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Reviewed by David Medsker
here is no other way to say it: the TV broadcast of Dana Carvey’s new stand-up special, “Squatting Monkeys Tell No Lies,” is the weakest part of this two-DVD set.
Carvey is a funny, funny guy, but his latest HBO special feels like the work of someone who is either out of ideas or out of energy. This is made all the more apparent after watching “Critic’s Choice,” Carvey’s first HBO special from 1995, which makes its DVD debut here. Carvey’s choice of subject matter hasn’t changed much between the two specials – Neil Young and his children appear in both – but he picks even easier targets here than he did before, like George W. Bush, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and those wacky Scientologists. After Trey Parker and Matt Stone made the “Trapped in the Closet” episode of “South Park,” you’d think that that subject was deleted from the stand-up comic playbook for good. Carvey’s spin on it feels like “South Park” for the Branson crowd. Safe and silly, but nothing too controversial. That would make the audience uncomfortable.
Scientology is actually on the edgier end of Carvey’s material. He does a good five minutes on Andy Rooney. Andy freaking Rooney! His big finale, involving impressions of every president and presidential candidate going back to Reagan, has its share of zingers but they all seem too obvious, the kind of jokes that any of us could have come up with. And did he really do a bit on extra-large condoms? Didn’t that joke first hit the circuit 20 years ago? Also, don’t look now, but between this special and “The Love Guru,” Carvey and Mike Myers both tell near-identical jokes about Indian names within the span of a couple weeks. Hmmm.
So where does the three-and-a-half-star review come from, you ask? The bonus features. “Critic’s Choice” is funnier than “Squatting Monkeys,” both in terms of material and the delivery of that material. He seems looser and more off-the-cuff in the earlier special (he also looks an awful lot like Ben Folds with that haircut), and it lends a certain mystery to the show, like we might see him do something he’s never done before. (We don’t, of course, but that’s not the point.) Even better than “Critic’s Choice” – and more maddening – are the extras for “Squatting Monkeys.” The deleted scenes are often funnier than anything in the final broadcast performance, and the Q&A Carvey does with the crowd after the show is even funnier than the deleted scenes (though it references much of the “Critic’s Choice” special). “Squatting Monkeys” already had the appearance of being too safe, even by Carvey’s standards. After watching these bits, it looks positively neutered.
Granted, Dana Carvey is not cut from the same cloth as outlaw comics like Bill Hicks, or Patton Oswalt, or Sara Silverman. He is still, however, a clever, funny guy, and “Squatting Monkeys Tell No Lies” is but a glimpse into what his mind is capable of. It’s nice to see you again, Dana, but quit holding out on us, man.