HBO // 2008 // 58 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Bill Gibron // August 27th, 2008
Isn't that special...sort of.
Dana Carvey's career trajectory had always been rather difficult to pinpoint. He started out in standup, his gift for mimicry and impersonation landing him some immediate local recognition. Yet when he moved from his Northern California home to try his hand at Hollywood, bit parts in Halloween II and a supporting part in the Mickey Rooney sitcom (?) One of the Boys were all he could muster. That all changed in 1986, when he won a role on the celebrated Saturday Night Live. As part of the late-night comedy cavalcade's latest renaissance of generational greatness, he made characters like Garth Algar, The Church Lady, and "pumped up" bodybuilder Hans household names. He also tackled political personalities of the time like George H.W. Bush and Ross Perot. After the triumphant spinoff film Wayne's World (with one Mike Myers), Carvey left SNL, hoping to capitalize on his meteoric rise. But since then, he's found little direct success. His solo starring vehicles (Clean Slate, The Master of Disguise) were minor mainstream hits, while supporting roles in The Road to Wellville and Trapped in Paradise did little to help. Even his own TV sketch comedy series only lasted five episodes. By 2002, he was all but absent from the cultural map.
As part of this live comedy concert, taped last year around his hometown of San Carlos, California, Carvey updates us on both his life and his living. You may know that he faced a health crisis in 1997 when doctors found a blockage in one of his arteries and decided to operate. Unfortunately, the surgery went horribly wrong, and Carvey faced several more procedures to correct the problem. In Dana Carvey: Squatting Monkeys Tell No Lies, he mentions this now stable situation, suggesting that people stop him all the time and inquire over his well-being. Naturally, he finds a way to ridicule such concern. He also addresses his kids, another reason for this low-profile performance. Indeed, much of the material here focuses on the New Age-ist way parents try to partner with their offspring in order to avoid chaos. While his observations are rather obvious, they do resonate with an inherent ridiculousness that comes from the notion of negotiating with a 6-year-old. Carvey's comedy can best be described as '80s observational, taking a common phrase like "you're sh*tting me" and extrapolating out its origins and conversational possibilities to an exaggerated degree.
It's the same with his takes on public officials. Most of Monkeys' longform rants focus on Andy Rooney, George W. Bush, Gov. Schwarzenegger, Al Gore, and Bill Clinton. While not necessarily the most topical of takes (he does give Obama and Hillary the business, if only briefly), he seems to relish reducing politicians to their smuggest, most butt-kissing conceits. Carvey's standup style can also be considered quite manic -- like Robin Williams without the scattered stream of consciousness and penis obsession -- and it is weird to hear someone we've seen on television and in youth-oriented films dropping the F-bomb here and there. Still, there's no denying the man's connection with his fans. The crowd for Monkeys may be made up of hometown supporters and individuals reclaiming some Greed-decade nostalgia, but they enjoy every moment of his near hour-long routine. There are the occasional weak spots (the Scientology bit goes on far too long) and lots of incomplete thoughts, but the give and take between man and audience member is enough to carry us across the meandering. Indeed, for those wondering how Carvey came to prominence, and where he's been since, Squatting Monkeys Tell No Lies is a good intro/reintroduction.
As a perfect means of contrast between the past and the present, HBO Video and this DVD package offers Carvey's only other comedy concert -- Critics Choice (from 1995) as part of this two-disc presentation. Far more freewheeling than Monkeys, this earlier work features the musical spoofs and parodies Carvey specialized in, as well as a more frenzied onstage shtick. In some ways, it's an unusual bit of added content, since it could possibly -- and frankly does -- usurp the main feature. Choice is the Carvey of SNL and stardom, the man who can do no wrong and knows it. Monkeys is a little more subdued, as if he's wondering whether audiences will still appreciate him.
Technically, the newer showcase outdoes its mid-'90s cohort in the all-important spec department. The 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen images are almost identical, with Monkeys' updated HD look winning out. The colors for both are clean and bright, and the amount of detail is rather rich and inviting. Carvey actually looks younger now than he did during Choice. Sonically, both presentations arrive with a simple Dolby Digital Stereo mix. The lack of audience immersion is not missed, however, since all the material comes across without an aural hitch. As far as bonus features go, Choice is the best. The Q&A with the Monkeys audience is just an excuse to revisit some unused riffs (the Church Lady, for one), while the extended footage is outtake quality only.
Of all the former SNL luminaries wearing out their welcome within the entertainment landscape (and we're looking at you, Guru Pitka), Carvey had the luck (or bad health happenstance) to drop out before he became a chore. Now he's back, and it definitely seems like the right time for a return. Squatting Monkeys Tell No Lies may not be the greatest comedy concert of his career, but it definitely offers what Carvey does best -- making people laugh. Not guilty.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 58 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* "Dana Carvey: Critics Choice" Hour-long Comedy Concert
* Extended Footage
* Q&A With the Audience
* Official HBO Site
* Dana Carvey's Official Site