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The Secret Policeman's Ball USA marks Amnesty International's 50th in NYC

The Secret Policeman's Ball marked Amnesty International's 50th anniversary in NYC.
Eagle Rock

The Secret Policeman's Ball USA DVD


Launched nearly four decades ago by British funnyman John Cleese, The Secret Policeman’s Ball is an annual charity event that gathers some of the biggest names in comedy, movies, and music in order to raise awareness of the human rights efforts of Amnesty International.

The soiree was held exclusively in London until 2012, when those Monty Python chaps decided to bring the show to Radio City Music Hall in New York—where the lineup fittingly featured more Americans than usual. Hosted and emceed by John Stewart and John Oliver of “The Daily Show,” the charity event saw top U.K. performers like Eddie Izzard and Russell Brand sharing the stage with Ben Stiller, Paul Rudd, and nearly a dozen past and present Saturday Night Live cast members.

Now available on high-def DVD and Blu-Ray from Eagle Rock, The Secret Policeman’s Ball USA captures every minute of mayhem for us folks at home who couldn’t attend the fundraiser, didn’t about know it, and haven’t really been paid attention to Amnesty since U2’s Rattle and Hum days.

Stewart kicks things off nicely—but is almost thwarted by (look-alike) North Korean “supreme leader” Kim Jong-un, who promises to leave if he can appear in a sketch later. Izzard splits sides with off-the-wall observations on Nazis, God, Republicans, and the use of Latin in ancient times. During the first of his two appearances, Brand—joined by Noel Fielding—shares some important information about Amnesty’s Nobel Prize-winning work around the globe and contrasts the organization’s peaceful stance with an outrageous call for blood. Polling the crowd for Amnesty enlistees, Brand identifies a woman down front for indoctrination.

“Not a member?” he guffaws. “Everyone! KILL THAT WOMAN!”

Known for playing tough guys and psychos on the big screen, actor Tim Roth sells his “serious side” and presents the winner of that year’s “Shortest Gig Competition”—Pip the Magic Dragon. In his U.S. standup debut, young English comic Jack Whitehall cracks on American reality television, cell phones, and customer service in Apple stores.

Watch the trailer for Secret Policeman’s Ball here:

Liam Neeson introduces Burmese comedian Zarganar, who’s spent eleven years of his life in prison—for telling jokes. Bob Odenkirk and David Cross pull off an elaborate game show sketch that finds Cross canvassing the theatre for a ringing cell phone. Sarah Silverman opens up about dating and sex, using the most colorful language imaginable. Paul Rudd and Matt Berry square off on capital punishment and sushi, which encourages Muppet heckler-curmudgeons Statler and Waldorf to start tweeting their barbs from the balcony.

“I’ve seen better material in a sewing machine!” they cackle.

1990s cartoon goofballs Beavis and Butthead likewise insult the guests before mispronouncing their way through some Amnesty data and celebrating their freedom to say words like boobs, poop, and wiener without fear of reprisal.

“Freedom of expression kicks ass,” surmises Butthead.

Python alumi Michael Palin, Terry Jones, and Eric Idle all appear via satellite, each man blaming his absence on faulty—or completely missing—legs.

Comedian / musician Reggie Watts performs an amazing a cappella song using only his voice and a loop pedal, then accompanies an eerily accurate Paul McCartney impersonator on an ad lib tune. Micky Flanagan offers his thoughts on skyrocketing birth rates (“Fingering has disappeared!”), and SNL’s Hannibal Jones quips on his peculiar name and airport security. Ben Stiller and David Walliams go head-to-head in an American vs. British word association game (jugs, hooters, aluminum) that culminates with Stiller flashing one of his Zoolander faces. Rashida Jones joins a cast of others in a skit poking fun at good cop / bad cop interrogations.

Brand returns later for his own set, which runs so long the teleprompters warn him off. But his remarks on Fox news, pedophilia, and pop culture are pointed and hilarious. Brand—whose Amnesty plug centers on the fact that we’re “all sentient human beings on our way to enlightenment”—also offers mock apologies to the American audience for the number of Brits on the bill.

“Don’t worry, it’s not a hostile takeover!” he assures.

Folk rockers Mumford & Sons appear early on to perform “Roll Away Your Stone,” but the event wraps up with a three-song set by Coldplay. Led by Chris Martin, the English superstars delight with hits “Viva la Vida,” “Paradise,” and “Every Teardrop is a Waterfall” as confetti showers Radio City spectators.

“We take pleasure in being the least funny act you’ve seen all night!” laughs Martin.

Stay tuned for the end credits, during which Robert De Niro portrays a TV infomercial salesman for the B.S. Network (“Are YOU buying from ME?”). Kyra Sedgwick, Annette O’Toole, Whoopi Goldberg, and Maria Garces help Bobby D. hawk replicas of the Pythons’ missing legs, fawning over the prosthetics like models from The Price is Right and Wheel of Fortune showing off some glamorous prize.

The cool thing about a production like Secret Policeman’s Ball is that plays like a concert DVD, which means your eyes needn’t be glued to the screen. You can cue up the disc while washing dishes, or burn off a few calories on the treadmill while laughing at the snarky zingers and topical barbs on terrorism and technology. It’s truly a laugh riot, but several bits are too raunchy for young viewers. My teenage daughter would’ve enjoyed Izzard, Neeson, the Muppets, Beavis and Butthead, and the Coldplay mini-concert—but we’d have to skip past Whitehall’s and Silverman’s silly sex talk and a few other expletive-laden sketches.

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