The Comedy Couch

 DANA CARVEY - September 19, 2007

Dana Carvey

I'm a miniature man. When I entered high school I was five feet, 91 pounds. I was basically a fetus with shoes. - Dana Carvey
Dana Carvey: Oh good, you're up.

Guy MacPherson: Yes, I am. Are you a morning person?
Dana Carvey: I take the kids to school so I'm up by 6:30. It's hard for a nightclub entertainer. I did a gig in San Francisco last night. That's the tough part: switching to dad mode from comedy mode.

GM: When I see you on TV you're this outgoing irrepressible guy. Obviously that's your entertainer/nightclub persona, but do people expect that from you all the time?
DC: Not around the school and stuff or around town. You just kinda stay low key. Everybody does it. Even Robin Williams is just shy when he's around town. You just stay low key. But yeah, sometimes people are sort of mystified. They'll see you on The Tonight Show or something and then expect you to be that on when you're just dropping your kid off at school. That would be pretty obnoxious (laughs).

GM: At seven in the morning.
DC: Yeah. So it's a schizophrenic life. Two different things going on here. My kids don't like it when I do voices and stuff. They're like, "Dad, just be normal. Okay, dad?"

GM: How old are they?
DC: Fourteen and 16.

GM: Are they a chip off the old block?
DC: It seems like one of them is pretty funny. He's won the speech competition in middle school, giving impromptu speeches, which I guess are very funny. He's kind of shy about it around me but he might have gotten the bug.

GM: And the other one not so much?
DC: Can't tell. Don't know. He just wants to go upside down on his bike. That's his goal. He wants to go up jumps and do loops upside down. And the other one's a breakdancer. They're outside-the-box kids. I wanted them to play football but the 4-10, 88 pounds kinda nixed that.

GM: So he has your build.
DC: (laughs) Well, I'm trying to keep the weight down. It's hard, man. Hard to stay under 150. But I'm a miniature man. When I entered high school I was five feet, 91 pounds. I was basically a fetus with shoes.

GM: So your kids, or one of them at least, is like that.
DC: Yeah. But he'll grow later. If he gets to my height, which is just a shade under 5-9, he'll be happy the rest of his life. He has friends that have beards that are six feet tall in junior high. So it is pretty funny, the dichotomy.

GM: What have you been up to lately?
DC: Oh, just, you know, basically doing a lot of standup in Vegas and theatres and stuff. I'm probably going to shoot a standup special. I've been offered a lot of game shows. I'll do whatever you say, Guy. Standup is so great that it's hard to kind of turn to stuff that can be difficult because you never know with movies or television if it's going to work out. I think now that my kids are older I might try to do a special. And I have a movie in development. And, you know, I don't know. Really, the best thing for my lifestyle would be a game show. I've been offered a bunch of them but some of them work, some of them don't. Those prime-time shows. Don't you guys have Deal or No Deal? That would be great for a hands-on dad.

GM: That seems to be the thing: get a comedian to host a game show.
DC: Who would have thunk it? It was considered kind of geeky and weird; now it's the coolest thing. All my friends are trying to get prime-time game shows. Everybody wants in. Because, you know, you only work like ten days a year (laughs).

GM: Yeah, they shoot them all on the same day, basically.
DC: Kind of. They may shoot as many as five in one day. It's unbelievable. But I don't really know. This year I'll probably do something more active in the public eye. But the standup's been awesome because I can make my own schedule.

GM: With the current political goings-on in Washington and Sacramento, do you miss being on TV every week to make fun of it all?
DC: Well, if I choose to, I have a deal with MySpace. But you're right, I do miss it, because certain stuff has a very short shelf life and you want to be immediately on. I think with the web, it's like a level playing field, because even SNL goes on about twenty weeks a year. So I think this revolution of television on the computer is still evolving. But I think this next year I'll be putting little things on the web. Political things.

GM: I've seen a couple of them.
DC: Yeah, I've just been experimenting. But as an actual overall deal where they'll publicize it and things like that, that's just starting. But yeah, I have late-night telephone conversations between George W. Bush and his father: (Doing the voices) George Sr: How ya doin', son? W: Pretty good, daddy. Job's kinda tough, though. George Sr: Well, you gotta rest 'er up. Just those two guys talking is funny to me. So that's pretty cool. The web is a pretty interesting new development in show business.

