In 10 Words or Less
The return of Robin Williams' spiritual offspring
Loves: Stand-Up Comedy
Likes: Dana Carvey
Hates: That "The Dana Carvey Show" got cancelled
It was exhausting watching Dana Carvey perform his first stand-up comedy special back in 1995, as he instilled such energy into the appearance that you would wonder if he could even keep going at points, spilling forth a steady stream of silly noises and babbling, celebrity impersonations and rubber-faced buffoonery. It was a sight to behold, and one that's been missing for too long, thanks to some medical malpractice that required five heart operations to correct and the decision to live a more private life with his family.
Returning to the stage 13 years after his original HBO special, for an evening taped before a live audience in Santa Rosa, California, he's toned down the pure silliness and gotten more focused in his comedy, though he's also gotten a bit more coarse and slightly cynical, perhaps a response to his health issues. Dropping the F-word with noticeable frequency, he talks about the pain of getting older (with hysterical example of injuries and their causes), dealing with doctors (including his team of Indian doctors) and family life, including being a parent to the children and teenagers of today. When he does any yelling, its not just to make noise, it's to enhance the point of his joke and he does it well. The best bit of the early bits has to be when he talks about religion, and tries to imagine a creed that Scientologists would view as "weird," setting him on a very funny run that gives the special its title.
Then, after an extended bit about the pothead-like musings of Andy Rooney (a surprisingly fresh take on a comedy standard), Carvey gets to the reason he returned to the stage: politics. In an election year, and nearing the end of the massive mistake that has been the Bush Jr. reign, Carvey wanted a chance to joke about Dubya, and tackles all the recent American political figures in a segment that makes up the bulk of this 56-minute set. Starting with the candidates for the presidency, including John McCain, Barack Obama and Hilary Clinton (this was back when there was a race), he eventually turns to the supposed conspiracy that has kept the U.S. lead by two families for 20 years.
Positioning Ronald Reagan as an oracle laying out the future of American leadership, complete with his imitation of the man, he brings together all involved politicians since the days of the original Bush (and Carvey's signature version of him.) The question of why Al Gore has turned into a Southern queen and the return of Ross Perot are hilarious, but surprisingly, Carvey's late-to-the-game impersonation of the unelected Bush is one of the highlights of the bunch. Scrunching up his face into a parody of Bush, he focuses on the self-satisfaction that's one of the president's worst attributes and uses his eyebrows to excellent effect. It's not the most biting commentary ever (Carvey saves that mainly for the parents he talks about) but hey, at least he got a chance to work in one more imitation before it was too late.
This two-disc set is packaged in a standard-width keepcase with a tray for the second disc. The DVD features static anamorphic widescreen menus with options to play the show, select scenes and check out the bonus features. There are no audio options and no subtitles, but there is closed captioning.
The anamorphic widescreen transfer on this special looks pretty nice, but it's not as sharp as one might expect for a recent production. The level of fine detail is rather high, and the color is solid. There are no issues with dirt, damage or digital artifacts. The camera mainly stays on Carvey, which keeps it simple.
The audio is presented in a Dolby Digital 2.0 track that's simple and clear, pushing Carvey's voice straight down the middle, with good separation between him and the audience reaction.
On the disc with "Squatting Monkeys," there are a pair of extras related to the show. First up are 10 deleted scenes from the special, which are unfortunately provided without a play-all option. Most of it is material from the political portion of the show, including jokes about Nancy Pelosi and Rudy Giuliani, but it isn't a loss from the aired special. Only the bit about Carvey's Irish family and their travels on Aer Lingus are all that good, and that's because of the accent he puts on.
There's also 15 minutes of Q & A he did following the special, where audience members could come up to the mics. What starts as an opportunity for people to ask questions of Carvey, like who inspired the character of The Church Lady, turns into a request line, as people bring up old bits. Eventually it becomes taken over by more talk about parents and kids, which is a shame, as more variety would have been appreciated.
The surprising extra here comes on the second disc, as Carvey's original uncut 1995 special, "Dana Carvey: Critics' Choice" is included. This is a classic stand-up performance, and features a number of Carvey's signature bits, including his Old Man as a little kid, positioning Cary Grant in the Hugh Grant prostitution scandal (along with Jimmy Stewart), smoking pot with Paul McCartney and his visit to the White House with George H.W. Bush, as well as some musical performances, such as the well-known "Chopping Broccoli." There's a lot of dated material here, especially the O.J. Simpson murder trial segment, but this is Carvey in his manic prime. I think this may be the first time I've actually seen it uncut like this, because there are several lines I just didn't remember, and they are the dirtier bits. It was a pleasant surprise to get this in the package, as this show could easily have been sold on its own.
The Bottom Line
Carvey has taken his act in a new direction after a lengthy break from stand-up, and it's a welcome change, as he's kept himself fresh and funny, and especially relevant, considering he's 53 at this point. With his talk of politics and ineffective parents, perhaps we've found a new last angry comic to point out our foibles. The DVD is solid all-around, especially in the extras area, where the inclusion of the "Critics' Choice" special alone makes this a must for Carvey fans.
Francis Rizzo III is a native Long Islander, where he works in academia. In his spare time, he enjoys watching hockey, writing and spending time with his wife, daughter and puppy.Check out 1106 - A Moment in Fictional Time or follow him on Twitter
*The Reviewer's Bias section is an attempt to help readers use the review to its best effect. By knowing where the reviewer's biases lie on the film's subject matter, one can read the review with the right mindset.