Moontower, Day 2: Dana Carvey
Say this for Dana Carvey: He knows what audiences want from him, and that's what he gives them. The comedian has never been particularly prolific – averaging a new HBO special about once a decade – but the characters and impressions he developed during his fruitful SNL years have served him well, and he’s not afraid to go back to them. Repeatedly.
And when Carvey is done going back to them, he’s not afraid to check in with his audience to make sure that they got what they paid for.
That’s how he ended his Moontower Comedy Festival set at the Paramount Theatre Thursday night, in fact – by asking if he forgot anything they wanted to hear, and then lurching into jukebox mode to deliver his 21-year-old impression of H. Ross Perot and quote some of the lines he made famous as Garth in Wayne’s World. In the hour before that – during which Carvey was visibly checking his watch – he offered a series of loosely-connected impressions. Mostly Presidential – he found time to work his classic George H.W. Bush in, along with Barack Obama, Ronald Reagan, Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, Dick Cheney, and George W – as well as Oprah, Gollum, Arnold Schwarzenegger, his parents, an Indian doctor, the robot voice on the other end of a customer service line, Ozzy Osbourne, Bill Gates, etc… It wasn’t exactly timely material – though he did note the dedication of the George W. Bush Library that had occurred earlier in the day, seemingly to add relevance to jokes about Dick Cheney’s 2006 hunting incident – but that’s probably to be expected from a performer who took 13 years between his first and second stand-up special.
It was not exactly an inspired night. Carvey’s been insightful, and devastatingly hilarious, in the past – his 1995 HBO special is proof of that – but that sort of enthusiasm for the artform wasn’t on display at the Paramount. Instead, he simple delivered old jokes, old impressions, and old characters in a way that catered fairly directly to the audiences who’d binged on early Nineties Saturday Night Live episodes on Netflix, recalled the Church Lady fondly, and still can’t think of the first President Bush without hearing the words “wouldn’t be prudent” in their heads. Audiences who wanted a chance to revisit Carvey’s glory days found a performer who was happy to walk through that material one more time. Those who had hoped that he might still be capable of the same sort of insight and enthusiasm that he brought to that work, meanwhile, might have been better served just watching old clips on YouTube.