GM: We never got a sense of what your politics were when you were on SNL. Was that a conscious decision on your part or more of a network regulation kinda thing?
DC: Well, generally I'd say Saturday Night Live makes fun of both sides. They probably would lean left overall. You know, comedians want to be anarchists. I mean, if you espouse anything that's moderate where I live, you're considered an anarchist because this is the number one leftist place in America, Marin County. Anything moderate, if you have an American flag or anything like that, you're definitely ostracized. I think comedians tend to push the other way. But the tradition I grew up with, like Johnny Carson, if there was a Republican in office you made fun of him, and if there was a Democrat in office you made fun of him. They're all funny. I'm more of a libertarian radical moderate, I would suppose. A centrist radical moderate with libertarian strains. So I don't want to cut off half of what I can make fun of. Lately people like my friends Dennis Miller and Bill Maher, they've kinda said, "Okay, this is my point of view." And that's the other way to go, which is fine but you cut off half of what you can make fun of.
Weekend Update


GM: And in Miller's case, he used to make fun of both and now he's just picked a side.
DC: Um, I don't know. He was making fun of Fred Thompson. But comedians are generally paranoid, wounded people with a bit of anger in us. Dennis is more about (as Miller) "I wanna vote for whoever will kill the most bad guys." Comedians are neither far right or really groovy. Most comedians are not groovy. You know, like, "Let's all just get together, man. Can't we all just learn to get along?" We're a little angrier. Remember the kids with the towel who'd snap us in the locker room? We were usually beat up and picked on and ostracized. If the country moves to the far right, I would push naturally to the left, and if people move to the far left I naturally push the other way. I had someone yesterday say Bush didn't even attend college; his dad literally went in, wrote a cheque and got him an MBA from Harvard. I said, "Really? Wow. Not at all?" "No, he didn't even go." Like, okay. So as a comedian, you go, "Well, maybe he went to a few classes." And they go, "What are you? You're worshipping Hitler!" And you're like, okay. (laughs) But yeah, I think they're all hilarious. I do a lot of Republican and a lot of Democrat. I look for the hypocrisy in all of them.

GM: You're a contrarian. Whoever people like, you'll go the other way.
DC: In a sense, yeah. I'm working on a Rudolph Giuliani. How much do you guys follow this presidential campaign?

GM: Oh, we follow it all. We know all the guys.
DC: You do? Okay, good. So I'll dissect that for Vancouver.

We always remember every era better than it was. I was on about 140 shows but I'll bet half of them sucked. - Dana Carvey

GM: The national sport seems to be saying how bad Saturday Night Live is and how good it used to be. Every single year!
DC: That's how it was when I was on.

GM: Really? Because I look back on your years as some of the best. But did you get the criticism, too?
DC: Oh, yeah, because when I came on in '86 it was the first year the show didn't have a full-season pickup. The ratings had died so we just thought we'd do eight shows and that would be it. And the critics were pretty tough on us the first two seasons. And then it started to turn. And then by '89-'90, it really started to cook for about two, three years and we had a lot of lucky things happen. But yeah, they always say that. When I was on Saturday Night Live, cable wasn't even everywhere. And a lot of people still just had primary channels. And now obviously with the web added to cable and satellite, it's just fantastic. I mean, my kids are growing up really watching television on their computers. They'll download The Office, or whatever. And they know anything that really cooks on SNL will be on YouTube or somewhere on the web. So I think it's just a tough environment for them to get big numbers, that's all. Because all our habits are changing because of web television. But I think they're probably just as good as we were.

GM: You think so?
DC: Sure. Yeah. I think that the web is just such a powerful tool. It just ebbs and flows. But we always remember every era better than it was. I was on about 140 shows but I'll bet half of them sucked.

GM: I don't think so.
DC: But the ones that really cooked are the ones that are really remembered. So I think we always remember it better than it was. I certainly was very, very lucky to get on that show.

GM: But you'll put your cast up with any other cast, won't you?
DC: I think from '89 or '90 to '92 or '93, between the writers that we had and the cast and the junior varsity cast... We had Phil Hartman and Jon Lovitz and Dennis Miller and Nora Dunn and Jan Hooks and so forth. And in our junior varsity we had Adam Sandler, Chris Farley, Chris Rock, David Spade, Tim Meadows. There was a given point for two or three years there that we just had so many weapons. And we had Mike Myers. We had so many weapons that we'd sometimes have five hits in one show. So I think that was a unique period of time, right in there from '90 to '93.

GM: Are you having a feud with Mike Myers?
DC: (laughs) Not at all! Not at all. I hope not. Not from my side.

GM: This is the dangers of the internet. It's great, but then you read stuff you have no idea if it's true or not. So I can ask the source now.
DC: It's funny how the human mind, we all kinda go toward the tabloid and toward negativity and Britney Spears and all the stuff. It's amazing how rumours get started and exaggerated and half-truths. It's kind of scary, isn't it? Have you ever Googled 'Guy MacPherson'?

