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Steve Martin: The Television Stuff

July 2nd, 2013

Back in January, I had just begun exploring the wealth of material on Shout! Factory’s new 3-DVD set Steve Martin: The Television Stuff, and yet what I had seen easily prompted me to list the set as my second-favorite DVD of 2012 on my Best-of 2012 list.  I took my sweet time watching all of the rest of the marvelous Steve Martin comedic material collected in this set, only recently getting to the end.  And now, after having watched everything, I am even more convinced that this is one of the very best DVD sets I own.

The fine folks at Shout! Factory (and lest you have any cause to doubt the greatness of this wonderful company, let’s remember that these were the people who finally arranged to release Freaks and Geeks on DVD, with every last second of its expensive-t0-license music intact), working with Mr. Martin himself, have pulled together an astounding collection of his comedic work on TV, with material spanning 1976 to 2005.

Disc one contains three of Steve Martin’s TV specials.  The first, and my favorite of the three, is On Location with Steve Martin, an HBO special recorded in October, 1976.  The special is just an hour-long recording of one of Mr. Martin’s stand-up perfromances, and it’s a fantastic glimpse at Mr. Martin’s incredible comedy act that made him a huge star.  The stand-up material is phenomenal, wild and silly and crazy and clever.  I loved it!  The other two specials are sketch comedy shows.  I thought Steve Martin: A Wild and Crazy Guy from 1978 was a little weak, but Steve Martin: Comedy is Not Pretty from 1980 was far stronger.  The opening sketch, titled “El Paso,” is a scream — Mr. Martin acts out Marty Robbins’ “El Paso” entirely with monkeys.  It’s total lunacy.

Disc two contains three more comedy specials.  All Commercials… A Steve Martin Special from 1980 is exactly what it sounds like, an SNL-like sketch special filled entirely with fake commercials.  There are some very funny bits, but also some duds.  Steve Martin’s Best Show Ever from 1981 is much better.  Featuring a number of familiar faces from Saturday Night Live, including Dan Aykroyd, John Belushi, Gregory Hines, Larraine Newman, and Bill Murray, this is by far the strongest of Mr. Martin’s sketch-comedy specials.  The whole thing feels like a classic Steve Martin-hosted episode of Saturday Night Live, and that’s a very good thing.  Seeing the “Wild and Crazy” Festrunk Brothers visit an art gallery in an attempt to pick up chicks was my favorite sequence of the special (one elevated from great to spectacular by the hilarious appearance of John Belushi in drag as the Czechoslovakian gal the brothers wind up with).  I also really loved the weird “Did Dinosaurs Build Stonehenge?” bit with Monty Python’s Eric Idle.  The last special on the disc is Homage to Steve from 1984.  The special opens with Steve’s short film The Absent-Minded Waiter.  It’s amusing and definitely worth watching for the chance to see Buck Henry and a young and very gorgeous Terri Garr, circa 1977.  Then there’s a great, short sketch in which we see Steve tutoring David Letterman, Alan King, Henny Youngman, and Paul Simon in comedy.  Then, the rest of the special is footage of another of Steve’s stand-up performances from the ’70s, in this case an appearance from 1979.  Taken with the first special on disc one, these two performances are a fascinating look at Mr. Martin’s classic, super-crazy and super-funny stand-up act.  I would have bought this set for those two performances alone!

As great as discs one and two are, it is disc three that is my favorite.  This disc, titled “Bits and Pieces,” contains a series of short clips from various TV appearances Mr. Martin made between 1966 and 2005.  That 1966 clip is Mr. Martin’s very first TV appearance, playing the banjo on Dusty’s Attic.  We get to see some of Mr. Martin’s appearances on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson (of which his fake-magician act, the Great Flydini, is my very favorite), a couple of short bits from SNL (including one of my all-time favorites, Steve Martin’s Holiday Wishes), some great comedy bits from The Late Show with David Letterman, and lots, lots more.  I really loved Steve’s tribute to Gene Kelly from 1985, as well as his speech to Paul Simon at the Kennedy Center Honors from 2002.  But it’s The Great Flydini that is the bit that I have already watched the most times. Go ahead, watch it yourself!

In addition, all three discs contain newly-recorded interview footage with Mr. Martin, in which he discusses each of the different specials/performances being presented.  I loved getting this insight from Mr. Martin and hearing his memories (but am I greedy in wishing that these interview clips had been triple their length??  There were a lot of time that I had many follow-up questions that I wish had been asked).

Well done, Shout! Factory, for putting out this magnificent collection!  Steve Martin has made some fantastic movies, but he did some of his best work on TV, and it is a delight to have so many of those great TV appearances preserved and collected in this set.

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