STUDIO: Shout! Factory

MSRP: 14.99
RATED: Unrated
RUNNING TIME: 60 minutes

  • Encore – Ice Cream
  • 3 Wainy Days Episodes
  • 3 Michael Showalter Showalter Episodes
  • Footage from 2003 Fez performances

The Pitch

An opportunity to enjoy the glories of Stella for those of us who aren’t hipsters living in Boston.

The Humans

Michael Ian Black, Michael Showalter and David Wain

The Nutshell

Performing in nightclubs since 1997, Stella is a comedy troupe that excels in offbeat wit and surrealist humor. This DVD of a live performance in Boston showcases the unique comedy of the group, allowing viewers to understand why they’ve grown a steady following: They’re flat-out high-larious.

Stella’s sequel of Black Dog lost all funding and interest with Patrick Swayze’s untimely death.

The Lowdown

I am a person whose personal opinion tends to side with Kierkegaard when he says, “There are two types of people in this world: Those who think Wet Hot American Summer is funny, and those who should be shipped off someplace far from me and brutally murdered.” (Kierkegaard, Soren “On the Concept of Irony with Continual Reference to Socrates” 1841) The man was absolutely right. Except for the brutally murdered thing. I think he may have gone slightly overboard. Perhaps they should just be kept away from any conversation I’m having, but murdered? Show a little mercy, Soren. In any case, the creative works of members of the now defunct troupe The State are some of the best works of comedy in recent years. Those who don’t understand this are not worth knowing. Fact. (Kierkegaard, Soren “Edifying Discourses in Diverse Spirits” 1847) I also believe that comedy is such an elusive and subjective thing that it’s pointless to try to analyze it. Bear with me as I use this review to do just that.

Stella: Live in Boston gives people the chance to experience the group’s dynamic who don’t normally get opportunities to see geniuses perform live. Like me: who lives in a barren wasteland devoid of both culture and humor. It is the dynamic and interchange between the three members that makes for such a unique style of humor. Stella: Live in Boston approaches stand-up comedy in the same sense of deconstruction and understanding to which Wet Hot American Summer approached bawdy sex/camp comedies of the 1980s. (and comedic film, in general) What saves it all from becoming a self-referential nightmare of hyper-awareness is their wit, delivery and timing.

After the failure of State of Play Ben Affleck fell into deep depression, gaining 60 pounds and surfacing only once every few years in order to perform the only work offered: Surprisingly revealing his Oscar at children’s parties. 

Stella relies heavily on the ideology of comedians like Steve Martin whose comedy eschewed traditional punchlines for a more fluid style of joke-telling: “Let the audience decide what’s funny and when it’s funny,” it seems to say. It takes the traditional expectations of stand-up, turns them upside-down and then delivers it repackaged. They know the traditional form of telling a joke, and they also know how to manipulate it to its full advantage. It is this understanding that gives the show its unpredictable feel. You never can tell exactly what type of joke they’re telling, and so you can never fully anticipate the “punchline.” When you expect profanity you get childlike non-profanities. When you expect a subtle joke you get a stream of vulgarity that is nigh-to-unparalleled. It all works because it is delivered with more wit than you can fathom.

There is an intricacy and dedication to their humor, and in part to their stage personae, which sell the jokes far more than any other comedian could. There is something special about their level of understanding and devotion to their personae. The special is full of references tailored towards niche audiences, but somehow does not become an exclusive club of intellectual references. Special mention must be made of their use of literary references were each hilarious in their own right.

Also in the failed Stella reboot/sequel pile: Dirty Dancing

Their repartee allows the absurdist tone of the humor to really soar, yet their interactions and – again – their dedication to their stage personae’s personality really keep it all grounded, relatable and enjoyable. The only negative of the entire special would be the jump cuts to the audience. I understand the desire to show the audience in a comedic concert film, but when your audience is a group of bearded hipsters refusing to laugh because of the irony of it all, I’d throw my cash down on keeping the camera locked in on the comedians. It was an honest-to-goodness downer to see the audience staring blankly at Stella while clutching their PBR. It’s a demographic I need not see, let alone see them ironically destroying joy and laughter for humankind. IT’S OK TO LAUGH, GUY WITH A BEARD AND PLAID SHIRT OVER YOUR FLAMING LIPS T-SHIRT, IT’S OK TO LAUGH.

What director Jonathan Stern does do right is somehow capturing the energy of the group in live performance. The energy of a live performance is a very elusive and difficult thing to capture, but Stern does very well at catching it all on film, making the DVD viewing experience almost as enjoyable as seeing them live would be. The filmed concert still feels fresh and resonates with Stella’s intensely silly energy delivered with an incredibly serious face.

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The Package

I rather like the packaging of the DVD: a large woodcut looking print of the group underneath what can only be assumed is subtle introduction of Communism into comedy. (Commedism?) The special features are pretty great for a comedy concert DVD. Instead of suffering through 2 minute sets of unfunny, unrelated comedians as many DVDs will beg you to do (stop invading my DVDs, Jeff Dunham!) the DVD features more of what made the concert itself great. There is the group’s encore for the live concert, as well as three episodes of both David Wain’s Wainy Days and the self-titled The Michael Showalter Showalter, their internet web-series. The episodes continue to highlight the strengths of the group: absurd premises, witty writing and perfectly timed delivery. Also included are three clips of the group performing live in 2003 at Fez, which is apparently someplace I’ve never been hip enough to know existed. Each feature is a great companion piece to the concert, and helped assuage my desire for more Stella once the concert was over.

Failed remake/reboot #247: Dr. Harry Potter Who vs. The Centaurs

The entire package is near perfect, especially for a comedy concert. The concert really shines and exemplifies the unique strengths of the group. The special features are great and continue to showcase the brilliant humor of the trio. I felt hesitant giving such a high score to my first “official” review but the DVD offers exactly what you’d want: plenty of really good laughs. Besides, I’ve already suffered through The Jonas Brothers Rape Your Delicate Sensibilities in Concert and My Best Friend is a Vampire. I also can’t overstress how funny the group is. Really funny. So funny that I can almost overlook the annoying hipsters in the audience.

9.5 out of 10

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