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Godfrey: Black by Accident DVD Review

Godfrey: Black By Accident (2011) DVD cover art -- click to buy the DVD from Amazon.com Godfrey: Black by Accident
Special & DVD Details

Original Airdate: August 27, 2011 / Running Time: 68 Minutes (Extended & Uncensored Cut) / Rating: Not Rated

Writer/Star: Godfrey / Director: Ben Bowman / Executive Producers: Bernard Cahill, Jordan Tilzer, Alan Blomquist, Godfrey

1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen, Dolby Stereo 2.0 (English)
Subtitles: None; Not Closed Captioned; Extras Not Captioned
DVD Release Date: August 30, 2011 / Suggested Retail Price: $16.99
Single-sided, single-layered disc (DVD-5) / Black Eco-Friendly Keepcase

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I like the idea that a real-life conversation about the stand-up comedy of Godfrey could create some confusion. After all, Godfrey sounds like Gottfried, the surname of the obnoxious, squint-eyed Gilbert Gottfried whose film immortality from Aladdin seems more miraculous all the time. Of course, this is not a real-life conversation and both the spelling of Godfrey and
the cover art above should make it perfectly clear that I'm referring to a younger, blacker, less gratingly voiced, singularly named comedian.

I must confess that prior to watching Godfrey: Black by Accident, I had no idea who this Godfrey was. Going by his appearance, energy, and material in this one-hour television special, his first, I assumed he was probably in his mid-20s. Surprisingly, I later discovered that he turned 42 last month, and he's been around since the mid-1990s, warming up crowds, appearing in 7 Up commercials, and holding small roles in movies like Chain Reaction and Zoolander. His main calling, however, has been stand-up, and that is all he brings to this program, which will air Saturday, August 27th on Comedy Central and hit DVD three days later.

Taped at the Gramercy Theatre in Manhattan on January 22, 2011, Black by Accident finds Godfrey dressed in jeans, red Adidas low-tops, and an open leather jacket over an open gray hooded sweatshirt. The casual look reflects his persona as "just a guy." Godfrey is only two years younger than Louis C.K., on whose line-blurring FX show he has guest-starred as himself. Despite the age proximity, a generation gap exists in their comedy. C.K. tackles the depressing nature of middle age, divorce, and parenting young children. Godfrey is just a young, unmarried city guy who talks about things that most people can personally relate to.

"Black by Accident" is stand-up comedian Godfrey's first hour-long TV special.

Though black comedians tend to play best with black audiences, the small crowd in attendance here is primarily white. Godfrey has his share of black film credits
(Soul Plane, Johnson Family Vacation, The Cookout, Phat Girlz), but his appearances on BET shows are surpassed by his contributions to VH1's assorted "I Love" series ("the '80s", "the '90s", "the Holidays", "Toys"). Whether that makes his comedy cross-demographical, I don't know, but his act seems designed to play to as wide an audience as possible.

Without a gimmick, such an approach seems guaranteed to limit Godfrey to "middle of the road" comedian status and he earns that definition squarely in this diverting but unexceptional performance. Affable and good-natured, Godfrey largely avoids the dark and offensive ground many of his contemporaries like to explore. The only part of Black by Accident that could be considered controversial are his rants on and impressions of homeless beggars. The less fortunate are an unusual comedy target, but Godfrey's jokes are about pulling down the veil of political correctness and admitting that homeless panhandlers have an uncomforting presence on subways, something most can agree on but few would openly declare.

Most of the time, Godfrey is far less edgy, tackling universal topics with imitations of familiar human behavior, like how people react in rain and to the harsh cold of his native Chicago. He moves quickly from one subject to the next, always with a swift, fluid, and logical transition. From the Windy City chill, he segues into mittens, which leads into his homeless routine, culminating in a dry humping pantomime. Another favorite pantomime of Godfrey's is rubbing things on his nether regions, a bit he finds many reasons to do, some of them serving as callbacks, which he is mindful to include on a regular basis.

One of Godfrey's more original bits is a discussion of white underwear, which he follows with some typical if slightly amusing gender war banter, focusing on conflicting body temperatures with his impression of a woman's nagging voice. As time runs down, Godfrey moves to a subject as rich and well-tread comedically as any: airplane travel. The reason comedians talk about flying so much is because such jokes are practically guaranteed to get a favorable crowd reaction, their observations giving voice to experienced but often unspoken sentiments. Godfrey goes down this route with success, imagining a TSA consisting of three Italian guys (Tony, Sal, and Anthony) and then moving to even easier targets (airplane bathrooms, seatbelts, emergency procedures). This stretch does provide two of the bigger laughs of the evening, on exit rows and the coolness of in-flight captain announcements.

