Interview By: Joseph Hett
Comedian Dana Carvey recently spoke with Music Recall Magazine from his home in the San Francisco Bay area. Check out MRM’s exclusive interview with Carvey below.
Carvey, Dennis Miller and Kevin Nealon will be at the Bon Secours Wellness Arena in Greenville, SC on Friday, October 18 at 8pm.
Tickets are still available and can be purchased at Ticketmaster.com, the Bon Secours Wellness Arena box office or by calling 1 (800) 745-3000.
MRM: When you were growing up, were you a class clown?
Dana Carvey: Yeah, I think, I was also half shy. What I always say to people is that “class clown” is singular for a reason. There was never a grade where there were class clowns, plural. Because one class clown would have killed the other class clown. So, I was a class clown in fourth grade, and then I was shy in fifth grade and it went like that. [Laughs]
MRM: Which comedians had a great influence on you in your early days?
Carvey: I would say all of the classic variety shows of the ’60s in America. I used to see standups on Ed Sullivan, like Richard Pryor and Jackie Mason. And I’d watch Jackie Gleason’s show, even as a little kid. You know, I’d watch Jonathan Winters and different shows he had.
I’d watch the Danny Kaye show, I’d watch a show with impressionists called the Kopycats with Rich Little, I’d watch the Carol Burnett show, I’d watch Laugh-In, Flip Wilson, Sonny and Cher.
I think those formatively, I mean, you know, a lot of comedians try to claim Lenny Bruce, but I was just not aware of him, being a kid from a middle class suburb in California.
So those were probably my, Smothers Brothers, and all those people. And later on like George Carlin, Steve Martin, Robin Williams, Robert Klein, you know the new wave of the ’70s. I listened to albums and things, and they were very important.
And Saturday Night Live, when I was in junior college, and all of those guys.
MRM: Speaking of Saturday Night Live, how were discovered by SNL?
Carvey: Lorne Michaels. Well, I audition for the show several times, and I always bombed. And then they were recasting again, I had been doing standup for 10 years, dreaming of being on the show but never thought I could get it.
But Rosie O’Donnell was playing a club in L.A., and she allowed me to come in and do like a half hour in front of her, and Lorne Michaels saw me. Along with Cher, the musician, so they were both there, and that’s how I got on the show. [Laughs]
When I run into Cher, she reminds me of that.
MRM: You joined the cast in 1986 and helped turn around the struggling SNL. Was that an exciting time?
Carvey: [Laughs] Well, I think anyone who gets on Saturday Night Live and starts to do well and has success on the show, there’s only one, you can only be new once, and you can only make it once. That’s the linchpin. I think even for Adam Sandler and Will Ferrell or Eddie Murphy and all these people. Yeah, it’s something about breaking on that show is very unique. It’s live and super intense. Back in those days, cable TV and the web weren’t really around. So it was a really big deal. If you get scored on that show, it was kind of like a water cooler thing, everyone knew it. So that was kind of nice. [Laughs]
MRM: You started out as a standup comic but are mainly known for sketch comedy. Could you tell us the difference between the two?
Carvey: Well, I think that because I was a bus boy and a waiter, and I was living in a hell hole near the airport, and I had no guidance or direction. I was 19 when I moved out. And I didn’t really know what I was, I didn’t take acting and didn’t know about sketch comedy, except on TV. There was no Groundlings [sketch group].
But in my standup, when I started to play places where the audience wasn’t drunk [Laughs], I was kind of doing sketch type material. I wasn’t just doing jokes, I wasn’t one liners and stuff. So I was sort of like a one man sketch standup in a way. And even now I play a lot of characters in my standup. I don’t have a lot of traditional jokes like a traditional standup.
I think I was always wanting to be a sketch player, but I was disguised as a standup. But now I get to do a one man sketch. [Laughs]
MRM: What’s your favorite impression or character to do?
Carvey: Well, I think the biggest challenge is when Reagan left because we were all, you know, Reagan seemed very easy. [Reagan] Well, here we go again. And all of that. And George Bush Sr. was elected president, and it was my time to learn how to do him and to make it funny and interesting. And it took a long time, everybody thought of a bland guy [Bush] Hi, I’m George Bush.
But then at one point, working with Al Franken and Jim Downey [SNL writer], Senator Al Franken, one night I just got it.
I think (Bush) was a personal choice for me, to find a way to make that into a character and make it work. Obama has been a similar challenge for everyone to make that a funny character, since he is very controlled. George W. Bush was a lot easier and also Clinton. Sometimes you get a president that is not easily satirical.
MRM: Do you get more satisfaction out of your original characters or impressions?
Carvey: You know, I don’t differentiate. You know, if I did an impression of you, it would be called my new character, but then if you got famous, it would be called my new impression. I really don’t differentiate. It’s the source of the material. If I did an impression of my dad. [Dad] He talks like this, I can’t talk politics with you because you don’t know shit. And he’s not famous, so that’s one of my best impressions. [Laughs]
But I really don’t differentiate, because my style of doing impressions is abstract. You go to the core essence of something that the audience will accept. So I just exaggerate it and play the style.
MRM: Have you ever been to the state of South Carolina before?
Carvey: I believe I have. I know I’ve been to North Carolina, I’m sure I drove through South Carolina. Yeah, on the way to maybe Atlanta? But yeah, I love the South, love the people, love the history, really, really rich heritage and old buildings. It’s definitely cool down there.
MRM: How did you, Dennis Miller and Kevin Nealon create this great comedy tour?
Carvey: Well, we were friends and have the same manager that said, “Hey, you guys wanna work a couple dates together?” Because we work solo. And I said, “Why not?” Then we had a great response and we just added a few more. So it’s kind of fun, it’s fun working with your friends, when you have a long history together and the shows, our styles are three distinct, different styles. So, it’s a fun show for the audience and has been doing great, and I’m looking forward to it.
MRM: What can fans expect on Friday, October 18 at 8pm in Greenville, SC at the Bon Secours Wellness Arena?
Carvey: It’s gonna be sweet. When they said, “Do you wanna play South Carolina?” I said, “I’ll only play it if it’s a place called a wellness center.” And they go, “What?” Yup, because when I think South Carolina, I think wellness.
So, I guess the stadium is made out of shredded bamboo or something that is very organic? You can actually sit in your chair and eat it. [Laughs]
MRM: They recently changed the name over from the Bi-Lo Center. Have you ever heard of a Bi-Lo grocery store?
Carvey: Buy Low? My Low? Uh, not until right now, but I guess they lost their sponsorship, and the wellness center paid for the naming rights.
Wow, I’ll just put in my petition to call it the Church Lady Center. [Church Lady] Well, well, well, come one come all. Maybe Miley will make an appearance in her birthday suit [Laughs].
So, it will be a great show. We’ll probably do some Q&A with the audience after each of us comes out and does some time alone and then that’s it. But it’s been a kick ass show for sure. These are really funny guys.
MRM: Thank you calling Music Recall Magazine. It has been a please speaking with you. Hopefully you have a great show. We thank you very much.
Carvey: Well, that’s awesome. Music Recall Magazine, or as Arnold would say, [Schwarzenegger] Total Recall Magazine [Laughs].
Alright, it’s been a pleasure. Thanks so much. See you there!