published Sunday, October 20, 2013: original
Allen — A Saturday Night Live reunion it was for sure, with three comedic icons from its ‘80s era—Dana Carvey, Dennis Miller and Kevin Nealon—on stage at the Allen Event Center on Saturday night. But the night belonged to Carvey. The man was on fire, a live wire, an animated volcano of voices, mannerisms and songs. It’s been a long Carvey drought as he stepped out of the limelight to be with his family, and Nealon’s been focusing more on stand-up after a long run of actor roles. So it was as much a launch as a reunion.
In the audience Q&A that followed the show, most of the questions were for Carvey, who often replied with impressions, and he zipped off a short version of “Choppin’ Broccoli” at audience request. Miller appeared to be in awe of Carvey. Both he and Nealon pretty much let Carvey have the stage. When the night was over, even though Miller had been positioned as the lead act for the largely right-wing crowd, it was Carvey everyone was chattering about on their way out.
Kevin Nealon: Non-Confrontational Escalation
Kevin Nealon led off the evening with his likeable but dry material that’s deceptively off-the-wall in a wonderfully suburban Steve Martin kind of way. He’s a rather casual fellow, in t-shirt and tennis shoes, looking like he needed a poolside bar to lean against. A man of conscience who projects an air of grounded decency, he’s nonetheless the guy everyone wants at their party. Contrasting that with his vileness as a stoned and impulsive embezzling accountant on Weeds, you realize just what a good actor he is.
The set traveled much of the ground from his HBO special Whelmed… But Not Overly, spinning off the domesticities of a second wife and late fatherhood. Yet Nealon’s young and lighthearted enough for it to be non-cranky, which is not true of most comics who tread that territory. Great story on how when dealing with loud neighbors he “shut that party down” — with Tylenol PM and earplugs. Detail after detail got layered into the story, such as a digital blood pressure machine being akin to playing Guitar Hero to old fogey friends. It’s got the potential to be an epic domestic set a la Bill Cosby.
Nealon’s stories are flush with asides, yet maintain a narrative track. He has a great structuring to his set, threading it with the theme of avoiding confrontation. Few comics play with progression as well as Nealon. His tale of escalating requests to help out in his infant’s delivery room was sweet, but the one about reviewing Playboy DVDs had a lovely, wicked twist. Nealon obliged Saturday Night Live fans with a clever set of Subliminal Man riffing on the dark secrets, bad habits and fantasies of Allenites, but are true everywhere. Even better was an unfolding bit on the racism of color-coding in ski runs, the difficult black areas being dangerous, but the only place to find “good white powder” to mention just a few of the piled on innuendos.
Dana Carvey: Prismatic Personalities
A somewhat rusty bit of Hans and Franz posing and phrasing was the hand-off to old friend Dana Carvey who recruited Nealon for Saturday Night Live. Casually polished in long-sleeved linen blend shirt, chinos and ankle boots, Carvey was 100 percent energy the whole time he was on, pacing the stage and shifting through personalities like a sports car. He’s looking mighty vigorous to be making jokes about spending time in pharmacies, a subtle reference to enduring a botched heart-bypass surgery for a blocked coronary artery and subsequent angina pectoris. Viva la western medicine! Carvey is back!
Carvey doesn’t just do impressions. He warps them, transforming Al Gore into a sexy drag queen when lecturing on global warming. He meshes them into a narrative themes, like in a substantial and brilliant bit comparing Obama-speak to the ways presidents Clinton, Reagan and H.W. Bush (senior no. 44) and G.W. Bush (junior no. 46) would tell it. George W. Bush laughs — heh, heh, heh… — while Obama describes a spasm in his larynx. At times they commented on each other in a virtuosic round of Carvey impressions that made heads spin. Definitely the best impression of Obama thought and speech by any SNL member, possibly any comic.
Carvey seems to be heading into domestic humor and it’s a rich vein to mine, though barely dipped into in this set. Ozzy Ozborne and two-year-olds do have their similarities. There was a sweet section on his parents in their late ‘80s, with his dad seeming to be the inspiration for Grumpy Old Man of “Weekend Update” fame. Married to his wife for over 30 years, Carvey’s been studying women for most of his life. But the material on his boys as teenagers really struck a chord with the crowd.
Dennis Miller: The Witmeister
“Great, I have to follow Dana Carvey,” said Dennis Miller after Carvey passed along the mic. Then followed the obligatory Miller grousing, like a flipside of Lewis Black without the academic depth, that much of the crowd came to hear. Hotels with sustainability practices were reviled and a long section was devoted to his rejection of global warming science. Yet his proclamations that gay marriage and abortion were not of governmental concern got equal applause. The set ended with a rant about Democrats, wittily describing Nancy Pelosi as so “bat-shit crazy I’m sure she sleeps upside down.”
But sandwiched between sops to his Fox followers, which all depended on a limbic polarity mindframe, were some of reworked classic mid-’90s bits showing that old-time Miller depth and impropriety. Also some fine newer material on old rockers and the “Rip Van Halen tour.” He is the master of the art of sub-referencing, managing to wedge in a mention of big band jazz drummer Gene Krupa, and you just have to love that. He even pulled out a classic Miller stand-up bit about being raised Catholic and going back to church for confession, leading off with “You first” to the priest.
» Kevin Nealon on “crop dusting” Jack Nicholson at a Hollywood party with a massive fart that provoked loud comment and humiliation from the actor.
» Dana Carvey on organized religion and what it takes to out-weird Scientology, from his last special HBO Squatting Monkeys Tell No Lies
» A classic mid-‘90s Dennis Miller rant on pop culture and intelligence from the HBO talk show