on August 28, 2000
Ernie Kovacs was television's original genius. His innovative use of sound, imagery and outrageous sight gags made for incredibly funny viewing. His characters were priceless. "Percy Dovetonsils" was one of the very first pseudo-gay characters whose wonderful takes to the camera were a scream, especially that syrupy smirk he got on his face. Eugene was a character played entirely in pantomime. The Nairobi Trio is, perhaps Ernies' most famous contribution to comic lore with three band members in long coats, hairy ape masks and derbys playing in a band to the music of the Ray Charles Singers (why they made this recording will never be known) but it is perfect for Ernie's motives. I won't give away the shtick but you'll roll in the aisles (if you have aisles). Ernie left us before his time but today's television comedy owes much to Ernie Kovacs, especially Laugh-in and SNL.
on March 4, 2002
These videos are taken from tv shows compiled in the late 70's. We get to see the genius of Kovacs, his great skits, bizarre antics, wild characters, and ingenious visual gags.
We sometimes see the same clip three or four times. The clips are edited together in ways that don't necessarily complement each other. And if I hear that version of "Mack the Knife" again, ...[I'll go insane].
Kovacs is deserving of a new survey of his works. A better job of compiling his work can be done than this, and we don't need to hear the same Jack Lemmon introduction repeatedly. (I do worry that some of this archival material may have deteriorated over the years, hopefully it's still preserved.)
This set is worth your time, and worth your money. It's reasonably priced, and contains a variety of good material. It would just be nice to have a better assembled, more thought-out collection.
on April 2, 2000
The cult following of Ernie's work is well deserved. Where so many other TV "pioneers" were adapting radio material for the screen, Mr. Kovacs treated TV like a totally new toy and created visually centered material that others have fed upon for decades. A Kaleidoscope dancing to the music? On black and white TV? What was he thinking of? Ernie's genius ideas are now commonplace entertainment fodder. These tapes give us a rare opportunity to glimpse comedy art at its crude and wonderful birth. Although its easier for baby boomers to put this material in context, creative younger folks will be able to watch Ernie and contrast him to the often seen scenes of Berle, Lucy, Gleason, etc. If you think Sid Caesar was innovative, Ernie will slay you.
on January 9, 2001
I was a big Ernie Kovacs fan, and looked forward to seeing these tapes. I and the times have changed, of course, and we have seen a lot of comedy since the 1950s, so that probably explains why I was disappointed. I kept thinking, watching these, how unfunny a lot of what he did, was. With a few exceptions, it's pretty weak stuff, humor-wise. But in the 1950s, I guess it was all new and fresh, and was funny then, compared to other stuff on TV. It is interesting to see how things were done on TV in the early days, and I'm donating my set of this to a film and TV library. Compared to comedy today, this is pretty weak stuff, but I'm repeating myself.
Ernie Kovacs is a television immortal who experimented with the visual comedy effects possible in the new medium. The results were a daring, though never highly popular, television comedy show. Kovacs was the impresario of the sight gag, a genius at off-the-wall antics that made him the Chaplin of TV Comedy. That is not an exaggeration because sound was usually the least important ingredient in Kovacs' comedy: e.g., Kovacs would be underwater smoking his cigar and trying to blow smoke rings; Kovacs would nail a table and a camera to a platform, tilt it slightly and then try to pour milk into a glass. This guy was bizarre, eccentric, surrealistic and rolling on the floor funny. "The Best of Ernie Kovacs" celebrates his visual gags, musical parodies, sophomoric stunts and wacky improvisations. Here are all of his great characters as well: Percy Dovetonsils, the cross-eyed, martini-drinking, lisping poet in a smoking jacket; Matzoh Hepplewhite, the world's most inept and clumsy magician; Pierre Ragout, a seedy Frenchman whose charming tales of Paris drove him into exile. But the sight gags are all better. In the end Kovacs more than amply proves his own declaration that he was "10-5/8 years ahead of my time," not to mention the inscription on his tombstone: "Ernie Kovacs 1919-1962--Nothing in Moderation."
