For many comedians, Saturday Night Live must represent the brass ring. Yet for those who have passed through the venerable institution, perhaps SNL is more akin to golden handcuffs. What better way to launch a comic into public consciousness than an impressive tenure there? But what happens when that tenure comes to an end? There are those for whom SNL is the ultimate launching pad into film stardom (Will Ferrell, Adam Sandler, Kristen Wiig, Chevy Chase), and there are those who, despite being a great fit for the show, can't find footing in a career beyond it. (Where are you, Cheri Oteri?) Then there is Dana Carvey.
In Straight White Male, 60, Carvey tries to fulfil audience expectations while simultaneously upending them. Unfortunately, both of these efforts provide diminishing returns. He takes the stage and immediately busts out his Trump, then segues into George W. Bush, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton impressions. This should be the plate-spinning versatility in which Carvey excels (does anyone remember him playing both George Bush, Sr. and Ross Perot in a single sketch, or is that some misremembered late 80's fever dream?), but without a team of writers behind him, these bits are sadly toothless. Carvey's George W. Bush burns Donald Trump thusly: "Who does your hair, StupidCuts? Because that thing is hair-diculous!"
Abandoning topical humour (or maybe not, considering the current political climate), Carvey then portrays a very relaxed Hitler, which seems nothing more than an excuse to trot out a German accent. The joke is, I suppose, that Hitler was very gentle when not giving speeches, and chides Goebbels and Eva Braun with weak burns before saying, "I don't have a line to end this bit, so there you go" to a wild applause break.
Impressions appear throughout, but Carvey also spends a fair bit of his special as himself (that is, as the title suggests, a straight white male, age 60). Some of this is wry and well-observed. His take on his grown children is endearing and funny, and an extended riff on his son's complaint that advice from his father is a "bunchafuckin'bullshit!" is pretty great. He also had good bits about Boomers vs. Millennials, going after the former and latter in equal measure. A well-constructed tangent about navigating the pharmacy, the plethora of prescription medications he and his contemporaries need, and the utter absurdity of newly available medication for maladies we didn't heretofore know existed ("Does your tongue seem smaller than it used to be?") is great. But not all of his observational humour quite lands.
Dana Carvey tells us whenever you tour Lake Como, your gondolier points out George Clooney's house. "This happens every time you go to Lake Como," he laughs. He talks about first class air travel, taking vacations with his kids, various travails from the Italy to Ireland. This may well be a reality of Carvey's life, but that doesn't make it relatable.
Cheers and applause conclude nearly every one of Carvey's bits, such is the goodwill he engenders as a performer. The audience wants so much to like him, because we liked him so much then. That's an unfair standard to hold to any performer, but by the same token, if any other straight white male, 60, took the same material to produce the same hour, one wonders if the audience would be there at all.
The overall impression Carvey leaves is one of coasting. His impressions may be technically adept, but without any satirical bite or interesting take. Without a voice or character to inhabit, Carvey's observational humour, aside from a few great lines, is either not pointed enough, or obliviously privileged. We've seen what Dana Carvey can do, given the right circumstances. This half-cooked special just isn't it.
Exclaim! is reviewing every standup comedy special currently available on Netflix Canada, including this one. You can find a complete list of reviews so far here.