The HBO Specials 1975-2005
Review by Michael Jacobson
Star: Robert Klein
Audio: Dolby Digital Mono, Stereo
Video: Full Frame 1.33:1
Length: 500 Minutes
Release Date: September 25, 2007
Robert Klein changed the face of stand-up comedy, but he had a little help from HBO.
When the pay cable service was still getting known, they teamed up with the popular comedian to do something that had never been done before: showcase a comic live on stage doing his full act, uncensored and uncut. Before “An Evening With Robert Klein” came along, you only saw comics on talk shows and variety shows, where they had only a few minutes to get laughs and had to deal with network executives striking down bits from their material.
Klein worked those circuits, but his comedy genius was far too big to be contained. But for those of us alive in 1975, we got a look at stand-up the way it was meant to be seen, and by just the right man to do it.
Robert Klein: The HBO Specials is a terrific four disc set that compiles all of the legendary comic’s HBO shows…eight hilarious concerts from 1975 through 2005. Watching them all together is kind of like seeing a version of Michael Apted’s Up documentaries for comedy…when the set starts, Klein is younger than I am now, and it finishes with him much older. You can see him change from decade to decade.
But the comedy and music remained constant. Targeting everything from popular culture to politics, from marriage to childbirth, Klein’s wit had a way of wrapping around any subject and leave his audience in stitches. I remember a lot of these programs from my youth, and despite the years, they’re still as funny as ever.
If I had to pick one favorite, it would be “Robert Klein at Yale” from 1982. His take on the then-current commercials of the day are hysterical and a stroll down memory lane as well. I used to carry around a cassette tape I made by putting the recorder up to the speaker. It was my first comedy album. And, I suppose, my first bootleg. (Note to Mr. Klein: I no longer have said tape, so please don’t send your lawyers after me.)
Klein was also a master of mixing music and comedy, and whether it was his early years accompanied by a single piano or later with full band and backing singers, he always left his audiences with laughs and songs. A decent singer and a better than average harmonica player, he could deliver a sweet ballad like “Falling” from They’re Playing Our Song as well as a bluesy number like “Going Back to NYC” with equal confidence. And what show would be complete without the rollicking “I Can’t Stop My Leg”? Klein’s signature tune changed up some over the years, but the audience’s laughter never did.
Klein’s relationship with HBO has been a fruitful one, and because of it, we now have a treasure trove of classic comedy. Here’s looking forward to the next thirty years of seeing Robert Klein in his element…a bit older, perhaps, but just as sharp.
The age of the shows varies widely, and they were all shot on video, so there’s nothing particularly impressive about this department. They work well enough, but definitely show some of the limitations of the medium.
Likewise the audio is standard fare…you can hear the jokes, the laughs, and the songs, and there’s not much more you could ask for.
There is a 42 minute interview conducted by Alan Colmes for the box set, and features Mr. Klein offering his thoughts, memories, and even a little music!
Robert Klein: The HBO Specials is one for the time capsule. It captures thirty years of laughter from a true comic legend, and may prove to be the most indelible comedy collection for years to come.