kick start his rapidly stalling career is what I suspected Richard Blackwood might have answered but no. Something to do with a phone call and the offer of hard cash. There's also a performance by Floetry, who are women and who, it would seem, don't quite cut it as princes. That's a shame as this is, by some distance, the best-produced bit of the entire DVD as not only is the audio perfectly clear but it's also well filmed. Hmmm...but they aren't funny and their acapella song isn't particularly good either. Finally, there's a set of Audience Jokes that might well represent the final scrapings from the bottom of the barrel of DVD extras.