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Site created 12/15/97.

review added: 11/2/01

The Complete Sam Kinison
1987/1990 (2001) - Pioneer

review by Greg Suarez of The Digital Bits

The Complete Sam Kinison Program Rating (Rules/Family): B+/B-

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): A-/A-/A

Specs and Features

Disc One: Breaking the Rules
50 mins, NR, full frame (1.33:1), single-sided, single-layered, triple Amaray keep case packaging, audio commentary track (with Sam's brother/manager Bill Kinison and sister-in-law Sherry Kinison), 4 bonus stand-up vignettes, photo gallery, program-themed menu screens with music, scene access (15 chapters), languages: English (DD 5.1), subtitles: none

Disc Two: Family Entertainment Hour
49 mins, NR, full frame (1.33:1), single-sided, single-layered, triple Amaray keep case packaging, audio commentary track (with Sam's brother/manager Bill Kinison and sister-in-law Sherry Kinison), 2 rare stand-up routines, text-based Sam Kinison biography, program-themed menu screens, scene access (11 chapters), languages: English (DD 5.1), subtitles: none

Disc Three: Bonus Disc
32 mins, NR, letterboxed widescreen (1.78:1), single-sided, single-layered, triple Amaray keep case packaging, Sam's Home Movies, Sam's Trip to Hawaii, program-themed menu screens, languages: English (DD 2.0), subtitles: none

"Have you ever seen a rapper rap without grabbing his cock? They all grab their dicks - you know why? BECAUSE THEY DON'T PLAY ANY FUCKIN' INSTRUMENTS!"

Vulgar. Crass. Controversial. Comedic genius. These are some of the words used to describe Sam Kinison, perhaps one of the most unique and recognizable comics of the last 20 years - even today, almost 10 years after his death! Kinison was propelled to instant fame after his 1986 appearance on Rodney Dangerfield's HBO Young Comedians showcase throttled the attention of entertainment execs and comedy fans around the world. This instantaneous rise to fame after the HBO appearance led to sold-out coliseum appearances, film cameos, albums and would have materialized Kinison's own television series and a three-picture deal with New Line. Unfortunately, on April 10, 1992, Sam Kinison was killed by a drunk driver. I remember that day vividly. I owned every one of his albums and had a couple of his concerts on video. He was - and still is - one of my favorite comedians, and he contributed more to comedy in his all-too-brief six-year run than many comedians who have been in the industry for decades (*ahem*… Jay Leno?).

Kinison's background in the ministry - yes, Sam used to preach the word of God - lent itself amazingly well to his brand of in-your-face (literally) humor. He had the ability to involve the audience, speak with a fierce passion and tell a story, which really was his style of comedy. Kinison would not get up in front of the brick wall and simply tell jokes. He was a storyteller - he used situations from his own life and current events/trends to weave his insane web of wit. And helping add controversy to his rants on foreigners, homosexuals, and women, was his lifestyle. As a comedian, Sam lived his life more like a heavy metal rocker with drugs, booze and loose women... and these things only contributed more material to Sam's comedic arsenal.

Pioneer has just released a 3-disc DVD compilation called The Complete Sam Kinison. As a Kinison fan, I don't find the set to be 100% "complete," but it's pretty damn close. The first disc features Sam's first solo HBO special, Breaking the Rules, which originally aired in 1987. The second disc contains his 1990 HBO special, Family Entertainment Hour. Both are fine tributes to Sam, as some of his best material is featured. We get Sam's takes on men and (versus) women, drugs, music, marriage, religion, homosexuality and, uhh… umm… swallowing stuff. It's pretty raw material, and you'll want to make sure you DON'T pop these discs into the player when grandma comes over to visit! The most interesting thing about these two specials is their demonstration of Sam's transformation. Breaking features bright-eyed new comedian Sam Kinison in front of a small venue, while Family shows longhaired, big-time, rock-band-in-tow comedian SAM KINISON in front of a huge crowd. Breaking is really the funnier of the two acts because the material seems fresher and more heartfelt, while in Family, Kinison almost becomes a caricature of himself. Some of the humor in Family stems from his popularity and controversy, which isn't as funny as his earlier material because his earlier material was really every-man, blue-collar sort of stuff with which many could identify. Don't get me wrong, Family is a hilarious 49-minutes, but Sam's best material was found earlier in his career. Plus, I never did dig it when he started including serious musical numbers in his routines. But being a rock star was something Sam always wanted for himself and I respect that.

