for Oklahoma Gazette
A scheduling snafu on the interview meant I received (and kept, of course) a long, charming, rambling voicemail from Mr. Carvey’s cell phone, explaining he’d had trouble operating his technology in Canada and hoping I’d call him back. I did. To date, the most surreal interview I’ve ever done. He’s eager to please, did many of his famous impressions on the phone for me, and told me I’m funny, that I made him laugh.
Although he’s known for characters like The Church Lady and “Wayne’s World”’s Garth, there’s one moment in Dana Carvey’s career that cemented his future: “My first 200 shows or so I did for free, but for one gig, I got $50. I said, ‘This is it. Fifty bucks.’ I felt incredibly rich.”
Foregoing his backup plans and those of his parents — waiter and typist, respectively — Carvey says he “rode the wave” of the exploding comedy scene in the late 1970s and early ’80s.
“By the time I got on ‘Saturday Night Live,’ there were 10,000 comedy clubs. When I was in college, there were none,” he said. “I was performing at music venues and places with people heckling me and ignoring me.”
After joining the cast of “SNL” in 1986 — a sure sign at that time, according to Carvey, that you’d made it as a comedian — he found an immediate hit with his pious Church Lady bit.
“My very first show, I did ‘Church Chat,’ and it barely got on,” he said. “It was the last sketch before the goodnight, but it killed. There were a lot of religious scandals back then; that was the first thing to hit for me.”
The 1986-87 season was the show’s 12th, but the show faced cancellation for the first time in its history.
“We had to dig our way out,” Carvey said, “but we had Phil Hartman and Mike Myers, then Dennis Miller, Jon Lovitz, Adam Sandler … this hybrid cast from 1990- 93 was kind of a peak. I also think the current cast is brilliant, though I was on the last phase of the show before the Internet and cable were really everywhere. It meant a lot to be on NBC on Saturday night.”
After his departure from “SNL,” ABC aired a mere seven episodes of “The Dana Carvey Show” before pulling it, reportedly due in part to family-unfriendly material. The cast included future comic superstars Stephen Colbert, Steve Carell and Louis C.K., among others.
For comedians now, Carvey said, “It’s easier to kind of break in a lesser way. There are young people on YouTube making a hundred grand a year doing videos from home. It’s easier to be in the business and make it to the middle level, but to make it to the top is always hard.”
For now, he will continue to do things the old-fashioned way: stand-up in cities across the globe. Despite his affection for the region — “I love the Sooners. I love Oklahoma. I could live there!” — Carvey’s visits have been infrequent. He makes amends Friday, with a performance at WinStar World Casino in Thackerville.
Expect plenty of new stand-up fodder, like this sample gem: “There are rules when you talk about your friend’s wife. You can’t say, ‘My wife’s kinda moody, but Barbara’s a bitch.’ That’s against the rules.”
And don’t worry: The show will include plenty of political ribbing from both sides of the fence.
“Most places, making fun of the far right is fun, but the real challenge is finding leverage to also make fun of the left. It’s very challenging to satirize Obama; there’s a lot of sensitivity. I like to play both sides. I’m a radical moderate … a social liberal with a dollop of Karl Marx and a spoonful of Ron Paul. I don’t belong to a party. I don’t want to have to call someone up and ask what my opinion is. I’m an Americanist.”
Well. Isn’t that special?