THE COMEDY SPECIAL "Kevin James: Never Don't Give Up"
WHEN|WHERE Starts streaming Tuesday on Netflix
WHAT IT'S ABOUT Preoccupied with his sitcom, “Kevin Can Wait” and fatherhood, James has largely drifted away from standup in recent years. This special, "Never Don't Give Up" (the title is based on a tattoo -- not his -- which he'll explain) -- was taped recently at the Beacon Theatre, and is billed as his return to the stage. Expect a lot of the familiar here, as if James had been gone only a week.
MY SAY James is the comic laureate of middle-class-suburban-summer-barbecue-mall-rat-white-people-worries. Admittedly this doesn't rank him high up there with the greatest standups of all time, or the most innovative, but he's still pretty good at it and should be: He's only been doing this act for 30 years.
On his Netflix special, released Tuesday, he covers the usual territory, with its byways and detours and side trips each deeply and immediately familiar to fans. For this most Long Island of comics, there is in fact only one actual reference to Long Island – to Yaphank – and it's an amusing one.
He says anything and you can instantly picture it or, more accurately, taste it. Food gets a big workout and always does with James, whose body becomes the punchline (and always does). Like the rest of us, he's obsessed with food, with virtually every other joke riffed off the following -- Rice Krispies, shrimp, chocolate, chocolate brownies, avocadoes, double chocolate ice cream...
A few of his jokes -- the most instantly disposable ones -- have to do with vomit. You can see why.
Then, there are the kids. James reminds the audience that he has four of them. Like kids everywhere, they are found comedy, while some of his best material in this show has to do with putting them to sleep. Every standup with kids who ever lived has some joke about putting them to sleep, but at least James conveys the sense that he has actually attempted the monumental feat.
This show comes in at just over an hour, and you probably wouldn't want it a second longer. It moves fast, with the average joke coming in at about 35 seconds. There's an industrial precision to it, and the lifting is never (ever) heavy. In rough order, he covers fan photos, food allergies, waiters, Benihana, ice cream samplers, an off-duty cop who gave him a cigar, Nick Nolte, hotel room numbering, a naked guy in a hotel room, the five things you'd never see him do naked, elevators, escalators, airport people movers and Cinnabons.
Watching this you may also get the sense that this is the James CBS hoped it would get when it ordered “Kevin Can Wait.” But after two lackluster seasons, CBS might have even settled for the Kevin James of “Paul Blart, Mall Cop” by this point. “Kevin” now sits precariously on the bubble. Maybe there will be a third, maybe not, but if James had mounted a sitcom with just half the energy of “Never Don't Give Up,” a third wouldn't even be a question.
BOTTOM LINE Amusing, fast, inoffensive – for the most part.