Godfrey performs for a crowd of around 600 at New York's Gramercy Theatre.

Black by Accident comes to a close with commonplace jokes about race in sports, national anthems at sporting events, and the Olympics. The saving grace of these routine bits is that they create a reason for Godfrey to showcase his fine impressions of President Obama and Denzel Washington, the former being the foundation of funny shtick on political apathy.

Typical for Comedy Central, the DVD offers an extended and uncensored presentation. At 68 minutes, this runs more than one and a half times as long as it will on the air next week. As with extended cuts of movies, more is not necessarily better. The 25 unaired minutes no doubt add some flab and mediocre material to the mix. The uncensored part lets profanity be heard, but it is not a very prominent staple of Godfrey's act aside from his section on Chicago winters.

Godfrey follows the rules of stand-up, maintaining an easygoing personality, not engaging in annoying mannerisms, developing swift and smooth transitions, and seizing appropriate opportunity for callbacks. All that paints him as hardworking and serious about his craft, which seems to have earned him respect as a comic's comic from his peers, of whom Zach Galifianakis, Aziz Ansari, and two others lend endorsements to the rear cover. The average viewer might not notice or care about such designs, instead only wishing the act was a little more entertaining, unique, and memorable.

VIDEO and AUDIO

Black by Accident is presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen and plain 2.0 Dolby Stereo. Reviewing this breaks my streak of nine consecutive releases in which the primary subject was on Blu-ray Disc. That took me a few minutes to adjust back to standard definition for this DVD-only release and when I did, I found the picture and sound quality just fine. It lacks the vibrancy and precision of the CG animated films I've been looking at lately, and also the grain of the 1950s Stanley Kubrick noir I watched in the past 48 hours. In other words, it meets expectations squarely, with a clean but not dazzling digital video look.

Since 5.1 soundtracks are so common, I'm not sure why any production would forego one, but this basic mix is fine. Godfrey remains clearly audible when he has the mic where it should be (which is the vast majority of the time) and we get enough audience feedback to appreciate this as live comedy. Sticking to tradition, Comedy Central skips subtitles and even though the packaging claims closed captions are included (and I'm not misinterpreting the new Comedy Central logo here), they are unfortunately not.

Godfrey gets serious (not really) in this candid bonus interview about his work and stand-up comedy in general. Godfrey keeps the jokes coming even as he has his make-up touched up for the cameras.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS and PACKAGING

Two kinds of bonus features are offered here. First and more significant is a 12-minute interview with Godfrey, in which title cards set up his responses. He talks about his past, deciding on the special's title, where he draws lines,
political correctness (which he likens to Christian rock), joke thieves and originality, and different comedy scenes around the nation. This revealing piece gives us a sense of the person behind the performer.

The other extra is "Onstage Antics with the Makeup Lady". Two short clips, running a couple of minutes between them, show that Godfrey doesn't stop entertaining the audience while he is getting touched up for the lights and cameras. I've never considered that such breaks might occur while filming a stand-up comedy special, so these illuminated in that regard.

The disc is comfortably under single-layered DVD capacity. If I was running things at Comedy Central's home entertainment division, I would always utilize the extra disc space to provide the broadcast version of the special. After all, if more than a third of what's here was deemed excessive or unfit to air, the show might very well flow better with it left out. I'm all for letting us see unaired content and some of the stronger parts here must regrettably be lost in the probably 42-minute broadcast. But I see no reason not to include the leaner cut that many people looking to buy this have already seen and liked. It's not like this is a novel concept; Comedy Central offered such a thing (with language censored as on air) on the DVD for March's Daniel Tosh special.

Playing the end credits music, the menu gives us a wide version of the cover art with listings in bubbles befitting the action pose. No inserts are provided within the Eco-Box keepcase.

This DVD chapter menu for "Godfrey: Black by Accident" gives you a good idea of what topics this Comedy Central stand-up special covers.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Energetic, committed, and at ease, Godfrey provides a pretty good time in Black by Accident. Though not funny or distinctive enough to really stand out, the special's takes on familiar comedy subjects offer an hour of appealing diversion. Like most stand-up DVDs, though, this one lends more to a rental than a purchase and even that would be rendered unnecessary if next week's much shorter broadcast version doesn't leave you wanting more.

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Reviewed August 18, 2011.



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