Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (December 5, 2003)
After a rocky few years in which her TV series flopped and her former lover became tabloid fodder, Ellen DeGeneres made a nice comeback in 2003. Not only did she provide a lead voice in smash hit Finding Nemo, but also she filmed a well-received special called Here and Now.
Subtitled “Modern Life and Other Inconveniences”, this show comes from a June 28, 2003, performance at New York’s Beacon Theatre. In the hour-long concert, DeGeneres indulges in her usual form of observational humor. She runs through a mix of subjects in a fluid manner that rarely sticks long on one topic.
DeGeneres gets the whole gay issue out of the way at the very start. She seems to do this mainly because of expectations, and she does so in a reasonably clever way. After that, DeGeneres launches into a run of issues. She starts with the topic of procrastination and goes through other concepts like musical juxtapositions, the state of modern TV, commercials, wireless technology, forgetting what you’re talking about, technology and laziness, overindulgence, movie theater behavior, getting pickles out of a jar, excessively thick packaging, automatic toilets, and general conflicts during social interactions.
Mostly DeGeneres sticks with the theme mentioned in the DVD’s subtitles, as she goes over issues of 21st century living. She focuses on the absurdity of daily life as she picks apart the small details of these topics. This comes across in a stream of consciousness way, as she shifts from topic to topic smoothly.
DeGeneres is and always has been something of a light version of Jerry Seinfeld. She features the same kind of observational “slice of life” humor with which the sitcom king did so well. That doesn’t mean she comes across as a simple imitator or lacks for good material, though.
I can’t count myself as a fan of DeGeneres’ work, but I never felt negatively toward her either. Now presents a good representation of her work. She seems more self-assured than I recall, as she lacks the jittery and flustered tone that she utilized as a younger comic. Now she appears smoother and more confident, and this helps focus on the material instead of her physical tics.
Now provides a surprisingly coherent piece given the extremely wide array of topics DeGeneres discusses. The material flows smoothly, and it doesn’t feel awkward when she transitions from one area to another. With so many shifts, some of them should become jarring, but that doesn’t happen.
While I can’t say that I find DeGeneres’ comedy to be “laugh out loud” funny, she does maintain a reasonably high caliber of work here. Frankly, I don’t like most stand-up comedians; I roll my eyes at their gags a lot more often than I chuckle. DeGeneres doesn’t produce many guffaws, but she remains pretty amusing, in a gentle way. Really, the only gag I think falls flat is the one in which she solemnly reads the lyrics to Salt ‘n Pepa’s “Shoop”. That’s a tired gag that seemed lame when Steve Allen would do it for Fifties rock songs; it hasn’t grown better with age.
But that’s only one noticeable misstep in an otherwise smooth program. Now comes across well on DVD through a professional and serviceable presentation. It sticks with the basics and doesn’t try to add artificial “spice” to the experience. DeGeneres comes on stage, delivers her act, and that’s it; no backstage nonsense or video effects or anything else to interfere. Occasional crowd shots appear, but those remain minor, which is good. We see DeGeneres mainly in medium or close-up shots, which works well for this kind of experience.
Overall, nothing about Here and Now stands out as exceptional, and no one will consider this to be a groundbreaking piece in any way. However, it presents a solidly professional and entertaining comedy routine in a solidly professional way. The entire piece feels quite satisfying.