So if you haven’t watched it, reserve your next Netflix night for Dana Carvey’s special “Straight White Male, 60.”
I watched it in Colorado over the holidays, my older sister’s recommendation for the family. Dana Carvey’s one of those comedians everyone knows – my 56 year old dad and 26 year old brother alike. I’m not even sure I’ve actually seen the entirety of Wayne’s World, but I feel like I know Garth personally. It’s a rare accomplishment, this thing Carvey’s done of pervading pop culture so completely.
It wasn’t a hard sell, and we agreed to watch together. Carvey opens with a series of impressions of recent presidents, from Trump to W., Obama and Clinton (both). There’s a good bit of Bernie in there, too.
There sat my family, a mix of political ideas and leanings, all of us laughing hysterically almost the whole way through. Carvey is perhaps the most gifted impersonator I’ve ever seen, certainly a better Trump vessel than Alec Baldwin or Darrell Hammond. But what really floored me was his other flawless intonations, of Obama’s signature pauses, Clinton’s Arkansas drawl, W.’s chuckle.
He has one bit in particular, imagining Trump in debate against George W. Bush. Bush is scrappier than his elder brother, a president constantly “surfing or hitch hiking.” (Carvey’s physical humor isn’t so easy to translate linguistically.) Anyway, Bush responds to Trump by asking if he got his hair done at “Stupid Cuts… I call it ‘hairidiculous.'” Cue signature Bush chuckle.
We laughed, hard. And the thing is, we needed it. We needed to laugh about politics. I like Saturday Night Live and all, but they’ve taken themselves maybe too seriously lately. I don’t really blame them; I’m as apprehensive about what a Trump presidency will bring as anyone.
But Carvey offers something different. He brings each of these people to life, and rips on every single one. That’s new. There hasn’t been a lot of equal opportunity mockery in comedy for a while. Conservatives, Republicans – these are always easier targets, and they are the usual butts of comedians’ jokes.
If you need further evidence, just watch the late night show reactions to the election of Donald Trump. Many of the hosts look like they’re on the verge of tears, and some even go there.
Again, this is a tricky one to parse out. Is Trump uniquely awful? Of course, he is. Was this election season a slap in the face to many minorities, to women, to common decency, and to anyone who dared publicly step forward to take on the president-elect? It was.
So the situation deserves special consideration. But I do wonder: how would these so-called comedians react if Ted Cruz had won, or Marco Rubio, or John Kasich? Would they really be so terribly different? After all, the first female presidential candidate would still have been defeated… I can’t say I’m confident they’d be significantly less despondent. Maybe the only one whose been honest on this is Bill Maher, who admitted he’d been way too critical of past Republican nominees.
This has been part of the political argument I’ve had with members of my family who disagree with me. Discussions go something like this:
I think Trump is absolutely dangerous, absolutely awful, and absolutely indefensible. Some family members agree, but think I need to let it go.
Or they agree, but want to wait and find out what he’ll do first.
Or they agree, but think everyone has overreacted.
Or they agree, but think Clinton would have been worse.
Or they agree, but not sufficiently passionately enough to meet my standard of outrage.
Or they don’t really agree.
It sometimes sounds a lot like the nasty political dialogue I try not to have online. And most of the time, I’m the one at fault.
So I had a few apprehensions about something entitled “Straight White Male, 60.” It’s overtly political, and I assumed the special would be more centered on this question that is the elephant in our culture’s room: what to do, how to feel, the right approach to this particular demographic.
Carvey doesn’t really go there. Not really. And that was a relief, to be honest. He’s not apologizing for Capitalism, and he’s not blind to its problems either. He mocks the nonsense, and he also rips the dire straits of Socialist countries.
Carvey is an equal opportunity offender. He makes fun of his own generation, but spends a lot of time needling millennials. He admits his is not a popular list of qualities. To be straight, white, male, and the age of 60 is to be representative of a litany of historic crimes, which he outlines in quick succession: misogyny, pillaging, rape, widespread murder, etc.
“They were busy, though,” he adds, an ironic nod to the famous American work ethic.
His case for his demographic lies in his talents, both to see the problems inherent in his generation, and also to point out the absurdities in everybody else’s. It’s something Americans forget to do, bunkering down in their corners. Ignoring or abusing the other side are often seen as the only option.
Carvey points to another way, one that involves admitting your own deficiencies, too. And for that, his special would be already well on its way to worthy.
But if you don’t care about subtle political commentary, then watch Dana Carvey’s special anyway.
Mocking our current president-elect and his predecessors gives way to making fun of his own teenage kids, and he eventually finds moves to targeting celebrity culture and social media.
And on all counts, Carvey is hilarious.