GM: Oh yeah. There's nothing up there.
DC: I don't Google myself, I don't look at web rumours about anything. It's just too much. But no, we keep in touch.

GM: It said it was because you had done the Lorne Michaels voice before he did it with Dr. Evil.
DC: Oh, yeah, well, some people thought that. I was doing that a lot but Mike was, too. We all did it. When I first saw Lorne, at first no one was really doing it. Then after about six months - this was in '86 - all of a sudden this rhythm kind of hit me. (As Michaels) It was sort of like this. I used to do him at the board when we were picking the show: Anyone for Whitney's piece? The goat and the frog? I thought it was breathtaking. And so it became kind of this cause celebre that you just make fun of your boss. And finally one time I was on an airplane with Lorne and he asked me to do it for him out of the blue because he'd heard I did it, and I just panicked. I go, "Oh, it's nothing Lorne. It doesn't sound like you at all." But he has a great rhythm. It's a natural thing for someone to do an impression of that. And what Mike did with it was brilliant, making it Dr. Evil. So no hard feelings there. I mean, Mike picking me to be part of Wayne's World was an incredibly generous thing and that turned out to be a wonderful thing, a great thing.

Wayne's World

GM: Were you constantly imitating your teachers at school and things like that?
DC: Yeah. Teachers, classmates. A real big moment for me was when I was a junior in high school and we were having the cross country runners banquet. And the coach spontaneously asked me to get up and talk about the sophomore cross country team and I was really nervous but I got up and there was like 300 people in a gymnasium, and I realized kind of spontaneously right there that I had little takes, little impressions, little attitudes from these different runners. So I was kind of doing standup before I knew what I was doing. And I thought, "Wow, maybe I should do this." So that was kind of a big moment for me, anyway.

GM: And when did you actually hit the stage and go, "Yeah, this is something I want to try"?
DC: When I was about 21 I went to Berkeley, California, a little hippie dive. These comedians came up. There were about 20 people. One of them was Robin Williams. I go, "Man, this guy's good." And they had open mic at 11 o'clock. So I went up and I got a few laughs. And the guy said, "Hey, you wanna come back in two weeks and MC the show?" So it started from there. But I had horrible stage fright for years. Just terrible. It took me years to get past my stage fright.
Church Lady

GM: Even on SNL?
DC: Well, I'd say SNL had a different kind of curve. When I came out on SNL, we were all terrified. Because a lot of us, it was our first show. And with the weight and expectations that we would get cancelled. I could show you a tape of the Church Lady when she holds up her hand and it's wet with sweat just from being that nervous. I think for most cast members, it takes three or four seasons just to get to the point where you can relax in an environment where you shouldn't be able to relax because you're going by the cuff of your pants and cue cards are changing and it's this giant free-for-all. It's not ready to go on, you're not sure where the camera is, you're not even sure what the lines are. And then to relax and to actually remember to have a good time and be funny, it took me probably at least 60 shows to settle down into that.

GM: You started in standup but you're primarily known as a sketch comic. Was it a tough transition going from standup to sketch or is funny funny?
DC: Well, it was a little bit. I remember I had to stop myself from turning to the audience in some sketches because you get a laugh and you want to turn toward them. I sort of do one-man sketch a lot in my standup where I'll take a character or an idea and just keep going directly to the audience. Or I'll even play both sides of a conversation. But I'd say for what I like to do, which is rhythmic stuff, I was always doing catch phrases, like, "Isn't that special" and all that. I like something that keeps returning and has a different meaning each time. And I'm really into the rhythm of stuff, the musicality of it, when there's no reason for it to be funny, is my favourite stuff. It just is. I mean, the first time I said, (in character) "Well, isn't that special!", it got a laugh. I was like, "Wow!" Because the Church Lady barely made it on the first show. In the practice show, it was the last sketch right before we say goodnight, and it killed so much it moved up to the first sketch, which scared the hell out of me. But fortunately it worked out.

GM: Thus the flop sweat.
DC: Yes, but it was not bad for that character because that character was uptight and kinda cutting and biting and I could play her fairly well nervous. But when I first started doing George Bush Sr. in one to the camera, that was very nerve-wracking because I didn't really have the impression down. And you've got the cue cards and you can get kind of stuck. And I remember a breakthrough for me was right before they pointed at me and said there's 20 million people, I just said, "The cue cards are just a suggestion." And I started kind of playing with the lines going off a little bit, and that kind of changed it all for me. Giving yourself a little bit of room. Lorne in the old days didn't want us to break. (As Michaels) "That's very Carol Burnett." He didn't want you to laugh at yourself in a sketch. He was very clear about it. (As Michaels) "I just think it's too self-congratulatory." At some point people started doing it. Then it became kind of okay with Adam Sandler and Jimmy Fallon.

