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HBO presents
Def Jam Comedy Classics: Volume One (2006)

"You're not black, you're not white, you're confused."
- Martin Lawrence

Review By: Chuck Aliaga   
Published: November 20, 2006

Stars: Martin Lawrence
Other Stars: Dave Chappelle, D.L. Hughley, Chris Tucker, Sheryl Underwood, Warren Hutcherson, Garfield, Mystro, Chocolate
Director: Stan Lathan

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (adult language and humor)
Run Time: 00h:57m:15s
Release Date: November 21, 2006
UPC: 026359256424
Genre: comedy

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B B+C+C+ C

DVD Review

HBO's Def Comedy Jam paved the way for aspiring African-American comedians, many of whom are superstars today. The brainchild of media mogul Russell Simmons, the series served as a sort of testing ground before a newer, hipper audience. Every week, a host would introduce these up-and-coming jokesters, who would each bring their own unique element to the uncensored stage the cable giant granted them.

There are two episodes here, both hosted by Martin Lawrence. In the first show, Martin introduces Mystro and Chocolate, D.L. Hughley, and Dave Chappelle. Originally airing on August 21, 1992, this show gives us a great look at a some big-name talent on the verge of hitting their stride in the comedy world. It's pretty much a given that Chappelle's appearance will not only be the main draw for this particular episode, but also the main selling point for this entire disc. It's no surprise that Dave is hilarious and exhibits much of the same flair he shows today, and this segment serves as a measuring stick as to just how much he has matured as a comedian. True to his current material, Chappelle's stuff is timeless and still just as effective as it must have been when this installment originally aired.

Hughley is quite funny here. He's never been witty or edgy enough for me, but this performance finds him unleashing some unexpectedly raw comedic energy. He has matured into a respectable actor, as evidenced by his role on TV's Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, and it is nice to see what he can really do as an unleashed comedian.

The second show aired on July 9, 1993, and finds Lawrence bringing Sheryl Underwood, Warren Hutcherson, Garfield, and Chris Tucker on stage. Chris Tucker (Rush Hour) really shines during this performance, making no one safe from his jokes, and knocking the audience dead with his distinctive high-pitched voice. It's amazing that a voice can change the landscape of a given joke, but Tucker's can, and does numerous times during his set.

This disc is being marketed around Martin Lawrence hosting the pair of episodes, and I don't know if there was ever a better emcee during the series' run. He keeps things interesting in between the featured comedians' sets with his own jokes, delivering some side-busting stuff in the process. The only annoyance is how he introduces each act using the same phrase every time. Discover this quirk for yourself by starting the first episode and skipping from chapter-to-chapter, where each segment starts with Martin saying the same thing.

Now, after a 10-year hiatus, Simmons has resurrected Def Comedy Jam, with Mike Epps, who got his start on the show, as the new host. He's no Martin Lawrence, but Epps has a decent fan base to rope-in some viewers. Whether this latest incarnation will bring us another Chappelle or Tucker remains to be seen, but this series' track record speaks for itself.

Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: B+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Presented in their original full-frame aspect ratios, these episodes look almost exactly the way they originally did. Things are cleaned up a bit, but this is all stand-up comedy, so the visuals aren't going to be earth-shattering. Blacks and shadow levels are consistent, and fleshtones are extremely accurate, while the color scheme is rendered well.

Image Transfer Grade: C+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes

Audio Transfer Review: The Dolby Digital 2.0 audio isn't flashy either, but the most important part of the mix, the dialogue, is crystal clear throughout. The surrounds kick in to house the raucous crowd's applause and cat calls, and there's no hissing or other flaws.

Audio Transfer Grade: C+


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 14 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English
2 Feature/Episode commentaries by Russell Simmons and Bob Sumner.
Packaging: Keep Case
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: The only extras is a pair of audio commentary tracks (one for each episode) by Russell Simmons and Bob Sumner. Simmons is particularly interesting to listen to, as he talks with great affection about his series and these performances, in particular. Sumner, the series' producer, has a nice rapport with Simmons, and both are very funny analyzing how Martin Lawrence looked over a decade ago.

Extras Grade: C


Final Comments

Fans of Dave Chappelle, D.L. Hughley, Chris Tucker, and Martin Lawrence will want to take a trip back in time with Def Comedy Jam Classics: Volume One on DVD. This pair of early 1990s broadcasts allows us to revisit what our favorite comedians were up to before they were stars. HBO Home Video's disc suits the material just fine, and even features audio commentary tracks with creator Russell Simmons.


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