George Blooston
April 03, 1998 AT 05:00 AM EST

One of the more defensive hagiographies ever made, Sam Kinison: Why Did We Laugh? is also the best kind of mixed bag. Built of family photos, clips from Kinison’s career as a God-fearing, woman-hating, high-volume stand-up, and interviews with close associates and fellow comics, the documentary lets us renew our discomfort and delight at his largely jokeless rants about vengeful girlfriends, Jesus nailed to the cross, and how world hunger would end if people moved where the food is. From his brother and manager, Bill Kinison (also the documentary’s coexecutive producer), we learn that Sam was transformed into an angry young man at age 3 by a head injury; his drug abuse gets less time than his roots as the evangelical son of two Pentecostal preachers. ”What can defile a man can deliver a man,” we hear Sam say on a Sunday radio broadcast. This is how, I guess, he’d wish to be remembered.

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