THOU SHALT LAUGH returns for a fifth installment this June with the not-surprisingly titled DVD release THOU SHALT LAUGH! 5. The near-legendary Chonda Pierce emcees this time for six different stand-up comics playing to a mostly Christian audience in Nashville.
Stand-up is always a spotty proposition. Sometimes routines click, sometimes a comic sparks with a particular audience, sometimes the stars align (as they say)—and sometimes they don't. If you're familiar with the THOU SHALT LAUGH DVDs, you know that this is just as true of Christian standup as it is with the mainstream variety of stand-up. And with THOU SHALT LAUGH, you pretty much get a warts-and-all rendition of what went down on the night of taping.
This time out, the letdowns come at the open and close of the program. Joey I.L.O. struggles to get the audience on his side as the opening act, and Taylor Mason—the lone performer who has appeared in all five programs—seems to mail in a very brief and unoriginal routine as the headliner. It's not that I.L.O. doesn't have the chops—he probably does; the routine just never sparks—it's just that I didn't laugh. And ventriloquist/musician Mason is here totally lacking the manic energy that makes him so fascinating, and never even trots out the strongest part of his act: the piano. Huh.
Middle Is Well Worth It
But the middle four performers are well worth the time.
Newcomers Leland Klassen Daren Streblow, from Canada and Minnesota, respectively, both bring a measure of down-home real-world comedy to bear on their acts. Klassen's bit about border crossings is particularly good, and he puts his gangly appearance (and large hands) to good use in a satisfying display of physical humor. Streblow is like the nerdy guy from your fifth grade class all grown up and funny—and he makes particularly good use of material from his family life, good-naturedly poking fun at the quirks of his kids. I laughed often and freely with these two, which gave the DVD good momentum as it headed toward its midsection.
Bone is the Best
Gilbert Esquivel has appeared in the series before, but I honestly don't remember what he's done in the past. Here, he leverages his ethnicity for some gentle race humor that stretches across barriers. He's not the funniest guy in the world, but his act did not at all seem a letdown after Klassen and Streblow.
The liveliest act in the pack, though—and the most polished—is returning comic Bone Hampton, who gets good mileage out of being black in front of a mostly whitebread audience, and out of his self-described all-or-nothing approach to life (and comedy). The biggest laugh of the night (and the DVD) comes when a heckler dishes back part of Bone's own routine to the comic. It's a good measure of your routine's effectiveness when journeymen practitioners can make it work, even with unpracticed timing!
With this edition, I was particularly impressed with how mainstream the whole set felt. If I didn't happen to know that these programs were specifically made by Christians for a Christian audience, I would have guessed that these were mainstream comics (with mostly "clean" material) who simply tailored their acts slightly for presentation to a Christian audience. That's not been true with some of the past DVDs, and it's refreshing.
If you're a fan of the series, you'll love the new edition, even though Mason will be a letdown. If you're new to the series, it will all seem fresh—even the warts!
THOU SHALT LAUGH! 5 is unrated. Probably the cleanest and safest of the series yet, this program is easily in G territory.
Courtesy of the program's producers, Greg screened a promotional copy of THOU SHALT LAUGH! 5.