If you're unknown and you're playing a honky-tonk bar, you can spend an hour trying to get the audience to trust you and like you and understand you. Totally different sport doing standup as a known television person. - Dana Carvey

GM: I used to videotape back in the early '80s every standup comic I saw on TV. Recently I found a young pre-SNL Dana Carvey on Almost Live! in Seattle.
DC: Good lord, really? Wow.

GM: And I remember really liking it. I'm wondering how has your act changed from before Saturday Night Live to after doing standup?
DC: Well, that's a good question because it is very different in that you come out with some expectation. I've sort of got some greatest hits like the Rolling Stones, you know? You try to evolve them. Ironically, of the people I was doing in the early '90s, take Arnold Schwarzenegger, basically, George Bush Sr. is back with Jr., Bill Clinton is now back because of Hillary, Regis is still on. So I'm able to update and satisfy those expectations in a way that's fun for me because I like riffing. And once I satisfy that and relax the audience, I do some more point of view stuff; stuff about my life and aging and children and things like that. I'm always loving doing a political impression and taking it way, way too far into some sort of abstraction. I'm not a real one-liner kind of ba-dum-bum type guy so I like to get into a riff and a rhythm. Because when I started being a comic, hanging out with my friends in college, that's what I would do. If your friends are sitting around stoned and you're 19, you don't just do one-liners. You just start to do these long riffs to them and see where it goes. So that's a lot of fun. I have a lot more confidence and a lot more credibility when I come out so I'm a lot more just free. I would say that I'm hopefully better at it because the audience is familiar. And if I'm relaxed, they're relaxed. If you're unknown and you're playing a honky-tonk bar, you can spend an hour trying to get the audience to trust you and like you and understand you. Totally different sport doing standup as a known television person.

GM: Does fame ever interfere with the jokes?
DC: Robin Williams always said (as Williams) "Oh, it gives you about two minutes, then you've got to be funny." I think the audience forgets, I forget, and then it's just, "Am I laughing?" No, I don't think so. I don't think so. It only helps to be famous and do standup, I think. Overall it's helpful. You can kind of think, "Well, what are their expectations?" But when you're on stage doing standup, which is just its own unique form, you're able to call an audible switch, add voices, keep going further. There's no constraints so each show can be different. It's free-for-all. My friend Jon Lovitz, who I finally convinced to do it, he just loves it. It's a completely separate concept from the rest of show business. And most people don't want to do it because it's so scary.

GM: You're lucky that these politicians and other voices that you do are still around. I mean, Rich Little is still doing Richard Nixon.
DC: (laughs) Well, I wouldn't go back that far. And I do drop people. I do Rudolph Giuliani and I do McCain and I've got a Fred Thompson and I have a take on Hillary and some stuff on Barack Obama. And I've got stuff on O.J. now and Senator Craig, the guy in the bathroom. I try to keep it really current. I don't want to be an oldies act but I think it's okay to do riffs on some of the older stuff but with new material as long as you're doing new stuff. Because I would just get completely bored. But it's fantastic for being a dad, standup, where you can just make your schedule. It's just fantastic. And Lovitz, I don't know if I told you this, because I did some radio interviews, but Lovitz just loved this theatre and told me all about it: (As Lovitz) "You've gotta play it. It's called the River Rock in Vancouver." He just loved the audience and the theatre. He had a really good time. And I guess because you guys get American television, I'll be in good shape.

GM: No problem. We get it all. We know all those references. We don't watch Canadian television, for God's sakes!
DC: (laughs) Well, my wife is Canadian.

GM: Oh is she?
DC: Yes, she's from Peace River. My brother-in-law lives in Vancouver and teaches at the university there. And I'm from Montana - Missoula - so I'm almost from Canada. I kind of know the Canadian personality.

GM: Have you played here before in your career?
DC: Oh yeah. I played Vancouver before. I can't remember where. Well, I did it last year for MicroSoft, which was fun. I did a corporate date there. I've played a theatre in Toronto. But yeah, I've been to Vancouver a few times. Just not for a while. I love it. It is a stunning city. I don't know if you guys are used to it. Especially if the weather's nice, you've got the park, the mountains. Right on the water is pretty spectacular to run in.

GM: Are you still running?
DC: Oh yeah. Still running.

GM: How's your health?
DC: Health is perfect. I'm like a 747: I'm either perfect or I'd be in the hangar, there's no middle ground.