Why don't I consider this set "complete"? Mostly because some of Sam's funniest bits are not included. His routines about convenience stores and his wife versus his freedom are some of the funniest stand-up comedy pieces I've ever seen, but alas, they are not here. His bit about Ethiopia/world hunger is in the set, but it takes the form of a very early performance that was poorly shot. So in the end, what we're left with is a somewhat incomplete, yet still a 95% inclusive, retrospective/tribute to the career of Sam Kinison.

Both Breaking the Rules and Family Entertainment Hour are presented in their original full frame 1.33:1 aspect ratios. The image quality is very nice given the source material, and is only hampered by very minor analog noise. Both programs are as sharp as they can be, with nice colors and details. I spotted absolutely no compression artifacting or artificial edge enhancement.

The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtracks included on both specials are very nicely produced, and do a good job of conveying the dialog in a clear, intelligible way - even through all the screaming. The tracks also excel at producing nice ambient effects such as applause, crowd laughter and venue reverberation. The tracks aren't flashy, but then they don't have to be - all they have to do is make Sam sound crystal clear and they do it well.

Pioneer has added some nice features to this collection, including a third bonus disc. But let's begin with the extras found on the first two discs of the set. Both Breaking the Rules and Family Entertainment Hour contain brand new running commentaries with Sam's brother and manager Bill Kinison and Sam's sister-in-law, and life-long friend, Sherry Kinison. These tracks are must-listens for every Kinison fan out there, as Bill and Sherry reveal a lot about Sam's past and what he was really like behind the spotlight. I'll bet some of you weren't aware that for all the controversy he caused about his views on homosexuality, he actually had a large gay and lesbian following and even helped raise $3 million for AIDS research! Many more interesting factoids are revealed about Sam in these commentaries, however the track on Family tends to repeat much of the info contained in the track on Breaking. Except on the former, Bill recounts the chilling final moments of Sam's life, as well as announcing that Universal is planning a biopic about Sam's life (a la 1999's Man on the Moon about comedian Andy Kaufman). According to Bill, Jack Black is the favorite to land the role of Sam. Along with the commentary track, Disc One also contains a photo gallery and four stand-up vignettes totaling about 20 minutes (and, unfortunately, mirroring some of the material on Family). Disc Two features a text-based biography for Kinison and two rare stand-up appearances. The first is the world hunger bit mentioned earlier (running about two-minutes), and the second is a 44-minute routine that is almost identical to what is found on Breaking (except here, Sam starts the show noticeably semi-drunk).

The third disc of the set is a real treat and, if you're a Kinison fan, is worth the price of the set alone. This bonus disc contains two of Sam's personal home movies. The first was shot by Sam (early in his career) at his parents' home in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and features his parents, younger brother Kevin and future sister-in-law. In this 17-minute piece, Sam tours the home and requests that his family say things into the camera so he might look back at the tape on those lonely nights on the road. Running 15 minutes, the second video features Sam's trip to Hawaii with his new wife Malika and some of her family. This home movie was filmed closer to Sam's death. The video features Sam out sightseeing with his friends, and demonstrates a man who loves life. Initially, I was excited to view this disc out of simple curiosity. But after I finished with it, I was moved by how pleasant and loving Sam really was - the Sam in these home movies is nothing like the Sam on stage. He seemed to have a close relationship with his family, and he was generous to his fans. The first two discs of the set represent a nice tribute to Sam as a comedian, but the third disc is a fitting tribute to Sam, the big-hearted guy that loved his family. And it's the latter that I'm sure he would want to be remembered for.

Okay, so this set doesn't have every single Sam Kinison routine. Nonetheless, it's still a more than fitting tribute to both Sam the comedian and Sam the human being. Sure, you might've seen these comedy specials before… you might even have them on tape. But the new commentary tracks and Sam's home movies are definitely worth your money if you fancy yourself a Kinison fan.

Greg Suarez
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