Jimmy Stewart making love for the first time. Katharine Hepburn with a car that won't start. Bob Dylan eating something bad. Tony Montana (Al Pacino in "Scarface," remember?) getting really mad because his favorite, sweet potatoes, was left off the menu.
That's a short list, just a peek at the people that fight for space in Dana Carvey's mind--great impressions, ones with an off-center difference, that Carvey served up at the Celebrity Theatre Friday night, helping to show what a remarkably entertaining comedian he can be.
Anyone who saw Carvey's terrible movie, "Opportunity Knocks," may have begun to wonder about this latest star to come out of "Saturday Night Live." Maybe it was the lousy writing or, worse yet, maybe Carvey just doesn't click outside of a live environment.
But what was clear Friday is how wonderfully he can respond to an audience, especially one that comes prepared for a little free-fall. Carvey must have been buoyed by the crowd, which responded like a pack of good friends who had come to wish him well--they called out for favorite characters (everyone, of course, wanted Church Lady) and impressions from George Bush to "Saturday Night Live" cast member Dennis Miller.
He made good on all requests and was so funny doing it that Mike Myers was left a second-fiddle role throughout. Sure, Myers was the opening act, but this team-up of "Saturday Night Live" regulars and pals has been billed as almost an equal partnership. Myers, however--despite kicking off with a set that took nice advantage of his "Saturday Night Live" Hans Dieter "Sprockets" character--was overshadowed by Carvey.
As anyone who's seen "Saturday Night Live" knows, Carvey doesn't really tell jokes. What he does is inhabit odd people, most of whom he's created himself. His is a visual experience as much as a verbal one; without the loony body movement and the facial doodling (could they appreciate this in the back rows?) you only get a sense of his talents.
A good example was his skit pitting the up-tight religious matron, Church Lady, against the thick-tongued sexual stallion Tony Montana. The lines were amusingly raw--Church Lady talking about her erotic battles with "the Beast Master" and Tony remarking on the beautiful, sweet-potato shape of her derriere--but it was Carvey's personality switches each time he removed Church Lady's glasses that made the routine sensational.
His grumpy old man, the senior citizen who likes to remind everybody how much better things were when he was young, was also a hilarious incarnation. With a voice that sounded like Walter Brennan in his worst Grandpa McCoy mood, he complained about video games: "We didn't have video games back then. We had one game; it was called 'Eat the Bark Off a Tree.' Well, we ate the bark off the tree, and it messed up our stomachs, and we're bleeding, and we loved it! "
That works because it's silly and unexpected but also because it takes a notion that we're familiar with and extends it to the fringe, an invigorating skill that few comedians possess.
As for Myers, his relatively brief performance was a mixed offering. He began as Wayne, the 16-year-old heavy-metal-head of the "Saturday Night Live" public-access cable spoof, "Wayne's World," a character that pleased identifying fans but didn't present many opportunities.
"Wayne's World" is really a one-joke premise based on goofy word invention (when something's bad, it's cool to play with scrotum, as in "Did you see the new gym teacher? The man is scroto. ") and the rejection of authority. It clicks as a three-minute "Saturday Night Live" routine, but it's hard to carry further.
Myers was more on target as Hans, the German expressionistic nut-boy of "Sprockets." Wearing a black body stocking and using his painfully self-conscious accent, Myers/Hans admired Anaheim as "all crime and magic." Later, he admitted that Anaheim moved him in unusual ways: "Anaheim, you pull down my pants and taunt me."
Myers slipped back into his Wayne character for the show's finale, this time joined by Carvey as Garth, Wayne's space cadet of a best friend. Compared to Carvey's set, the routine was pretty ho-hum, with only an occasional "excellent" moment.