GM: You've had too much experience with the medical system. I'm wondering if you've seen Michael Moore's Sicko ? Do you have an opinion on that?
DC: I would ask you that. Because I'm one of the lucky ones that has health insurance here and I have no complaints over my personal health care. But is it that great in Canada? Because that was really what Michael Moore... Is it just fantastic? Because I'll go with the Canadian system. How is it for you?

GM: Well, knock on wood, I haven't had anything major. But the complaints are about the waiting. There are always long waits.
DC: He didn't say there's any wait. You just go right in, no wait.

GM: If it's an emergency, you'll go right in. But if you have... I don't know. I don't know enough about it to even talk about it.
DC: Me, neither. We're trying to fix it. Everyone knows that ours is too much bureaucracy and too much wasted money so even the Republicans want to overhaul it. It's just going to be a matter of how fast it changes. We definitely need to improve it. But in my particular case, we have 250 million people who love their health care basically but it's shameful that we still have 47 million that still don't have it. I do know people who have it on government assistance. But we're a big wild west kind of country. We're just like the wild west down here. We've got 300 million people and everyone's trying to move to America basically, legally or illegally, so it's a big messy country. Who would want to be president of this place? Good lord, what a job.

GM: I did go, actually, once to the hospital with a knee injury and I didn't have insurance and said, "How much is it going to cost me?" And they basically said, "Don't worry about it." So I got looked after.
DC: Yeah, yeah, yeah, I think ideally if we can move to that kind of system where we have universal health care, I think that's the goal. But there's a huge segment of Americans that just resist anything run by the government. We're kind of anarchists, in a sense, and suspicious. Personal responsibility and all that kind of stuff. And the other side is always, "Yeah, but we can't have 47 million people not have health insurance. It's ridiculous." But there's a very big free market, wild west capitalism kind of thing going on down here. Then there's the other side. I think those two left-brain, right-brain, yin-yang, those two ideas, the leftist-type ideology and the conservative ideology, they're just always going to fighting each other down here apparently.

GM: Apparently. That's why we need comedians.
DC: (As George W.) Well, we're gonna do the best we can. And I want absolute health care for every American. I'm gonna do it with Texas. That's the way he would do it. (As Clinton) We tried to do it. Hil had her own thing and we were doing some good stuff. And we thought we'd go for it but the insurance companies got in there and took it all out. Can you believe Bill Clinton's back? I mean, good Lord. He is back. She will win probably.

GM: You think so?
DC: Right now she'd be the favourite.

GM: And on the other side?
DC: Uh, well, right now Giuliani.

GM: And who would win out of those two?
DC: (As Giuliani) I understand what it's like. I've been in a city that's been attacked. I know how to kill a person with my bare hands. I'm the only candidate that knows how to strangle a human being with my bare hands. I know how to asphyxiate somebody with my bare hand. So who would win between those two? I think we're going right down to the wire. I think it's going to be a 49.2 to a 48.9 or something. The country is very much the way they designed it so there's a lot of gridlock and it'll move very slowly.

GM: I'm writing that prediction down.
DC: Which one?

GM: The percentage.
DC: But yeah, it's interesting. You're our big trading partner, we get a lot of oil from you. If anyone tried to attack you, we'd kick their ass.

GM: Unless it was you trying to attack us.
DC: I don't know. We just spread our movies and our fast food. No two countries with a McDonald's have ever attacked each other. That's absolutely true.

GM: That's good to know that we're safe.
DC: Any kind of fairly healthy middle class that can afford to pay for fast food, it's not in their interest to have a topsy-turvy government. So usually there's some stability there and some form of democracy. But yeah, I'll move to Canada. My sons can get Canadian citizenship and Irish citizenship.

GM: Do it. Get as many as you can.
DC: Yeah, they're going to have three.

GM: I have two. I have a French one. I've never used it but I have it and it's good to know in case something goes down here and I need to move to France without speaking the language, I can do it.
DC: It's fantastic. Canada's an awesome place. You guys have it all together. A little cold, though.

GM: It's not! It's a gorgeous day today. It's Vancouver, you know.
DC: How is it today?

GM: It's beautiful. It's 18 degrees.
DC: Mmm... That's about 60? I don't know the celsius-fahrenheit thing.

GM: Sixty-six, maybe?
DC: Okay. Nice. Yeah, it's a gorgeous city. It's awesome. I look forward to it.

GM: I look forward to seeing you. Thanks for calling.
DC: Yeah, check it out. I'll try to rock the house.

GM: You rock the River Rock.
DC: I'm gonna rock the River Rock. The goal is always to make history. I'll try to make history.

 

 
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