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Old classic and new comedy both deliver laughs

Date: 9/4/2012

By G. Michael Dobbs

Two very different brands of comedy are covered in this week's DVD review column.

The Carol Burnett Show: Carol's Favorites

In this era and anything-goes comedy, one might think that episodes of a television variety show from the 1970s wouldn't have much to offer today's viewers.

If the show was "The Carol Burnett Show," that assumption would be wrong as this new five-disc collection shows.

Burnett was on television from 1967 to 1978 with a highly rated variety show. For readers younger than the age of 40, variety shows once roamed airwaves in the same numbers — almost as reality shows. They were a mainstay of television programming and Burnett's was consistently at the top of the heap.

Besides being an incredibly talented performer — fearless in doing almost anything for a laugh — Burnett surrounded herself with talent with her supporting cast and in the writers' room.

This collection features a selection of shows picked by Burnett and boy are there some great comedic moments here, including the hilarious send-up of "Gone With the Wind" and the skit about a nervous new dentist with Tim Conway and Harvey Korman.

As a kid, I hated "McHale's Navy" — I still think it's stupid — and at first I didn't care much for Tim Conway. His work on the Burnett show was a revelation to me, though. He was an amazing — and to his fellow performers, challenging — ad libber who would go off script as a comic inspiration hit him.

The collection also features several of the "Mr. Tudball and Mrs. Wiggans" sketches, which featured Conway as a frustrated boss and Burnett as the world's most dense secretary.

Vicki Lawrence, who was hired to play Burnett's sister in skits, also came into her own when the writers developed a recurring sketch called "The Family," in which Lawrence played the matriarch of a Southern family. The skit was so successful it was spun off as a separate series called "Mama's Family."

The set also has many extras, including some of Burnett's work on "The Garry Moore Show," plus many behind the scenes interviews.

This collection shows just how comedy has changed on television and not necessarily for the better.

The Dictator

If you're like me, you probably cringed so much through "Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan," that you skipped Sacha Baron Cohen's follow-up film, "Brüno."

I admired "Borat" for its sheer comic audacity and for Cohen's satiric nerve, although I have to admit that watching two men wrestle in the nude wasn't my cup of tea.

Cohen returned to the screen in this far more conventional comedy that I certainly found funny with its political incorrectness.

Cohen plays Aladeen, the life-long dictator of a small northern African nation. He believes his people actually like being oppressed and uses his position to do outrageous actions to bolster his own ego, such as competing in a race and using the starter's pistol to wound his fellow runners.

During a trip to United Nations, Aladeen is a victim of a coup by his trusted second-in-command, but he manages to escape with his life — but not with his trademark beard.

Alone in New York, he accidentally meets the super liberal manager of an organic food store (played by Anna Faris with her usual cuteness) who believes he is a victim of the dictator's oppression. Aladeen isn't used to kindness and changes for a moment, until he hatches a plot to grab back his power.

Although "Borat" was studded with satiric digs, "The Dictator" is fairly standard in its storyline — funny but nothing new. It isn't until its conclusion that Cohen gives a biting monologue that certainly hits home this election year.

Although undoubtedly not for everyone, "The Dictator" provides some good laughs.