Its cover presents an amusingly airbrushed portrait of emcee Vince Vaughn, microphone in hand, but the Vaughn on display inside Wild West Comedy Show is a puffy-faced, bleary-eyed and at times ground-down road warrior. Of course, he’s also still Vince Vaughn — which is to say a wryly upbeat chatterbox, forever pressing the action as well as the flesh, moving things forward in an inimitably devilish way. Inspired by a charity benefit slapped together during the filming of The Break-Up in his hometown of Chicago, Vaughn hand-picked four Los Angeles-based comedians to take their show out on the road to regional audiences, playing 30 gigs in 30 nights. He joined them as an emcee, along with special guests like Justin Long, old Swingers pal Jon Favreau and Wedding Crashers costar Keir O’Donnell, and the result — part comedy concert flick, part road movie, part honest examination of what informs comedians’ lives — is a fun, unique little curio.
The comedians themselves have fairly different sensibilities, and the movie benefits from these contrasts. Self-deprecating, Egyptian-born Ahmed Ahmed (above, to Vaughn’s left) centers a good bit of his act on stereotypes and living as an Arab-American in a post-September 11 world, and recounts an amazing story of how he was in fact detained and arrested at the airport in Las Vegas by saying, “This [was] God’s way of saying write some new material.” The observational humor on the absurdities of modern living and social interaction that form the bedrock of the act of waiter Sebastian Maniscalco (third from left) are influenced by his Midwestern values. Italian alpha male Bret Ernst (third from right) specializes in high-energy storytelling, though he has a dark secret. Rolly-polly John Carapulo (center, in the white shirt and cap), meanwhile, focuses his acerbic wit and parrot-sounding squawk on frequently dirty tales of misanthropy, though he admits it masks a lingering insecurity.
Bits with country crooner Dwight Yoakam, who guests in Bakersfield, and the legendary Buck Owens highlight Vaughn’s deep appreciation of Americana, as does his insistence (and joy) at booking Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium, home of the Grand Ole Opry from 1943 to ’74. Producer and former A Christmas Story star Peter Billingsley pops up to share the stage with Vaughn a few nights, though most of the interstitial, improv-laden patter invovles Long, O’Donnell and Favreau, who come and go as schedules permit. Additional shading is achieved through interviews with the comedians’ parents (a smart inclusion by director Ari Sandel), but the biggest hairpin narrative turn comes in the form of the sudden, real-life intrusion of Hurricanes Rita and Katrina in Texas and New Orleans. After scratching venues and rescheduling a couple shows as relief benefits on the fly, the comedians, somewhat begrudgingly, visit an evacuee camp to pass out tickets, and find themselves transformed.
Housed in a regular Amray case, Wild West Comedy Show comes presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, preserving the aspect ratio of its original theatrical exhibition. In addition to the theatrical trailer and previews of Semi-Pro and a couple other New Line titles, there’s a hearty serving of supplemental material here that underscores the project’s labor-of-love roots. First up are two audio commentaries — one with the four comedians, in which they recount their good fortune and praise Vaughn as an all-around nice guy while reliving the road experience, and another with Billingsley and Vaughn, longtime pals. In fact, if one toggles to the left on the first bonus menu selection, a clip of the after-school special (on steroids, with Billingsley as the rage-o-holic and Vaughn as his concerned pal!) on which they first met appears as an Easter egg.
A whopping 53 minutes of extra material finds Maniscalco recounting his humorously misguided attempt at Hollywood takeover (sending out a head shot to casting agencies announcing his impending arrival in town, but with no contact information); there are also segments on the show’s musical Grease send-up, the “Dinner for Two” sketch with Favreau and Long, and O’Donnell being recruited to join the festivities at the tour’s third show, in Santa Ana. A six-minute making-of featurette delves into the editorial process a bit, while a five-minute, tour-focused segment details how no one save executive producer John Isbell had previous experience with a road show of this sort. Mixing after-the-fact interviews with lots of great, captured-in-the-moment material (especially funny is Vaughn sarcastically bitching about the grind of early morning, turn-out-the-audience radio show interviews, but then getting warmed up and downright giddy over his own responses) really helps give a nice, fact-checked, honest overview of the entire production. Ten more minutes of behind-the-scenes material chiefly spotlights the cramped tour bus living conditions and stir craziness that can induce, with Carapulo steaming over someone having eaten his sandwich and Ernst joking about the “100% Muppet” blanket that graces his “sleeping coffin.” While the warmth of a shower at home is nice, the cumulative effect is almost enough to make one wish they had the opportunity to run away and join Vaughn’s crazy traveling circus. B+ (Movie) A- (Disc)