It's all about bouncing back

Monday, June 30, 2008

Squatting Monkeys Pt. 2

Finally, a quick review.

First, I have to restate my respect for Dana Carvey for trying to take on a comeback at age 53. At the height of his success, the glory of his work arose largely out of combining the boyish innocence and enthusiasm of his characters with his skill for voices and impersonations. So everyone has to arrive at this show wondering whether the same jokes would play well from a face that is slightly wrinkled and/or whether the impersonations risk pushing him into Rich Little territory (obviously a terrifying possibility for any performer.)

On the first point, I have to give him props. Although he'd obviously had some minor work done to his face (smooth as a baby's bottom it was), he didn't try to pretend that he was still 30. He faced his current stage of his life with humor ("I love getting old -- you can get hurt doing nothing at all!") and addressed himself to his peers under the assumption that they would form the bulk of his audience. I think that was a logical choice and I liked his approach -- it felt honest. His delivery wasn't perfect -- there were times when you could see that he hadn't spent the last year or two of his life on the road perfecting every beat of this material; but he has enough residual skill to pull it off regardless and you can forgive a tiny bit of rustiness to someone whose last HBO special was in 1995.

As to what I call "the Rich Little Challenge" -- this one was always going to be trickier. Dana never specialized in material with a strong viewpoint or heavy insight -- and by the way that's fine with me. I love silly as much as the next person. But if you only do voice with no political or social commentary, you do risk looking more like a harmless old hack. Carvey came close at a few points in this show -- pulling out impersonations of Reagan, Bush 1, Bill Clinton and Ross Perot (Ross Perot??). Maybe he thought the crowd expected it (the same instinct that causes Rick Little to keep trotting out Dick Nixon); but it felt a little forced and dated. I guess that will always be a fine line for him.

All in all, it was comfortable and pleasant -- like an old sweater -- but I only laughed out loud a few times. Check it out on HBO reruns if you are looking to enjoy some relaxed happy memories, but probably not much more.

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