Taking a page from Russell Simmons' "Def" franchise (Comedy and Poetry Jam), "Down and Dirty with Jim Norton" collects a group of comedians to fill out four half hour long episodes filmed in New York late in 2008. Norton, a comedian perhaps best known for his work on "The Opie and Anthony Show" over on Sirius XM Radio, opens each episode with a short monologue, followed by the first act. He then reappears over the course of the program to introduce subsequent acts. Like I said, it's the same formula we've seen before on HBO stand-up material.
There is a reason this disc is titled "Down and Dirty": every single routine is crude, rude and vulgar. Even the lone female in the group-Whitney Cummings in Episode 1-has a potty mouth on par with the worst of the males. Granted, she fully understands and exploits the potential humor in her name (that's how her bit starts) as any good comedian would. It's just that there are a limited number of oral sex or small penis jokes to go around. When they're sprinkled in with other types of humor, they provide an unexpected punch. When we're hit with the same material over and over for 2 hours, it quickly becomes overkill.
As if bludgeoning the audience with the same type of comedy weren't bad enough, at least one of the comics is downright bad. That would be the very first one out of the gate, Anthony Jeselnik. Each of his jokes is more profane and head-scratchingly offensive than the last, which is quite a feat considering he begins by telling the audience his family is like "The Brady Bunch." His father died of AIDS, too. There is no rhyme or reason to the act; each joke consists of a set-up line followed by the punch line. That's it. Jeselnik never moves from the microphone stand, effectively making the camera stand still for the entire time he's on the stage.
The other featured comedians come off better than this first one. Maybe it's a case of knowing the jokes can't be any less funny or maybe the jokes are that bad, but we're thrilled to get him off the stage.
The front package makes it well known to expect A-list acts from Andrew Dice Clay (episode 2) and Artie Lange (episode 1, "The Howard Stern Show"), not to mention more niche performers like Bill Burr ("The Opie and Anthony Show") and Patrice O'Neal ("Def Comedy Jam"). They do show up as the final act in each episode, making everyone else come off as simply warming the crowd up for them. Let me explain a bit better: even though each comedian gets roughly the same amount of screen time, there's a feeling the "anchor" performer is the main event. They aren't advertised or mentioned prior to coming out on stage-as far as we're shown-yet they get the biggest laughs and applause even if the punch lines aren't up to snuff.
Continuing the trend set forth by the up and comers, Clay, Lange and the others don't even try to be witty or smart about their comedy. Throw in a couple expletives, references to blow jobs or dick cancer and they think comedy is the result. For some audiences it is. But, for my money, what comes out of their mouths is not as funny as the audience reaction would lead you to believe. As Ricky Gervais said in another comedy special from HBO, he says the things the audience thinks or wants to say, but doesn't. That's what makes them funny. And I don't recall a single sex-based joke in his entire act.
To be fair, some of the comedians did elicit a chuckle from me. I'll even cop to laughing at a bit from Joe DeRossa as he describes curses for both genders. Ari Shaffir, in episode 4, doesn't have any groundbreaking lines, but he does something no one else does: he shows his balls (literally) at the end of his bit. Why? Well to prove he's always ready for a blowjob of course! Sure, host Norton mentions having a small penis. Jim Florentine jokes about rimming. But do either of them actually back up those claims with visual evidence? Nope. As Dan Savage would say: they're both scrotums. (If I have to explain that, nevermind.)
(Sidenote: Shaffir does drop his pants and, for a brief moment, the camera catches a glimpse of a testicle. The rest of his routine is shown in rear shots and from the waist up. In case you're worried about being offended by a naked body. Which is kind of ironic, if you are, considering the nature of the comedy in the first place.)
Depending on the shot, the 1.78:1 picture either comes across looking adequate or bit soft and hazy. Crowd shots are especially prone to a mild haze I'd attribute to the actual conditions in the auditorium and not something Warner (for HBO) artificially inserted into the transfer. The softness comes into play sporadically and never turns into an issue to write home about. Overall, the limited color spectrum doesn't have a whole lot of work to do, considering the main stage is largely dark. Flesh tones and whatever colors are on the screen come off without a major hitch.
Much like the video portion of the disc, the English 2.0 mix does what it needs to do in order to convey the jokes and audience reaction. The two don't distort one another in an attempt to jockey for position; instead, they coexist side-by-side. There isn't a directional sound field to speak of and, to be honest, there isn't a compelling reason for it to exist. Oddly, there aren't any subtitle options.
The single disc comes packed in a regular keepcase without an insert. The only "extras" are the ability to play all four episodes back-to-back and a track listing made up of the performers. Each episode runs in the neighborhood of 28 minutes; there are no trailers before or accessible from the main menu.
"Down and Dirty" is a mixed bag of content and performers. Some parts turn out funny, others are decidedly less so. Episode 1 is easily the worst of the four, thanks to Jeselnik and Lange. If I have to pick the best episode, it would be the last: Shaffir's unexpected au natural finale adds a jolt to the other performers. Still, keep in mind this isn't a disc for the faint of heart.