5 Gut-Busting Comedy Skit Collections On DVD

MONTY PYTHON’S FLYING CIRCUSTHE PERSONAL BEST SERIES

Obsessives–and is there another kind of Python fan?–can argue endlessly over which of the cerebral troupe’s bits are the funniest. Here, the five surviving members choose for themselves (and on behalf of the deceased Graham Chapman) in this six-disc series. Alongside well-known classics (“The Lumberjack Song,” “The Spanish Inquisition,” “Dead Parrot”) are such lesser-known bits as John Cleese teaching a class on self-defense against fresh fruit. Each disc provides a broad sampling, but the most distinctive is Terry Gilliam’s package of 45 animated shorts. Silly run, don’t silly walk, to these lovingly curated packets of Pythoniana.

SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE

THE BEST OF COMMERCIAL PARODIES

The title notwithstanding, Saturday Night Live is often best when it’s taped. This collection of phony ads, with Will Ferrell as host, runs from the absurdist early years (Dan Aykroyd frenetically shilling for the Bass-O-Matic fish blender) to the present (Chris Parnell for Gaystrogen, medication for gay men suffering from “queer loss”). Some of the spots have social bite–say, Queen Latifah plugging “Excedrin for Racial-Tension Headaches”–while others, like one with Ferrell as an attorney who sues dogs, are just inspiredly goofy. But SNL is most subversive when it bites the hand that pays it, in spots that lampoon Madison Avenue for fear-based pitches (anti-robot insurance for frightened senior citizens) and hyperconsumption (the Taco Town Pizza-Crepe-Taco-Pancake-Chili Bag). Pour yourself a tall glass of bass and take yourself a lo-o-o-ong commercial break.

TRACEY TAKES ON …

SEASON TWO

To call what Tracey Ullman does in this 1990s HBO series “sketch comedy” is something of an insult. She captures dozens of characters–a male Middle Eastern cab driver, a 1970s TV star, a retired movie makeup artist–not in pencil strokes but in oil-painterly detail. As much a chameleon as a comedienne, she gives the creations she inhabits not just funny attitudes and accents but empathy and pathos. The 15 episodes (each structured around a theme, like “Fantasy,” “Secrets” and “Money”) combine set pieces with running stories in which her characters interact with one another. Comic actors like Jon Favreau and Michael McKean also appear, but Ullman’s best co-star is herself.

LITTLE BRITAIN

THE COMPLETE SECOND SERIES

There is nothing little about the outsized grotesques in this BBC mock travelogue about Britain (“Opened by the Queen in 1972!”). It’s a series of variations on one fruitful joke: the disconnect between the picture-postcard image of Olde England and 21st century life. The menagerie of characters could have walked off the set of a British Jerry Springer Show: hirsute transvestites, the grossly obese and shoplifting “chavs” (or, to use the indelicate American term, trailer trash). But the series has a generous affection for its eccentrics and its country, which it portrays as a loopy but decent place, as exemplified by the sketches in which a gay Welshman is offended by his fellow villagers’ refusal to persecute him. God save it, Little Britain is a nice place to visit.

MR. SHOW

THE COMPLETE COLLECTION

For four all-too-brief seasons (30 episodes in all), Bob Odenkirk, below left, and David Cross were the Wright brothers of experimental TV comedy, and Mr. Show was their Kitty Hawk. The loosely themed episodes run the end of one skit into the beginning of the next, sparking provocative ideas off one another like a chain-smoker’s cigarettes. Taking full advantage of its HBO-ensured freedom, the episodes are hilarious and offensive on numerous levels. One includes an ad for Mr. Pickles’ Fun-Time Abortion Clinics (“We’ll Bring Out the Kid in Ya!”), while in another, Mr. Show declares itself a religion–Odenkirk and Cross invite the audience to eat poison s’mores and ascend through “heaven’s chimney”–then goes on to skewer the traditions of nearly every major faith. Talk about cult comedy.

From the Jul 17, 2006 issue of TIME magazine