The Best of Comedy Central PresentsWith material dating back as early as 1999, this new DVD collecting the “best” Comedy Central Presents actually seems to come pretty close to accomplishing just that. The list of comedians included on the DVD are fairly well known, aside from Jeff Dunham and Brian Regan, and even those two have large enough fan bases to be included in the upper echelon of working comedians.

The menu layout for the DVD featurs eight boxes with headshots of each comedian, so that they can be played in any order. There is also the ubiquitious (and very welcome) “play all” function. Anyone with a solid three hours on their hands that wants to be entertained will most likely be leaning towards this selection.

It’d be easy to make overarching statements about the entire collection, but I’d instead like to pinpoint moments in each comedian’s routine that stand out and definitively show why they have made it to the level they are, and what keeps audiences coming back for more, beginning with Lewis Black, who made his name as a frequent cranky contributor to The Daily Show. This 20 minute segment from Black’s special The End, showcases a typically frustrated Black talking about why the Superbowl is stupid, Christmas has become “a beast that cannot be fed,” and how he found the end of the universe in Houston, Texas where a Starbucks was built across the street from… what else? Another Starbucks. His shaking hands and his unforgiving condemnation of the stupidity of the world help to set him apart, no more so than when he talks about candy corn and it’s hilarious shortcomings.

Dane Cook, headliner of many recent failed romantic comedies is here looking younger and more energetic than Hollywood has been able to portray him as. Starting out with why all comedians want to be rock stars, he’s all but set himself up to be one in the years between the taping of this special and now. His interpretations of snakes and the alien from Alien bring a certain intense physicality to the stage that has perhaps only been topped by Jim Carrey when he was making the stand-up rounds decades ago.

Brian Regan is something of a more laid-back Dane Cook, taking many of the same angles, but with less over-the-top gesticulating. His discussions of diet, exercising and eye exams work well here and are spot on observations by a witty comedian. Jeff Dunham is the most surprising in the collection, as he busts out several puppets and some well-honed ventriloquist skills to get his jokes rolling. With Melvin the superhero, a purple monster named Peanut, Jose the Jalapeno on a Stick, and the grumpy old Walter, Dunham manages to keep his show moving while making puppets look cool. His lightning fast arguments with a few of his characters are a bit mind-boggling simply because of the speed with which he transitions between voices.

Jim Gaffigan is a real stand-out on this disc as he seems like the only comedian without a gimmick. Perhaps he’s just better at concealing his motives, but Gaffigan plays his bits so straight-faced that it’s hard to get a handle on how he’s working the crowd. His jokes land every time and when he talks about people in New York not asking but “demanding” directions, it’s obvious that he’s found his crowd.

Carlos Mencia’s routine makes for a surprisingly heartfelt plea for all people to lighten up. Discussing political correctness, freedom of speech, and the way that we are made to feel different from each other, Mencia hits a note that is especially eye-opening, considering that his show doesn’t even approach this level of quality and depth. In fact, the final notes of his routine aren’t even comedy. Instead he begs audience members to live every moment to its fullest and to make sure that they live as free as they possibly can. It’s an intense moment and earns him a well-deserved standing round of applause.

Now we’re getting to a current favorites here: rising star Demetri Martin, a law school dropout who (like Lewis Black) made his name on The Daily Show. His bits are highly stylized Hedbergian one-liners, mixed in with drawings, guitar picking, and a cast of characters in hilariously homemade costumes prancing across the stage. Martin’s musical odyssey on where his jokes come from is just original enough to be funny and enjoyable at the same time.

But it’s really Mitch Hedberg that stands a head above the rest. As he makes his seemingly unwilling way around the stage with his head down, and his signature sunglasses obscuring his eyes (along with his long hair), Hedberg may be the shyest comedian to hit the stage, but he’s also one of the most succinct. With most jokes running only one line in length (ex: “I wanted to buy a candle holder, but they were all out, so I bought a cake.”) Hedberg has the ability to keep the audience laughing while delivering only tiny tidbits of humor.

Each comedian is given a 20 minute place on this DVD and there are also four “quickies” from Comedy Central, including a brief bit from The Colbert Report, South Park, Lil Bush, and The Sarah Silverman Program. These extra features are more about advertising than providing content, but they’re much more welcome than standard trailers. Anyone loking for a quality collection of stand-up can stop looking. Comedy Central Presents has arrived.

Zach’s Rating: B+
Perfect For: Three hours of quality stand-up
Stay Away if: You like your comedy in long bits, not 20 minute shorts
Watch For: Carlos Mencia’s surprisingly deep philosophical rants

To purchase The Best of Comedy Central Presents, visit Amazon

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