Ernie Kovacs: The ABC Specials

Ernie Kovacs: The ABC Specials
Ernie Kovacs is the Captain Beefheart of American comedy: little known, but hugely influential. He's inspired comedians from Monty Python to David Letterman. So why isn't he a household name? Kovacs died in a car accident in 1962 at age 42, and much of his TV work was erased. This DVD distils his 1961/'62 ABC specials from the Ernie Kovacs Collection box set released last year. Also, Kovacs's comedy was, well, eccentric: no gags, one-liners slapstick or laugh track, his shtick was mostly visual, involving few words, but often absurd. If Charlie Chaplin and Salvador Dali had a baby, it would have been Ernie Kovacs. Don't expect belly laughs though; instead you'll watch, smile and think, "Clever." For instance, a man reads a newspaper, gets annoyed with an inane TV announcer and shoots him dead through the TV. Surgery is seen from the point-of-view of the patient, but when they reverse the camera, we see that the doctors are carving a Thanksgiving turkey on a dining table. Several well-dressed people climb out of a woman's bubble bath. In a longer sketch, Kovacs draws furniture on the blank walls of a living room, and then makes them come alive with pantomime, like switching on a TV set or a leggy maid vacuuming objects with only the sound of a vacuum cleaner. Five complete specials are presented, with several Dutch Masters cigar commercials (Kovacs loved his stogies) offered as a bonus feature. The black-and-white picture quality isn't bad, but it's obviously mastered from dubbed videotape marked by some dropouts. Kovacs freaks already own the box set, but this collection serves as a compact introduction to a genuine comic great. (Shout! Factory)