No one would blame you if you didn't associate the greater Grass Valley/Nevada City/Rough and Ready general area with comedy and laughs, but maybe you should reconsider. Locals will tell you that Andy Samberg is here from time to time, and is now engaged to a Nevada City woman. Paul Reiser decided to get back to doing standup last month, and picked Grass Valley's Center for the Arts to do it. Opening for him was Steve Hytner, known to you and me as Kenny Bania from Seinfeld. Not exactly A-listers, sure, how about Dana Carvey?
The impressionist and former Saturday Night Live star headlined Friday Night to a sold out crowd of 950 at the Veterans Memorial Auditorium (or “Vet Gym” as he would refer to it throughout the evening). Carvey, who is originally from the Bay Area and attended San Francisco State, said he “always wanted to play Placerville, but Grass Valley was a close second.”
Opening for Carvey was Larry “Bubbles” Brown, who's self-deprecating act reminds you of a depressed Rodney Dangerfield (The doctor asked me to make a list of all the women I slept with. Why, do I have a disease? No, I just figure if you can get them it should be really easy for me). Brown did about 15 minutes before handing off to Carvey, and the crowd was ready to laugh from the beginning.
If Carvey wasn't already familiar with the area, he did his homework. He opened with many funny local references. He never mentioned Nevada City by name, but picked on the town of Rough and Ready all night, to the delight of those from that community in attendance. Carvey also referred to local politics, where people from the tea party shake hands with hippies and pot smokers, calling the area “the most diverse group of white people” he's ever seen.
Carvey then went into national politics, impersonating all of the Presidents, from Obama back to Jimmy Carter, mostly highlighting both Bushes, and getting in the obligatory “I feel your pain” as Bill Clinton. His best bit was probably a father-son conversation between the two Bush Presidents. Those two imitations really are his signature, and he did not disappoint. During that 20-minute segment, he also managed to work in voices of Governor Jerry Brown, Arnold Schwarzenegger, former Vice President Dick Cheney, and even Paul McCartney.
Carvey's act also proved to a thousand people that you don't even have to know the people he is impersonating. He did five minutes on his elderly parents, and even though the crowd has never met them, or know what they sound like, the laughs continued to roll. He also impersonated his teenage sons, whose voices were like any teenage son (They took them to Europe, and while at the Colosseum in Rome, one of them said “Is this all we're going to do today?). About when his boys were little, he said it was “like having little Ozzy Osbornes”.
During the show, you knew it was coming, but you weren't sure how it would manifest itself. Carvey told a story how he once spoke to Bill Gates and a bunch of “Microsoft nerds” at a corporate event. Carvey picked on Gates as the Church Lady (Well, we're feeling a little proud of ourselves, aren't we?), and according to Carvey, Gates wasn't amused. The crowd was, and the thousand people got to hear what they came for.
The 57 year-old Carvey was on stage for just about an hour, then came back for an encore, this time picking up his guitar, which was leaning against the back of the stage the entire time. He did Neil Young singing 'Santa Claus is Coming to Town”, which was almost as funny as Jimmy Fallon's version of Young singing the theme to the 'Fresh Prince of Bel Air', but was still a hit. If you've ever seen his cable shows, Carvey can get a little raunchy at times. None of that here, other than an occasional four-letter word.
The evening would end with a question-and-answer session, with Bubbles Brown running around the audience with a microphone. There were some ladies from Rough and Ready, a man who was in Junior High with Carvey and asked if he remembered him (he didn't seem to, but remembered a teacher he mentioned), and a man who identified himself as a therapist, but couldn't seem to get his question out. The crowd kind of turned on him, but Carvey had a lot of fun with it. One couple identified themselves, saying “We're from Roseville.” To which Carvey replied “Oh, I'm sorry.”
During the Q and A, Carvey got in a little Jimmy Stewart, and a couple of seconds of Garth from Wayne's World. He did not do Johnny Carson, but probably would have if somebody asked. Some were probably disappointed that he did not perform 'Choppin' Broccoli', but instead ended the show with an impromptu song about the evening. The tune was close to Eric Clapton's 'Knocking on Heaven's Door', but he sung about Rough and Ready,, the guy he went to school with, the therapist, and the memorable Friday night in Grass Valley at the Vet Gym.