on July 17, 2001
I haven't seen these bits in nearly 20 years, and coming back to them was like a bullet of nostalgia, with a hint of sadness. Like the voice-over intro states, "Slow down your internal clock. It was a quieter time." The humor is strong on some pieces, but a lot of the stuff on these discs is not as funny as Python, or Belushi. Still, if you take into account the fact that TV was still a relatively new concept, at this time, and that main-stream America was very laid back, and homespun, you look at Ernie's work, and realize how bizarre, funny, and experimental it all was. The sadness only comes in the fact that many people, today, will dismiss it, as my niece did, as stupid, or boring. Ernie even pioneered the concept of music videos! Like the humor of Python, however, some folks just don't get it. As far as the collection, itself, this 2 DISK set is chock full! There is so much to it, I had to stop viewing, after the first disk, because I had had an overdose already, and needed to save the other disk for later. There is just so much on these disks, and it is WONDERFUL to be able to preserve these sketches, rather than losing them to the ravages of time. If you enjoy, and respect, the work of Ernie Kovacs, quite possibly the greatest TV experimentalist of all-time, you need to get this collection. You'll laugh, and remember. Both are important.
on April 9, 2001
I, like the majority of the reviewers for this DVD have great things to say about it. But more that that, I think that people need to see more of Ernie Kovacs' genius. Here was a man with more savvy about what television could do to entertain -- and an understanding of what it could and would become -- than any network programming executive, ever! Most of what's on the DVD is timeless. Unless you only think what's on the WB is actually funny, then get this. Now having said that, I want to make a request. Pester the studios for more of Ernie's work. Write to distributors and demand that for every "Sleazy Coeds in Toxic Appartments of Death" they release that they should also release a "Wake Me When It's Over" or an "Operation Mad Ball" with Ernie Kovacs. The second one, BTW, also stars Jack Lemmon: a double treat. Even Kovacs; "Sail a Crooked Ship" one of his final performances, is a hoot as is "Five Golden Hours," his last movie. Sure, these movies aren't his writing, but he brought an irreverance to the roles that make them a joy to watch, much more so than "Beat Billy Jack to Death with a Bat, Part 7!" And as for this DVD, I think it's as important as The Sid Ceasar Collection as a great TV history lesson we all could use.
on March 12, 2001
This 2-disc set includes all of the 1977 PBS Series that re-introduced this television pioneer to a new audience. Seeing this material again for me after almost twenty years was like visiting an old friend and catching up on great times. I would caution those just discovering Kovacs, however, that some of this DVD is not side-splittingly funny in a conventional sense; rather, much of it is gently humorous and cerebral. Mostly, it is fascinating - incredibly surreal (still the most surreal stuff EVER seen on television) and way, WAY ahead of its' time; much of Kovacs work remains indescribable and uncategoriazable. Having said that, characters such as Percy Dovetonsils and the Nairobi Trio will have even the most jaded viewer chuckling, if not laughing out loud at the sheer outrageousness of these images. Keeping in mind when these shows were made (late 50's/early 60's) Kovacs' body of work remains among the most subversive ever done for network television. By the way, Kovacs solemnly intoning a scene from Julius Ceaser, dressed in full Roman centurian regalia, and then breaking into a tap-dance is still one of the funniest things that I have ever seen. Highly recommended.
on January 23, 2000
If you were born early enough to see Ernie Kovacs the first time around, this box set is a joy to watch. If you have never seen his genius, this is worth a look. You will see things Ernie invented and has been used by others. Rowan and Martin gave him credit for the "Bathtub" blackouts used on Laugh-In. Ernie did narration over old movies long before Mystery Science 3000 was started. Imagine what Ernie could do with current technology. A true innovator cut down in his prime.
on July 23, 1999
These are likely the only Kovacs images currently in print, and it's good to have these tapes available at a reasonable price. Be forewarned, though, that the tapes are loaded with little glitches that make the experience of watching them a little less enjoyable. The video company chalks it up to the source material, but these imperfections are obviously the result of problems in the mass video copying process.